Sunday, September 17, 2017

Does Labour's Man In The Wairarapa Have A Gaping Gulf Betwixt Rhetoric And Reality?

Earlier in the week, Wairarapa Labour candidate Kieran McAnulty made some pretty stirling remarks about the problems of social housing and housing affordability at a local Meet The Candidates event. He's quoted by the Wairarapa Times-Age as stating an intent to "prioritise" sorting the present situation wherein denizens of the local Trust House social housing scheme have to "spend a huge amount of their income just to pay the rent bill".

Now on the face of it, that's a pretty admirable commitment. And he's absolutely right in his follow-up remarks about how the high cost of living in what's supposed to be "affordable" housing for the less well-off has significant flow-on effects for the kids of tenants, and the wider community as well.

But, as ever in politics ... we campaign in poetry, and we govern in prose.

And as applies McAnulty, it's his conduct as a Director on the Board of the trust which owns and runs the housing program - a position which gives him a say in the rates that are charged in rent to the Trust's tenants - which gives me pause to question just how genuine he is in what he's been saying.

After all - how can you trust a man who so righteously decries the overlevying of rents from those who can least afford it one minute ... yet who's serving on the Board of the very same entity he now claims is overcharging its tenants.

Surely the decent think to do would have been to front up, explain both yourself and your position on the corporate decision-making body responsible for the issue you're now up in arms about, and then take it from there. Rather than grandstanding on the issue in a candidates' meeting in a manner which appears deliberately calculated to make it seem like the whole thing's the result of somebody else's wrongdoing that McAnulty had no part in or accountability for.

Now if you've just joined us from somewhere outside the Wairarapa, a brief explanation is probably called for as to just what this trust is and why it's supposed to exist in the first place.

We'll leave aside the whole history of the thing for reasons of space. But suffice to say, the organization McAnulty is on the Board of is the direct result of an ordinary liquor licensing trust finding itself transformed rather rapidly into an organization dedicated to 'picking up the pieces' of National's moronic bout of neoliberal economic "reform" in the mid-late 1990s.

One way by which it did that, was through moving to acquire the social housing stock in the area that National was attempting to fire-sale privatize in advance of the 1999 General Election. The idea was to minimize much of the harm associated with the Government's flogging off these properties to their mates in the private sector, through having a local organization set up and run in the public interest take over the ownership of same and responsibility for renting them out to those in need.

That's a pretty noble objective, if you ask me - and part of me would like to think that the absolutely bargain basement the Nats asked of the Trust for the (then) 541 houses in question [some 10.5 million dollars all up - an average price of about $19,408.50 apiece] was motivated by this consideration.

According to the Trust's own history document, for the first few years after they took ownership of the houses, they roundly met this objective. They charged well below market-rate rents, and even managed to lower rents in some areas below where they'd been before the  Trust took ownership.

However, in the last few years, something's evidently changed; and despite the Trust's assurances on their website that they're still very much in the "affordable housing" business, it appears that they've now moved towards a somewhat different model of 'service provision'. Indeed, McAnulty's own campaign speech from two years ago - when he was running for a seat on a coterminous organization, from whence he's made the leap to where he is today - makes it pretty clear that by 2015 at least, a profit was being turned from the Trust's supposedly "social" housing stock. Interestingly, at that point McAnulty didn't appear to have issue with the trust making money off the most vulnerable in his community, provided that the resultant cash was put back into other philanthropic ventures elsewhere.

Which brings us back to the present day - a situation wherein the Trust doing what McAnulty seemingly suggested was right and proper when he was running for a *different* office, has now thanks to his efforts [in possibly more than one sense of the word] become a minor election issue at local candidate forae.

To be fair to the Trust, it IS investing in new "affordable housing" to go alongside its extant stock of presently presumably less-affordable properties, with conversion efforts already underway to replace a larger three-bedroom house with a number of smaller one or two bedroom units, at a cost of $1.2 million. Money which may very well have come from the over-charged rents to other tenants that McAnulty has taken issue with recently.

