Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Winston's Bottom Lines - What Do They Mean For 2017

Due to the obvious importance of New Zealand First to either side forming a government in 2017, from now til the next Election there will be an absolutely huge quantity of political pontification from pundits, politicians, and assorted other somewhat self-important talking heads as to what Winston - or, more properly, NZF as a whole - might do.

I emphasize that we are talking about an entire political party rather than one man here, not just because it's the truth of the matter and frequently forgotten about - but because it is worth remembering that any future coalition entanglement featuring New Zealand First will undoubtedly be contingent, to some extent at least, upon the preferences of our Party membership.

But before we get to that stage, there's the matter of navigating the coalition bottom lines which Winston laid out earlier this month.

Every electoral cycle in recent memory where the potential for a coalition has been on the table, he's done this. In some cases, it's obvious that these are conceptualized and deployed in order to force particular issues onto the political agenda - and to force other parties to take them seriously. In other cases, they are construed in a more strategic manner - so as to put up forcible barriers between New Zealand First and either or both potential fulcrums of coalition (or, for that matter, other possible coalition support parties).

The bottom lines laid out for the 2014 Election numbered six, and encompassed a broad mix of both objectives.

They included a brazen demand for the renationalization of those power companies privatized by National (thus making an NZF-National coalition singularly unlikely - but also highlighting how NZF's position was to the arguable left of either Labour or The Greens on this issue, and hoping to draw them both towards it); an imperative to prevent the retirement age from being raised beyond 65 (which handily ruled out Labour - who'd made an increase a bizarre key plank in their electoral campaign, while also putting trenchant opposition to the increase on the political map); a "KiwiFund" proposal for a sovereign wealth fund that would both invest in NZ and make superannuation both sustainable and affordable; an "end to race-based policy" (which, while nebulous, appeared to be a strike against National's Whanau Ora enactment, and a warning shot in the direction of Labour/Greens); a directive to stop selling farmland offshore (which, obviously, National would never have agreed to); and a Royal Commission of Inquiry into Dirty Politics (which was both a topical issue at the time, and something which National, again, was rather unlikely to agree to). 

In the 2011-2014 electoral cycle, Winston started laying out these aforementioned 'bottom lines' mid-way through. He didn't realize them all at once, nor did he attempt to put forward a complete platform immediately before the Election. Instead, as issues became salient (or started to dip from the radar and run the risk of dropping into obscurity again), he sought to plant the NZ First flag upon them.

This appears to be a similar pattern to what he's engaging in here.

More than a year out from the next Election, he's signaled two areas upon which to stand going forward into 2017: "mass immigration" and "separatism".

Now it's important to note at this juncture that the language he used during the Q&A interview in which these areas of concern were announced was deliberately non-commital. Both points were prefaced with a "for example", and were intended to be taken as indicative of the type of government which New Zealand First could not, in good conscience, support.

However, I see no especially good reason to presume that the Party will resile from either presumptive bottom line at any point between now and the next Election. They're both fundamentally consistent with NZF's enduring political message (to the point that I'm genuinely surprised it wasn't included as a bottom line in 2014's wishlist); as well as being sufficiently vague enough to be twisted in precise philosophical ambit and practical-political application so as not to be what amounts to an undue electoral straightjacket in the latter half of next year.

But there are some clear and obvious impacts here. New Zealand First has previously made undertakings - whether explicit or implicit - not to work with each of the Maori Party or ACT. Due to the effective positional underpinnings of each party, this set of draft bottom lines would solidify that commitment to exclude them from a government NZ First participated in.

It also sends a message to both National and Labour/Greens that fundamental elements of their respective political programmes so far will have to be abandoned if they want to have any hope of seriously working with Winston.

The big question, of course, is whom it will therefore become harder to coagulate with.

And to be frank, there's no easy answer.

On the surface of it - and in-line with some of my personal preferences if push comes to absolute shove - there's much more dissonance between National's track-record of the last eight years and New Zealand First than there is with Labour's present stances.

One of these parties undid NZF and Labour's work on the Foreshore & Seabed Act 2004, gave us the multibillion dollar 'brown elephant' policy of Whanau Ora, and continues to preside over immigration figures six times that which we had under Helen Clark. Alongside this, it has not escaped attention that Labour has attempted to imitate NZ First (clumsily, albeit) when it comes to immigration rhetoric - everything from Phil Twyford's snafu over alleged Chinese domination of the Auckland housing market through to Andrew Little's more recent commentary about Chinese & Indian ethnic restaurant chefs ... could rather justifiably be referred to as "Winstonian rhetoric".

But on the other hand ... it has previously been said that the National Party would crawl on its knees over broken glass in pursuit of political power - so while it's perhaps unlikely so long as National can find alternative coalition partners, nobody would rule out National doing a substantive one-eighty on both of these issues in pursuit of NZ First's coalition support. At that stage, it becomes a very different game whose bottom lines might very well include "John Key's Head" - but that's a subject for another article entirely.

Further, while Labour was dead keen to signal a review-and-potential-scrapping of Whanau Ora in response to Winston's 2014 anti-"separatist" bottom line ... dependent upon what Winston means by it in 2017, there is a chance that the Green Party might fall afoul of the same stricture. Given that Labour's previously stated they're rather highly unlikely to leave the Green Party hanging at the altar come Coalition '17 regardless of NZF's charms, this could create some problems.

So all things considered, Winston's latest foray into providing voters with 2017 surety arguably only increases the uncertainty about what might happen next year. We need more information from him as to how these bottom lines are to be defined in practice before it's possible to sensibly triangulate whom they might affect the most, and how.

But looking towards the next Election, it's appearing increasingly likely that it will come down to a contest of desperation between the two blocks to try and measure up to our standards - rather than what we've had previously of the larger parties running their own platforms and naively expecting us to get with THEIR program.

The challenge for those of us on the left wing of NZ First is to attempt to ensure the power which comes with our resurgent position at the center of Kiwi politics is used wisely and for progressive-amenable ends.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Brexit: The Referendum Result Heard Round The World Is A Shot Against Neoliberalism

Well that was a bit momentous, then, wasn't it. Yesterday, seemingly everybody - politico or pedestrian - was glued to their tv set or twitter-feed waiting for the results of the #Brexit referendum to be released.

And, as soon as the count started making a Leave reality seem more and more plausible, it was game on to attempt to 'define the narrative' for how this struggle - and this victory - would come to be regarded going forward.

From the Right, the divisions had long been clear. Opponents of the E.U. would - rightly or wrongly -regard a #Brexit as a substantial win against the heavy, suffocating and stultifying hand of Brusselian legalistic interventionism within British sovereign affairs. Supporters, by contrast, who often tended to come from the more 'elite' end of the influence spectrum sought to portray the broad swelling mass of LEAVE voters as racists and an iconoclastic mass who - like the baying Christian mob seeking to burn down the Library of Alexandria - were about to tear asunder something of immense civilizational value. And, not coincidentally, panick the hell out of global markets and stock exchanges in the process.

There are presumably no surprises there.

But on the Left ... I was minorly amazed to see much the same narrative as the latter being pushed across with great force and emphasis from all across the spectrum. Idealistic liberals chewed their fingernails fretting about falling markets. Nominal workers' rights advocates decried leaving the very same arch-neoliberal institution which had so successfully done over workers in a slew of countries like Greece, Ireland, Spain, France, and Portugal in recent years. Brazen Marxists ranted impassioned posts about how we ought to eschew the Great And Impersonal Forces Of History Which Are Presently Aligning With Our Class Interest, And Instead Side With Goldman Sachs Because There Are A Few Unsavoury People Leading The Leave Campaign.

Seriously. I'm not kidding.

