Labour surges; National dives – and a smorgasbord of issues demand action

A new political poll came out yesterday, which put Labour ahead of National. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s popularity is also well ahead of out going National Party leader Bill English.

The recent poll of support for our political parties should not really come as a surprise. Despite the best attempts of the National Party to get a fix on Ms Ardern and her Labour led minority Government, Ms Ardern’s popularity is soaring just like her party’s.

At 48%, Labour’s support is the highest it has been in 15 years. It would have have enough to be able to jettison one of its minor support parties and govern with the other. In this case it would not have any choice, as on current support of just 5% the Greens would be the only one returned to Parliament. At 3% New Zealand First would not be returned to Parliament, the lowest support that the party of Winston Peters has seen in nearly a decade.

If an election were held today, these results would show a radically altered Parliament.

  • LABOUR = 48%/58 seats (59 seats)
  • NATIONAL = 43%/52 seats (54 seats)
  • GREENS = 5%/6 seats
  • ACT = 1%¹ = 1%/1 seat

¹David Seymour holds the Epsom seat, thus A.C.T. has a place in Parliament. ²Remaining seats needed to fill the 120 seat Parliament come from the party lists.

But the real pressure on Labour is still to come. The real pressure comes from the smorgasbord of issues demanding action from a Government that promised much. Issues with crime, the economy, mental health, waste, education and a host of others are ringing loudly. In a year where the rise of particular social movements – one calling for better recognition that sexual harassment is totally not okay, and the other a seemingly sudden declaration of war on single use plastic – Labour can grab an opportunity to steal a march with legislative changes or other support to shore up its base.

Labour needs to be careful though as many of the other issues are ones where normally one hears an emphasis on them from conservative parties, such as justice and the economy. Labour needs to move on one or more of these to deprive National of political oxygen. With almost daily violent crime being reported up and down the country, and an alarming level of it involving drug addled individuals wielding weapons, it is not a great look for a country that prides itself on being safe.

So, whilst Labour can take some pleasure in the results, there is much to be done and the public are hungry for action.

Wanted: New Leader of the National Party

After 27 years in Parliament, including 8 as Treasurer under Prime Minister John Key as well as one year as Prime Minister, Bill English resigned today. His resignation will take effect on 27 February 2018 and he will leave Parliament on 01 March 2018.

Simon William English entered Parliament in 1990 when National won the F.P.P. election under Jim Bolger. He stood as the candidate for Wallace in 1990 and 1993 before it became Clutha-Southland in 1996. Under the Jim Bolger and Jenny Shipley led National Governments Mr English held Health. After the party’s defeat in 1999, he was shadow spokesperson for Finance and then Leader of the National Party and thus the Opposition, which lasted until 2003 when Dr Don Brash took over. He was reassigned to the Education Spokesperson role before John Key became Leader of the National Party in 2006, whereupon he was restored to the Finance Spokesperson role.

In 2008 Mr English became Treasurer of New Zealand and would hold this role until 2016 when the then Prime Minister John Key stepped down. He gained a reputation as a solid keeper of New Zealand’s finances and when his resignation was announced yesterday there were words of respect from all parts of Parliament about his time as Treasurer.

Shortly before Mr Key resigned, Kaikoura was struck by a large magnitude 7.8 earthquake which caused widespread damage to the town, surrounding regions and transport links. One of Mr English’s first acts as Prime Minister was to announce that the road and railway links would be rebuilt in full. Mr English remained popular, well ahead of his opposite number, Labour Leader Andrew Little until he resigned in August 2017, to pave the way for Jacinda Ardern to lead Labour and now New Zealand.

Mr English’s personal future in Parliament was always in question following the decision of New Zealand First Leader Winston Peters to cast his lot with the Labour Party and the Greens to form a centre left Government. Although he and his National Party presented a united front and lost no time in getting cracking as the Opposition of the 51st Parliament of New Zealand, let there be no doubt that the loss of the Beehive would deeply hurt everyone in the party of Robert Muldoon, Keith Holyoake and so forth.

With Mr English’s departure from Parliament altogether scheduled for later this month, the National Party are in internal election mode sorting out the serious contenders for his job from the fakes. It is widely thought that there are four candidates for the job:

  • Former Minister of Justice Amy Adams
  • Former Minister of Social Development Paula Bennett
  • Former Minister of Health Jonathan Coleman
  • Former Minister of Police Judith Collins

Two outside contenders also exist in the form of Nikki Kaye who was former Minister of Civil Defence and Simon Bridges, former Minister of Energy and Resources.

