Friday, February 27, 2009

Where to now for the Greens?

The political press has come a long way since 2005. When Rod Donald passed away it seemed that, for the media at least, the only good Green was a dead one. Overnight he went from being naive and dangerous to an astute political strategist, without whom the Green Party was finished. The inconvenient healthiness of the party has been a warning to tea leaf readers ever since.

So it was good to see a more circumspect reaction to the resignation of Jeanette Fitzsimons as Green co-leader. Speculation has turned, not to the demise of the party, but to its next steps. In choosing between Sue Bradford and Metiria Turei the party has an important strategic decision to make. Members know that the party's fortunes do not rest on one person alone, but that the wrong choice of successor would be most unfortunate.

It is a good time to be choosing. Jeanette's announcement may have been hastened by an inconvenient leak to the Sunday Star Times, but it's clear that she had been planning for some time to announce her resignation around now. It leaves plenty of room for a good leadership contest, with time to mop up any fall-out before the next election.

The challenges before the new co-leader will be considerable. The contest itself will be long and hard. Green leaders are chosen by the membership rather than, as in most parties, by just the MP's, but it is a delegated vote. This means that the sympathies of branch office holders, as well as the broader membership, are crucial in a tight contest.

The challenges once they become leader will be greater. Jeanette is widely respected and highly regarded, with a strong appeal among both fiery militants and cautious reformers. She brought intellectual weight to the Greens, with solid hard work along with the ability to be quick on her feet.

But the Greens don't need just more of the same. Jeanette and Rod Donald were in many ways a perfect match. Rod: the brilliant tactician and media fiend,, the team builder, the warm and charismatic attractor. Jeanette: the strategist, the intellectual steel, colder and more formidable. Since Rods death that balance has not been found. The question is not so much who can fill Jeanette's shoes, as who can do the best three legged race with the smart but brash Russel Norman. Someone strategic rather than tactical, but warm and charismatic, an attractor and uniter.

There are two things that the Greens need to do to become powerful rather than just necessary. The first is to build a team. The Green MP's have proven to be effective campaigners in their separate areas, but struggle for a coherent message. Ask anyone what they stand for, and the reply (once you get beyond “the environment”) is liable to be a grab bag of discrete issues rather than a clear philosophical position. A co-leader who can pull the threads together rather than just fight their corner could unlock enormous synergy.

The second thing needed is to describe a distinctly Green political space to attract a new generation of environmentally minded unaligned voters. Until the Greens redefine the main political divide, away from 'Capital / Labour' to 'Sustainable / Unsustainable', they will always be fighting on someone else's ground. There are few votes to be found left of Labour, as the Alliance found out, and even those will mostly disappear when Labour in opposition seeks to claim them back.

The strategic direction of the Greens over the next decade will determine whether the last election result was a spring tide or a symptom of their sea level rising. In that sense, this co-leadership contest is crucial.

(printed Waikato Times 27/2/09)

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Tsvangirai sworn in as ZImbabwean PM

Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has been sworn in as Zimbabwe's PM by Robert Mugabe. According to Al Jazeera the stalemate over control of ministries and the security forces was settled by an agreement which saw Mugabe and Tsvangirai name co-ministers to the Home Affairs ministry and the creation of a new National Security Council.

It seems to me that whoever is the nominal co-head of the Home Affairs ministry, factional loyalties will determine how effective Tsvangirai and his colleagues will be. Mugabe was kept in power by the loyalty of the security forces and the war of independence veterans. Tsvangirai's demand that all political detainees be freed before Wednesday's ceremony was ignored by Mugabe's government and it's hard to think that this is not an indication of how things will run.

On the other hand, some recent reports indicate that even among the security personnel, the collapse of the Zimbabwean economy and the subsequent food crisis (and now the health crisis following the outbreak of cholera) is having a toll. That loyalty may be fragmenting.

Here's hoping that Mugabe's support is splintering enough to allow Tsvangirai the space to get some things done but I'm not holding my breath.