The forces railing against the democratically expressed wishes of millions of Britons (who can't all be problematic Faragists, by the way - the UKIP scored 3.8 million votes at the last election, while #Brexit won a much heftier 17 million) now range all the way from the UK Conservative Party through to a large majority of UK Labour MPs, and from thence out into an impressively broad spanning milieu of nominally liberal-left voices the world over. Our own James Shaw among them.

I thought striking a blow against the neoliberal economic edifice and empowering the voice of the common man was supposed to be pretty much at the core of what it was to be 'left wing'. Guess I'm "old fashioned" like that.

So why are so many Lefties lamenting "losing" Brexit? Surely they should instead be celebrating a rare post-GFC victory against the policies, politics, institutions and insidiousness of Austerity? Didn't we all just link hands and promise a popular uprising against the TPPA stealing away our national sovereignty and lawmaking ability? Isn't a rejection of the E.U.'s hold over Britain an action to be portrayed in exactly the same spirit as that? What happened to screaming "SOLIDARITY WITH SYRIZA" and pledging fervent, trenchant, undying opposition to the Merkelreich in the name of the ordinary common man.

Do we abandon all that because on this particular occasion we've collectively found ourselves on the same side as Nigel Farrage and Boris Johnson?

According to some people, apparently so.

And to be fair, there are serious concerns as to the beliefs and attitudes of some of the more *ahem* "vigorous" proponents of anti-E.U. (quasi)-xenophobia. Racism, where it exists, ought unquestionably be censured and combated. The use of violence to silence a dissenting voice and end a life in a debate such as this is utterly abhorrent. Nobody of sense seriously disagrees with either of these propositions.

But, as The Other Winston once said: "the trouble with being on the side of right is all the insalubrious company".

I accept that there are ... problematic (to say the least) people (street-)fighting the corner of Brexit. Even as I also note that this cannot be all 17 million of the Britons who voted Leave - and that to insist upon painting every single one as such is to consciously buy into the Elite-Establishment propaganda which regards democracy as a dangerous and "irresponsible" exercise in empowering the prejudices of the Great Unwashed rather than anything saliently worthwhile.

But for many Leftists around the world, supporting - even from afar - the Brexit efforts were not about racism, or reactionary hard-right politics. Not even close.

Instead, we saw one of the largest, greatest and most influential Neoliberal institutions of our time become vulnerable. The same multi-headed Austerity-spewing twelve-starred Hydra which had so successfully brought the Greek economy to its knees in ongoing fiscal servitude. That identical beast whose influence moved to suspend democracy in Portugal last year; and whose pernicious fiscal impacts have been felt by working people across a half a dozen less well off Eurozone polities over the last decade.

International Political Economy literature makes reference to what's known as the "Golden Straightjacket" of neoliberalism - that set of fiscal conditions and prescribed policy settings (usually imposed down from above and without) which countries are "supposed" to pursue in order to advance along the pathway towards economic "prosperity". That's what the E.U. imposes upon its memberstates, and it's why both Spain and Portugal were recently facing serious economic sanctions from the same economic organization. It's interesting and telling to note that in at least Spain's case, these were put off and deferred while the #Brexit campaign was running - evidently the Eurocrats didn't want to spook the British population further by overtly reminding them of the sorts of conditions and impositions on economic sovereignty they don't hesitate to impose upon member states.

This is why well-noted revolutionary-progressive institutions with obviously pro-worker agendas such as Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley etc. poured millions of dollars of their own money into opposing the Brexit campaign. Because they love the kind of pro-Market, pro-neoliberalist impositionalist-interventionist action which the E.U. represents.

So if people want to decry the successful Brexit outcome based around the fact that some unsavory types have made common cause with anti-Austerity advocates and pro-democracy enthusiasts ... I would respectfully contend that the list of voices calling for a Remain vote also contained a not insignificant number of arguably seriously evil people pushing their own quasi-ideological if not outright self-interested agendas.

After all, those big banking firms I just mentioned aren't exactly in the habit of 'altruistically' throwing money at things unless there's some tangible payoff for them in so doing.

And besides - haven't you heard? These days many on the 'far right' WANT to be part of the European Union.

But to be fair, there are some arguable successes which proponents of the E.U. can point to as reasons for supporting its continued presence and existence. Issues requiring interstate co-ordination such as attempting to tackle climate change and preventing armed international conflict are unquestionably going to be more effectively dealt with at a supernational level. This presumably helps to explain why some persons of a left-liberal disposition have been more upset about yesterday's developments than left-nationalists - because their world-view is so much more inexorably hard-wired to be based around what's known in IR theory as liberal intergovernmentalism, and is thus pained to see one of the premier institutional embodiments of same in a situation of peril.

However, to these people I would also suggest that Brexit represents something of an opportunity rather than 'merely' a crisis.

It is widely agreed upon that whatever its relative merits (or faults), the European Union remains a problematic institution for a number of reasons. Its conscious and overt lack of response to democracy (the process by which the Lisbon Treaty was rejected and then rammed through springs instantly to mind), as well as its overreaching hand when it comes to imposing potentially deleterious economic conditions upon memberstates mean that it faces an ongoing crisis of legitimacy in the minds of many of its nominal subjects.

If you're serious about the European Union remaining as an enduring institution on into the future - rather than succumbing to some sort of drawn out succession of creatively named toppling domino trend (can we say "Departugal"?) - then the E.U. needs to be reformed. The fact that an arguably crucial linchpin memberstate can merrily decide that the costs of remaining entangled outweigh the reputed benefits of membership and decide to detach to go off on its merry way may very well serve as the necessary wake-up call for the small army of committed Eurocrats and fellow travelers running the institution that change is needed lest an ossified institution suffer a continued series of fractures and breaks.

Or, it might not. And New Zealand may find itself with a plethora of freshly minted new trade opportunities with recently-orphaned European economies in consequence to look forward to instead.

However it plays out in practice, Friday's referendum result remains decidedly important for two reasons.

First and foremost, because it has helped to chisel away another bit of the neoliberal 'cult of inevitability' which surrounds so much of how we do things today economically. The traditional antidote to the TINA (There Is No Alternative) mantra of Rogernomics and other instances of Crisis Capitalism is to intone that "Another World Is Possible" (although AWIP isn't quite as catchy an acronym). Yesterday's vote helps to break us out of the previous mindset wherein certain elements of the politico-economic terrain were treated as fixed and inviolable rather than mutable and subject to challenge (or, for that matter, renewal).

The institutional framework behind "Austerity" is no longer invincible.

We have, to quote a certain other work of pop culture about a great multinational confederation attempting to impose something on Greece, "made a God bleed" - and realized in so doing that he is mortal.

The second point of importance is closely related to the first, and expresses itself as a far more general notion.

The tool with which a majority of the British people expressed their will against any number of elites yesterday was with democracy. This proves that the hitherto established power-imbalance between the will of those elites and the concerns of more ordinary people (guess which side it was slanted towards) is now unraveling. The same Eurocrat elites who saw fit to ignore a slew of referendum results right throughout the mid-late two thousands on matters relating to the E.U. will be thinking very long, very hard and very carefully about doing the same thing today. And ditto for the UK Labour hierarchs who so vaingloriously sought to muzzle Jeremy Corbyn's previously prominent Euroskepticism in the hopes of making political capital out of going with the Tories on this one.

I'm not sure if the message will percolate down to our own domestic arisfauxtracy any time soon, but it would be decidedly nice to believe that in the wake of some vaguely similar prominent reversals of the Key agenda such as the flag referendum, our own PM and associates might be starting to feel a bit nervous about People Power on the march against neoliberalism and the avowed will of the antidemocratic Elites.

To quote Winston Churchill:

"Dictators ride to and fro on tigers from which they dare not dismount. And the tigers are getting hungry."

