Life and Politics

Occasional comment on politics and the media in New Zealand

Tag: Labour Party

Shearer finally hits his stride

by Jake Quinn

It’s been a big day for David Shearer who this morning delivered his first scene setting “vision” speech since being elected leader in December. “Finally” the crowds remarked. After all, we’ve waited for three long months for this.

(I will admit I was starting to get worried, especially after reading this strange rambling interview earlier in the week).

But it worked. It was a strong speech that began to paint a portrait of what Shearer would look like as Prime Minister. Moderate, down-to-earth, growth-focused yet compassionate, not afraid of tacking left or right when the moment called, ideological agile you might say.

Excellent developments, from my similarly agile, generally left-leaning, centrist point of view. Read the rest of this entry »


Farrar hits the nail on the head

by Jake Quinn

David Farrar nails it in this blog. The blog relates to comments by Labour activist, candidate and political commentator (and wife of David Shearer’s political advisor, John), Josie Pagani, made on Radio New Zealand and then online, in regards to the POAL dispute.

Pagani’s moderate, non-fundamentalist view, where she accepts a certain inevitability (that some industries need to be more flexible than others) but expresses concern about how to manage that process, is quite likely shared by millions of New Zealanders. Read the rest of this entry »

Hey bloggers, stop blaming the staff

by Jake Quinn

The Standard guest author Jimmy Reid writes about the struggle by Labour parties around the world to formulate and articulate their vision. He says they have “no communications strategy or narrative.” 

Some interesting points are made in the post about the lack of a cohesive vision, both here and elsewhere. It seems that Labour parties the world over understood what they used to stand for, but are now struggling to find an effective space between the centre and the left that makes sense to both voters and membership.

Jimmy goes on to attack David Shearer’s staff, saying he “is being let down by an inept communications team and by useless advisors. We really have to stop assuming that because someone is a journalist they get campaign and political communications. There is more to it than boozy lunches with Duncan Garner.”  Read the rest of this entry »

Thoughts on Labour’s review

by Jake Quinn

So Labour’s launched its internal organisational review. I don’t think the review should be a public spectacle, only political hacks and journalists care about an internal party review. It’s never going to be a vote winner, it shouldn’t try to be one.

What should the review be? The first thing I’d ask would be “how would National do this?”. Their review under Michelle Boag, following their devastating 2002 loss, was highly effective for them. It brought in swaths of higher-than-the-usual-calibre candidates and set them up well for 2005 and 2008.

A big part of National’s renewal process was getting in fresh candidates from outside the usual channels, and this needs to be a focus of Labour’s renewal process too. Labour should be focusing on constant MP renewal. Read the rest of this entry »

Trotter and Edwards are wrong

by Jake Quinn

Otago University political studies lecturer Bryce Edwards writes the NZ Politics Daily. It’s a fantastic resource. Bryce does what a good blogger should do, he reviews and compiles the days ‘real’ journalism, synthesises it, presents it and offers, briefly, his learned view on it. For those of us following NZ politics from abroad it is an invaluable resource. Moreover, he collates all that material, which for political scientists studying this election is incredibly helpful.

Bryce has been accused of being too tough on Labour and the Greens. I don’t tend to agree with these accusations. Bryce is an academic, he’s sceptical of all parties and politicians generally, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Perhaps, as a commentator of the ‘left’ he is expected by some to fight their corner, he does not, this is why I respect his views especially. Today however I did disagree with his take on Chris Trotter’s latest reiteration of his diatribe against Labour and Phil Goff. Read the rest of this entry »

Why Labour’s list is so important

by Jake Quinn

Interesting things have been written about Labour’s 2011 list. People feel strongly about this topic because it’s so important; because New Zealand badly needs a strong opposition and a set of potential MPs who are worthy adversaries in this year’s election. New Zealand doesn’t have a particularly flash government right now. John Key has been popular and Labour’s been struggling. This has led people to think this government is popular. This is misguided.

