The Class of 2014-2017


Parliament has dissolved. The class of 2014-2017 have dispersed to start their election campaigns or slip into their first days of post Parliamentary life. The debating chamber shall not see any activity over than public tours until sometime probably in late October. So here is the final report card for the individual parties (the report card for the key M.P.’s will follow in a couple of days):

NATIONAL: C+

National started the term with every reason to be confident. But within weeks Mike Sabin had resigned. Although the party continued to enjoy sky high polling, Ministers have shown signs of being worn out and disinterested in their portfolio’s. Former Prime Minister John Key’s resignation was a bolt from the blue, but National M.P.’s picked themselves, dusted themselves and kept going. Prime Minister Bill English has been solid but unspectacular in his management. Appearing bereft of ideas and controversies such as Todd Barclay rumbling in the background should concern the party.

National might still yet win this election and it would be a truly historic event if they do, but the rise of Jacinda Ardern in the Labour party has many reaching for the panic button. They will need to fight – as Ms Ardern said of Labour – the campaign of their lives.

LABOUR: C

Until a few weeks ago, the signs on the wall for Labour were looking deathly.

Jacinda Ardern is in her early days as leader, but there is no doubt she has shaken up the party – and the New Zealand political landscape – in these last three weeks. Andrew Little came across as a humble guy and liked by many, but he just could not make the necessary hits on National. Slumped in the polls and staring down the gun barrel of electoral oblivion, Labour would have got a D rating.

Labour would get a C+ or potentially a B- except that they have not yet announced any bold policies to get people talking and Ms Ardern was not joking when she said Labour will have to fight the campaign of its life.

A.C.T.: D

David Seymour is A.C.T. and A.C.T. is David Seymour. They rely on each other for survival. A.C.T. has given Mr Seymour a vehicle to get himself into Parliament. That vehicle cannot go anywhere without him.

In fairness to Mr Seymour though, his Bill of Parliament on Euthenasia has been well received in many quarters on both sides of the divide. His support for cannabis reform has also gone down well. That is where it ends though because A.C.T. and everything it stands for is not obviously any more popular than it was in 2014.

Mr Seymour will probably return as National is unlikely to action his demise in Epsom even though it is capable of doing so.

United Future: D

Peter Dunne, the other one man band in Parliament might be on life support in terms of his political career. Sagging in internal polling in Ohariu and faced with a formidable Labour challenge in his electorate one the Governments most stable supporters might not last the election. Mr Dunne started life in the Labour Party and left to start United Future. Over the last nine years he has infuriated people on the left and the right by voting for/against legislation simply because of the confidence and supply deal with National. The one time he probably infuriated the right was shooting down the Resource Management legislation in 2015.

Greens C+

Until Metiria Turei’s admission of deceiving Work and Income New Zealand, the Greens were nicely placed to get a B. They had unveiled a list of candidates that impressed many. Their steady popularity throughout the last three years and the growing environmental and socio-economic problems as well as the increasingly obvious unwillingness of the centre-right to attack the causes of poverty, have made them a constant in the polls. Mrs Turei’s acknowledgement of wrong doing was brave, but her failure to either immediately pay up or quit has caused potentially lasting damage.

The Jacinda explosion has not helped them either, robbing the party of support just when it needed it most.

Maori Party: C

The Maori Party continues to be a source of mystery and frustration to me. For all their talk about helping Maori I am yet to see any progress on any of the rather distressing array of problems confronting Maori in society – whether it is truancy or youth crime, health statistics, educational performance or employment, the preoccupation with Treaty issues has become an issue itself. They will probably pick up another Member of Parliament at the election, but what they are able to do post-election might very well depend on none other than Winston Peters.

New Zealand First: B

I left New Zealand First earlier this year. Disgruntled with the archaic, non communicative ways of the party board, I was one of a number who have either quit the party but will still vote for them, or quit elected positions as electorate committee members.

But despite the internal problems, the party performs well in Parliament and has been a constant source of trouble for National. The fact that the National Party have largely just laughed off or tried to sweep what the New Zealand First caucus have raised in Parliament under the carpet is not so much a reflection on 12 M.P.’s trying their best, as a reflection of the lack of support they got from Labour and the Greens.

Winston Peters, like the Greens has taken a hit in the polls from the rise of Jacinda Ardern. But better than anyone in Parliament he knows there is only one poll that actually counts and that is on 23 September 2017.

Election race tightens: Nothing can be taken for granted


For National this election has two major problems that one might say are almost indigenous to third term Governments seeking a fourth term in office:

  1. History rarely favours four term peace time Governments (the National led Government of Keith Holyoake is the exception)
  2. The third term malaise or third term blues

Only one Government has lasted longer than Holyoake since 1900 and that was the Labour Government of 1934-1949. It lasted that long because the period 1939-1945 was during World War 2 and it was seen as important that there be stability in a time of uncertainty. The third term malaise is a combination of early weariness among Ministers and Caucus members caused by the demands of the job, their crisis management skills – or lack thereof – starting to show and generally an opposition that by this point has usually revived.