In any case, however this plays out - one thing's for certain. We're not in Kansas anymore.

Instead, we're in the future.





Tuesday, June 21, 2016

"Hate To Say Ron Told You So" - On Key's Recent Flip-Flop About Kiwi Troops In Iraq

One of the phrases inarguably most common to New Zealand First's political lexicon is "I told you so".

On so many things, ranging from immigration to Reserve Bank reform to foreign ownership of our farmland, Winston Peters & Co. are fully deserving of their self-appointed moniker as "Political Cassandras".

But on the particular issue which lead news coverage last night - that of the New Zealand Defence Force's mission in Iraq being nearly doubled in duration and considerably expanded in scope - it's not Winston, but Ron Mark who gets to point to his record of past statements as evidence of considerable political precognition and prescience.

Let's run back through the record, shall we?

Throughout 2014, and particularly the run-up to the last Election, National made a number of assurances that New Zealand would not be getting involved in Iraq's internal conflicts. Once elected, Ron Mark called them up on it in Parliament.

Then, shortly after the 2014 General Election, Ron used information from his old Army contacts to make out that the National Government was gearing up to send troops to Iraq.

The Government, of course, denied that this was happening - leading Ron to hilariously surmise that either they were lying ... or the NZ Army had thrown off civilian oversight and was operating autonomously in preparation for some form of Coup.

Less than five months later, Ron Mark was vindicated. Despite both the Prime and Defence Ministers being absolutely adamant that they hadn't directed the Defence Force to make ready for an Iraqi deployment (which is provably false, as it would be impossible to fund the aforementioned preparation efforts out of the previously earmarked operational budget, thus requiring extra funding with Governmental approval to make happen) ... in April 2015 the first round of Kiwi troops were dispatched to Iraq.

At the time, a number of New Zealand First MPs - including fellow former Army officer Darroch Ball - noted that it was very likely New Zealand's role in Iraq would be subject to considerable and capacious 'mission creep'. Their view was that the public was being 'softened up' to a lengthy and larger scale engagement in the Middle East by announcing a smaller scale and shorter duration effort initially - and then over time, progressive escalations in what we'd be doing and how long we'd be doing it for would be announced.

The colloquial term for this is the slightly grotesque metaphor of "boiling frogs". By slowly increasing the temperature, the person with their hand on the gas-tap is able to get whomever's unfortunate enough to be stuck in the pot (in this case, the New Zealand Public) to gradually come to tolerate and accept conditions which would previously have been considered interminable.

If the Government had announced that it was sending dozens of Kiwi troops over to Iraq for an at lest four year commitment at multiple sites, it would have sounded abhorrent. So they didn't. Instead, they waited til pretty much the last possible moment (about a year out from any conceivable 2017 Election) to publicly make out the change.

As already noted, the timing is significant. The Nats wouldn't dare pull this form of duplicity during the heat of an election year.

And that's the real issue here.

Regardless of what and whether you feel about New Zealand military involvement in Iraq. Irrespective of whether you think putting Kiwi boots on the ground in Iraq makes us a target; or if you think that training up Iraqi forces somehow makes us safer here at home ... the Government has lied, distorted, spun, manipulated and mislead its own people a score of times over this particular issue. There's just simply no way around it.

The decision to commit our forces overseas is one of the most weighty undertakings which a Prime Minister and 'his' Parliament can possibly engage in. It deserves to be deliberated with transparency, openness and honesty - and in a spirit of engagement and consultation with the public mood of the New Zealand People. It should also be put to a Parliamentary Vote - something Key consciously refrained from doing, presumably because he feared he would lose same.

By continually neglecting and marginalizing the truth when presenting this issue to us, the Government has betrayed our trust and placed our serving men and women in danger.

All I can say is ... I hope the treasured prize of a US Navy ship visit in the near future was worth selling out our own people for.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Hone Harawira's Attempted Re-Entry: Is It Credible? And What Does It Mean For The Left In 2017

Back when Winston was attempting to re-enter Parliament during the period running from 2009-2011, his anthem might very well have been drawn from the lines of LL Cool J - "Don't call it a comeback ... I been here for years!"

This is because Winston is, to be frank, a Parliamentary institution and almost as much an enduring part of our political landscape as MMP or squabbles over Treaty rights (both of which he thrives on).

Hone Harawira, however, is very much more ephemeral - and despite an impressive contribution to the previous Parliamentary term in the form of the Feed The Kids bill, is not nearly so integral to our nation's politics.

Still, if he manages to march back to Parliament at the next Election, he will have accomplished a rare feat - joining Winston in that unique winner's circle of hell of leading a party that's been turfed out and then returned in triumph three years later.

Such a feat, while not without a singular precedent, would be extraordinary - particularly considering the decidedly uphill battle which Harawira will face against a rampant Kelvin Davis without the previous benefits of incumbency which he enjoyed last time. But if successful, MANA could very well hold the keys to reshaping our political future.

So the serious questions for the commentariat and uber-hacks among us (I'm too cynical to presume this is still ordinary water-cooler conversation in the average workplace well outside of an election year) are twofold:

First, *can* Harawira pull it off; and second ... what are the likely effects going to be if he does, in fact, win Te Tai Tokerau once again.

The answers - particularly to the second question - may be surprising.

As applies the former question, it is widely regarded that Harawira will not have an easy time winning back his old electorate. Even though there was a comparatively wafer-thin margin of 743 votes between Davis and Harawira last time around, there is no real reason to believe that this gap will have tightened in the intervening three years. Sure, Harawira no longer has the rather prominent German millstone-cum-albatross about his neck to act as a dissuader to potential voters. Winston won't be able to attempt to influence people to strategically vote for Davis by crowing about "Mana-Deutschland" this time around.

But at the same time, Davis remains one of Labour's most popular, prominent and well-regarded MPs. He's landed key hits on the reviled Judith Collins in the embattled Corrections portfolio over this Parliamentary Term (for which he's received much positive media coverage), is well regarded within his Electorate, and has even been tipped by some to be on-course as a future Leader of the Labour Party and potentially our first Maori Prime Minister.

It is also worth noting that Davis is a skilled campaigner, astutely aware of Harawira's weaknesses and blindspots, who's consistently increased his results against Harawira at each of the last three electoral contests in the seat. In the 2011 Te Tai Tokerau By-Election, it was 6065 to 4948 in Harawira's favour (49%-40% - a 9% margin). In the 2011 General Election contest, 8121 to 6956, again in Harawira's favour (43%-37% - a 6% margin). Most recently, in 2014, it was 9712 to 8969 in favour of Davis (44%-41% - a 3% margin). (And this despite a seeming nationwide swing against the Labour Party in general, marking Te Tai Tokerau as one of Labour's few gains)

Phrased this way, the capture of Triple-T by Davis seems less like the immaculately miraculous result of a confederation of bad circumstances bedeviling Harawira in a single poor year ... and much more like the gradual unfolding of ongoing hard work, energy and effort which, while not inevitable in its outcome, has of late given rise to an eventual flowering and fruiting.

In short, to this point Harawira has been almost standing still in electoral terms, while Davis has been running ever faster.

Now that the shoe is most decidedly 'on the other foot' as applies incumbency, it will be increasingly difficult for Harawira to make up the pace, while Davis will have an easier time continually advancing.

Is it an impossible dream, though? I wouldn't necessarily say so. It is, however, a bit of a long shot. But in politics, one in a hundred outcomes appear to happen somewhere slightly greater than fifty percent of the time.

However, provided we're talking vaguely unrealistic hypothetical scenarios ... there's also a rather slight chance that Annette Sykes takes Waiariki off Te Ururoa Flavell and secures MANA's resurrection that way. The numbers don't especially appear to support such a contention (Sykes trailed 355 votes behind Labour's candidate there, and 4244 votes behind Flavell), but I've seen the claim made often enough that such a scenario is possible for it to be worth addressing here.

