The racers are marshalling: New Zealand readies for Election 2020


2020 is not event two weeks old, and our Parliamentary representatives are either still on holiday or in the office planning the year ahead, but already some political certainties are playing out across the country. The most notable and most obvious one plays out every three years and is commonly known as the General Election.

The date has not been set yet, but possibly the first election debate this year will be over whether Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will set a date early in the proceedings as her predecessors former Prime Ministers John Key and Bill English did. Both set dates fairly early in the third year of the terms they were Prime Minister in.

The smaller parties are not waiting for a date to be set. In the last year a bracket of new parties have sprung up around former candidates, such as the Sustainable Party, which is led by Vernon Tava. In the case of the Prosperity Party obscure individuals who might have what it takes to be a genuine candidate. They have released policy platforms that are surprisingly in depth, almost like they expect to sail straight into government.

In the last few election cycles I would have been able to tell you months in advance who I would be voting for. But in 2020 I am now coming into my second year of not having a clue who I support any more. Whilst the minor parties look interesting, a number of questions arise including, but not limited to:

  1. How realistic are they about their election prospects
  2. What work have they done on establishing their own functions, party constitution and compliance with the Electoral Finance Act and other relevant legislation
  3. Can they identify their values

I also have questions of the parties in Parliament, which I will mention briefly shortly. Before that I want to run a quick ruler over the five Parliament parties, in terms of challenges facing them:

National: The largest party in Parliament has been doing better in the polls of late. However its leader Simon Bridges has been very quiet on the subject of the bush fires, and it is well known that National wants to amend the zero carbon legislation. National are also not saying much about the change in public mood over harsher criminal sentencing. It has a potentially damaging liability in failing to ascertain the truthfulness of M.P. Jian Yang about his links to the Chinese Communist Party.

Labour: Has done well off Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s image as warm and compassionate. It has not done so well off the delivery of policy, particularly in housing, social welfare and justice. Certain Ministers have become a liability and several others are at risk of joining them. It has the potential to pick up more seats, particularly if National do not lift their game on climate change and the environment.

Greens: After almost single handedly blowing themselves to bits in 2017 with Metiria Turei’s admission of misusing benefits, the Greens have rebuilt themselves remarkably well. The elevation of Marama Davidson to the co-leadership does not seem to have harmed them as much as I thought it would. Their primary challenges will be accepting that climate change is going to have to be balanced with the economy; accepting that a whole new infrastructure genre in terms of public works is going to be necessary and understanding that there will always be a place for a Defence Force in New Zealand.

New Zealand First: Not having been a party member for the last 2 1/2 years, I cannot so easily comment on internal happenings any more. I will just say that if they are the same as they were when I left, then the party still has an existential crisis that is still excessively reliant on leader Winston Peters pulling another trick out of the bag. It’s policy platform is still the best in Parliament by some distance, but its betrayal over the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement is a huge stinking dead rat.

A.C.T.: By far and away my least favourite party in Parliament, but also the one that proportionate to its size has probably had the biggest impact this year. David Seymour – love him or hate him – has had a big year. His insistence on freedom of speech when criticizing Green M.P. Golriz Ghahraman following the terrorist attacks deservedly drew a lot of criticism from people. That said, it may have done a back handed favour to everyone by shining a light into a not well understood area regarding when free speech becomes hate speech. Substantially more to his credit, he also successfully got through Parliament the controversial End of Life Choices Bill regarding euthanasia.

So, the questions I have for the big parties as you take your places along side the smaller parties in the election race of 2020 are:

  1. Would you be willing to recognize market economics are not working in New Zealand? If not why not?
  2. The constitutional framework of New Zealand has been more overtly challenged in the last few years. What are your thoughts on possibly having to adopt a formal constitution?
  3. What steps are you taking to ensure all donations are properly accounted for under the Electoral Finance Act?

Labour and coalition partners climb in poll; National drops


A YouGov poll just out shows a gain in the number of seats every party in Parliament except for National, were an election held today.

After a slump over the last few months following the outpouring of respect for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s leadership in dealing with the Christchurch Mosque attacks, Labour can afford to smile again. Its 41% support in the YouGov poll would leave it with 51 seats in Parliament, five more than its current 46.

National Party leader Simon Bridges would be disappointed with the results, but a determination to rehash old ideas is not helping the centre-right party. Thanks to Mr Bridges outdated views on justice and his sudden insistence on the importance of being tough on crime when National failed to make any substantive changes in sentencing, it has slumped to 40 percent. That would see it surrender 9 seats to the other parties to leave it on 47.