So maybe, at some point in the next Parliamentary term, some eight lucky tenants will be able to enjoy [for the moment, anyway] low-rent accommodation in exactly the manner that Trust House was theoretically set up to provide.

That's great, as a small start.

But in the mean-time, I really do think it's on Kieran McAnulty to step up and explain to his neighbours and those considering a vote for him just what it is that he's been doing prior to last Tuesday to try and lower rents for those living in his organization's housing. If anything.

Or is the reason I can't seem to find him discussing this issue in any of his many and various capacities and candidacies over the last few years before September because he only 'discovered' it was a problem when he found himself sharing a stage with folk who'd taken a much more substantial interest in it for a much greater period of time.

Friday, September 8, 2017

A "Rumour" For Ron Shows The Race Is On In The Wairarapa

Well this is interesting, isn't it. A few weeks back, I penned a piece setting out why I believed Ron Mark would be the best hope for those wishing to take on National's Alaistar Scott in the Wairarapa.

The reaction to this article was surprisingly positive. People seemed to see sense in the arguments put forward; and even if they were ordinarily supporters of other parties, many folk appeared to straight-up agree that the only way to ouster National's Alaistar Scott from the seat would be uniting behind Ron.

And then something interesting happened.

I got a lead on a major party poll that had just been done in the Wairarapa, and which basically confirmed what I'd been saying. It ranked the contenders for the seat both in terms of their support out there in the electorate (i.e. how many folk were likely to vote for them) - but also in terms of their 'likeability', relatability, recognizability and such.

The results showed Ron Mark clearly beating National's Alaistar Scott - the incumbent - for likeability and recognizability. Which is entirely unsurprising, given one usually has to actually be out there in the electorate doing things for voters to get an idea of who you are - as Ron has been for awhile now. And, perhaps more to the point, the fact that Scott just plainly isn't. In fact, he's widely derided in beltway circles for preferring to spend his time inspecting the greens of the Lower Hutt Golf Course rather than attending to issues on his own patch of the Wairarapa. A handicap, so to speak, in both areas.

Perhaps a little more unexpected, however, were the figures for the more direct question about whom those surveyed were intending to vote for. In these, Scott was still ahead of Ron Mark -  but only by a rather bare, skin-of-the-teeth margin. Which, given the traditionally strongly Blue nature of the seat, Scott's advantage of incumbency, and National's absolute earnestness to roll out the decidedly non-kosher long-term wooden wine-receptacle politics in the Regions this year, is quite remarkable.

After all - prior to this year's Election, we have to go back to 2005 to find another instance of anybody being even vaguely close to beating the Nat candidate in the Wairarapa. And that was not long after the absolute nadir of National's support nation-wide in 2002 (also the last time a non-National MP actually held the seat - fellow former Mayor of Carterton, Georgina Byer).

And while I'd certainly predicted Ron Mark would be in a position to take the seat by 2020, his acceleration to almost pole-position three years ahead of my own favourable predictions is a most welcome turn of events.

The 2017 electoral season, in other words, keeps throwing up surprises!

Now at this point, it's probably worth putting forward a word on the provenance of this poll. In the best of journalistic tradition, I'm afraid I'm not at liberty to say which of the major parties commissioned it - nor how its results wound up in my hands. To do so would be to likely give away my sources.

However, one reason why there's been a bit of a delay in me publishing this piece is because I carried out appropriate 'due-diligence' on what I was given - and had its results independently confirmed via a number of other avenues. I therefore have no doubt that this is genuine. And by way of corroboration, would also point towards other outlets such as Newsroom making mention of private polls of the Wairarapa Electorate which they're aware of that may even have Ron Mark AHEAD of Alaistar Scott outright.

So suffice to say, at least one Major Party has every reason to be very, very scared right now down there in the Wairarapa.

And as for the other one ... well, it is a sad reality that as nice a person as I'm sure he is, Labour's Kieran McAnulty is simply not making a meaningful dent on National's Alaistar Scott. In both of the areas of this poll - likeability/recognizability and electoral support - McAnulty was trailing a rather distant third behind both Ron Mark and Alaistar Scott.