And now that we've got the slightly boring number-deluge out of the way ... let's get on to the fun stuff:

Prognostications and Fantasy Coalition Football.

The impacts of a prospective MANA re-entry into Parliament can be handily divided into two groups. First, how it will change the makeup of Parliament - and second, whether this makes it easier for one 'side' or the other to form a Government.

The answer for the former is that while on the face of it taking a seat from Labour might not affect the overall Left-Right balance in Parliament (and therefore be somewhat pointless for people seeking to change the government), it's yet to be seen how such an alteration would affect the balance of proportionalities which determine List Seat allocation. MANA might conceivably wind up reducing the number of National List MPs by anywhere from zero to one dependent upon how things go for the other parties.

But, more interestingly, MANA might wind up altering the balance of power further by bringing along their very own List MP, Maori Party style. This is because at the last Election, MANA (admittedly in confederation with The Internet Party) wound up scoring a relatively impressive 1.4% of the vote. Now it's possible that the 0.3% of the vote they gained over their 2011 result might very well fade back into the more radically left portions of Labour, The Greens and New Zealand First - thus eliminating MANA's shot at a List MP. But then again, with a strong Party Vote message in a number of electorates, and enough compelling evidence that they're ready to be a strident voice in Opposition or ardent left wing 'Voice of [a certain rather small but pert portion of] The People" ... it's certainly not entirely inconceivable that they hold a decent proportion of this vote and thus net themselves a Caucus slightly larger than the carrying capacity of the average phone booth.

Now where it starts to get messy is when it comes to Government Formation.

To coagulate a non-National Government, the Vaguely Left need to somehow cobble together a bare majority of MPs prepared to support a Labour-led Government on Confidence & Supply.

At the moment, a Labour-Greens-NZ First accommodation would be just about on the cusp of victory. Presuming, of course, that Winston doesn't decide to withhold his support.

A MANA victory in Te Tai Tokerau considerably complicates things. Apart from reducing Labour's stock of electorate seats by one, it's also possible that the 'displacement' of one fewer list seat which would result from MANA's entry into Parliament could reduce the Labour/Greens/NZF muster even further itself.

Some might say that this is not necessarily a problem, as it would therefore simply require four parties rather than three to hammer out a deal in the best interests of the country in order to constitute an alternative government.

Except given Winston is already making irascible noises about refusing to tete-a-te with "separatists" when it comes to "racial politics" ... and MANA's fairly overt status in the eyes of many as a Maori Nationalist movement ... it's not hard to see how this might potentially form a problem rather than a government for the Left come 2017.

As pointed out by an astute colleague, one way around this potential nightmare scenario is if a post-electoral accommodation is reached wherein each of MANA and The Maori Party agree to *abstain* on Confidence & Supply for a Labour/Greens/NZF Government in exchange for concessions. This is exactly how Labour managed to maintain a hold on power in 2005 (thanks to The Greens biting the bullet and demonstrating principles bigger than egos); and would allow certain individuals to successfully claim they were not, in fact, in government with "separatists", while still effectively being supported into government by them.

But this is nevertheless a somewhat fraught potential arrangement, and would have a number of obvious potential problems in application. What sorts of policy concessions would be necessary to lure the MANA and/or Maori Parties to effectively deliberately lock themselves out of Government ... which would simultaneously be amenable enough to Winston for him to actually consider implementing. Certainly, demands from NZ First for something like Whanau Ora to be given the chop would cause an irrevocable sticking point with at least one of these potential not-support parties.

All things considered, it's a bit of a headache all around.

Now, I wouldn't go so far as another of my more learned and esteemed associates as to claim that "a vote for Hone is a vote for National", because we don't yet know if that will be true. And in any case, I generally quite like the idea of people voting for parties they genuinely believe in rather than holding their nose and doing skulldugerous electoral calculations in the booth (unless you're in Epsom - in which case you must ALWAYS vote Paul Goldsmith! ... or if you're one of the somewhere in the region of 33% of NZ First voters who are strategic Labourites. You guys keep doing what you're doing as well, please!).

But it does seem fairly inarguable that the prospects (however realistic or otherwise) of MANA re-entering Parliament at the next Election raise more questions than answers when it comes to articulating the successful future of progressive governance come 2017.

Not least of which is whether Hone can actually pull off a comeback in the first place.

And what role, if any, he might play in, around, or in support of Government at that time.

[Thanks to Shannon & Alex for the erudite observations]

Monday, June 13, 2016

"It's Time To Stop Pretending" - A Response To Some Of The Reactions To The Orlando Pulse Massacre

There are many different and gradiated responses to the recent tragedy in Orlando. Some are coherent and desirable (for instance, demands for greater controls on the sale and purchase of firearms). Most are blame-oriented (whether of people or public legislation). And a depressingly decent-sized number are outright objectionable.

Never mind that banning further Muslim migration to America wouldn't have had any impact upon a man born in New York. Disregard the fact that easy access to firearms quite clearly had an obvious role to play here. Who cares if it turns out that the shooter's about as nominally Islamic as the Democratic People's Republic of Korea is either democratic or something other than a hereditary monarchy. During a full-on election season frenzy, right-wing (Islamophobic) conservative commentators clearly know what's up!

And so they've come forth streaming from the woodwork, en-masse. People who, perhaps less than a year ago were jumping up and down in opposition to the passage of equality of marriage in the US - in some cases outright demanding the continued marginalization of gay people and other sexual minorities in their local polity's national discourse - are now queuing up to condemn overtly homophobic violence.

Is this a win?

Well, arguably yes - but in actual, practical terms almost certainly not.

For you see, nothing's actually changed other than the target of the derision and conservative opprobium. This isn't seriously a "nobody picks on our gays but ME" moment (as deplorable as even that sentiment would be). Instead, it's a point at which the narrative shifts (or they seek to have it do so), and the flailing, hate-mongering minorities (who, lets be clear, while they're often from arid, religiously conservative and well-armed backgrounds almost invariably seem to be Texans rather than Taliban) attempt to get large swathes of us all of the rest of us to go along with their bigoted agenda.

Or, in other words ... they haven't changed what they believe - only the way in which they package it up and try to get portions of 'middle society' to go with them on it. Occasionally with some marked degree of success - you now semi-regularly get theoretically liberally-minded people who ought know better making the sort of demands you might expect from a well-ensconsed and superfluously educated religious academic about the need for 'religious reform' and movements away from 'strict exegetical literalism'.

In short, a lot of people professing an ardent desire to (at lest rhetorically) "Defend The Gays", are no friends of the gay community at all. And are instead merely doing so in a bid to find a liberal-amenable justification for Islamophobia.

It's an insidious trend, a depressing trend, and all too often it's the contemporary trend.

But what started me thinking about this curious profusion of conservative bigotry dressed up in liberal clothing (and assuredly attempting to co-opt liberal struggles for its own nefarious ends and purposes) wasn't the events of the weekend. Instead, it's been something that I've been observing for some time.

One of the best examples of which took place at a meeting late last week.

There, a small knot of Islamophobes (at least one of whom turned out also to be a Hinduphobe, much to my rising choler) made a great show of demanding that "certain groups" be "encouraged" to "leave New Zealand", on grounds that their religious heritage and practices have "no place in New Zealand" due to, inter alia, how women are allegedly de facto and in all instances disempowered by same.

This is, on the face of it, a Liberal argument (albeit of the sort of character of un-intersectionalized 'liberalism' which started falling out of fashion and favour some decades if not almost a century ago).