Former Minister of Justice Amy Adams is viewed as one of the more left-leaning member, which may attract votes from the centre part of the National Party’s political spectrum. Mrs Adam is M.P. for Selwyn, which is a solid blue Canterbury electorate.

Paula Bennett is known as a “westie” because she originally stood for the Auckland electorate of Waitakere. Before Mr English took over, she was Minister for Social Development under Mr Key, where she earnt a reputation for being out of touch with social issues.

Jonathan Coleman was Minister of Health after Tony Ryall left Parliament. During this time a consistent inability to accept an exploding mental health crisis in New Zealand despite a number of high profile cases, the Christchurch and Kaikoura earthquakes and other causes causing record demand for mental health services.

A vote for Judith Collins is a vote to support the core rural constituents of National. Ms Collins was at the centre of the Oravida scandal and was made to walk the plank – some still view her as corrupt, which may tarnish her credibility.

A.C.T.’s End of Life Choice Bill before Parliament

Lecretia Seales, a Wellington lawyer who had an incurable brain disease, died nearly 2 1/2 years ago. She was 42. Through out the last stages of her life she fought to have the right to die a peaceful death by lethal injection on her own terms, instead of potentially losing her dignity. The case has raised the issue in New Zealand of whether or not one should have that right. Three separate attempts to resolve it through the legislative processes of Parliament have all met with failure.

Yesterday another attempt in the form of A.C.T. Party Leader David Seymour’s End of Life Choice Bill began. Mr Seymour who has actively championed a right for a patient in terminal pain or suffering a terminal illness, particularly if it is debilitating in nature, is confident New Zealanders will support the Bill.

It has the support of various National and Labour Members of Parliament including Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Labour M.P.’s Iain Lees-Galloway and Kris Faafoi, as well as National M.P.’s such as Chris Bishop, Nathan Guy and Mr Seymour. New Zealand First will support it if an amendment to require a public referendum on the issue is added – which Mr Seymour said he will support if N.Z. First can find the votes.

There are moral and ethical issues that any court considering such an issue should deal with.  It needs to be sure that it is not going to set such a legal precedent that could be reasonably challenged in a court of law.

I personally support a process to allow people with terminal illness or pain to die with dignity. To watch someone a person loves and cares about suffer pain they do not need to suffer, knowing it will never go away and over time will only get worse is devastating. To watch their dignity disappear and the life, the personality of the person drain from their being before ones eyes is not something I would wish on anyone.

The process will need checks and balances. I propose the following checks and balances:

  • Is fully aware of the decision that they are making and able to comprehend it
  • Has signed something that has a prominent place on their medical file, expressly permitting them to be put to sleep
  • Has a doctor whose ethical suitability for administering the lethal injection has been certified, and that a process overseen by an appropriate medical organization such as the Royal College of General Practitioners for ensuring only such doctors are able to carry out such procedures is in place

I understand that this will provoke a substantial and at times tense and controversial reaction. That is quite okay. This was always going to be a contentious Bill of Parliament no matter which way it goes, or how far through the legislative process it gets. I understand that those adhering to a particular faith will be potentially alarmed at what they will see as an attack on morality. Again, it is quite okay to express strong opinion.

What is not okay is to openly advocate violence against institutions or people that support/do not support this. That will just – aside from being criminal due to the violence promoted – be hugely and unnecessarily inflammatory. What is not okay is to be deliberately obstructionist.

I hope I never have to make this decision on behalf of a loved one, but I would be guided by what they want first and foremost. Then I would worry about how to carry their wishes out legally. And the moralizing people will just have to live with it.

English needs to be wary of his ambitious M.P.’s

For the last several days National Leader and Leader of the Opposition Bill English, has been keeping a low profile, as has his Deputy Leader Paula Bennett. With sore and embittered M.P.’s itching for action against the new government, and no clear leader to co-ordinate the attack, this is surprising.

So soon after losing the Prime Ministership, Mr English is taking a risk. There are a number of Members of Parliament that Mr English needs to keep a wary eye on. But these ones are not on the Government benches. They are in the ranks of his own National Party.