So far National appears unaffected by the explosion of Labours new leader Jacinda Ardern into the media. Left, right and centre there was no getting away from her in the media last week. She has appeared to be everything Prime Minister Bill English is not – young and vibrant, deft with social media and sure footed in the face of challenges. But the election is in its early days yet and this could easily change.

For Labour this election just a few weeks ago looked like having the truly historic distinction of being just the second in peacetime to hand down a fourth term to the Opposition. The polls were grim. Andrew Little was trying his best, but whatever he did he simply could not connect with voters and it was starting to show in the most alarming ways. People liked him as a person, a human being, but as a politician seeking to be the next Prime Minister he was just not there.

Fast forward to the present day and a second poll has confirmed what the first one said. There has been a massive earthquake in the New Zealand political scene. The powerful aftershocks coming through show that few parts of the political spectrum have gotten away unaffected by the rise of Ms Ardern.

For New Zealand First the results will be disappointing. After two years of a consistent upwards creep in the polls, the prospect of setting the terms of the next Government may have slipped from their grasp. The party will still get around 10 Members of Parliament if it maintains its current 8% support, but both polls suggest that the 16-18 Members of Parliament it seemed assured of at the start of the month are no longer a certainty. Had N.Z.F. maintained that support, it would have meant a drop in support for National or a very large – possibly fatal – drop in support for the Greens.

Despite this, New Zealand First probably still hold the balance of power – the way it tips will now totally depend on how National and Labour play out their election campaigns. Whereas a few weeks ago, the options looked like a National-N.Z. First coalition or a National minority Government controlled by N.Z. First, the prospects of a Labour-N.Z. First coalition are not so far fetched that they should be dismissed.

But the real loss is to the Greens. Despite many people now rallying in defence of Metiria Turei, the W.I.N.Z. revelations and her handling of them have rocked the party like a torpedo hitting a ship. The damage is significant and their campaign is definitely – after looking like potentially their strongest ever – limping along. For the first time in three election campaigns they are playing a distinct second fiddle to Labour and possibly even New Zealand First.

Their campaign has other problems as well. On one hand they looked like they introduced their most powerful candidates with the intention of running some serious electorate races. On the other hand it looks like they also shot themselves in the foot by only announcing 29 candidates to contest 71 electorates, meaning even if their candidates all got in and the other parties on the left were obliterated, they would not be able to form a Government on the simple grounds of not having enough candidates.

As for A.C.T., United Future and the Maori Party, none of these parties seem likely to pick up new Members of Parliament unless they have a revolution in their game. None of them have support in the polls to suggest that between them any more than maybe 1-2 more Members of Parliament will be picked up. These would most likely come in the Maori electorates.

But six weeks out from the election, one thing is loud and clear. Labour is out of first gear for the first time since 2008.

A.C.T.: an annoyingly useful party


A political contact sometime ago when I was first getting into political parties and their politics once said to me when I asked him why he was an A.C.T. member, “It’s the party of liberty and freedom”.

That was one Rick Giles, who famously went on to say during an interview that the case against climate change existing was so compelling that no further explanation was needed. Mr Giles has since disappeared from sight on the political front. But the party he represented in that interview is still around, coming to the end of its second term as a one person band.

A.C.T. is a party that on one hand I would love to see fling itself head first into political oblivion, thereby forcing the right fringe of New Zealand politics to reorganize itself and seek a fresh mandate to exist. On the other hand, it serves a very – annoyingly – useful purpose in that it is a clear beacon for those on the right. Some of those people have not been entirely clean – David Garrett, who introduced the “Three Strikes” legislation omitted to tell A.C.T. or Parliament he had committed passport fraud using the identity of a dead baby and was forced to resign in disgrace.

Its current leader David Seymour will probably take Epsom on 23 September 2017. This will not be because New Zealanders necessarily like him – his party barely scored 1% of the party vote at the last election and would have suffered complete electoral oblivion save for Epsom voters and a deal with National for them to not actively campaign in that electorate. It will perhaps be because Mr Seymour door knocked every single house in the electorate – something probably no other candidate in any electorate anywhere in the country could claim to have done.

Mr Seymour perhaps deserves a bit of credit. His Bill of Parliament to permit voluntary euthanasia has been drawn from the ballot. He is to his credit one of the few Members of Parliament actively working to address the issue, and I was personally pleased when it was drawn.

Euthanasia aside though, there is nothing at all from my perspective to like about the A.C.T. Party. It would repeal the Resource Management Act if it could get the numbers in Parliament. It has shown scant regard for socio-economic well being of low income earners, middle New Zealand and minorities. A.C.T. supported the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement and has an almost blind belief that everything New Zealand does should be based on what happens in the United States – that we are somehow incapable of making New Zealand laws for New Zealand and New Zealanders.