But watch what happened next:

The only woman present at the meeting fairly immediately piped up, and drew upon her own experiences living elsewhere and engaging with the "certain groups" in question to argue against what had been said and point out that the older white males with the Islamophobic agenda had, in fact, gotten things fairly far askew wrong.

Their response was to talk over her, and tell her rather vigorously to shut up.

Almost immediately, my mind processed the irony I had just witnessed. Here were a group of self-declared conservatively minded people who'd just talked in fairly glowing terms about the progressive need to protect women's empowerment from the sadly benighted scourges of religious difference ... presently demonstrating the utter lie to their nominal convictions by attempting to silence and disempower a woman who dared to speak 'out of turn' in opposition to their agenda. Truly, "the revolution needs protecting from itself".

So what this exchange fairly conclusively proved to me, was simple. That many a modern 'conservative', when they speak out against misogyny (or, in this Orlando case, homophobia) and urge stringent, rigorous action against a religious demographic rhetorically identified as being fundamentally incompatible by its mere existence and presence with same ... they aren't doing so because they actually have any deep nor abiding belief in the desirability of a more tolerant and progressive society.

In fact, quite the opposite.

What they're instead seeking to do is find a more modernly-acceptable surface justification with which to garb their hidebound and objectionable personal-curmudgeonly agendas. A way to earn 'PC-brownie points' and semi-enthusiastic head-nodding from modernists who do (usually) know better by spouting largely the same prejudicial statements they've always believed but haven't, for some time, found as ardent an audience for.

In short, they aren't abjuring bigotry with this sort of pontificating and posturing - instead, they're ardently pursuing it.

And it isn't 'our' agenda that winds up triumphing out as a result.

In fact, come to think of it, we've been down this road before.

A little more than a decade ago, Christopher Hitchens decided to cap off a fairly impressive writing and polemical career as something of a darling of modern liberalism ... by enthusiastically endorsing George W. Bush's mangled and botched-up invasion of Iraq as a stirling defence of 'liberal' values.

History has recorded with disdain what you might term the 'consequentialist' interpretation of the outcomes thus delivered (it is certainly hard to argue that much of modern Iraq is more secular-amenable or liberally-"enlightened" now as compared to 15 years ago); but Hitchens' example remains relevant as an apt demonstration that even the seeming gleaming, glittering intellects amongst our number who apparently make it their business to be culturally and politically discerning ... can find themselves co-opted and lead astray.

And in the process do serious damage by affording a liberal veneer and credibility to fundamental(ist)ly (neo-)con values.

So when considering the reaction to the Orlando shooting, bear in mind that not all is what it seems. Regardless of whether it's seriously possible to take the mentally-ill rantings of a homo-cidal mass-murderer seriously when he rants down a phone line to Emergency Services to profess nominal loyalty to ISIS, people (and particularly those in or adjacent to the political sphere) are going to attempt to use this abhorrent incident as the basis for frenetically objectionable rhetoric and attempted-policy.

Defence of minority communities - whether sexual or religious in origin - is a worthy and noble cause.

But bear in mind that not all those seeking to capitalize nor cash in upon this most recent devastation truly or even incidentally bear that as their enduring objective.

Death to false pretenses.

Friday, June 10, 2016

#BlackGreen or Black And Blue - A Response To One News' Corin Dann's NZ First Political Prognostications

As we move closer and closer to the climactic events of the 2017 General Election, an ever-increasing (if not outright bewildering) array of political journalists, talkback radio hosts, and errant blubbery bloggers will mysteriously transmogrify themselves into ungainly combinations of soothsayer-entrail-readers spliced with Buzzfeed-grade clickbait provisioners.

The target of their churnalistic political-tarot-card-reading bravado? Many things, but in the main New Zealand First and our upcoming (and much vaunted) role in one or more potential governing coalitions.

On a certain level, it's natural and understandable that there'd be this level of interest in what we're going to do. The political terrain has aligned in such a way that New Zealand First is vital to just about ANY Government from EITHER side of the Aisle forming. Perhaps more importantly, NZF is one of the most intriguing Parties and phalanxes of personalities for political observers, academics and newshounds to follow - so given we've been so successful at capturing the popular imagination of the voting public recently, it should come as no surprise that our good name is to be used in order to inspire readership by the big television and news-media networks.

The trouble, though, is it seems a not insignificant number of journalists aren't actually particularly interested in reporting the truth. Or even the likely truth. Instead, they go for attention-grabbing headlines ('clickbait' it might be called), which are designed to sensationalize out of all proportion, meaning and semblance of realism, things about New Zealand First and Winston Peters in pursuit of eyeballs.

We saw it over the weekend when Stuff completely manufactured a quote from Winston to suggest an Islamophobic attitude on his behalf. What he said was that there was quite a diversity of views within the Muslim world as to the treatment of women. The headline which showed up all over my social media feed was "'Muslim's [sic] don't respect woman': Peters". See what I mean? The press is quite happy to engage in lies, spin and distortion in pursuit of that precious, precious advertising revenue-stream.

So it was with One News' Political Editor Corin Dann's bizarre and almost completely unsubstantiated prediction that "Winston Peters more likely to go with National".

Despite acknowledging the potential for NZ First to play a crucial role in a Labour-Greens Government post-2017, Dann nevertheless insists that we'll side with National purely on the strength of analysis that "National['s got] 48 [percent".

It is, needless to say, a bit risky to base anything of substance concerning future predictions for NZ First on something as vicissitudinal and unreliable as New Zealand media opinion polls.

Having said that, the reference in Dann's piece to the alleged difficulties of NZ First working with The Greens do deserve examination. And yes - it's true. Even despite both NZ First and The Green Party providing Confidence & Supply to a Labour-led Government during Helen Clark's last term as Prime Minister ... our relationship has historically been a bit fraught. I've detailed the precise points of skirmishing many times in previous blog-posts, but suffice to say a certain generation of Greens didn't like Winston (there's a small flurry of Greens press releases dated circa 2004 which criticize him as some form of Nazi), and Winston appears to have had a certain degree of political animosity towards Russel Norman for shenanigans which eventuated as a result of the latter's role on the Parliamentary Privileges Committee in 2008.

I've also detailed in several articles how the relationship between New Zealand First and The Greens has considerably improved in recent years (especially following the election of James Shaw to the Greens' co-leadership position; and most recently with the elevation of Deborah Morris-Travers, a former NZ First *Cabinet Minister* to the position of the Green Party's Chief of Staff, done with Winston's blessing) ... but there does remain one obvious sticking point, as cited by Winston himself.

In his view, the Greens are a party whose position on Treaty affairs, biculturalism, or whatever you may wish to call it, is one of racial division rather than unitary nationalism. Whether he's right or wrong about this, New Zealand First's strong and continuing support within Maoridom means that it's difficult to write this sort of sentiment off as mere conservative white person redneckery. (I would also add that the fact we comprehensively beat the Green Party at the last Election for party vote in all but two of the Maori electorates may potentially suggest that our vision is found rather more compelling than The Greens' own amongst New Zealanders who've consciously chosen, for electoral purposes at least, to identify as Maori)

But what interests me about this particular patu-in-the-works is not how it applies to the Green Party. I believe those differences between them and us are, to some degree, surmountable. Instead, it's the fact that this very issue - so important to Winston that he made it one of our Coalition bottom lines at the last Election - is also something he regularly and rigorously criticizes the National Party over.

In other words, and to speak plainly - the only salient reason Winston can articulate for keeping the Greens at arms' length ... is exactly the same thing that's wrong with National.

So surely, by that reason alone coalition with National ought to be regarded as at least as equidistantly unappealing as working with The Greens.

