13 April 2014

Labour's rejection of the Greens' pre-electoral offer

Labour's rejection of the Greens' pre-electoral offer to campaign in collaboration has caused some controversy among left-wing commentators, but let's look at what signals it sends.
The Greens' offer, even though it was rejected, has had a certain benefit for them. It has flushed Labour's true position out into the open. Now that left-wing voters can clearly see that Labour is contemplating putting post-electoral negotiations with NZ First ahead of any with the Greens, then it's likely that the Greens will probably steal a few undecided voters away from Labour. That's smart politics.
Labour's rejection says to us that their strategists have given up on the possibility of the Labour-plus-Green party votes being sufficient to get the numbers to govern. They predict that, if they have any chance of forming a government, they will have to talk with Winston Peters.
If Labour had accepted the Greens' offer, then Peters would have criticised both parties for doing back-room deals before the voters get their say, and he would have had to distance himself from them both. It would have annoyed him that one of his post-electoral options (a Labour–NZ First coalition) had suddenly become less likely, thus weakening his potential bargaining-power vis-a-vis National.
NZ First, as the centrist party, will most likely have options post-election, and Peters wants to keep those options open. Apparently, Labour wants to keep its options open too, so Labour won't throw its lot in with the Greens before the election. They are just being pragmatic about that.
If Labour have a shot at forming the next government, it would probably be NZ First to whom they have to offer the biggest baubles. After all, the Greens have no option but to support a Labour-led government. (Imagine the reaction if the Greens were responsible for letting National rule again!) So the Greens can be kept on hold. But Green voters need not be despondent about that, because the strong electoral results that the Green Party gets are probably thanks to their never having been in government! Supporting a government is usually electorally disastrous for minor parties.
All of this makes me ask why there is not (yet) a strong-ish minor party to the right of National, mirroring the Greens. After all, MMP does seem to encourage niche parties. ACT has fizzled out. But the Conservatives look like they are aiming to fill that space, especially once the John Key era comes to an end, as it inevitably must. The future contest will be whether the right-wing party is ideologically conservative or libertarian. ACT has shown that it's impossible to be both at once.
Getting back to Labour and the Greens, the MMP system, and the voters who participate in it, are probably better off having clear and distinct party brands that compete for their votes. Pre-electoral collaborations are not ideal. And in that I include those murky deals such as we see in Epsom.
The real doozy of a shady deal, though, has to be that which is contemplated presently between Mana and the Internet Party. That takes the cake. And, to mix metaphors, it can only end in tears. Maybe I'll write more about that later.

09 April 2014

Biffo in Parliament

Tau Henare's announcement that he won't stand at the next election predictably led to reminiscing over the time he and Trevor Mallard exchanged blows in the House. Well, that's nothing compared with the tempers that flared in the Ukrainian parliament recently as communists and right-wing nationalists got stuck in... And you thought our lot behave badly. But, with Russia and the West scrapping over their country, people shot dead in the street, Crimea lost, and public buildings occupied by pro-Russian separatists, Ukrainians actually have something to fight about.