I don’t expect that it will ever be more than right wing bit party. But as long as Epsom wants an A.C.T. member to be their M.P., and he can find a cause or two to rally his party around, I cannot see A.C.T. leaving Parliament either – which for the purpose of knowing where the right wing fringe are, might not be a bad thing.

 

Dirty political deals nothing new in New Zealand


So we are heading into another election. We have a target date: 23 September 2017. The political parties in Parliament are mobilizing for an election campaign that promises to be the muddiest, grubbiest one ever fought in New Zealand. And among the arsenal of dirt and political poo that is being stored for this massive crap fest is a popular weapon called the dirty deal.

The dirty deal has been strategically used in the past. In 2014, when A.C.T. Party was in danger of being obliterated across New Zealand, National cut a deal with its youthful leader David Seymour to not actively back its own candidate Dr Paul Goldsmith, so that A.C.T. could win the seat and still exist in Parliament. The left was revolted by the deal that enabled a party they heartily despise to live to fight another day knowing their support in virtually every other electorate was non-existent.

Now we hear the screams of revulsion again. Except that they are not coming from the left, but from the right – from people like Newshub’s Patrick Gower and Seven Sharp co-host Mike Hosking. Convieniently they seem to have forgotten their right wing heroes did said deal with A.C.T. in 2014. They also seem to forget the infamous cup of tea that Prime Minister John Key and then A.C.T. leader Don Brash had in 2011, where a recording device was left on the table where they sat. In that year, A.C.T. was also in survival mode, having had a cataract of disasters of its own making in the previous two years, which involved perk buster Rodney Hide coming unstuck; M.P. David Garrett being found to have committed passport fraud using the identity of a dead child; revulsion at the brazen attempt to revive “Rogernomics” – the controversial market economics of Sir Roger Douglas.

The cause of the screams is a deal between Labour and the Greens to support the Labour candidate, former Police officer, and Police Association chair Greg O’Connor. Mr O’Connor is a well known, high profile figure who the Greens in another time would have had difficulty supporting as Mr O’Connor supported the arming of Police among other things, which the Greens oppose(d). Their ease of working with him now stems from a change of heart by Mr O’Connor.

So, yes this is a dirty deal and it is not the sort of deal I necessarily want to see any party participating in. Labour and the Greens have shown themselves to be no better than the A.C.T Party and National. But that is where the similarities stop. Labour are standing a strong candidate in the Ohariu electorate, whereas the Greens candidate has no chance based on the past performance of the Greens in Ohariu. By standing a candidate who have easily taken Epsom electorate in 2014, and then saying they will support a candidate whose party is getting thrashed nation wide and who does not have much chance in Epsom, National and A.C.T still have ownership of the dirtier deal.

Fair comment?

T.P.P.: Dead or Alive (just)?


It seems incredible after all this time and against at times overwhelming odds to finally hear from the Prime Minister, John Key, that the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement is effectively dead. Mr Key is an ardent proponent of the hugely controversial trade deal, which critics claim will erode sovereignty from the nations that sign it, enable corporations to sue Governments that pass laws they do not like and undermine environmental and human rights protections among other things.

But is it? Not if you believe Mr Key’s former Minister of Trade Todd Barclay who even after Donald Trump was announced the winner of the U.S. Presidential Election, suggested that there was still hope for it. Mr Trump stated repeatedly on the campaign trail that he would revoke the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement along with the North American Free Trade Agreement (N.A.F.T.A.).

It also seems that Parliament, or at least the National, A.C.T. and United Future parties have not gotten the Prime Ministers acknowledgement that there is little hope for the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement. Parliament will debate the T.P.P.A. legislation despite all in the House of Representatives knowing that Mr Trump has stated his opposition to it – a move that New Zealand First leader Winston Peters rightfully says smacks of desperation.

And Mr Trump himself is already back tracking on some of the promises he made on the campaign trail. For example, the Obamacare legislation, which many Republican candidates in their primaries said they would kill off as soon as they became President, is now likely to at least partially survive if Mr Trump’s most recent comments are anything to go by. Several people who opposed his Presidential bid, as diverse as Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan and Republican Majority Leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell are strongly in favour of the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement.

Because the Government seems hell bent on passing the legislation for an agreement that at first glance seems to be toast, it is perhaps premature to say that the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement is as dead as we would like. Because Mr Trump has taken only 48 hours to start backpeddling on some of his promises, there is always the risk that the promise to kill the T.P.P. and N.A.F.T.A. might be ditched as well.

So, perhaps, although the anti-T.P.P. movement can rest more easily it should remain on partial guard. And hope that the lame duck session of President Obama’s tenure focuses on better things than a corporate love fest.