But then we factor in other things. The more centrally important issues of economic management and policy upon which New Zealand First and The Greens share so incredibly much common ground. On everything from opposing asset sales and the TPPA to seeking to clean up NZ's status as a tax haven, and reforming the Reserve Bank Act, the Green Party and New Zealand First fundamentally agree a whole helluvalot more than National and NZF do. In fact, the Black and Blue visions for New Zealand and its future couldn't be more different if they were outright diametrically opposed.

Another core area which Winston-watchers frequently neglect is the importance of what you might term 'personal loyalties' and 'grudge-bearing' to the man. He's got strong and enduring linkages to the Labour Party both from his time as their Foreign Affairs minister between 2005-2008, and previous. In a column published late last month, he was incredibly quick to point out how well he related to prominent Labour figures such as David Parker. I somehow don't see him writing defences for New Zealand National Party Ministers with anything like the same vigor.

More to the point, the chips on Winston's shoulders as applies National are so bifurcatingly large that he'd have to walk sideways in order to even think about entering a National Party caucus room.

Deep down, he's never forgiven them for the way they treated him in the early-90s when he railed against Ruthanasia and found himself on National's outer pending eventual expulsion. Forcing them to rely upon him for C&S in 1996 was some measure of revenge - as Deputy Prime Minister he suddenly outranked so very many of those craven individuals who'd dared to attempt to lay him low. But ultimately, it proved unsatisfying, as he still effectively served at National's pleasure (as demonstrated by the manner and form of the coalition's dissolution), and found himself maneuvered into a bit of a corner (not to mention a sticky situation) in consequence. This, in many ways, simply lead to further loathing and recriminations. A situation which was only exacerbated when John Key stuck a knife into Winston repeatedly over the whole 2008-2013 period.

So I think it's fair to state that Winston still bears a fairly large grudge against both National in general, and specifically its present Leadership. It's thus highly unlikely, while John Key still presides over National, that Winston would seek a governing arrangement with them.

Meanwhile, while it's definitely true that there's been some 'grudgery' directed towards The Greens in the past, it would appear on the face of it that this antipathy has increasingly become just that. A thing of the past. James Shaw appearing on Q&A over the weekend could confidently point towards improved relations with NZF, and even cite a personal closeness between Metiria Turei and Winston as evidence that we're able to bridge the divide.

Thus, as an associate put it: "While it's true he has a grudge against the Greens, I'd argue that with Russel Norman out of the picture (the main target of his dislike), his grudge against National outweighs his grudge against the Greens."

It was also pointed out by the same associate that it's the somewhat reciprocal ties of loyalty between Winston and certain elements within Labour that will likely form the bedrock of any presumptive NZ First-Labour-Greens coalition, with antipathies towards the Greens being something of a more remote secondary consideration.

Although it does also behoove me to point out that there are a range of possible alternate arrangements for NZ First in 2017 beyond working with Labour and the Greens - or even coalition with National. We've done quite a competent job from the Cross-Benches and Opposition in the past - and as The Greens' own Memorandum of Understanding with the National Party which was in force from 2011 to 204 proves, it's perfectly possible to work with the governing parties of the day on areas of shared interest without necessarily selling one's political soul.

But all things considered, I'm yet to see any serious evidence from either journalists or hacktivists which might serve to convince me that New Zealand First aligning with National is either a probability or the most likely possibility. Instead, despite the ongoing baying of certain attention-seeking figures to the contrary, the two paths which appear open for NZF at this present point of time are remaining in Opposition (perhaps in perpetuity) or reaching some form of accord with the Labour-Greens bloc.

I am sure that as the months wind down on the ever-closening approaching to 2017, the headlines and the bylines will become ever more shrill and discordant as they seek to paint New Zealand First as the fantastical - and fantasy-strewn - perfect partner for all manner of disparate, diverse and deleterious governing combinations.

But remember: It's the People that decide what the government looks like. Not the Pundits and the News Publishers.

[Note: Thanks to Alex for being that associate]

Friday, June 3, 2016

Patrick Gower Plays Fantasy Cabinet Football. Loses. - A Response From An NZ First Perspective

Way back towards the start of the year, when questions about what role NZ First might potentially play in and around government post-2017 started to be asked internally, I proposed to my comrades the idea of playing what we termed 'fantasy Cabinet football' to try and work out what the shape of an NZ First party in Government might look like.

We batted around a few ideas, but ultimately put the notion on the backburner, as it appeared a hugely complex piece of prognostication whose accuracy would be contingent upon so many factors (including the likely shape of NZF's 2017 Parliamentary List) which were simply unknowable or hadn't been decided yet.

In other words, we chose wisdom over speculation and restraint over rampant excitability.

Predictably, however, Newshub's Patrick Gower shares neither of those virtues; and has generated his own exercise in fantasy Cabinet football ministerial portfolio allocations for a hypothetical NZ First-Labour-Greens government.

Upon first setting eyes on his list, I had but two questions:

First, who on EARTH did he "interview" to get this information - and second, how over the top and absurdist was their sense of humour.

Because seriously. The list he's prepared is, in many ways, a joke - with the inclusion of Shane Jones, let alone Shane Jones rather above Ron Mark as one of its multifarious misfiring punchlines.

We were all (perhaps somewhat irrationally) expecting better from Gower's noted correspondent and inside source, Mr M.Y. Keyboard. Less charitable interpretations might suggest the misinformation in question flowed forth from his close relationship with Mr M.Yass.

But while it's easy to criticize and castigate (fun, too!), it's inestimably harder to actually construct something of worth and value. Particularly in the fraught and effervescent field of political analysis.

So in a spirit of showing Gower where he went wrong, here's a cursory critique and reworking of his Fantasy Cabinet Football team.

The first point of forehead-vein-twitching is whom he's included in the team-pool. Obviously, there are no major issues with Winston, Ron Mark, or Fletcher Tabuteau being listed as prime candidates for Cabinet Ministerial positions. Each are hugely competent MPs in complete command of their portfolios and demonstrably positive records in both Parliament and the Parliamentary legislative process. Two of this number - Winston and Ron - have even been Ministers before, while Fletcher's strong private members' bills this term have shown a clear strength at identifying issues in his portfolio areas - before they become issues - and coming up with creative, innovative solutions with which to tackle them.

As much as I might have crossed swords (and an array of other, slightly more painful implements of dentistry) with Tracey Martin over the last two years, she is also an arguably competent inclusion at the Ministerial level - and has seriously positive relationships with many of the sector and interest groups within her portfolio areas. Her wide array of positive relationships with non-NZF MPs are also a plus, and nobody doubts her often absolutely frenetic work-ethic. When I was working under her for Parliamentary Services during the last Parliamentary term, I was continually impressed by her command of both policy and legislative detail as well as elements of vision in her portfolio areas. There are clearly many worse choices one could make for a spot in Cabinet.

As applies Clayton Mitchell, due to his private sector background there is a logical role for him as a Minister for Small Business. His personal interests and aptitudes might also make him a good fit for Minister for Sport and Recreation.

And now, for the others whom Gower's occasionally inexplicably listed.

First up, what on earth is Shane Jones doing there. He's not part of our Party, and as far as I can tell, rumours of his return have been several shades of conspiracy from various different largely self-interested sources attempting to plant 'words in your ear' with pliant and pliable media mouthpieces. While I can't with iron-clad assurance say "it's not going to happen" ... I *can* say that there's no verifiable information out there which would have allowed Gower to make such an incendiary prediction with any shred of objectively factual basis. This is even leaving aside whether you'd WANT such a proverbial 'loose cannon' as Jones running the arguably rather delicate Foreign Affairs portfolio in the first place.

About the nicest thing I can possibly say about this "prediction" is that it's a pretty passable troll-attempt from Gower to suggest that the TPPA-promoting Jones ought to be included not only in our Party - but at its highest echelons, and a few notches up from our evident leadership heir apparent, Ron Mark. Certainly got MY choler rising, at any rate.

