Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Post election thoughts

National supporters in Epsom will be congratulating themselves for following instructions and voting for John Banks. Now that he has climbed through the electoral window, his support may be crucial to a compliant National-led coalition government.

It must have revolted National to depend on him after his weirdly camp cavortings during the campaign, a kind of Derek Zoolander crossed with Fifi the psychotic poodle, but surely no more than it revolted any of the liberals left in the ACT Party.

Still, it is almost two weeks until the results from the special votes are released and a fortnight is a long time in politics. The Green Party will be hoping that they are delivered their usual late election surprise and get to add another MP to their 13. Looking at the numbers it is not impossible. I would love to see Mojo Mathers in Parliament, both for her personal qualities and for the challenge that she would bring to the system as a deaf MP, but to be honest I'm not holding my breath. The political maturity that the Greens demonstrated in a focused, engaging and well run campaign means that they appeal to a broader section of the New Zealand public, but that they are less likely to be scooping up the last minute voters.

Me, I'm predicting the specials will favour Mana and New Zealand First. I say Mana because they have strong support among young Maori and first time voters. These were the kinds of people who in the past have enrolled late just so they could vote Green. Now they'll be enrolling to vote for Hone Harawira. My prediction is also based on a great deal of wishful thinking. There are few things in politics these days as guaranteed to bring a smile to my face as the thought of the formidable Annette Sykes in Parliament. It is not only Te Ururoa Flavell who will be dreading the idea.

New Zealand First was the big surprise result this election. There is no politician in the country who can do so much with so little as Winston Peters. Those who put his success down to memory loss among his older constituents misread the situation in my opinion. I recall seeing an interview with a young first time voter who said she'd vote for him because he was 'incorruptible'. Which is true if you think about it, in the same way that the Titanic now really is unsinkable. It’s not that elderly voters have forgotten what he is like, but that young voters never knew in the first place. What Winston most undeniably is, though, is a bloody good scrapper. He knows how to make politics a spectator sport, and for that he will always, it seems, be rewarded.

The party that I do not envy at all is the Maori Party. They face some very difficult decisions in the days ahead and even more so if the outcome of the special votes is that they actually become the king-makers.

If National has the numbers to govern without them, they will have the opportunity to distance themselves over the next three years. If they decide to remain outside a formal coalition they can still negotiate a confidence and supply agreement or, like the Greens, a Memorandum of Understanding and make policy gains while remaining free to oppose the Government on an issue by issue basis. And if they are genuinely unable to stop asset sales going ahead and do manage to get some kind of preferential deal for iwi, it's not just Maori who ought to thank them.

I should note here that I always felt the Maori Party had more opportunity to distance themselves from National than they allowed themselves, even as part of the previous coalition. As far as I could tell, the challenge that led to the expulsion of Hone Harawira from the Party was not that he opposed going into coalition but that he thought the Party had become too servile.

A good example that has since come back to haunt them was their support for National Standards – not just for the policy itself but their votes to allow the legislation to pass all its stages under urgency, avoiding public submissions. If they had been allowed, those submissions may well have warned the party of the danger that National Standards pose to schools like in Moerewa, where a hugely successful programme for Maori students is now threatened by closure.

If National does end up needing them for a majority, though, the challenge is more acute, especially over asset sales. During the election campaign the Maori Party was forced to clarify their initially ambiguous position by saying that the party does not support asset sales, but that they support preferential rights for iwi if asset sales cannot be stopped. Voting against asset sales if they did have the deciding vote would be consistent with their election promise but would put a huge strain on their relationship with National since Key has said that the issue is not negotiable. Given how important asset sales are to Key, would he threaten to refuse to form a Government if the Maori Party is unwilling to support them? Going through with such a threat would be a dangerous game indeed.