05 April 2014

Gotta feel sorry for Labour

Hovering in the low 30s in the opinion polls, and looking unlike a government-in-waiting, Labour can only watch with chagrin as the economic recovery gets moving. Oppositions love bad news, but the economy isn't supplying any. Labour may cling to the straws of rising interest rates and their impact on household budgets, even though a change of government will do nothing to bring interest rates down.
And then, last week, just to really piss the left off, an international social-indicators agency rated New Zealand as the world's 'most socially progressive nation,' beating even the Scandinavian countries and Switzerland, not to mention Australia. That's ironic news, coming while National is in office. Aren't the Nats supposed to be the scourge of all good socially-responsible and progressive policies?
OK, social indicators are not an exact science, and we could easily question the methodology used by the Social Progress Index. But leave that to the academics. What matters politically are the headlines, such as the Herald's. Any talk of how our social well-being is going down the gurgler thanks to neo-liberal policies and the accompanying poverty and inequality is now going to sound hollow.
So, who produces this Social Progress Index anyway? Well, they are a collection of globe-trotting do-gooders and philanthro-capitalists of the kind you might meet at UN development conferences or the World Economic Forum. And the leading adviser is Prof Michael Porter of Harvard, the same guy who co-authored a report on how NZ could increase its economic competitiveness, back in 1991. It looks like he is one of those business-know-best gurus who's had a post-GFC enlightenment and now wonders how countries can compete to become more socially progressive. Let's wish him luck. But I'm not sure that we ever needed his help.
By the way, if it makes you feel any better, NZ ranks only 28th out of 151 countries in the New Economics Foundation's Happy Planet Index. But there's a reason for that, one which Green voters will gloat over. The HPI divides well-being indicators by ecological footprint.
A lot depends on what you measure and why, and what formula you use!

Setting the record straight

Dear readers (both of you),
Since it's election year and questions are being asked about biased bloggers, I thought I should set out a few points about how this blog works:
I do not belong to a political party.
No-one feeds me stories.
I'm not a journalist.
I'm not convinced that having political bloggers regulated by the Press Council will make this country a better place, or make elections freer and fairer. But I'm willing to listen to reasoned arguments.
I do own a copy of Mein Kampf, and it shares my bookshelf with Marx's Capital vol. 1.
I am biased, because I'm human.
Facts and principles should be clarified before we launch into opinions, however.
Most bloggers think their opinions are more important than they really are. And that's why we blog!

27 March 2014

Hitler on the shelf

Probably the only thing that Kim Dotcom and I have in common is that we both own a second-hand copy of Hitler's Mein Kampf. But, in my case, it is a paperback English translation, not a signed first-edition.
Having got that disclosure out of the way, I am sure that anyone who knows my political views will support me in saying that, simply because I own a copy of that politically-charged text, it does not mean that I condone anything at all in it. Nor should we jump to conclusions about the significance of Kim Dotcom's ownership of a copy.
A certain blogger, however, claims that Kim Dotcom has a fetish for Nazi memorabilia and holds anti-semitic views. And hence that Kiwi voters should beware. Dotcom, in reply, argues that these allegations are all part of a 'smear campaign' coming out of the National Party.
Kim Dotcom, as a German, would probably know that the rights to Mein Kampf were acquired after the War by the State of Bavaria, which has since refused to permit its publication. This amounts to an official ban on the book in Germany. It would be a mistake then to think that Dotcom sees his acquisition of a very rare signed first edition as simply a smart 'investment', as Hone Harawira suggests. Dotcom's ownership of a copy is a snub (to put it mildly) to his home country's efforts to suppress Nazism.
But, even if Dotcom acquired his rare copy of Mein Kampf as just a collector's item that will appreciate in economic value, this episode only serves to muddy the waters for his political campaign and the Internet Party.
Kim Dotcom's true political-ideological allegiances are far from clear (probably to himself as much as to anyone else). He has dallied with prominent leftists, such as Hone Harawira, but let's not forget that he is a wealthy businessman. The Kim Dotcom business model may look like a kind of 'piracy' to some (especially some in Hollywood), but it is still a capitalist business model. The Kim Dotcom model represents the future, the digital age, whereas the Hollywood entertainment industry, clinging onto its intellectual property rights, represents the past.
I was amused to learn that Hone Harawira had trouble understanding Marx, but Marx would have warned us that the economic basis of a person's livelihood will tell us all we need to know about his actual political values.

19 March 2014

New Zealand, China's little brother...

China’s ambassador to New Zealand describes this country as ‘not just a trading partner but a very close member of the family’ (Wang Lutong quoted by O'Sullivan). This is the beginning of a relationship defined in Chinese terms: that is, an imperial relationship based on a projected world-system that is paternalistic and that sees a direct analogy between family and state. As a member of the Chinese family, New Zealand will obviously be a junior member, expected to look up to the head of the family. Get used to it.