One can understand every now and again, the Leader of the Opposition taking time off to see family or to have a quick breather. But so soon after the election, with sore M.P.’s still adjusting to the cold reality that they are no longer in power and being on the Opposition benches entails a completely different set of skills and tasks, Mr English is conspicuously absent.

Mr English has several ambitious Members of Parliament in his party who probably quietly want his job. Although they were all unified in support of him when he lost the Prime Ministers job to Labour leader Jacinda Ardern, it would not have been lost on any of them that this was the second time Mr English has lost the election. Perhaps though, this should not be so surprising, because despite the polls on Stuff, One News and Newshub, the public support for National-A.C.T. and United Future had definitely soured. Worsening environmental, mental health, crime, education and social welfare problems were finally becoming – after nine years of simmering in the background – a conflagration that could no longer be ignored.

His ambitious members include Judith Collins who was cultivated by Prime Minister John Key and was active as a Minister of Justice and Minister of Police – two portfolio’s she strongly believes in. Ms Collins was undone by the well known Oravida scandal and and many members of the public judged her as corrupt. Another one is Amy Adams, a work horse Minister who held a range of portfolio’s during her time in Parliament. Although she has never shown a great desire, Mrs Adams is smart, respected in what she did in Parliament as Minister and could be playing a long term game.

Also dangerous to Mr English’s future are Simon Bridges, Nikki Kaye and – although she too has been in hiding of late – Paula Bennett. Mr Bridges, a senior member and M.P. for Tauranga held a number of portfolio’s including Minister for Energy and Resources. He sits at 6th spot and is Shadow Leader of the House. Ms Kaye, who was diagnosed with breast cancer last year and has since returned, is the Spokesperson for Education. At age 37, she is the same age as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. She has potential and also appeals to the more left-wing parts of the National Party.

Paula Bennett has been keeping a low profile of late. However her seniority as Deputy Leader of the National Party, Deputy Leader of the Opposition and Spokesperson for Children, Women and Social Development. Ms Bennett’s combative approach could potentially make enemies and hand the Government ammunition.


Labour and Greens surge in post election poll

Three weeks into her first term as Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern can smile at the poll gods, who yesterday signalled that Labour and the Greens would be able to govern alone if elected today.

Perhaps the public are finding the sour grapes of National and A.C.T. too much to swallow, so they are relishing the more pleasant ones on offer from the Greens, New Zealand First and Labour. For the last few weeks, National has been relentlessly attacking Ms Ardern and her new Government – be it on taxation, Pike River or their first days in Parliament as the new Government.

This is realistic. Normally the public are happy to give a new Government a few months to settle in, during which time mistakes are simply considered part of the settling process. A new Oppositions’ initial attacks are usually not that effective as its M.P.’s will be still smarting at the election loss and – if it was a big one – they might well be looking for a new leader. During this time the new opposition parties can normally just bide their time, look at what they did wrong in the election.

And that is what makes this situation interesting. National only lost the election because New Zealand First leader Winston Peters had to make a choice – prop up a Government out of ideas and out of touch with the socio-economic needs of New Zealanders. The risk here is that would perhaps tear N.Z. First apart whilst ensuring National and A.C.T copped a right thrashing in 2020.

I can understand how National M.P.’s and their supporters might be bitter. They had the numbers to clearly form a coalition without A.C.T if Mr Peters had come on board. But this was a Government ignoring concerns that Labour and the Greens were able to capitalize on about housing, about mental health, about education and welfare among a host of others. Those concerns were being ratcheted up to deafening levels. The other point is that National should be well aware by now that there is an unwritten rule in Parliament that only a truly exceptional Government survives to have a fourth term.

The alternative was the one that Mr Peters choose: to support a new untested combination in Jacinda Ardern and Green Party leader James Shaw. Whilst untested and the Greens barely starting to recover from Metiria Turei’s gamble, Ms Ardern clearly had the charisma, the attentiveness to public opinion and a few ideas on addressing what the public sees as major issues.

The agenda is ambitious. And new expenditure plans are being announced at regular intervals. People on the centre right want to know where the money is going to come from, but seem to forget that under National and A.C.T. we borrowed tens of billions of dollars and nary a word got said by these critics then. The Government has announced details of its tax committee just like what was promised when Ms Ardern first mentioned it. Steven Joyce’s attacks on their expenditure are those of a man with sour grapes who does not want to admit he is wrong.

But the polling gods seem to approve of the plans laid out so far, or Labour and the Greens would not have achieved the support they did in the recent poll.