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.

Greens slump; Labour surge


 

How polls can change quickly. How something that used to be a subject of dread for the New Zealand Labour Party has suddenly become a subject of intense interest. And how for National something that for 8.5 consecutive years brought nothing but good news whilst the Opposition wallowed in the dregs of despair, has now suddenly become something of alarm, of concern.

Labour has a huge task ahead of it, but one that has become incomparably easier in the last two weeks thanks to former leader Andrew Little realizing he had lost the support of the party and enabling a bloodless transition. It continued to ease as the new leader Jacinda Ardern, a 37 year old daughter of a former policeman, moved quickly to stamp her authority on the party.

It could have all been a disaster. There have been shortage of pitfalls left by the sudden disintegration of the Green Party for Ms Ardern and her deputy Kelvin Davis to accidentally lead the party into, but thus far she has been nimbly side stepping them. Co-leader Metiria Turei’s admission of lying to Work and Income and the subsequent fallout divided Labour’s obvious ally at a time when unity was most needed.

For years the centre right of New Zealand have been watching the polls, barely able to believe their eyes. Sky high support for National, at times reaching 50% or more has been almost too good to believe and yet true at the same time.

During the same time it must have seemed like to the centre left that there was no light at the end of a seemingly endless tunnel. For 8 consecutive years it the polls were so low times as to suggest a looming disintegration of the entire centre left spectrum.

No longer. Labour have surged from 24% just a couple of weeks ago, to 33% or an increase of 12 seats in the House of Representatives. Some of the surge would have come from the Green Party, which has slumped to 8%.

The Green slump will concern Labour. It might yet be the difference between whether or not the centre-left has enough support to approach New Zealand First leader Winston Peters after the election to talk about a coalition. The slump may get worse yet with one co-leader gone and the other one not showing much initiative in his first attempt at getting the caucus all back on the same page. With two Members of Parliament who were planning to stand for another term now heading for the exit, that also raises questions about who will fill their vacancies in the party listing for the election.

But National should not assume the election is still in the bag. The Todd Barclay saga continues to rumble in the background. Health Minister Jonathan Coleman continues to shoot his mouth off over a mental health crisis he clearly does not want to know about. The Metiria Turei/W.I.N.Z. problem has people also pointing fingers at former Minister for Social Development Paula Bennett, claiming she has a case to answer as well. Ms Bennett is not likely to come clean on any misdemeanours on her part, because if she did, the fall out would be hugely damaging to National in an election that is now wide open.

Greens in disarray


I was struggling to decide what to write for today’s article when quite out of thin air, the Greens inadvertently delivered an article subject for me wrapped in the resignation of two Members of Parliament from the Party. They had chosen to resign out of principle as a result of ¬†Metiria Turei admitting lying to Work and Income New Zealand, but also because she is refusing to resign.

Many Green party members and their M.P.’s will be despairing right now. What had seemed like a calculated gamble that they had initially appeared to get away with is imploding and threatens to completely crash their election campaign.¬†David Clendon joined the Greens caucus in 2009. Kennedy Graham joined the Greens caucus in 2008.

The only way out I think is for Metiria Turei to hand her resignation in before the party implodes. To have had two Members of Parliament who have been around since 2008 decide to quit out of principle over Ms Turei’s refusal to resign herself shows the depth of division in the party when it most needs a united front. To have been told by the most likely coalition party in the event of an election victory that the highest honour short of being Prime Minister – the opportunity to hold a Cabinet portfolio – has been taken away from a party co-leader is perhaps the biggest rebuke possible short of being made to quit in disgrace.

But Ms Turei has somehow managed to achieve all of this. How she must be privately wishing she could have inhaled those words of admission – those well intended but totally naive words – before they began to affect peoples opinions. Did Ms Turei think she was going to somehow get away with this? Perhaps that might have been the case outside of election year, but when the spotlight is on individual parties, checking them for any sign of weakness.

And so the week that might well crash the Green Party in the 2017 election and drive many of their voters to Labour or encourage them to stay home has begun. How long can Ms Turei last before the Greens have an in house confidence vote? Will that change the overall balance of power in Parliament in these dying weeks, and when the nation votes on 23 September 2017, will the voters forgive or punish the Greens?

A full on week in N.Z. politics


The week just coming to a close was all about Jacinda Ardern. Jacinda became Leader of Labour/Leader of the Opposition. Jacinda set out a plan of attack to make Labour election ready. Jacinda announced Labours transport policy. Jacinda did this. Jacinda said that.

Except that it was not all about Jacinda. Ms Ardern was just one of a host of party leaders in Parliament making – for better or for worse – the media headlines in a very full on week. In their own ways, New Zealand First leader Winston Peters, Greens co-leader Metiria Turei and Prime Minister Bill English all made a contribution to the politics of the week just gone. But we might agree that this week was all about politics.

Ms Ardern will be a busy lady the week about to start. The next major policy announcement is likely to be Labours environment policy, due in a couple of days. This says nothing of Parliamentary debates, working out what needs to be done in the remaining weeks of Parliament sitting before the Writ is issued, rushing around doing her constituent commitments and finding time to campaign.

For Metiria Turei, despite standing fully beside her gamble, and drawing a lot of support from across the centre-left, there is no doubt she has polarized New Zealand with her admissions of lying to get more support from Work and Income New Zealand. She has made a massive gamble that could yet torpedo her career and make her resign from Parliament – that torpedo has not yet been released to home in on its target, but the warhead it has attached is powerful.

James Shaw, the male co-leader of the Greens must be quietly wondering whether it was a mistake of Ms Turei to admit her own deceit of Work and Income New Zealand. Certainly his job has potentially just gotten considerably more difficult. If Ms Turei quits he will have an even more problematic job than Labour is having, with the need to elect a new co-leader (Julie Anne Genter would be a shoo in if I had to guess – smart, popular and hardworking). And then there is addressing with the party faithful and the voters the potential fallout from Ms Turei’s admission. Will it send voters to Labour or encourage some to stay home?

Winston Peters, leader of the dark horse party in the New Zealand Parliament probably cannot be happier if he tried. His party is climbing in the polls across the board. No scandals have rocked his party this election – though there may be some blow back from Shane Jones, whose name is divisive inside the party – and some good solid policies such as Tracey Martin’s comprehensive Up Front Investment policy for tertiary education have already been released. Not being a party member any longer, I am not able to really comment on how their campaign is going – not because I have been sworn to silence, but because I am simply not paying that much attention.

Perhaps the party to be the most concerned, is the one hoping for a fourth term in the Beehive. National cannot not have noticed Labours sudden revival this week. Nor can it have not noticed that thus far Ms Ardern is nimble on her feet in terms of making decisions on the go. The election campaign might not have begun yet officially and there are still opportunities to trip Ms Ardern up, but if there is anyone who should be concerned other than Metiria Turei about the immediate future in politics, it should be Prime Minister Bill English.