Labour surges, National drop following terrorist attack


In 1985, when France attacked the Rainbow Warrior in Auckland, the French Government calculated that it would divide New Zealanders. They calculated that the New Zealand people would lose faith in the Labour Government and its nuclear free stance. They could not have been more wrong. Labour was returned to office in 1987. More significantly, when National finally did win the 1990 election, despite concerns that we needed to repair our relationship with the U.S., the policy survived and is still in force today.

It is too early to tell whether this Labour led Government will enjoy such a bump in support as a result of the terrorist. However in the immediate weeks that have so far passed, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s decisive handling of the new firearms legislation, her empathy and warmth shown to the Muslim community have caused Labour to surge in the latest Colmar Brunton poll, which shows the Sixth Labour Government at an as yet all time high.

If an election were held today that would give the following seats to the parties in Parliament:

  • National; 51
  • Labour; 60
  • Greens; 8
  • A.C.T.*; 1

The results are clear. Labour and the Greens could comfortably govern as a left of centre coalition. National and A.C.T. would be resigned to watching legislation pass through the House and hope that enough people are following through the media to be aware of what is happening.

Assuming no seats are won by its M.P.’s, New Zealand First would not be in Parliament, having failed to make the 5% threshhold. A.C.T.* would re-enter Parliament on the assumption that its sole Member of Parliament David Seymour retakes Epsom.

National Leader Simon Bridges remains unchanged on 5%, which is probably okay given he has barely had a look in in the last few weeks as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s leadership basks in the praise heaped on her by national and international media. That said, Judith Collins, well known for her more conservative outlook and popular with the right wing of the National Party is thought to be agitating for a crack at the leadership. More ominously for Mr Bridges, she is in the Preferred Prime Minister stake at 5%, which is the same as him.

It is perhaps New Zealand First who should be the most worried. Despite their record of comebacks in elections, M.P. and Minister for Regional Development Shane Jones is widely viewed among the voting public as a bit of a loose cannon. This combined with a party that failed to ignite support among South Island voters at the last election, will would have proved a serious hindrance if not a fatal blow in a hypothetical election.

But this is all hypothetical. What it does not show is the significant number of issues that this Government faces, the problems it is having with its Ministers and the middling economy. Soon they will make themselves known.

Strike 4 Climate student protest not a joke


When Swedish school girl activist Greta Thunberg faced down politicians of all stripes at Davos, Switzerland at their annual economic forum, many politicians thought she was just a lone student gone rogue. They thought that high school students were disinterested in the world around them, disinterested in politics. A lesson is coming for them.

Now we are seeing the birth pangs of the next generation of activists. And what birth pangs they are. On 15 March 2019, a world first will happen. School students all around the world will go on strike by refusing to attend school, arguing what the point is when catastrophic climate change threatens to leave them without a future in which they could use their education. Two decades ago organizing a world wide student protest would have been impossible and principals would have shut it down before any cohesion could be gained. A decade ago when the Fifth Labour Government was in office and teachers went on strike, the strikes lasted long enough that students were able to co-ordinate a limited counter strike to protest the continuing disruption to their education.

But this is quite different, and an order of magnitude more impressive, as well as concerning – and encouraging. In terms of being different, this about students lives after they leave high schools and the future of the planet we all live on. This is a global emergency they claim and politicians are not doing enough to respond.

And there is a ground swell of support across the education sector, ranging from researchers, to teachers, principals, lecturers and more who have all signed a petition to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

Not all are in support of this action. National and A.C.T. Members of Parliament think they should wait until the teachers strike on 03 April – which I think is their way of wanting the coverage likely to be generated to be buried by a bigger news item. Many of the same Members of Parliament claim it is a serious issue, yet none have offered alternative ideas about how to deal with this and it kind of puts a question mark on their sense of urgency.

Labour and Green Party Members of Parliament like the idea behind the protest, but are reluctant to be seen endorsing massive student strike action that involves disruption to learning. But as youth are beginning to realise that it is this Government or the next which must try to make serious policy in roads into tackling climate change, it is important to note that they cannot afford to be seen as too distant either.

I am not sure where New Zealand First sit on this. It is an issue that the party did not seem to know which direction it wanted to go in, whilst I was a member. Many members are from rural backgrounds or are socially conservative and would frown upon this action. However in order to maintain a connection that it has been trying to build up for years with youth, I cannot imagine it condemning it in the way National and A.C.T. are.