Second, Stuart Nash. While there have been some rumours around Nash's defection as an attempt to go from 'in the red' to 'in the black' previously, I'm unsure how concrete any of the information behind them might actually be. Certainly, in some areas the occasionally somewhat outspoken Nash does align towards NZF over the direction of the previous five years of Labour - but smaller scale disagreements of policy and emphasis of direction do not a defection make. Gower doesn't seem to be particularly sure either - hence why he's posted a "watch this space' next to Nash's party membership in this whole contrivance.

Third, Ria Bond. By all accounts, she's improved rather markedly over her year or so in Parliament - although while meaning no disrespect to her, I would question whether somebody who'd have been an MP for a mere two years by the time this hypothetical 2017 Government got off the ground, would truly be ready for the weighty responsibilities of a Ministerial role. Then again, several of the NZF MPs cited in both Gower's and my own projections have only been in Parliament for a year longer - so perhaps I am being unduly harsh. It would be considerably easier to adjudge her suitability or otherwise if Gower had thought to include *which* Ministerial portfolio she was supposed to be taking up outside of Cabinet. But he hasn't, so I have to wonder whether Gower's sighted future talent in Ria - or whether he's merely indulged in plucking names at random out of a hat to make up numbers.

What was outright curious, however, were some of the omissions.

Darroch Ball has been an absolutely stellar performer in the Social Development portfolio already this term - with visionary legislative proposals, and such an adroit command of the detail in his area that he's managed to force Minister of Social Development Anne Tolley to apologize to the House for misleading with misinformation on quite a number of occasions. Darroch has also recognized and made use of the natural synergies between the Social Development and Youth Affairs portfolios to deliver strong policy for change inestimably superior to pretty much anything the actual Minister's come out with. He is somebody whom I'd absolutely back to the hilt for a Ministerial warrant and Cabinet position, and his lack of inclusion on a list of NZ First ministerial prospects is absolutely criminal.

Another thing which leaped out at me about Gower's Fantasy Cabinet Football lineup was just how ... white-and-Maori it was. With the sole exception of Labour's Carmel Sepuloni (whom Gower's tipped for Pasifika Affairs), there was nobody in there with a migrant-community background. Instead, Tracey Martin was put forward for the Ethnic Affairs role. And while Tracey's work with the Shakti Trust has been admirable and shows an ability to interface with communities and backgrounds not her own ... there seemed to be another, far more obvious candidate in the form of NZ First's Mahesh Bindra. Who, apart from meeting the minimum standard of actually being from one of the communities covered by the portfolio (and therefore better able to relate to and represent the concerns of same), is also - as applies the Indian community at least - in a word, ubiquitous. Seriously. Every Mandir [Hindu Temple] I go to, they know Mahesh. If you follow him on social media, you'll see that literally all his spare time outside of Parliament is taken up with engaging with this community, occasionally clocking up four or five or more events per day. He is quite simply the hardest-working MP outside of Parliament in this area I think I've ever seen. His pre-Parliamentary background in Corrections gives him a strong insight into that portfolio as well, and would make him a natural pick for an (Associate) Minister role there too.

Ultimately, there are many NZ First MPs whose competencies have been ignored in Gower's piece - and I only have space to directly address a few of them.

But the other major issue with this list of hypothetical ministerial allocations are some of the ... curious mismatches of talents and aptitudes with portfolios.

Several of Gower's picks are half decent. Winston Peters' staked Ministerial responsibilities make decent sense, allowing him to build upon career-defining strengths in regional development, immigration, racing, senior citizens, foreign affairs and Pacific relations. Ron Mark is a natural fit for Defence , and given his strong record against Amalgamation as well as direct experience in the area as Mayor of Carterton - could also pick up Local Government (although I'm left scratching my head slightly about him running the Christchurch Regeneration portfolio - it's not that Ron can't do it ... if he can build things in Oman, then Canterbury should present no trouble. I just find it a little inexplicable that a Christchurch-based MP like Labour's Megan Woods wouldn't be given the role).

And, in a hypothetical, totally imaginary world wherein Shane Jones becomes an NZ First MP and Minister, I could well see the logic of handing him a Fisheries portfolio. Tracey Martin's ardent feminism - while a bit of an acquired taste in some circles - would certainly contribute to a strong Minister for Women's Affairs; although some might question whether a single term as a Local Board Member is the best qualification for a position overseeing the Local Government portfolio - particularly when NZ First's Denis O'Rourke has fifteen years' experience as a Christchurch City Councillor to draw upon.

Matters arguably worsen when we see whom Gower's plonked in Primary Industries - Fletcher Tabuteau.
While nobody denies that Primary Industries is an important portfolio for New Zealand's present and future export growth and development, the plain fact of the matter is that it would be a questionable use of Fletcher's considerable talents as both an MP and a former academic/economist. A position such as Trade would be a much more logical fit, particularly considering the excellent private members' bills he's put forward in this area. His strong background and longstanding involvement in both tourism and education (secondary and tertiary) would also suggest potential Ministerial competencies in those areas.

All in all, Gower's attempt at playing Fantasy Cabinet Football is ... not even an especially competently written fantasy. The level of seriousness with which it ought to be taken is clearly elucidated by the fact it's littered with obvious attempted-witticisms like referring to David Cunliffe as "Under-Secretary to the Co-Vice-Deputy Prime Ministers on miscellaneous issues".

And yet, whether born out of ignorance, laziness, or actual malevolence, the greatest jokes in the piece appear to be the arguably unintentional ones. Things like omitting some of NZ First's best and brightest new MPs in favour of making a stirring troll-point by including Shane Jones on a pedestal.

Some might argue that such an obviously highly speculative if not outright onanistic piece of pay-by-the-word political "journalism" hardly merits a response.

And yet going off the numerous ranks of my friends and associates on social media and elsewhere who've either taken this piece at face value as a potential shape for a hypothetical post-2017 NZF/Greens/Labour government ... or who, despite recognizing its shortcomings, still believe there's a few grains of truth in it here and there ... we are left with little choice other than to seek in some small way to correct its more manifestly misaimed assertions.

The trouble with vacuums, in both nature as in politics (which can often be decidedly unnatural), is that they have a nasty habit of being filled. Whether you want them to be or not.

By refusing - thus far, at any rate - to put forward any serious speculation or projections as to who might do what in a Black/Red/Green alliance, we have thus consciously invited figures such as Patrick Gower to cast their own stones and assertions into the void and play some level of role in shaping the public's perceptions of what this prospective future government might look like and function.

About the only positive to be said for Gower's piece (other than the fact that it will help boost name-recognition for some of our MPs and get people used to thinking of them rightly as Ministerial-caliber), is that it has kicked off dozens of discussions on a more serious level about who and what might actually do the heavy lifting in a three-way coalition partnership.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

The Labour-Greens Agreement - Reactions From An NZ First Perspective

Unquestionably the biggest political news of this week was the joint announcement by Labour and the Greens of a 'Memorandum of Understanding' to take them through to the next Election.

This is a pretty impressive impact given it's merely codifying in the form of a single A-4 sheet of paper something that's basically been an accepted fact of political reality for easily the best part of a decade.

We've all known that Labour and The Greens have to work together in order to change the government since pretty much as soon as the dust cleared following the 2008 General Election. They even tried (rather cackhandedly) a similar pre-electoral accommodation heading into 2014. There's very little that's new here (except a certain intelligence of flexibility in strategy).

And yet some people still managed to get rather annoyed about it.

Winston lead the way in the media, making vague and non-commital statements in opposition to what he termed "jack ups or rigged arrangements behind the peoples' back." And while i'm not entirely sure, myself, how conducting a fairly open and transparent coalition courtship in full view of the nation's newsmedia and voting public counts as behind *anyone's* back (except, arguably, Peters') ... on the plus side, at least he didn't rule out working with either Labour or The Greens as a result of this agreement.

