22 January 2014

Winston Peters' worst nightmare

John Key's announcement that he 'would not rule out' negotiating with NZ First to support a government after the next election could turn out to be the kiss of death for NZ First.
One of the dangers for Mr Key (or similarly Mr Cunliffe) in making such pre-electoral statements is that they could give voters for minor parties some comfort that a vote for them is less likely to be wasted as they have a chance of gaining office in support of National (or, as the case may be, Labour). But the opposite can happen too. Instead of making NZ First more popular, Mr Key's hint could cause voters to turn away from them, both to the left and to the right.
Those who were considering a vote for NZ First in the hope of kicking National out of office will have to think again, as NZ First's post-election moves are now unpredictable. Such anti-National voters may thus turn to Labour, once they realise that Peters will go with Key if it works for them both.
The more conservative side of the NZ First constituency, on the other hand, may now see the Conservative Party as a safer bet. If Key gifts Colin Craig a blue-ribbon electorate, as many predict, the Conservatives have a much surer route into Parliament than NZ First.
So, Winston's nightmare now is that he bleeds votes to the left and to the right of his party, and falls short of the 5% threshold. Meanwhile, the Conservatives get seats, even if they get less than 5% of party votes.
Winston is reacting irrationally now that he is under pressure from the media to state his post-election collaboration preferences as openly as National and Labour have done. He argues that it's somehow wrong and manipulative to be up-front with voters before the election. That's obviously because he wants to keep his options open and does not want to scare voters off in either direction.
By contrast, before the last election, Peters was very clear about his intentions: he declared that he would not support any government and was aiming to be in opposition 'to keep them honest'. And the opposition benches are exactly where he ended up.
If Winston Peters had no intention at all of supporting National after the 2014 election, he'd have said so by now. Pressure on him to state his post-electoral intentions will only mount as we get closer to the election itself. Watch him squirm!

16 January 2014

Is NZ politics dominated by wealthy pakeha male Aucklanders?

A decade ago, lefty liberals used to boast about how New Zealand's Governor-General, Prime Minister and Chief Justice were all women. The latter is still in the job. But, in government and politics, it now looks like the patriarchy is striking back, and NZ is becoming an Auckland-based plutocracy.
Mr Key is the obvious leader of this. But the launch of two new political parties – the Conservatives and the Internet Party – suggests that being white and wealthy, and in Auckland, are now the essential qualifications for a leading political voice in this country.
Even the incredibly waspish David Cunliffe, by the standards of the average Labour voter, has to be rated as a wealthy Aucklander. And don't even mention Len Brown!
Like the recent debate about marae protocol, it looks like women in politics are being shoved into the back seat. But the anti-PC sentiment in the media discourages them from complaining about it publicly. It's so uncool to be a feminist these days.
Just as inequality and poverty are starting to feature as widely acknowledged political problems, the rich white guys are more firmly grabbing the reins of power, and political influence is determined by how much money you have to launch media campaigns, hire consultants, and throw free parties.
If this diagnosis is correct, then it's predictable that the attack on the poor will not cease for the time being. But does anyone out there care?

13 January 2014

Are we really such sticklers for protocol?

New Zealand’s system of government is modeled on the institutions and conventions of Westminster, but has successfully adapted to local needs and changing norms. For instance, Maori parliamentary seats were adopted in 1867, and women gained the vote in 1893. Parliament terminated its own upper House, the Legislative Council, in 1951. And we voted for MMP in 1993.
While maintaining many vestiges of English tradition, our Parliament and many top-level official functions also incorporate elements of tikanga Maori. But the new year has been kicked off with controversy about protocol at an official powhiri. The traditional seating and speaking rights that place men at the front on the paepae have clashed with the principle of equality of the genders. Should senior female politicians, whether they like it or not, be seated at the back and be barred from speaking at an official welcome to parliament, in compliance with Maori custom?
Tariana Turia says that tangata whenua won’t accept ‘artificial modifications’ to the traditional powhiri, and that Parliament and the whole country will be the better off for observing two traditions when they are ‘integrated without compromising the integrity of either.’
First, it’s odd to see Mrs Turia resurrect the ‘integration’ idea, which dates back to the early 1960s, and which I thought had been rejected by biculturalism. But, secondly, it’s hard to see how her version of ‘integration’ can happen without some compromise. Women MPs simply have to take a back seat, if we agree with Mrs Turia, and that compromises New Zealanders’ respect for gender-equality. Non-Maori women (and men) are expected to embrace Maori protocol and yet not ask to modify it. Westminster protocols can and do evolve with the times, but Maori protocols cannot be changed, in her view.
Mrs Turia, who represents a Maori electorate, occupies a seat in Parliament that exists thanks to a ‘compromise’ made to the Westminster model back in 1867. At the time, MPs were concerned about this special exception and they hoped it would be temporary. Critics today argue that it was a tokenistic compromise. For various reasons, New Zealand has retained the Maori electoral roll, despite continuing reservations. But, due to a further modification to parliamentary protocol, Mrs Turia is now welcome to address the House in either Maori or English.
She also holds her seat and speaks freely in the House, as a woman, thanks to a long-term political struggle for women’s rights and equality that began in the nineteenth century. In keeping with the principle of gender-equality, no one questions Mrs Turia’s right to stand for office and to speak in public. In today’s Parliament, women can and do sit on the front benches.
In the light of all that history of adaptation to parliamentary tradition, a little compromise on protocol from Mrs Turia and Te Atiawa would look reasonable and generous. But it's up to them.