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.

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.

 

Sexual abuse scandal risks undoing Labour


For months, senior figures in Labour knew something stunk. A senior apparatchik was sexually harassing junior members at a camp. The Treasurer knew what was happening. At some point the former Party President Nigel Haworth was told. A guy who was working in the Prime Minister’s office was committing abuse. But when they had tried to call him out on it by going to the party leadership, it said #SeeYou.

For months it festered and simmered. The incident happened in February 2018. It was the second of two known incidents involving the complainant who was meant to have met the offender at a public office, but was convinced to go to his home.

Mr Haworth and other senior figures were told at the time. But for a year they sat on it. Even when another round of allegations bubbled up around the Young Labour youth camp, and a lawyer was detailed to deal with the allegations, nothing happened. It was not until 2019 that an investigation was launched. The report from the lawyer was released without input from the complainant despite increasingly panicked messages being sent.

And when they asked to see the report and get legal representation, Mr Haworth said that was not necessary. Imagine that. Shutting down a sexual abuse allegation in the age of #MeToo because ones own career is more important than the well being of a young lady whose life has been turned upside down.

The stark reality is, that a party claiming to be big on a better world for sexual abuse victims, has no honest plan for a festering gash that is becoming infected and will need some solid work done. Labour Party President Nigel Haworth might have gone, but it is obvious that he did not tell Ms Ardern the whole truth and nothing but the truth, or that if he had, someone in her office failed to tell her everything.

From a party that campaigned heavily on a fairer, more just place for women in the world, whose leader stood before the United Nations and talked about #MeToo the difference in the message received in New Zealand was stark. Somehow the talk about #MeToo becoming #WeToo did not get to the highest elections of the external Labour leadership, but it seems that #SeeYou – basically telling the complainants to get lost – did. Youngsters who had every reason in the world to believe that camp that they were at would be a great one, good campaigning from old hands would be taught and everyone would have a great time, found out that Labour is not the cuddly bear it is made out to be.

This is a scandal that could sink Labour at the next election if the Prime Minister does not come clean on what happened and why and demand immediate 100% transparency. This is a scandal that could make this Labour Government the first 1-term wonder since the 1-term wonder that was Norman Kirk/Bill Rowling. National and Simon Bridges would love that prospect, but I am not sure that the rest of New Zealand would.

 

National swings to the right


Was it Donald Trump? Was it Simon Bridges or was it Boris Johnson?

At least one of these leaders today featured significantly in the economic policy outlined by National leader Simon Bridges. United States President Donald Trump can take the credit for an idea adopted by Mr Bridges as he seeks to swing National towards the 2020 election and the prospect of a one-term Labour led Government.

It is classic blue ribbon politics from National, seeking to woo businesses that might feel like they have been short changed by the Labour-led Government of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Mr Bridges clearly not being of the same centrist cloth that saw Prime Minister John Key survive nearly three terms, has issued what to the conservative wing of New Zealand must seem like a call to arms.

In his outline Mr Bridges has made a number of pledges that point to an embracing of “free market” economics. Commentators have noted a swing towards Trumpian deregulation – an attack on “red tape” simply because they are regulations, and not necessarily because those regulations are bad. Mr Bridges has made a promise identical to one Mr Trump made after taking office whereby he would repeal two laws for every law introduced with the result being a 40% drop in new laws being made.

This willy approach raises as many questions as it does answer. National will claim that they are red tape, but if the past is the key to the future, it will most probably be attacks on occupational safety and health regulations, the Resource Management Act, banking and social laws designed to help the marginalized.

In a more ominous move that is likely to mobilise the Labour and Green Party base membership, Mr Bridges has also announced moves that will be seen as a clear and deliberate attack on the unions. By announcing a plan to stop unions getting Government preference in negotiations, Mr Bridges has attempted to undermine one of the key reasons for joining one in the first place.

National has gone one step further. At the risk of galvanizing the divided New Zealand First membership, they have chosen to raise the age of superannuation eligibility to 67. As a result in the next few days I expect to hear sermons from Winston Peters about the folly of doing so, and in the weeks and months to come as we start to look forward to the 2020 general election there will be clips of Mr Peters addressing his Grey Power constituents.

Instead of growing the economic pie as I have suggested by investing in research/science/technology and diversifying the export sector, they have decided to take an old, used and thus far not very successful knife out of the drawer. They have made it shiny and attempted to sharpen it in the hope that once again New Zealanders might be dazzled by the imagined allure of market economics.

Make what one will of these announcements, but I think we can be sure that the Government reaction will be substantial. It might not elicit new policy, but I expect to see a doubling down on existing policy and warnings to potential voters of what they might be playing with by voting for National. Maybe Mr Bridges is hoping that Labour, the Greens and New Zealand First will have forgotten by 2020 that these policies were announced. Maybe he is hoping to gain better traction and get the party moving again as a cohesive unit.

The 2020 election campaign might not officially start for several months, but the unofficial one is already revving its engine.