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.

 

National’s gang policy fails to understand gangs


A few days ago two announcements about gangs in New Zealand came out that concerned me. One was that the Mongrel Mob had just announced its first all female chapter. The second one was a National Party announcement that it will massively crack down on gangs should it be returned to power in 2020.

I agree that the development of an all female chapter in a gang is a worrying turn. No questions about that. It means that whilst those women might feel like they have a bit of family structure that in a past life they may have never had, the violence, the drugs and the likelihood of Child Youth and Family being after any children they have whilst in the gang becomes very real.

It is perhaps the National Party announcement that causes me the greater concern, because National are once again turning to methods that have been tried, but not proven.

I am concerned that in pursuit of political points so that National may return to power in 2020, it has forgotten the how and why of gangs like the Mongrel Mob and Black Power existing. Or perhaps it has not forgotten these two important factors, so much as it does want to acknowledge them point blank.

If the latter is the case, the policy is potentially setting up to fail before it has even been implemented. Gangs do not exist simply because someone woke up and said “I’m gonna start a gang today”. Often they form out of people who have been marginalized by society or come from dysfunctional families. The reasons for membership may include anything from getting hold of luxury goods or services, but also a family structure that they might have never known otherwise.

Mr Bridges may have forgotten that a former National Party leader – none other than Robert Muldoon – once had a whisky with a gang, which earnt him their respect, especially when nearing the end of his drink he threw it at them. I am certainly not suggesting he try that. I am sure that things have gotten less safe than when Mr Muldoon decided that actually meeting 20-30 Black Power face to face and trying to understand how they worked and why, was better than rounding them all up. But perhaps Mr Muldoon understood something about gangs that we and Mr Bridges do not.

It is not that I am hugely sympathetic to gangs. I am not – the whole culture around them I find very disconcerting, but if we are going to lessen the issues around gangs we should look at the how and why of their existence.

Perhaps the best thing we can be doing is putting the markets for nasty drugs such as synthetic cannabis, heroin, crack and methamphetamine out of business. No good has ever come of these drugs, and they are hugely destructive, but the war on drugs as led by the United States is a complete failure. The need to start treating drug use a mental health issue has never ever been greater or more immediate and it is only going to get worse if nothing is done.

In New Zealand synthetic cannabis and methamphetamine are causing the most damage. In some small impoverished towns the highest earning jobs are actually on the black market peddling one or both of these two to the local dealers. As medical cannabis should be legalized, rather than penalizing the people who try to make a life out of drugs, having the knowledge they probably do to grow high quality cannabis, perhaps enabling a small number of them to grow cannabis that gets converted to medicine would be a solution.

But would Mr Bridges and his law and order gang see it that way? I am not wholly sure that they would.

 

 

National’s tricky road to victory in 2020


Simon Bridges has a job to do. Take back the Government benches in 2020. He is the Leader of the Opposition in the New Zealand Parliament, Leader of the National Party. His job is in two parts:

  1. Is to destroy the policies of the 6th Labour Government.
  2. Come up with a credible alternative policy platform that New Zealanders like enough to walk away from Labour

Unfortunately for National, when environmental and economic pragmatism is needed, Mr Bridges is a conservative who believes the core philosophies of the National Party and the policy making traditional to these philosophies is just fine. Yet Mr Bridges must in the next twelve months destroy the policy making of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and make her utopian vision look bad enough that New Zealanders are convinced to vote blue instead of red.

But if Mr Bridges is willing to be pragmatic about environmental law and environmental issues there are things that he could do which would help the environment and the economy at the same time. These two alone will not be enough. and he will have to have sound social policy and the right people to push it. To make it happen though, he would need to replace a few lieutenants – Amy Adams who was one of the more pragmatic voices on judicial and women’s affairs is leaving Parliament. Chris Finlayson who was Attorney General in the Government of Prime Minister John Key and Bill English has also departed.

Mr Bridges faces another problem. I highly doubt that New Zealand First will work with National again whilst Winston Peters is leader. I can understand National’s disgust with New Zealand First after electing to support a smaller party instead of handing National an historic 4th term – which I think would lead to a decisive Labour victory in 2020 with well over 50 red seats if Mr English had been returned to power. National would have to swallow what I imagine would be a massive rat whole.