Some of his followers were less circumspect, however.

One officeholder suggested this agreement mandated NZF go into Opposition against the Labour-Greens bloc should they win. Another compared the memorandum in entirely unflattering terms to the electoral accord wrought between MANA and The Internet Party - and professed it doomed toward the same depressing outcome.

Out in the Party rank-and-file, opinions were more mixed. Several of my associates made cases that the agreement is of limited impact to us as NZ First belongs in almost perma-Opposition anyway, regardless of who's in Government - as that's where we naturally do best and have the most to contribute. More pessimistic individuals suggested that given NZ First might not even be ready for Government in 2017, being infavourably disposed to forming a part of that government would perhaps not be such a bad thing.

Having thought about this all evening, and weighed up the various perspectives, my position is a little different.

We're in politics, theoretically, to make change. We don't get to do that so much from the sidelines (although it behooves me to point out NZF's stirling record of being able to deliver progressive outcomes from the Crossbenches). In 2017 - and perhaps again in 2020 depending upon the result and outcome of that Campaign - we face a choice as to which Government we want in charge of New Zealand.

Who we want running the country - or whom we want running it into the ground.

Everyone knows that barring some serious seismic shifts in New Zealand politics, Labour and The Greens don't have enough votes between them to change that government from the present blue-yellow-purple-and-brown incumbents. Even if Labour and Greens strategic co-operation successfully eliminates Peter Dunne in Ohariu (via the Greens candidate no longer taking the several thousand votes which Dunne clings to the seat by the skin of his teeth with) ... they'll still be several short of the numbers required to form a Government.

This places us here in New Zealand First in the arguably unenviable position of "kingmakers". Whatever we do, some potentially quite substantial segment of our support is going to be annoyed - and possibly walk out.

That's why Winston's always so circumspect about putting out any signs as to whom we're likely to work with during the campaign. (Although he's not above putting a line out into the media stressing the possibility of a Labour-NZF electoral outcome if the media gets too enthusiastic about NZF-National - as happened, for instance, during 2014)

But part of what it means to be a mature, grown-up political Party is having the ability to indulge in a free and frank discussion of what our options might be. How we might contribute to the future shape and governance of New Zealand.

Our options 'on the left' span a continuous spectrum from what you might call "All In" (a full Coalition with Labour and the Greens with shared Ministerial portfolios and an agreed upon set of implementable policy a la our 1996 mistake of an agreement with National) through to "I'm Out" (a retreat into the Underworld of Parliamentary Opposition replete with various and sundry statements about the superior desirability of Reigning there, rather than Serving in Coalition).

This Memorandum of Understanding betwixt Labour and The Greens has changed none of that.

Neither The Greens nor Labour are more unpalatable in reality today than they were on Monday. Even if some might insist that the thought of Labour *and* The Greens together is some form of absolutely repugnant toxic gumbo, the fact remains that we *always knew* (deep down, anyway) that it was going to be virtually impossible to form a viable alternative government with Labour without them.

One way around this might be an arrangement similar to that which prevailed during the dying days of Helen Clark's Labour Government. Due to the ... unpleasantness inside United Future which saw Peter Dunne losing two of his MPs, the only way Labour was able to govern was through both New Zealand First and The Greens providing Confidence & Supply - and both from outside of Cabinet, as well as (according to Winston at least) outside of Government.

Another way could be Labour and one of either The Greens or New Zealand First in a more formal arrangement (perhaps even a Coalition), with the other smaller party providing C&S.

This would give at least one "minor" party a helluvalot of power (with the potential to seriously hold a gun to the head of the government by threatening to withdraw C&S on an issue-by-issue basis), while also allowing them a wide latitude to criticize Government decisions in a manner similar to how NZF took Labour to task over the Chinese Free Trade Deal.

Sound like Winston's cup of tea?

The point is, even allowing for the fact that two out of three of these parties aren't exactly on the most straight-up polyamorous of terms with one another (instead preferring some level of 'exclusivity'), there are a myriad of ways in which we can co-operate post-Election to have the government changed.

*If* we want to.

Because that's the other "problem" here. There are somewhat vocal portions to both the NZF and Greens camps which don't want to see the other in Government. Whether it's because they genuinely see us as racist parody 1950s throwbacks in mafia-style suits swathed in transparency-occluding cigarette smoke ... or whether it's because we see them as dope-smoking, acid-dropping, money-printing, borderline eco-terrorists ... there is always internal gain to be had in spiking the other's chances.

And as several of my more prescient friends have pointed out, one of the likely impacts of this Labour-Greens agreement will be a marked increase in NZ First support - particularly at the expense of Labour's blue-collar contingent opposed to phantom mentions of "social engineering" or excessively nebulously defined "extremist policy". Meanwhile, statements by a certain Green high-up from some weeks before this policy was announced about an intent to 'shut NZ First out' via campaigning on a coalition government-in-waiting going into 2017, go to show that this is definitely not a unidirectional flow-of-problem.

In other words, attempts to drag wild horses together in order to get them to pull in a common direction for the common good are going to run smack bang into that oldest of political forces ... rampant tribalism. We're talking, in some cases, about people whose very sense of political identity is so intimately bound up in hating and opposing what they think "the other guy" represents that they have no interest in 'engaging' across the relevant party lines except in the form of a skirmish. And that's before you add in the gravitational effects of the customary supermassive egos of politicians and political parties - or, in NZ First and The Greens' case, somewhat simmering older histories. (In case you've forgotten, in 2004 Rod Donald did a thing about NZ First's policies being "Nazi"; Winston shut The Greens out of Government in retaliation the next year; Russell Norman stuck a knife in at the Parliamentary Privileges Committee in 2008 before making a plea for NZF voters to abandon ship in the run-up to 2011 ... and the list goes on)

There are quite some vicious and substantial tidal forces to be overcome here.

Yet that doesn't mean bridging the gap is entirely impossible.

Part of the strategy to do so would entail high-level talks and encounters. Winston famously bonded with first Jim Bolger and then Labour's David Parker over a certain unquantified amount of whiskey.

This direct person-to-person relationship building exercise produced concrete and identifiable gains, in the form of a theoretically dubious coalition agreement in the case of the former; and policy co-operation in occasionally surprising areas (such as Winston voting for Labour's ETS) in the latter. Considering Winston still pops up to defend Parker about allegations from a decade ago despite Parker existing in what's unquestionably the strongly neoliberal section of Labour's internal political spectrum ... in both cases, this goes to show that person-to-person points of connection can handily trump and bridge even seriously dissonant policy and ethos divides.

Another vital element to the strategy is behind-the-scenes network building and back-room communications. This will be one of the ways in which Labour and The Greens came together to bridge their own political fault-lines to make the present agreement happen; and I've already covered in some detail the strong potential for a Greens effort at reaching out to New Zealand First in much the same way. In specia, the Greens' new Chief of Staff being an ex-NZF MP with still-active links back in our direction was reportedly part of her charm when being selected for the role.

But the third element is making the whole thing seem possible or credible. Helping to fill in and then sell That Vision Thing to an occasionally unbelieving public and often actively disinterested Party faithful. This is a little more difficult considering we're operating within a media environment which seems actively disposed towards creating conflict and fault-lines between parties in order to manufacture political drama to report on ... but it can and must be done.

If we're serious about Changing The Government come 2017 (and even posts from official NZ First sources outright state that we are) then that's what we're going to have to do.

To adapt Georges Clemenceau, post-election governing arrangements are too important to be left purely to Labour & The Greens.

[Special Thanks to D. Tong for the cover image]