New Zealand First and the Greens both do alright in the poll, and would have 10 seats a piece. That would give New Zealand First another M.P. and the Greens two more M.P.’s. Notably though, this was taken before the donations saga became known to the media – I do not imagine the public would have been so kind if they had known this beforehand.

Even A.C.T. for the first time since 2011 would have more M.P.’s, as its 2% plus assuming leader David Seymour is returned in Epsom would bring in an extra M.P. That would be the only bright spot for A.C.T. though as with National on 40% in this scenario, the right wing of New Zealand politics would be comfortably stuck on the Opposition benches.

However if the New Zealand public had known about the allegations embroiling New Zealand First before the YouGov poll was conducted, it is unlikely they would have been so kind to New Zealand First. The allegations, which point to serious fiscal mismanagement inside the party stem from disgust over years of opaque governance by the New Zealand First board of directors with regards to the party’s financial position.

If we held the YouGov poll today, with the fallout from the New Zealand First donations problem accounted for, this is how I expect the results would look (% / # of Seats):

  • LABOUR 42 / 54
  • NATIONAL 40 / 47
  • GREENS 9 / 11
  • N.Z. FIRST 5 / 6
  • A.C.T. 1 / 2

This would be devastating for New Zealand First Leader Winston Peters. It would leave his South Island membership with no representation in the House of Representatives as Mark Patterson, a list M.P. in Clutha-Southland would be forced to leave Parliament. Labour, A.C.T. and the Greens have all had legislative victories of late orĀ  – in the case of the Greens – M.P.’s comments going viral and starting a discussion. These would have raised their profiles somewhat and proven that they were keeping their promises, and combined with National’s surprisingly poor performance, would help to prop them up.

With the 2019 Parliament year soon to end and the 2020 campaign year just over 5 weeks away from starting, Ms Ardern might be cautiously smiling at the moment. But if the donation saga drags on and causes the conservative N.Z. First voters to leave it might be Mr Bridges with the biggest grin this time next year.

New Zealand First and the New Zealand First Foundation


Is it a potential case of deja vu?

New Zealand First has been linked by journalists to a New Zealand First Foundation, which is thought to have been used as a possible slush fund. The fund, which appears to have been controlled by people with strong links to the party including a former Party President and a lawyer may have up to $500,000 in it.

But those dollars are not so much the problem as how they were handled, in that whether the Foundation is part of the party or not, can determine the potential offences committed. If the N.Z.F.F. is not part of the party then the likely offences are corrupt or otherwise illegal practices. If the N.Z.F.F. IS a part of the Party then the Party Secretary could be accused of offences around the maintenance of records or failing to declare donations.

These are damning allegations.

This is not the first time that such allegations have been made. In 2008 New Zealand First was the subject of a Serious Fraud Office investigation after $100,000 donation from billionaire Owen Glenn, which Mr Peters said was used to cover legal fees. It was not reported to him and Mr Peters said it did not need to be disclosed. The charges were dropped by the Police after the Serious Fraud Office concluded no offences had been committed.

Despite that, New Zealand First exited Parliament at the 2008 election with a 4.07% of the party vote and no Parliamentary seats.

The party has long had what has been viewed as an archaic internal organization, which one might surmise to be the result of a fusion of 20th Century thinking in a 21st Century political environment. Fundraising has long been a haphazard exercise that at election time would often freeze up and down the country as the party focused on what it views as key electorates. At each annual convention there would be questions in the general question time scheduled about membership, donations and fundraising – perhaps these were common topics at the annual conventions of all major parties, but looking back at those conventions I attended in 2010, 2012-16 there seemed to be a certain stubborn inability and/or unwillingness

And when this was challenged as much to make sure that the Party was compliant with the Electoral Finance Act as anything else, the response was always the same. Those brave enough to raise a hand in defiance were shut down and/or subject to internal disciplinary procedures and/or made to move on from N.Z.F.

So, maybe one should not be so surprised that New Zealand First has got itself into another pickle. Whether it can get out of that pickle and whether or not it was of New Zealand Firsts making, given the 2008 election result and the substantial anger in certain parts of the New Zealand political spectrum at Mr Peters having chosen Labour over National, I am quite confident of two things now:

  1. This will come to some sort of conclusion – as one person said to me, should the journalists following this look for the cause of all of that smoke, they will find the fire
  2. The enemies of New Zealand First will seek to cause as much damage as they can with it – especially any party officials are found to have been non compliant with the Act

Can New Zealand First find a way out of this or is there a price to pay for failing to address the issues when challenged by delegates at annual conventions? If the answer is the latter, what will that price be?