And then there is A.C.T. Its Leader David Seymour would doubtlessly be expecting a Ministerial Warrant in any negotiations as part of a future National-led Government. Mr Seymour has no time for climate changeĀ  Also, would Mr Seymour be prepared to work with one of A.C.T.’s biggest enemies, New Zealand First and could Mr Bridges keep the two happy in the improbable situation where they agreed to?

But perhaps the biggest problem facing Simon Bridges is the same thing that toppled successive Labour leaders between 2008-2017: preferred Prime Minister ratings. Ms Ardern might be down on the historic high she hit after the Christchurch mosques were attacked, but she is well ahead of Mr Bridges who is being challenged by fellow National M.P. Judith Collins, whose preferred Prime Minister rating is the same as his.

National has a long road ahead of it if the party wants to return to the Government benches in 2020. It has some big decisions to make around refreshing the Members of Parliament so that they do not become deadwood, policy and building a rapport with New Zealanders. There are deep crevasses in the form of environmental and social policy on one side and the deregulated, minimalistic governance that A.C.T. favours on the other side. Mr Peters and Mr Seymour represent potential obstacles or opportunities depending on their own parties fortune.

It could be a very interesting 12 months.

The need to keep National on board with climate change


Every nine years (the average for the last 30 years)there is a change in Government. With it there is the inevitable change in policy focus, emphasis on what is important, what will become – in the words of former Treasurer and Prime Minister Bill English “nice to haves”. Some fields of policy that needed further progress will stall, whilst other areas of importance will get more focus on them.

In the case of National, there is the sure fire certainty that a new National led Government will have a strong economic focus. Just as we would expect Labour to focus more on social issues and the Greens on the environment, we should know to expect by now that National will have an economic focus whether we like it or not.

One catch is recognizing that an M.M.P. environment requires compromise. In an M.M.P. environment you need allies in Parliament. These are parties that will become potential coalition partners. As such National is unlikely to want to dispense of A.C.T. and therefore there will always be an element of outright denialism in any government that forms. The only way to get rid of it would be to persuade Epsom voters that A.C.T. is a liability.

The same environment that stops fringe parties hijacking the discourse is the same one that is discouraging, with the aid of a lingering “Think Big” hangover, really visionary policy making. New Zealand has shown a real adversity since the late 1980’s to introducing really forward looking policy and the matching steps to make it happen. We need visionary policy with those matching steps if we are going to tackle the environmental monster being unleashed.

This is not to say I support National. I do not. But National is not as far on board with climate policy as people would like to think and this is showing in the announcements being made by its leader Simon Bridges. It is showing in the rhetoric coming from some Members of Parliament like Matt King who believes that the whole thing is a green conspiracy. Farmers who make substantial contributions to the economy through dairy, meat and wool product are largely National supporters. National is not going to come on board without some concessions regarding economic growth, which I believe would probably include slowing down the timetable for phasing out emissions. There will be concessions on transport and/or farming and/or industrial emissions.

But this is not to say that all is lost and that we should give up now. We should not – I have long said that even if one is not entirely convinced about climate change, there are enough other environmental problems being caused by the huge resource consumption that we need to act now.

There are areas though that we can invest in which might help to persuade National Party voters to consider putting before their M.P.’s:

  1. Hybrid vehicles have a future – rather than ban petrol vehicles outright and possibly provoke a resurgence of the far right in New Zealand politics, lets phase out anything over say 15 years old
  2. Introduce a common standard of biofuel for vehicles – the investment and research that would be needed would be a potentially substantial job creation exercise in its own right
  3. Help the building industry explore things like hemp crete, which absorbs carbon
  4. Help airlines such as Air New Zealand research biofuel development – Air New Zealand has already started, but it might need a helping hand
  5. Allow businesses that put solar panels on their buildings to keep any savings in power tax free
  6. Put bulk goods on rail – milk from dairy plants, petroleum and so forth

For New Zealand to address climate change successfully we need National on board. Without National on board, New Zealand’s efforts at addressing climate change will fail.

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.