Catherine Delahunty big up yaself

I didn't get to watch it, but I have just read Catherine Delahunty's maiden speech. It was magnificent. Full of poetry and love, full of fire and anger, she stood up in the House to challenge power and privilege in her own fearless, peerless way. She will be a formidable presence.
Catherine, we've had our ups and downs, we've had our disagreements, but I give thanks for your being in the world. JaH blessings and I-tection as you walk this path.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Ill conceived criminal law? Just the usual thanks

After having a laugh at Clayton Cosgrove below, I thought I'd better go have a look at what he is talking about. Two bills stuck out.

The first is the Gangs and Organised Crime Bill. Going by the press release, it seems like a typical case of throwing good legislative time after bad. Justice Minister Simon Power says "“By doubling the sentence for participation in a gang we are reflecting the culpability of those gang leaders who organise the manufacture and distribution of methamphetamine, and we are addressing the low rate of successful convictions".

Eh? It appears that selling P is a worse crime if you are a Mongrel Mob member than if you are an evil sociopath with no friends. Not quite sure why. Nor am I sure why doubling the sentence will increase the number of convictions. (The release says that "of 339 prosecutions there were only 19 convictions" which I guess highlights either how poorly thought out the original legislation was or how incompetent the police are).

They ARE lowering the threshold for the police to get warrants, from investigation of offenses attracting 10 years to ones attracting 7. Of course if this is about targeting P as the Minister claims then this is irrelevant because manufacture and sale of P has a maximum of life.

Actually, it is already very easy for police to get warrants if they have a scrap of evidence to base an application on. The police always moan to politicians that the reason why they can't get on top of gangs is because they are hobbled by pesky laws protecting civil rights. So politicians give police more powers, and shortly thereafter the police are back with the same complaint. That is how civil rights are consistently and continuously undermined. Just have a look at the new campaign to give police yet more powers over boy racers.

All in all, much as it grieves me to agree with Mr Cosgrove, it looks like political theatre gone bad. Sir Graham Latimer got it right when he said that the quickest way to destabilise gangs is to legalise cannabis.

The other bill is about DNA samples.From the press release:

"It allows police to collect DNA from people they ‘intend to charge’, and to match it against samples from unsolved crimes. At present, DNA can be collected only with consent, by judicial approval, or by compulsion where people are suspected or convicted of an offence punishable by more than seven years’ imprisonment, or another specified offence"

So it is about giving the police the right to take DNA from anyone they wish (I intend to charge you....when I've got some evidence) and to use that for a fishing trip through the DNA database.

"And any misuse of profiles will be subject to the full extent of relevant law and civil rights protections, and the police will develop guidelines to avoid any arbitrary or unreasonable application of this power".

Just like they did with Tazers, MoDA search without warrant powers, pepper spray right? Somehow I don't feel comforted.

Cosgrove forgets he's in opposition

Scoop is running a press release apparently from the New Zealand Government, headlined "National is writing law and order bills on the run". It's from Hon Clayton Cosgrove, Labour's law and order spokesperson.

I don't know if he snoozed right through election, or simply can't conceive of a world in which they are not the Government anymore, but you'd have thought someone would have picked up the mistake. The amusing thing though is seeing Clayton Cosgrove, author of boy racer legislation, saying things like "National appears more interested in political theatre than constructive debate". I remember very clearly watching Clayton's performance in the House and 'constructive debate' was not his MO! In fact his primary strategy for building political support is to kick anyone he thinks is unpopular.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

SIS - saving us from ourselves

The SIS has been getting some uncomfortable attention recently. Late last year saw the exposure of informant Rob Gilchrist, who had been spying on various activists groups - including targeting my own office when I was an MP. While he was run by the Police Special Investigations Group, it would be surprising if the SIS were not recipients of information gathered by him, and some suspicion fell on them at the time.

(Actually, it wouldn't be that surprising if they saw nothing from it. The various branches of the US 'intelligence' services and law enforcement are renown for their infighting and sabotage of one another)

More recently attention has been on the files kept by the SIS on Green MP Keith Locke since the age of 11. A number of people have expressed outrage about surveillance of a sitting MP (although unsurprisingly not Kiwiblog and friends).