Up to now the Maori Party has been unwilling to seriously test their relationship with National. On the other hand this could be exactly the opportunity the party needs to address its strategic positioning. The astute position that the party took when it first formed, of non-alignment, has morphed into a perception that they steer to the right. In the last few days of the campaign the Maori Party recognised the danger and tried to reposition itself towards neutrality. If National relies on the Maori Party to form a Government after this election, taking an uncompromising stance on asset sales would be a way to win back a perception of independence and perhaps start to woo back some of the progressive Maori vote that the party has lost to Mana and the Greens.

from my 3news blog

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Key's curious desire to talk policy

It is refreshing to hear John Key demanding the media focus on policy in the election campaign. Curious strategy, since I would have thought National's policy platform was their Achilles heel but they do need to get away from the poor handling of the storm in a teacup.

National has relied heavily on John Key's easy-going charm, using things like RadioLIVE’s 'politics-free' Prime Minister’s hour and a presidential-style campaign, and Key's overreaction to what should have been a minor affair hurts his brand. Ironically, the party which has expended so much effort to play up Key's personal characteristics now has to convince people to shift their gaze.

Which is a good thing. It would be nice to think the election might be decided on what the political parties plan to do if they become government, rather than which of the leaders we'd rather have round for a barbie. Anything which takes us closer to that goal has my support. This is especially true in the context of an on-going global financial crisis, looming oil supply constraints, accelerating environmental degradation and increasing frequency of extreme weather events due to climate change..

National has been criticised for being on the “smile and wave” plan when it comes to economic management. In my view that is unfair. National does have a clear plan for the future, which is to strip mine the country.

From Key's enthusiastic support of Solid Energy's plan to dig up lignite (the lowest value and dirtiest type of coal) and convert it into briquettes, urea and diesel, to his secretive meetings with Anadarko boss James Hackett this week, one of the companies involved in the disastrous Gulf of Mexico oil spill, to his on-going commitment to dig up the conservation estate, National remains committed to coal mining and deep sea oil drilling, despite this putting at risk the natural environment that is so fundamental to our national identity.

Similarly, National intends to strip-mine Aotearoa's wealth by partially privatising a number of State Owned Enterprises. This will turn a sustainable income from the returns from those shares into a one-off payment, effectively giving Key's government (if elected) a chunk of money to spend but leaving a short-fall for future governments to make good. As with deep-sea oil drilling, National seems prepared to sacrifice the future well-being of the country for a short term cash boost.

What makes it worse is how National intends to spend the money. A significant portion of it will be spent on education and health – which is a bit like selling the tractor to pay for school fees. Education and health spending are basic budget items that should be paid out of income. It would be lunacy to sell income-generating capital to pay for them.

The rest of the money will go on subsidising farm irrigation. This will speed up the expansion of dairy farming at the very time when we need to put limits around it.

Creating taxpayer-funded artificial profits for farming (which are increasingly owned by corporations rather than families) prevents diversification of the economy by preventing more efficient land use in marginal areas. It also speeds up the killing of our lakes and rivers and makes it impossible for us to pull our weight in international efforts to prevent catastrophic climate change.

The problem voters face, of course, is where else to turn. Labour has taken a bold step in announcing a range of courageous policies that begin to take it back to its base.

Phil Goff is looking more attractive to the public when he occasionally manages to relax at bit and stop trying so hard. The fact that most of Labour's best ideas are actually samples of long time Green policy may be a good or a bad thing depending on how one looks at it, but what Labour lacks in my view is coherence. Labour needs to be clear about its vision if it wants to be convincing, and it may just be too soon after its foray on the right to do that.

The party that does have a coherent economic policy, one that actually grapples with the realities of the 21st century, is the Greens, which is why they seem to be on a trajectory to becoming the main opposition to National. Let’s just hope they get enough votes this election to prevent Steven Joyce and Gerry Brownlee doing the skinhead moonstomp all over Aotearoa New Zealand.

Read more: http://www.3news.co.nz/Keys-curious-desire-to-talk-policy---blog/tabid/419/articleID/233219/Default.aspx#ixzz1e3SnSVyl