And how many schools will participate? Some schools might be quite happy in controlled circumstances to permit a strike to go ahead and use it as an educational opportunity. There will be some schools that are there in spirit, but which insist on students attending classes in return for assisting with actions on school grounds such as letter writing, or petitions or perhaps showing The Day After Tomorrow. And then there will be a few schools that do not want a bar of it, and will make their students have a normal Friday of classes.

In Mixed Member Proportional era we are still very much First Past the Post


In 1993 New Zealand voted for the Mixed Member Proportional (M.M.P.) system of representation to replace First Past the Post (F.P.P.). The historic vote changed how New Zealanders vote at the polls. It was an attempt to broaden the spectrum of political parties so that more fringe leaning parties such as the modern day Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand and Association of Consumers and Taxpayers (A.C.T.) could be represented.The new system as it stood in 1993 was also intended to hold in check by requiring coalition arrangements with other parties, some of the more extreme policy.

But 22 years and 7 election cycles later, are we really an M.M.P. country?

If one looks at the range of parties that have existed in the M.M.P. era, one could argue that on the first count, yes M.M.P. has succeeded in doing what it was meant to. Since 1996, in one form or another a host of minor parties have existed and been part of coalition arrangements, or formed out of disgruntlement with bigger parties. They include the Alliance, Greens, New Zealand First, Maori Party and Mana, A.C.T. have all had time in Parliament. New Zealand First and the Greens as well as A.C.T. are the only minor parties currently in Parliament.

Outside of Parliament two notable attempts at creating brand new parties centred around well known figure or a businessman with a high profile have occurred. One is Conservative Party of New Zealand, which was led by Colin Craig and has contested the 2011, 2014 elections before Mr Craig brought himself into disrepute with alleged advances on his female secretary. The other is The Opportunities Party, which is run by Gareth Morgan, a prominent businessman who is perhaps better known for his crusade against domestic cats because of their predation of bird life. T.O.P. might have done better in the 2017 election had Mr Morgan resisted calling now Prime Minister Jacinda a “pig with lipstick on”.

Neither of these two external parties have made the 5% of the party vote threshhold or won an electorate seat to claim a space in Parliament.

And then there is New Zealand First. Originally the party that made National and Labour look nervously over their shoulders, the party that had the best policy platform of any in Parliament along with a charismatic leader in Winston Peters, New Zealand First are still in Parliament supporting Labour in this particular instance. However the brave policy making, the determination to stand on principle and the slow natural, but relentless aging of Mr Peters who probably has no more than one more term left in him if even that, is gone.

However, the state of the political parties these days is not entirely their fault. All have spent much time and effort trying to mobilise the youth vote where the 150,000 people between ages 18-24 stayed home in 2017 would have done much to swing results had they made the effort. And if one looks at the reasons, perhaps a lack of civics being taught in schools compulsorily, a loss of confidence in politicians or the system.

Of National and Labour though, even after 22 years, there is no doubt that these are still very much the right and left of New Zealand politics respectively. Never mind that there is a centrist party in New Zealand First, a Green Party and an advocate party for consumers and taxpayers. Even after all of this time – and some spectacular political fails along the way – none of them can do anything without the co-operation of National or Labour. Just like in 1990 when Ms Ardern and A.C.T. leader David Seymour were still at Primary School, Mr Bridges in High School, when Mr Peters was a National Party Member of Parliament.

Whilst the number of parties in Parliament has fluctuated considerably in that time, the thinking and the acting in an M.M.P. environment and rapidly changing world is still that of an F.P.P. Parliament.

 

National slumps; Greens-Labour could govern alone


The headline says it all – almost. A new poll out today shows National having fallen behind Labour for the first time since Labour lost office in 2008.

The latest Newshub/Reid Poll shows that Labour are up to 47%, which would make them the largest party in Parliament at 56 seats. That is the number that National currently hold. Combined with the Greens who are steady on 5% and entitled to 6 seats Labour could govern without its other coalition ally, New Zealand First.

All parties except A.C.T. shed seats to Labour in this rare instance. The Greens lose two, to become a 6 piece caucus. New Zealand First disappear completely and National are down to 50.

This must be sobering news for New Zealand First. It has been consistently under the 5% threshhold to have a presence in Parliament without an electorate seat. At 2.9% it would suffer an even worse defeat than that which was inflicted on it in 2008. Whilst the party has seen bad luck before, much of that was not of its making but the work of dirty politicking by other politicians. That does not apply in February 2019.

New Zealand First shed supporters, including myself after it supported the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement. But other people left, expressing concerns about the internal state of the party, which has had to deal with dwarf throwing, the collapse of its South Island support and also the activities of Shane Jones. On one hand Mr Jones who is Minister for Regional Development is proving popular because of his work with the regional development fund, but on the other his refusal to allow cameras on board fishing vessels has sparked the ire of labour rights advocates.