13 March 2014

How to disfranchise 10,000 citizens

Based on a visit to the Stats NZ site and a rough calculation, there are about 10,000 New Zealanders who will turn 18 between 20 September 2014 and 29 November 2014 (the latest reasonable date on which the government could have set the next election).
Admittedly, 18-year-olds have a relatively low rate of electoral registration and voter turn-out. But nonetheless, the PM's decision to go to the electorate two months early has denied the right to vote at this election to thousands of young New Zealanders.
OK, I know that there were well-rehearsed reasons for the early election, and that those young people who just miss out will get their turn in 2017.
I make this point, though, because no-one seems to think about the young when such decisions get made. If many 17-year-olds feel aggrieved about this decision, then John Key doesn't have to care about them – because they can't vote!
But, should we allow Prime Ministers to decide the date of the election? The arbitrary disfranchisement of young persons is another reason for fixed election dates.

The Winston factor

People, including myself, have given Winston Peters a bit of a hard time for playing an ambiguous game regarding which of the major parties he would support in government after this coming election. Various commentators, and even the PM himself, insist upon pre-electoral transparency from Peters. They argue that voters should know what kind of government the party they are voting for wants to support – and what kind it would oppose. Mr Peters has avoided giving a direct answer to the question 'Labour or National?' He argues that the voters do not like government-formation to be stitched up prior to their making their preferences known at the ballot-box.
Having heard Peters talk recently, though, it appears to me that his position is not really all that ambiguous. NZ First is a centre party and can go either way – or it can, as at present, happily occupy the cross-benches. Peters has indicated that, in the first instance, he would talk with (but not necessarily support) the party with the largest vote (almost certainly to be National). If there is no meeting of minds there, he could then potentially talk with Labour. But again he quite reasonably says that there would have to be some common ground on policy and office-sharing. The tricky question for Peters and Labour, though, would be the relationship with the Greens. Peters has said in the past that he would not support Labour in office if they included the Greens as a support partner. He has not explicitly said the same this time around, so far (unless I've missed something). But any potential deal with Labour is likely to be complicated by that factor.
If all deal-making falls through for NZ First, or if either National or Labour is able to form a government without NZ First's support, then Peters is prepared to stay in opposition.
Overall, then, his pre-electoral position is neither ambiguous nor hard to understand. And, as a centrist party, NZ First need not state a clear pre-electoral preference. NZ First has options, and wants reasonably to keep those options open until the numbers are known after the election. The term 'king-maker' is misleading, as a party in NZ First's position does not 'decide' who will govern. In all likelihood, it will be National that calls the shots and chooses whom they want to negotiate with, and in what order, after the election.
If Peters did state a preference for Labour or National, it could scare voters off, to the right or to the left, depending on what his stated preference was. If some voters are uncomfortable with Mr Peters' currently open-ended approach, then they don't have to vote for his party.
How much more 'transparency' is needed?
Mr Key has not ruled NZ First out this time around. So, I'm predicting a National-led government forming after this election, probably with support from NZ First. By the time the election is over, you will have forgotten you read this, so I'm on safe ground if I got it wrong!

08 March 2014

Colin raises the standards?

Once there was a guy, let's call him Colin, who decided he wanted to play for the Warriors. But he thought the opposing league players were a bit too rough and this lowered the standards of play. So, to teach them a lesson, every time an opposing player smashed him to the ground, Colin laid a complaint with the police. After all, the other players had no right to hurt a delicate chap like him.
For perfectly sound reasons, the police and the courts paid no attention to Colin's pleadings. They said 'league players have to take the hard tackles, as that's the nature of the game.' But the news media did pay attention, because it made great copy. And Colin loved the attention he was getting.
Because Colin had deep pockets to pay lawyers, eventually the other players decided it was safer not to tackle Colin at all, and they just let him score points whenever he liked.
But did this raise the standard of play? Not according to the fans in the stadium! They booed and told him to harden the f*** up.