The Key government has been increasingly uninspiring in the face of adversity, their response to the country’s economic stagnation the best example. They have tried a few things from the centre-right playbook, nothing really has worked. The task’s been made harder by the Christchurch Earthquakes, but National has missed opportunities. We deserve better, we need better. That’s why there’s been some angst from the “commentariate” about Labour’s list. Read the rest of this entry »

Labour leadership

by Jake Quinn

It doesn’t bode well for NZ Labour when the headlines on my stuff and nzherald politics RSS feed read “Robertson a man for Labour’s future”, “Quietly ambitious Labour MP bides his time”, “Phil Quin: the anatomy of a failed Labour coup”, “Labour: We want to move on”, “David Parker: MP who could be Labour’s King”, and “Judith Tizard makes Labour party wait”.

Regardless of all the media speculation it is unlikely that Labour will have a change of leadership before this year’s November election. Until recently Labour has managed to hold its 1/3rd support in opinion polls, a solid position for any party undergoing a period of rebuilding following a decade in office. Read the rest of this entry »

Events, my dear boy, events

by Jake Quinn

Where do we stand? It feels as if the devastating Christchurch earthquake has sent New Zealand’s election year pre-campaign period the way of the Census. What does this mean for our political process and in particular what does it mean for the Left’s chances in election 2011? While discussing the political fallout of such a tragic event may seem distasteful to some, not doing so ignores the reality that national disasters have political implications.

Politics has been cancelled for the time being – which would be expected – so the next question is “when would it be reasonable for it to resume?” This is probably what the leaders of the Opposition parties in New Zealand are asking themselves, when they get a moment away from digging up liquefied driveways, rallying troops of volunteers and making cups of tea. Read the rest of this entry »

Finally, some dividing issues (whaling)

by Jake Quinn

A whale, not in its natural habitat

Can you smell that? It’s the whiff of something changing in New Zealand’s domestic politics.

Over the last several weeks a couple of hot issues have entered the spotlight, which have the potential to actually divide New Zealanders.  Mining in the National Parks and the possibility of legalising some whaling, being the most obvious.

These are issues where most people not just can – but want – to take a position on.  Unlike tax-cuts and beneficiary bashing, which most people can’t seem to get enough of, these are the type of issues which can define people politically.

Unfortunately they are also exceedingly complex issues and the ‘for’ and ‘against’ dichotomy does them (and constructive debate about them) a disservice.

For decades there has been an effective stalemate in the international whaling commission (IWC) whereby the opposing sides arrive and proceed swiftly to put their ear plugs in and then scream at each other with megaphones.  And nothing ever changes.

New Zealand et al go home and register their disgust with their publics while Japan and Iceland continue on their merry way slaughtering thousands of whales each year in the name of science (and sushi, presumably).

Now, however, Sir Geoffrey Palmer (New Zealand’s whaling ambassador, head of the law commission and previous Labour PM) has suggested an alternative approach so that the next 30 years might not repeat that of the last.  ‘Let’s discuss dropping the ban in return for a net reduction in whales caught and killed’, he sternly reasons.

The problem is that our political system, and the media system that dictates so much of its debate, can’t handle (or permit) a question like that.

No one would blame, therefore, the Greens and Labour for jumping up and down in disgust and accusing the National government of wanting to ‘legalise whaling’.  It is simply an opportunity too good, too divisive, and perhaps even too easy to win, to turn down.

So because our politics gets reduced to headlines and sound-bites, and many in the press gallery have a tendency to report politics like it’s a sporting event (with the priority being calling winners and losers) this is the only viable position for any opposition party wanting to be heard.

Will this kind of debate get us anywhere with the ‘whaling problem’, I doubt it.  But guess what the alternative would be?

If opposition parties came out and said ‘OK let’s have a reasoned, discursive and dispassionate debate about whaling;’ the media would simply ‘call it as a win’ for National and move on to the next ‘event’ in the political sporting calendar, all while complaining that the opposition had ‘dropped the ball on this one’.