It therefore seems quite clear to me that folk who wish to see the backside of Alaistar Scott in the Wairarapa - and here, I mean as it walks off into the middle distance, rather than being firmly fixed in a sedentary position when it comes to local issues - really do have only one option to vote for this Election. And that's Ron Mark.

Because regardless of where you are on the political spectrum or whom you ordinarily support with your party vote, with the numbers stacking up the way they are now a vote for Ron Mark is a vote against National's Alaistar Scott - while a vote for Labour's Kieran McAnulty rather than Ron, is effectively a vote for National.

It might seem like a bit of an odd thing, insisting that a vote for the Labour candidate is in fact implicit support for the National incumbent, given our MMP electoral system. But MMP only means that you have a party vote which counts at the nation-wide level, in addition  to your electorate vote.

It doesn't somehow magically transmogrify the actual electorate contests themselves into a 'proportional' representation system. They remain, as they always have, an FPP competition.

That means that there's one winner on the night - and often, they only get there as a result of 'vote-splitting' between the parties who are nominally opposed to that candidate. Consider Ohariu[/Belmont] for the last three elections. If the Greens hadn't stood a candidate there, or if their supporters had decided to vote for the Labour candidate, then Peter Dunne would have been toast.

But up until this year, they didn't - so Dunne managed to desperately cling on, despite consistently receiving less of the vote there than Labour and the Greens put together. A similar pattern has transpired for the last three elections in Auckland Central - wherein the Labour candidate would have easily trounced National's Nikki Kaye were it not for a surprising number of Greens voters deciding to back Denise Roche in a pointless display of partisan loyalty rather than voting for Jacinda Ardern [or, in 2008, Judith Tizard].

Don't let that situation play out in the Wairarapa!

Now, I criticize Greens supporters in these electorates choosing to vote for people like Gareth Hughes or Denise Roche as "pointless displays of partisan loyalty" not due to any intrinsic animosity towards the Green Party. Quite the contrary. It's just that in both cases, Greens voters *kept* voting for  them with their candidate votes DESPITE the fact that i) they were never going to win the seat, ii) their votes could have easily stopped the local Nat; and iii) more to the point, in several of these elections these candidates were virtually assured entry into Parliament *anyway* due to relatively high list placings.

There was thus literally nothing to be gained by these Greens voters other than the decidedly cosmetic "benefit" of their preferred party having a non-zero candidate vote in these electorates when you go and look up the results on wikipedia some years later. And is that REALLY the sort of thing that's worth sacrificing a chance at blocking or turfing out an objectionable local MP over?

In any case, according to the 'effective list' rankings done by Kiwiblog [i.e. who gets brought in as a List MP for each party, once their [likely] electorate seat wins are taken into consideration - as these are removed from the number of list MPs a party gets to ensure proportionality in Parliament], on present polling Kieran McAnulty would be easily assured of a List Seat anyway, regardless of how well he does in the Wairarapa. In fact, off the back of the Colmar-Brunton results from mid-way through last month, McAnulty would be the sixteenth List MP that Labour would get - with another six List MPs after him as a 'buffer'. Since then, Labour's support has gone UP by a further six percent according to the same poll, making McAnulty a virtually assured prospect for Parliament regardless of whether Wairarapians vote for him or not.

So therefore - if, for some reason, you're part of the minority of Wairarapa voters who really like Kieran McAnulty and want to see him as an MP ... then the most plausible way to make that happen is by giving Labour your Party Vote. NOT by voting for him with your candidate vote.

And if you're somebody who wants National's incumbent inflatable-arm man gone, then there really is only one choice. Vote Ron. Choosing to support any other candidate is pretty much tantamount to consciously voting for the status quo of ongoing National neglect of the seat by Alaistar Scott.

Because - as history shows us - a split vote only helps the Nat incumbent. And because, for a whole host of reasons explored in my previous piece, it is virtually impossible in this election for the Labour candidate to actually draw enough support to seriously take on Alaistar Scott.

Meanwhile, Ron's already out there working hard and closing the gap. Give him the tools he needs to help finish the job!