My voting quandary

This election will not be like any other. For the first time ever, the New Zealand voting populace are not happy with National or Labour winning the election and some quarters are starting to talk about what just 12-24 months ago might have been seen as unthinkable.

For the first time ever a New Zealand First victory is not off the cards – a victory in which the party not only decides who is in Government, but manages to get multiple significant ministerial portfolios.

This time the call for change is not exclusively  along blue or red lines, that prefer to tinker around the edges. The people want real change, not for the few, but for the many. It depends on your interpretation of change. I see three options:

  • For the status quo – if you think that constitutes change – vote National
  • For piecemeal change that is done in baby steps, but has been thought about in cohesion with other policies vote Labour
  • For significant policies that can be generally interconnected with others to create change that has meaningful effect even if there are teething issues – which happen with most large scale policy announcements – vote New Zealand First

Perhaps that will mean giving ones party vote to New Zealand First. However much that might repulse you, the only way the mainstream parties of National and Labour are going to get the message that people want meaningful change that does not just work for the privileged few, is to vote for New Zealand First.

So far the policies announced by Mr Peters have been quite exciting. He will give us a binding referendum on whether or not the Maori seats should continue to exist. He will give New Zealand a binding referendum on whether to reduce Parliament to 100 seats – a referendum in 1999 asked the same question, but was not binding despite 80% of votiers (myself included)voting in favour of a 99 seat Parliament.

In addition to these policies, the New Zealand First tertiary education policy was unveiled in 2016 at the party’s annual convention in Dunedin. Despite critics pointing out the expense, it should be noted the planned expenditure is only about $500 million more than the current expenditure on tertiary education.

This leaves me in an almighty quandary.

The New Zealand First policy platform, which drew me to the party in the first place, is in as fine condition as it has ever been.

The Members of Parliament that it currently has are not a bad bunch, inside and outside of Parliament. Hard working in their portfolio’s and for the most part (Brendan Horan aside)free of damaging controversy, they have contributed to the growth of the party.

So, why am I in a quandary? Three reasons really:

  1. Shane Jones. Although he was found to not have committed any wrong doing, to have him put in as a candidate when he has not spent any time in the party learning its inner mechanics, meeting the electorate members who put time and money into the party has many seeing foul
  2. The Board. A President who shuts down any contentious conversation, does not return phone calls or e-mails and ignores the agenda at convention by bypassing entire sections – is this who the party really wants running the show?
  3. Winston. I want to vote New Zealand First, but I cannot tolerate another three year of National being in the Beehive in any form. Mr Peters is well known for doing deals with the largest party where Parliament is hung, as we saw in 1996. This time I really want to see Labour in office.

I am not going to decide who to vote for until election day. It will depend on what happens in the next nine weeks and whether or not the candidates do anything daft.

Nine weeks to decide on a solution to my quandary.

A three way race for the centre left

There is a race going on at the moment. It is for the highest honour – that of the right to govern the nation. Did we say it was going to be a treat for the centre left or a centre right Government? Only if you win. Right now there are three distinct forces at work in the centre-left of New Zealand politics.

The left: The Greens

The “I think I am left, but I don’t know” left: Labour

The CENTRE: New Zealand First

The race for the centre-left of New Zealand politics is on. Yet somehow it seems strangely well stitched up. And even if everything goes to plan in this race, we need to remember it is part of a much bigger race: the race to win the 2017 N.Z. General Election.

That is the question. What is Labour going to do. Are they going to announce a winner such as nationalizing the energy sector again – something I would support or a long term blue print for the provision of biofuel and electric cars, reducing our petroleum use; the banning of waste products in return for significant investment in reuse of waste stream products. Maybe they will go one step further and tell 4th year students at university doing Hons study that provided they spend X years here, their fees are paid for.

Who would be brave enough to do that?

Well, actually, Labour would. They have already given undergrads years 1-3 free, so why now year 4? An Honours student when I was at University of Canterbury in 2005 was pretty much assured a job on the spot when they finished their qualification. It would give those in research areas where there are a dearth of researchers, hope that they will be able to afford the necessary study to become what they want.

But the problem is that this has become a complex market in terms of prospective employees. Too many lives as risk. Labour need remind people that a couple of years ago it introduced solid policy on getting people to start reinvesting in industries currently looking rather afraid and lonely,  not sure of what form the next Government will take and no prepared to wait any longer to find out.

So, what do the three parties in the race have to do with it? Well, everything.

The Greens, the hip party fielding some candidates that will surprise people, is the preferred coalition partner of many for Labour. Unfortunately it is at war with New Zealand First.