*The author was a member of N.Z.F. between 2002-2006 and 2010-2017

Young New Zealand First right to promote drug testing at festivals


Back in the 1960’s major music festivals such as Glastonbury, Woodstock – among others – were as much known for the drug scene that happened around the music as they were for the bands and the music that they played. One does not have to look hard on Youtube to find videos of such scenes – opium, mushrooms, cannabis, cocaine were just a few of the drugs used to get high.

50 years later delegates at the New Zealand First Convention in the weekend just ended were in a heated debate about the suitability of drug testing at music festivals. Some Members of Parliament including Darroch Ball, Mark Patterson and Clayton Mitchell stated their opposition to the idea, which was floated by Young New Zealand FirstĀ  – the party youth wing – as a policy remit.

Messrs Patterson, Ball and Mitchell said that they were concerned that this essentially amounted to condoning the use of drugs. They were concerned about the messages that would be sent by supporting such a measure.

I support it totally. It is not that I support drug use by any means, but at music festivals, just as at Woodstock and Glastonbury, it is inevitable that drugs get slipped in. There is an equally high probability that strangers in pursuit of that hit that will make them high seek it from people who are otherwise no more than strangers. And further to the point it is far better those that are using them are given the opportunity to ascertain what exactly they are using, lest it be something with a potentially lethal active ingredient. Y.N.Z.F. member Robert Gore, who was quoted suggesting that young people on it should be allowed to repent, suggested lives could be saved and harm from the usage of drugs could be reduced by permitting this policy.

So, I welcome this move by Young New Zealand First to address this issue so that we can all remember the lazy days in the sun singing along to cool tunes for all the right reasons. I hope that the Caucus have another look at how they proceed with this and understand this is about saving lives as Mr Gore said, and not about condoning illicit use of drugs.

National climbing in polls; Jacinda still preferred Prime Minister


The latest poll out could potentially see a National A.C.T. coalition form. This is how Parliament would look if an election were held today using the numbers of Colmar Brunton:

  • NATIONAL: 60 seats
  • LABOUR: 51 seats
  • GREENS: 8 seats
  • A.C.T.: 1 seat
  • N.Z. FIRST: 0 seats

Because New Zealand First has no electorate seats it would be out of Parliament and their vote would be meaningless. This would boost all of the other parties. National would increase to 49.5%, which would give them 60 seats in the house. With A.C.T. that would enable them to form a Government and not need any other support.

The reality I think is a bit different. Whilst Labour is suffering in the polls I do not believe its popularity has slumped that far as polls typically survey 800-1,000 people. Across all electorates that might be about 14 people per electorate.

  • NATIONAL: 58 seats
  • LABOUR: 50 seats
  • A.C.T.: 3 seats
  • GREENS: 9 seats

David Seymour is the politician I most despise in Parliament and if his A.C.T. Party disappeared most Kiwi’s would be pretty happy, but just this once I think that the man from Epsom has done something right. His work around euthanasia and cannabis reform is going to pay dividends that – credit where it is due – he deserves.

I do not see a future for New Zealand First. Too many people key to the party’s success have been driven from it. Too much time has been squandered with internal politics instead of figuring out how to make it a more efficient election campaigning machine. It is no closer to reforming its campaign machinery than it was when I rejoined in 2010 after a four year hiatus. And then there is the Winston question: how long will Winston Peters stay on as leader?

National leader Simon Bridges is trailing Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in the preferred Prime Minister stakes for numerous good reasons. She has a commanding lead of 38% as opposed to Mr Bridges who has 9% support and is now comfortably ahead of his National Party colleague Judith “Crusher” Collins on 5%.

  1. His support of Donald Trump policies shows a lack of acknowledgement of the harm that the former is causing America and the world
  2. National spent 9 years denying there was a housing crisis – whilst Phil Twyford should be out of cabinet and some of that surplus should be getting spent on it, Labour have at least tried to ease some of the restrictions in place
  3. Labour have started work on the monumental task of readying the economy for a post-oil New Zealand – keeping a promise
  4. Her compassionate style, whilst fluffy to many is in contrast to the attitude of many in National to things like refugees, mental health and beneficiaries

One thing is for certain, whether Ms Ardern or Mr Bridges like it or not, 2020 is shaping up to be a very lively affair.