Go figure.

Finally, some dividing issues (mining)

by Jake Quinn


surgical mining perhaps?

National’s decision to open the debate about additional mining in the conservation estate – namely in the schedule 4 zones of our National Parks – shows either that they are ready for a fight (that is, ready to use up some of that political capital that pundits keep talking about) or that its polling has shown that the issue is more evenly split than most might imagine.

Brownlee’s repeated gaffs however (the chap has had a rough couple of days) suggest that the government might have bitten off more than it wishes to chew.

Moreover, today’s Economist article shows the extent of the seriousness with which the world views New Zealand’s 100% pure tourism image, and the risk the country runs in further eroding it.

Anyway, the point of this post is not (just) to poke fun at the Energy Minister but to note that this, like the whaling issue, is another clear point of difference between Labour and National.

(Just in case anyone still subscribed to that strange view that there is nothing differentiating New Zealand’s two major parties and that “choosing between them is like choosing between twins at a beauty pageant”, a view that I think is quite absurd).

Mining National Parks is a far more simplistic an issue than whaling (outlined 2 posts above) and one which I think Labour is now handling rather well.

Why is mining in the National Parks such a simple issue, politically?  Because it’s just a rather shite idea.

Firstly, any minerals pulled out of the ground will no doubt be extracted by foreign companies which will leave behind them a minuscule cut for the country (TVNZ tonight talked about 1%).

Secondly, you can only pull minerals out of the ground once.  Once they’re gone, they’re gone.  The landscape, however, is never the same.

While it is impossible to put a  true monetary value on a pleasant stretch of dirt and trees, it seems intuitive that the value of that piece of pristine National Park, in the long-term, is surely greater than the value of pulling a few tones of minerals today.

So for a 1% cut of whatever they find, which will be eaten up swiftly by new govt spending announcements or to feed tax-cuts, we end up with a bunch of large gaping holes in the landscape.  Doesn’t sound much like a sweet deal to me.

Leave your diggers across the ditch.

The ball game is well and truly back on

by Jake Quinn

Over at the Standard Marty G says:

What a remarkable turn-around in the mood of the Left the last few weeks. People are seriously talking about 2011 as winnable. Key’s spark is gone, the media have said ‘enough grins, John, time to actually do something’, Phil Goff suddenly looks much more like a PM in waiting, and his speech, when you see it for what it actually is – the policy/strategy plan for the remainder of the term – has given Labour supporters something they can really get behind. I haven’t seen people this positive in years.

I would tend to agree.  When people asked me about Labour’s hopes for 2011 in the months after the 2008 election I would have said that they probably didn’t have a chance.  National had just cobbled together what looked like a cunning balance between the Māori Party and ACT, where no single tail could wag the dog.

It was a seemingly genius arrangement that allowed them to play each of their governing partners off against each other, while they would always look like the moderate sensible mediator.

What’s more, the economy was terrible and no one blamed National.  Every month their polls just kept going up, while newspaper editors the country over were talking about a three term National government.  Meanwhile, Labour was battling hard to just be heard, let alone have anyone agree with them.

And Key really did seem like he might just be a leader, like he might just do something bold, something outside of the tired and predictable National play book of the 1990s that would truly benefit New Zealanders.  I, like many Kiwis, was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Fast forward to February 2010 and the game has really changed.  National’s record stands at cancelling middle-class tax cuts and superannuation savings, halving kiwisaver, an announced but undelivered cycleway (to nowhere), increased ACC levies and cuts to its services, cancelled adult education classes (to find extra money for those struggling private schools – you know the ones, with NBA standard basketball courts!), hoisting a flag whose logo appears uncomfortably similar to that of the Maori Party’s all over government buildings, and some talk about mining the conservation estate.  Hardly ambitious, more like depressing.