It is true that SIS surveillance of an MP both undermines parliamentary democracy and cuts across his work as foreign affairs spokesperson for the Greens. It is especially bad in that 55 years of files have turned up no evidence of illegal activity or anything other than a strong social conscience and a determination to do something to make the world a better place.

In my mind it highlights a fundamental polarity. Some people see it as totally legitimate for the SIS to spy on people who disagree with the government. They see the order of things as basically good, and anyone wanting to change things in any fundamental way as subversive and dangerous. Of course they are right - such people are threatening to the vested interests that benefit from the status quo.

Others see it as illegitimate for the 'intelligence' machinery to target people simply because they are active in making change. As long as they aren't plotting armed insurrection, basically, they should be left alone to go about their democratic business. This view sees dissent as the lifeblood of democracy, not its nemesis.

Part of the problem seems to be the limited world-view of many in the intelligence community. Judging by the simplistic and naive analysis of information that appears standard (though its hard to really tell because access to such analysis is obviously limited) any radical thinking does appear subversive rather simply critical.

Of course it really boils down to whether you think the state is there (or should be) to preserve the status quo on behalf of the powerful and wealthy, or there to represent the interests of the people. I don't think we can get past the fact that MPs, cops, judges etc currently swear allegience to the Queen. They are not allowed to swear either to the people of New Zealand, or to our most important constitutional document Te Tiriti o Waitangi. As one who will be happy to see the Crown of England melt in the fire, I guess I'd better see what the SIS is keeping on me!

Adventure on the High Seas

For all supporters of Sea Shepherd, the Centre for Cetacean Research has kindly posted photos of the Steve Irwin ramming Japanese whaling ship Yushin Maru No.2 in the Antarctic.

I guess the purpose was to garner sympathy, but I suspect that it will just provide wallpaper for activists laptops. It certainly isn't reasonable to ram other people's boats, but I think that many people now believe that the time for reasonableness is over. Certainly Japans tactics in IWCC meetings has firmed up the resolve of anti-whaling activists.

Given the way some in New Zealand still see trashing the environment as appropriate behaviour, I wonder when we will see a more militant form of direct action returning to these shores.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Culinary imperialism?

Campell Live had a story tonight about Elly Maynard. She is the founder of Sirius GAO and is campaigning to ban the eating of dogs in the Philippines.

I've seen some video about the dog trade that still makes me shudder. Admittedly that was from China, but the footage on Campbell suggested that it's pretty horrendous in the Philippines too. Elly is raising money to buy dogs being sold for food so she can rehabilitate them, and pressuring the Philippine Government to ban the eating of dogs. I find it hard to support her.

If people want to give money to buy and rehabilitate dogs that's their choice, but I'm not sure that artificially stimulating the market like this is a wise way to go about stopping the practice. It is just going to raise demand and make it even more profitable – a sure way to guarantee that it continues either legally or illegally.

Secondly, I really find it objectionable for a New Zealander to be campaigning to ban the eating of dog, simply because in NZ culture we don't eat dog, we keep them as pets. We do eat cows, sheep, pigs, chickens and a host of other animals. Just because Elly Maynard has pet dogs doesn't give her the right to decide the culinary practices of Filipinos.

Now I'm basically a vegetarian. I find the eating of pigs, for example, just as objectionable. They are easily as intelligent and as sensitive as dogs. I don't understand why Elly Maynard thinks eating pigs is ok, but eating dogs is not, nor why she thinks she has the right to dictate to Filipinos what they can eat in their own country.

In any case banning the trade will ensure that treatment gets worse, not better. In my mind the focus should more properly be on the terrible conditions that the dogs are kept in, and the cruel way they are killed. If the trade was properly regulated, with animal welfare standards, then cruelty could be addressed without forcing Filipinos to give up a traditional food.

Actually dog is a traditional food for many people. A number of peoples in Europe have a history of eating dog. Similarly in Asia and in Polynesia.

The real question in my mind is, why be campaigning in Asia when the treatment of pigs and chickens in this country is equally vile? Not to mention vivisection.