Labour are the mainstream party who want to govern, but whom seem to be doomed to a fourth term on the opposition bench. They are also the same party that had to watch former National Prime Minister Keith Holyoake spend four consecutive terms – the only peacetime Prime Minister to have achieved this – in office. Not again they say.

I actually agree,but to change this is probably to change the Government.

Aside from defining the centre left, they are the ones who will receive the support of the public, thoroughly disgruntled with National as they most probably are. The Greens and Labour one, might have expected would automatically surge because they have seen a well oiled Labour Party at work.

But all is not kosher. The Greens and New Zealand First are at war again – and as much as it disgusts me – both of these parties should be above this nonsense when the country is at stake

If you are from New Zealand, please do not read anything into any of my post about the election. Get out there and vote for whom YOU want to govern cometh 23 September – it is votes, that will be counted at the ballot box, not the number of negative articles about Labour.

Why I am going with Labour

When I left New Zealand First in May, it was not – until today – because of anything to with the (potential)Members of Parliament. Nor does it have anything to do with the policy platform. It was because I had been honest with myself and drawn the conclusion that I am probably more of a Labour supporter than a New Zealand First one. And although the numbers in the polls suggest a National victory of sorts, it is probably more true that National could only govern with support from New Zealand First.

On principle Winston Peters is correct that no one should talk about coalition partners until after the votes have been counted. This is why, at the same time, I find more than a little bit bothersome that before Parliament has been dissolved for the election campaign period, the pundits believe a fourth term has been sown up by Mr Peters.

I am a left-leaning moderate. I cannot stomach National having another term in office in any form, and I believe that New Zealand will suffer – should that happen – damage that cannot be repaired.

For me having a social safety net underlying New Zealand society is essential. It is not so much the big expenditure item National has tried to make it out to be, as a necessary investment in the well being of this nation. Whilst I expect that people sound of mind and fitness would seek work, I expect that for their honest efforts, when they cannot there is assistance for them whilst they get into a situation where they can return to the workforce. Ministry of Social Development seems to frown on these people and do not because of that suspicion enjoy a good relationship with many of them.

I understand that there is no such thing as a free lunch, but I expect that within limits there be such a thing as an “affordable lunch”. Thus with tertiary education I support undergraduate education being free and the reintroduction of an Emergency Unemployment Benefit for students that adjusts for inflation. Further investment needs to be made both into science and the arts to restore their research capabilities for what will be challenging times ahead for New Zealand.

And then there is health. I never did establish, which I was hoping would happen when National was elected, if District Health Boards really were the expensive blight that National had claimed when the Government of Helen Clark was elected in 1999. Whatever the case, some of the funding issues can be relieved if New Zealand requires visitors to New Zealand to have  medical insurance. Funding Keytruda for cancer patients and legalizing medical marijuana for other painful conditions should be a priority.

We have too many problems that this National-led Government are stubbornly refusing to address. I have mentioned a few above. A fourth term National-led Government knowing that no peace time Government has ever had a fifth term (the Labour Government of Michael Joseph Savage-Peter Fraser was born before World War 2, where Governments of allied nations tended to survive because their nation needed political stability whilst such a threat as the Axis Powers posed, existed), would be bent on leaving a legacy. For all his reputation, and for all his ability to hold politicians to account, I am not even sure Mr Peters could keep this Government in check.

That is not good enough for me. We need to address the housing, the violent crimes, the mental health problems and the decline in environmental standards now. We cannot wait another three years to see if National will get its head out of the sands – it might be too late by then. The recent announcements of more housing, plans for tackling the toxicity of tyre dumps and so on are just desperate attempts by Ministers who have squandered their time in office to make something of a worthwhile legacy to be able to say, “I did this, this and this”.

Where I probably more support New Zealand First is on defence, justice and and foreign policy. Labour had been fine on foreign policy before it became a market oriented party like National.

But I made a decision that I needed to help get rid of this National-led Government back in May. I think the Todd Barclay scandal has given impetus to a change of Government being necessary and that this will be the catalyst for people believing that third term-itis has taken a fatal hold in the Government of Prime Minister Bill English.

In the short term, I am going to focus on Labour’s policy platform, familiarizing myself with it and trying to find out how Labour came to these policies. In the mid-term (after the election, when we know what the outcome has been) I will decide whether or not to join the party, like I did New Zealand First and whether or not I think I can be of use.

And so there you have it.

What was Labour thinking when it imported international students?