Then along came the Tax Working Group and with it an orgy of suggested new taxes to slap on the middle class, none of which were ruled out.  Even just talk of new taxes is bad for the government, hence why Mr Key will probably (hopefully for his, the country’s, but not the opposition’s sake) rule out a GST increase tomorrow rather than letting that cancerous stick continue to be used to beat him.

All in all, the shine really seems to have come of this popular government and I fully expect the polls, particularly as the year progresses, to start to reflect this.  2011 is no longer a forgone conclusion, and the more the Labour leader realises this, the more forceful and energised he will become.  We’ve already started to see it with his speech ‘the many. not the few‘ delivered two weeks ago in Hamilton.

Kaine Thompson on Labour’s future

by Jake Quinn

There is a very interesting post on Grassroots Labour by former Beehive staffer Kaine Thompson.

Kaine, who clearly has had some serious conversations about the decisions Labour has made in opposition, goes out on a limb and puts it all together in this blog post, which he admits may alienate him from some or ‘come at a cost’.

Good on him.  It’s well worth a read.

(Hat tip: Trevor)

GST increase would end honeymoon in minutes

by Jake Quinn

Prediction: If National raise GST at Budget 2010 and Labour oppose it (which they will), National and Labour will be polling neck and neck by this time next year.

There is actually a decent chance National will increase GST because it’s the one tax, unlike capital gains and land, that their base would accept in return for a top-tax-rate cut.

However, it is the one tax increase that everyone will notice, everyday, every time the swipe their Eftpos cards.

Herald on Labour and Ratana

by Jake Quinn

Today’s Herald Editorial opens: The Ratana Church has made its expectations of the Labour Party very clear. It wants four Ratana candidates for winnable seats on Labour’s list at the next election. It is a demand the party cannot meet.

Indeed.  If 8% of Māori report Ratana as their religion, they keep getting snotty at you while praising your political opponents and they demand a bunch of reserved list places for their mates, why bother?

Whanau Ora could provide Labour opportunity over National

by Jake Quinn

The only hit National really took in the polls last year, if you could even call it a hit, was a mixture of some bikey and ACC backlash mixed with the suspicion over concessions to the Māori Party around the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS).

Worse for National, it created a deeper story that Labour could begin to tell:  Enter Goff’s Nationhood speech, which while derided by some on the liberal left as dog-whistle politics, succeeded in consolidating the meme that National was ‘in bed’ with the Māori elite (the big forest owners of Ngai Tahu in this case).  This meme continued to slow cook over the summer months and could boil into action later in the year.

This year will see the Māori Party trying to progress its Whanau Ora policy platform which could see Vote money from Health, Education, Welfare and Justice, flow directly to Māori providers (the Whanau Ora Taskforce is about to complete its cycle of report backs to Ministers).

Ms Turia, in June last year called it “the way forward to achieving a future where whanau determine what is in their best interests.” So it will be very interesting to see what actually comes out the process.

What it could mean for Māori wishing to continue to use the services of the ‘mainstream’ public hospitals, schools, courts, prisons, etc I’m not sure.  After all, we can’t carve off 10-15% of a department’s budget, give it to some other provider and then continue to offer the same public service on less money, should 10-15% of the population choose not to head off to the new provider.

Intellectually, Labour should have no problem opposing the large-scale devolution of public funds to what may essentially be private providers, who may or may not be as accountable to Ministers as their competition, we shall see.  Labour after all is the party of a large and centrally controlled state sector.

So when the Whanau Ora legislation hits Parliament for debate, if it ever gets that far, you might well expect Labour to oppose it, and in doing so they wouldn’t be engaging in opportunistic dog-whistle politics, but staying true to the party’s principles.

The flip side though is that if Labour goes on the attack over Whanau Ora (and National’s support of it), the same accusations that were laid after Goff’s Nationhood speech will again rear their ugly heads. Can, or will, Labour handle that fallout?  My bet is they will.