Labour surges; National dives – and a smorgasbord of issues demand action


A new political poll came out yesterday, which put Labour ahead of National. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s popularity is also well ahead of out going National Party leader Bill English.

The recent poll of support for our political parties should not really come as a surprise. Despite the best attempts of the National Party to get a fix on Ms Ardern and her Labour led minority Government, Ms Ardern’s popularity is soaring just like her party’s.

At 48%, Labour’s support is the highest it has been in 15 years. It would have have enough to be able to jettison one of its minor support parties and govern with the other. In this case it would not have any choice, as on current support of just 5% the Greens would be the only one returned to Parliament. At 3% New Zealand First would not be returned to Parliament, the lowest support that the party of Winston Peters has seen in nearly a decade.

If an election were held today, these results would show a radically altered Parliament.

  • LABOUR = 48%/58 seats (59 seats)
  • NATIONAL = 43%/52 seats (54 seats)
  • GREENS = 5%/6 seats
  • ACT = 1%¹ = 1%/1 seat

¹David Seymour holds the Epsom seat, thus A.C.T. has a place in Parliament. ²Remaining seats needed to fill the 120 seat Parliament come from the party lists.

But the real pressure on Labour is still to come. The real pressure comes from the smorgasbord of issues demanding action from a Government that promised much. Issues with crime, the economy, mental health, waste, education and a host of others are ringing loudly. In a year where the rise of particular social movements – one calling for better recognition that sexual harassment is totally not okay, and the other a seemingly sudden declaration of war on single use plastic – Labour can grab an opportunity to steal a march with legislative changes or other support to shore up its base.

Labour needs to be careful though as many of the other issues are ones where normally one hears an emphasis on them from conservative parties, such as justice and the economy. Labour needs to move on one or more of these to deprive National of political oxygen. With almost daily violent crime being reported up and down the country, and an alarming level of it involving drug addled individuals wielding weapons, it is not a great look for a country that prides itself on being safe.

So, whilst Labour can take some pleasure in the results, there is much to be done and the public are hungry for action.

New Zealand First betrays members with T.P.P.A. support


For six years New Zealand First was one of the stalwart parties in New Zealand opposing the Trans Pacific Partnership. From the first rumblings about the danger it posted in 2011, through to Fletcher Tabuteau’s Bill of Parliament attempting to derail the T.P.P.A. New Zealand First consistently campaigned against it.

As a former New Zealand First member, their decision to support the T.P.P.A. is a major betrayal of the party. It is a major betrayal of the principles on which the party was founded and completely undermines the hard work done by so many party members and Members of Parliament who attended and organized protests and public meetings, petitioned the public, made submissions and so forth.

In the end the only party that has steadfastly opposed the T.P.P.A. from start to finish has been the Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand. This will likely draw some people who might have otherwise voted for New Zealand First away from the party that supposedly stood for common sense.

I do not know if I can continue supporting New Zealand First. One of the primary reasons for voting for them was toderail the T.P.P.A. Another one of the reasons donating to them up to May last year was to help get more anti-T.P.P.A. candidates into Parliament.

The reasons for steadfastly opposing the T.P.P.A. are pretty simple. It is not a free or fair trade deal in that much of it was written at the behest of faceless corporations. The Investor-State-Dispute-Settlement clauses were never fully removed or effectively neutralized. Thus a corporation can still take the New Zealand Government to court for passing legislation that the corporation does not like. The T.P.P.A. also threatens to undermine the social, environmental and human rights framework of New Zealand. That is not okay.

I am too conservative for the Green Party, but I can see them doing well at New Zealand First’s expense in 2020.

Labour and Greens surge in post election poll


Three weeks into her first term as Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern can smile at the poll gods, who yesterday signalled that Labour and the Greens would be able to govern alone if elected today.

Perhaps the public are finding the sour grapes of National and A.C.T. too much to swallow, so they are relishing the more pleasant ones on offer from the Greens, New Zealand First and Labour. For the last few weeks, National has been relentlessly attacking Ms Ardern and her new Government – be it on taxation, Pike River or their first days in Parliament as the new Government.

This is realistic. Normally the public are happy to give a new Government a few months to settle in, during which time mistakes are simply considered part of the settling process. A new Oppositions’ initial attacks are usually not that effective as its M.P.’s will be still smarting at the election loss and – if it was a big one – they might well be looking for a new leader. During this time the new opposition parties can normally just bide their time, look at what they did wrong in the election.

And that is what makes this situation interesting. National only lost the election because New Zealand First leader Winston Peters had to make a choice – prop up a Government out of ideas and out of touch with the socio-economic needs of New Zealanders. The risk here is that would perhaps tear N.Z. First apart whilst ensuring National and A.C.T copped a right thrashing in 2020.

I can understand how National M.P.’s and their supporters might be bitter. They had the numbers to clearly form a coalition without A.C.T if Mr Peters had come on board. But this was a Government ignoring concerns that Labour and the Greens were able to capitalize on about housing, about mental health, about education and welfare among a host of others. Those concerns were being ratcheted up to deafening levels. The other point is that National should be well aware by now that there is an unwritten rule in Parliament that only a truly exceptional Government survives to have a fourth term.

The alternative was the one that Mr Peters choose: to support a new untested combination in Jacinda Ardern and Green Party leader James Shaw. Whilst untested and the Greens barely starting to recover from Metiria Turei’s gamble, Ms Ardern clearly had the charisma, the attentiveness to public opinion and a few ideas on addressing what the public sees as major issues.