It must also be sobering news for National. For the first time since 2008 it is less popular than its arch rival. At 41% it would get 50 seats in the House. Combined with the solitary seat of its natural ally A.C.T., it would have 51 seats and be well below the threshhold of being able to govern.

National find themselves in a difficult spot. Environmental issues have clearly become more important than many National Party Members of Parliament and their constituents want to admit. The worsening effects of having so much carbon in the atmosphere and in the sea is leading to an increasing pressure for comprehensive reform, except that neither party really knows how – and the Green proposals are seen as too radical and out of touch.

But it is National leader Simon Bridges who must find this most sobering. Mr Bridges has been over taken by Judith Crusher Collins in the preferred Prime Minister stakes. This will excite her fans on the solid blue right wing of the party. Ms Collins, despite her dismissal as a Minister of the Crown for corruption and links to the Oravida scandal, remains a darling of the right wing of New Zealand politics who are itching for a deeper shade of blue than what was offered by Messrs John Key and Bill English.

For Labour and the Greens though, this must be a welcome breath of fresh air. It comes after concerns about the slowing economy, the failure of Kiwi Build and the ongoing concerns about justice, health, among other things. Labour will be wanting to build on this as it looks towards the 2020 election.

Challenges facing the minor parties in 2019


The new year has begun and in a few weeks Parliament will be returning to our television screens. Members of Parliament will be coming back after the Christmas break refreshed and ready for another busy year. In this article I look at the achievements of 2018 among the minor parties and what to expect in 2019.

Association of Consumers and Taxpayers (A.C.T.):

The one man band of David Seymour can do only so much. A rebranding of A.C.T. is not likely to result in any significant internal change. Unless A.C.T. can get more than 1.0% in of the party vote at the next election and Mr Seymour holds his Epsom seat, A.C.T. will not grow. A complete dissolution of the party and starting over from scratch is not likely to help either because it risks losing the Epsom seat and destroying whatever replaces A.C.T. Mr Seymour, unlike the larger parties does have the advantage of being able to pick the battles that A.C.T. wishes to engage in, such as economics, charter schools, deregulation, justice and Mr Seymour’s pet “End of Life Choices Bill”.

Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand:

To be a Green Party member right now must be one of the more exciting things happening on the left of the political spectrum. It is a chance for the social justice crusaders to make good on their promises of so many years, a chance to enact some Green policies. Priorities in 2019 will include pushing for a euthanasia bill to be passed in Parliament, which might find them in the rare and unusual position of supporting A.C.T. – politics can create strange bedfellows at times – in getting David Seymour’s End of Life Choices Bill through. It will also see more progress being made on the landmark announcement in April last year that New Zealand will be rid of oil and gas by 2020, which is something I am watching closely, not least because I do not believe that this is realistic given the economics of alternative energy sources.

Internally the Greens have a few challenges. Marama Davidson’s crusade to reclaim “the c word”, deserved the derision it got from all corners of the internet. I am sure Green party strategists must have shielded their faces from the sight of her making that speech. Attacking the Defence Force as it undergoes necessary equipment upgrades not only to pursue the many non military activities it assists in such as disaster relief, fisheries enforcement and search and rescue will appeal to the far left peaceniks, but not their Labour or New Zealand First colleagues.

New Zealand First

My old party will be proud of what it has achieved in 2018. Minister of Foreign Affairs, Winston Peters had a stellar year with an injection of funding for South Pacific affairs, and being able to meet numerous foreign counterparts. Minister of Defence and former soldier Ron Mark will be pleased that he was able to get one major Defence Force acquisition signed off. Minister for Children and Minister in charge of Oranga Tamariki, Tracey Martin also enjoyed a good 2018, being able to enact changesĀ  that were stalled by the previous National-led Government.

It will also be a year of major challenges. New Zealand First exists in Parliament because of a core of extremely dedicated party members and volunteers. However its internal organization is lethargic and at election time almost freezes, like it does not know what to do. It’s lack of emphasis on South Island members and electorates has seen many committees be abandoned and left to wither on the vine. Only one Member of Parliament is from the South Island. Addressing these issues will have significant benefits for the 2020 election campaign.

So, with 2019 now underway and New Zealand just waiting for Parliament to resume next month, commentators are waiting to see whether the proverbial dogs (National, Labour) wag the tail or the tails (A.C.T., Greens, New Zealand First)wag their masters.