The headline says it all. I could just stop here and not bother writing anything more about this sordid example of a political party making a cascading bungle. However it is important that people know what happened.

The plan was to have 87 paid interns from the United States and other countries visit New Zealand. Whilst here they would be housed on a Marae and be given lectures by former Labour Prime Minister Helen Clark.

The reality was starkly different.

What is wrong with this?

Everything. Not least:

  • What was Labour doing importing students from around the world for this? Assuming the scheme worked – which it clearly did not – why could they have not given New Zealanders this chance?
  • The accommodation should have been thoroughly vetted before any decision was made about where they would stay – could the Marae handle so many people?
  • Communications. Clearly at multiple points this broke down – between the unions and Labour; between Labour and the interns; between the Marae and Labour. The words epic fail spring to mind.
  • Who was doing the vetting of all of this? Was there even any vetting done? On the surface it would appear not.

Whilst Andrew Little is right to stand up and say Labour has to take moral responsibility for the whole thing, there needs to be an inquiry into how such a poorly planned event got off the ground in the first place. Right from the start it looks like a massive communications failure, a list of unrealistic expectations and people making assumptions that they had no right to.

The irony, given the principles on which Labour were founded as a party, will not be lost on the Government or the other parties in Parliament.

There is no doubt that this week has – much as Prime Minister Bill English and out going M.P. Todd Barclay will try to deny it – belonged to the National Party for all the wrong reasons. They committed an act that might result in – should the Police decide it is worth the effort – criminal charges against Mr Barclay and bring the National Party into serious disrepute.

However it should by equally dubious measure belong to the Labour Party. Mr Little and the Labour Party Board and caucus will be wanting to shut this down firmly and as fast as possible. The potential damage to a party already in trouble in the polls so close to an election that it needs to do well in is considerable. There is no doubt that all in the party will wish to see the next few several weeks be as blemish free as possible.

But as the headline says, what were Labour thinking when it imported these American students?

N.Z. Labour should be inspired by Corbyn

On 9 June 2017 I woke up to see the polls closing in Britain. Millions of people had just voted to give incumbent Prime Minister Theresa May a massive fright. But more than that they had shown that perhaps the leader of the U.K Labour Party is not the raving nut case he was made out to be.

What Jeremy Corbyn has done is simply brilliant. He has taken the fight straight to the Conservative Party with his daring to believe that there is a better way forward for Britain. Written off as not having a chance, the Murdoch media determined to bury him alive, made to appear as a betrayer of British principles, one might have thought Mr Corbyn never had a chance. But that memo never reached him. Bold and original policies such as removing the nuclear deterrent have captured the imagination of the left-wing of British politics. But also, Mr Corbyn was a voice of reason amongst the aggressive hard line talk about human rights being traded for progress against terrorism.

But can New Zealand Labour be inspired by Mr Corbyn?

That is a very interesting question. A party of reform, which gave New Zealand its nuclear free status, Labour have done many thing that have caught the imagination of New Zealanders in the past, and include (among many more):

  • Substantial improvement of socio-economic conditions for all, with Maori life expectancy improving 15-20 years
  • Statute of Westminister Adoption Act being passed to help enable New Zealand to become a realm instead of a Dominion
  • Introduction of the Domestic Purposes Benefit for single parents
  • The Treaty of Waitangi Act, 1975 was the first serious attempt at addressing Treaty issues
  • Major constitutional changes – the Constitution Act (1986), Bill of Rights Act (1990) were passed and still exist today
  • Homosexuality legalized in 1986
  • Enacted essential local government changes that abolished catchment boards and replace them with district and regional councils

So, the question that New Zealand needs to ask of Labour is whether or not we can be inspired by a resurgent Labour Party that stops being National-lite and goes back to the core unionists, minority groups that made it powerful in the first place?

I think we can be. But is Labour up to the task? That is another question altogether.

I want a Government that does not involve National or A.C.T. I do not want a Government that appeases countries that do not care one jot for New Zealand (Saudi Arabia); that believes corporations are more important than people; gutting the social welfare system, under funding health and education and letting the market dictate housing needs. National and A.C.T. stand for all of this.

Labour can work with New Zealand First. It did so very well in 2005-2008 and I understand the Members of Parliament from both parties get on reasonably well. The Greens will also no doubt want to help even if they just strangled their own prospects by only lining up 29 candidates to challenge for 71 electorates.

But none of this is any use if Labour cannot do something inspirational enough to swing voters back to the party of Clark, Fraser and Kirk. Which is why Andrew Little would be doing well to have noted the success of Mr Corbyn and the U.K. Labour Party.