The agenda is ambitious. And new expenditure plans are being announced at regular intervals. People on the centre right want to know where the money is going to come from, but seem to forget that under National and A.C.T. we borrowed tens of billions of dollars and nary a word got said by these critics then. The Government has announced details of its tax committee just like what was promised when Ms Ardern first mentioned it. Steven Joyce’s attacks on their expenditure are those of a man with sour grapes who does not want to admit he is wrong.

But the polling gods seem to approve of the plans laid out so far, or Labour and the Greens would not have achieved the support they did in the recent poll.

 

A turbulent fortnight for Jacinda


It is true that the last fortnight has been a rather turbulent one for Jacinda Ardern.

Barely two weeks into the job and maiden speeches still being made in Parliament, the National Party attack machine is already humming in the background. The transition from the Beehive to the offices of the Opposition were never going to be easy for National, and it is shown by the bitterness of some of the attacks being launched by their supporters. Accusations of already trying to mislead Parliament; of announcing financial measures that were not covered in the election campaign; of trying to erode the previous Government.

It is not just National that is attacking though. Stuff media have been printing articles suggesting that the old and the wealthy have good reason to “hate Labour”. They have rushed head long into printing articles suggesting Ms Ardern and her Government are trying to overturn our strong relationship with Australia.

Normally a new Government, unless in time of crisis where decisive action is needed quickly, has a time to settle in where the media generally accept that a well oiled Government coming cold from so many years on the Opposition benches will take a few months to fully find its feet. During this time articles and coverage tend to speculate about what is going to happen rather than suggesting something negative is already in progress.

Ms Ardern on one hand seems to be keen to get off to a flying start, whilst her colleagues are stumbling through their first days like they are still half asleep or hung over from the victory party. The first day in Parliament when a new speaker was supposed to be elected turned into a farce when Chris Hipkins could not do the simple job of ensuring there were enough Labour/Green/New Zealand First M.P.’s in Parliament to elect a new speaker. In the end Mr Hipkins and colleague Grant Robertson were seen hastily trying to stitch up a deal with National where in return for them having more seats on Parliamentary Select Committees, they would support the Governments choice of Trevor Mallard as the new Speaker of the House.

So far the Greens have already clashed with Labour. Today the James Shaw led Greens wished to get a Parihaka Day on 05 November instead of Guy Fawkes. Just the day after giving her maiden speech, Green M.P. Golriz Ghahraman suggested horse trading in the form of a Parihaka Day might be necessary in order to get New Zealand First’s “waka hopping” legislation over the line.

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters has had a good fortnight with suggestions he might lead a New Zealand delegation to North Korea in an attempt to defuse the crisis. He has come to Ms Arderns defence on at at least one occasion in Parliament.

Speed wobbles from trying to start off strongly when one has not even fully found their feet are a certainty. The new Government needs to be careful not to end flat on its face.

Big foreign policy issues to confront Labour


One issue for me will be seeing how far the Government is willing to bend to the Chinese authorities when it comes to the prickly issue of human rights and the Chinese Government. As an Amnesty International member with the local Christchurch chapter, we have a Prisoner of Conscience who we have been working to get out of a Chinese prison. Her crime was to support womens rights and support peaceful human rights activism in Hong Kong. What will Ms Ardern get Mr Peters to do when the next delegation of Chinese Government officials touches down. Are they going to allow Green Party M.P.’s to protest near the officials, or will the nervous security detail be allowed to protest?

New Minister of Defence, Ron Mark is well known for his criticism of expensive Defence Force purchases, and will be wanting to cast an eye over the finer detail of future expenditure, before taking it to Cabinet for approval. Unlike the Treasurer Grant Robertson, Mr Mark will be aware that the $15-20 billion expenditure plan for the next 15-20 years is actually not loaded with significant new expenditure, with much of it allocated to upgrading existing capacities rather than bringing in new capacities.

As someone with his own thoughts on Defence issues, I will be interested to see what happens. A major concern for me is how or whether the alleged war crimes in Afghanistan will be subject to the appropriate scrutiny. Or will, as a result of being in coalition and having to do deals with parties they do not see eye to eye with, the Greens let the issue slide.

Perhaps the biggest issues at the moment are what Labour will do about the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement. New Zealand First and the Greens want to kill it outright. New Zealand First tried twice to pass legislation through Parliament to stop it. Labour, however, has to present a moderate face and has a tricky choice to make. Does it appease its supporter base and that of its Government coalition partners and kill the deal, at the risk of jeopardizing a separate deal with Japan at the same time, or does it allow some sort of watered down version of a very unpopular deal to go through?

The T.P.P.A. is seen by the right as some sort of trade holy grail. But there is something inherently suspicious about such a huge deal. 6,000 pages of details – is anyone actually ever going to be fully conversant in it and does it really take that much paper to outline the terms of something that is supposed to reduce trade barriers? At least I thought that is what “free trade agreement” is supposed to do.

Perhaps if there is anywhere New Zealand can help on the world stage it is showing support for the Iran deal, North Korean sanctions and United Nations reform.The former two are tied together loosely as the Iran deal is a sign that “rogue nations” can be brought to heel. And if the Trump Administration is blocked from walking away from the Iran deal, it will show North Korea that the “cowboy” administration is being stood up to by its own people. If Iran stays the path, it will show that negotiated solutions still have their use.

It looks like the Labour Government and its allies are going to hit the ground running. Ms Ardern might be an internationalist, but she is one of the Helen Clark mould and has a sense of pragmatism that will soon find itself tested.