Dear Labour Party: 2020 Election


I understand you are coming to the end of three fairly turbulent years in office. A lot of things have happened in New Zealand and abroad, that have kept you and the other coalition parties on their toes. I see that Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern continues to enjoy high popularity in the preferred Prime Minister polls and is well ahead of the Leader of the Opposition, Simon Bridges.

A brief review of October 2017 to the present day shows that you have had to:

  • Lead the country in the wake of the Christchurch mosque attacks, setting an example for how to show leadership and compassion, whilst at the same time making sure people are going to be okay
  • Deal with the Whakaari eruption – one of those rare, but ultimately inevitable moments when a New Zealand volcano puts on a lethal eruption
  • Do damage control as Phil Twyford stumbles from one botch up to the next; Stuart Nash struggles with the fact that many New Zealanders are more conservative on crime than we want to admit; acknowledge that there will be push back on the decision to phase out oil and gas
  • Balance the Green fringe and the conservative parts of New Zealand First without causing the Government to collapse

Across the chamber you have an angry National Party, still smarting over the fact that Winston Peters and his New Zealand First party went with Labour instead of choosing the largest party in Parliament. National are ready to fight. They are absolutely certain, despite Mr Bridges misreading of the voting public on housing, crime and a host of other issues, that this Sixth Labour Government is going to be a one term wonder ending on 19 September 2020. With 56 Members of Parliament and a formidable campaign machine that even its most ardent critics have to admire – however grudgingly – you have an opponent that will make you work for your portion of the House of Representatives.

For you to win the 2020 election campaign – which you can, and possibly quite convincingly – Phil Twyford needs to go. I am sure he is a nice guy and a good local Member of Parliament, but as a Minister of the Crown, he simply is not up to the job. I have also lost confidence in Minister for Conservation Eugenie Sage, who seems determined to end any prospect of a Waste to Energy plant on the West Coast. Minister of Social Development Carmel Sepuloni needs to either get on with reforming the M.S.D. or resign. Your Ministers of Corrections, Health, Economic Development also need a rev up. None of them have been very visible in the last 2 1/3 years and the public would be right to wonder where they are, and what they are doing.

But it is not all bad Labour. You have a bunch of competent Ministers, who include Kris Faafoi, Megan Woods, Ron Mark, Winston Peters, Chris Hipkins and Tracey Martin who I believe are making an honest go of their portfolio’s and have delivered some solid outcomes. All are still works in progress in terms of getting their agenda’s delivered, but they are there and they are trying.

Mr Hipkins has bitten off a huge chunk of work, which might go into a third term, and therefore he needs to be realistic about what he can deliver. Ms Martin is trying to make the best of Oranga Tamariki, and is doing work with children that has cross party potential. I hope to see Dr Woods announce some sort of investment in hydrogen fuel cells as an energy source, which would help secure the economic future of Southland. Mr Faafoi’s stumble might be overshadowed by the fight over Concert F.M., whose well being is essential to how Radio New Zealand deliver concert material as many of the sound engineers are involved with the recording and delivery of concerts. But if he and his colleagues are careful, they can deliver the goods Ms Ardern will need to deliver to the electorate before the 52nd Parliament of New Zealand is dissolved.

Because once it is dissolved, the scrap that by then would have been rumbling for weeks will be all on.

Dear National Party


I understand that you are coming to the end of your first term on the Opposition benches. And that as the largest party in the House you have 56 Members, of which three have just announced their intentions to retire at the end of the 52nd New Zealand Parliament. I understand that your campaign machine is itching to get going and make this Government a one term wonder. I understand it has been a long term on the opposition benches, ruing the way M.M.P. works.

But I have honest doubts about how ready you are to win the election. Winning the election means that in three years you have somehow managed to:

  1. See that neoliberalism is a failure and the neoliberal model either needs a fundamental overhaul or to be rejected entirely
  2. Accept that compassion is a good human quality to have and that not everyone is lucky to have the necessities of life
  3. Understand that climate change or not, the rate of resource consumption around the world is destroying tracts of ecosystem at a rate that will crash humanity in the next 100 years if left unchecked
  4. Accept that certain conservative sacred cows such as harsher penalties and an unfair tax system do not work for many people any more

Except that you have not. At least not honestly. A sea change in politics, especially New Zealand politics, where some commentators think we are 15-20 years behind Europe in our thinking about society, the environment, economy and how they interact, cannot happen in three years.

Seeing you as a father, a Leader of the Opposition, on Facebook and being sure that like the very vast majority of Parliamentarians you genuinely want the best for New Zealand – albeit in a blue tinted way – you will achieve my second point. But for you and National to achieve the other three, your whole outlook is going to need to change. And after two years watching you on the Opposition benches I do not see that change, or any credible evidence it is going to happen.

It is true that Labour are fluffing around on several things, such as housing, justice and economic growth, but that is where it ends. In their time in office, they have made initial moves to address issues that I thought might have waited until the second term. Minister of Defence Ron Mark had big expenditure decisions to make for the Defence Force, and with the exception of the replacement transport aircraft for our old C-130H Hercules, he has pulled them off superbly. The move on oil and gas was always going to come, but I thought it might have waited until their second term, and it is clear that the younger generation of New Zealanders some of whom will vote for the first time this year, want action now.

I can understand that Simon will be disappointed that he is probably not going to get to be Prime Minister. It is the highest honour in New Zealand politics, and an office respected by friends, allies and nations we normally do not have much to do with, alike. But it is true that there is nothing worse than being a first term Leader of the Opposition, because, with two exceptions – ironically both involving Labour Governments – New Zealanders tend to give a first term Government the benefit of the doubt.

So, I am sorry Simon. The coveted office of Prime Minister is most likely not going to be yours when the sun rises on 20 September 2020. Labour will have done enough by the end of this term to justify a second one in office, because after all, the old saying goes

“Opposition’s do not win elections; Government’s lose them”.

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.