28 May 2014


The choice of Laila Harre as leader of the Internet Party will go a long way towards making sense of the pre-electoral alliance with the Mana Party, as announced on Tuesday.
On paper, there is little ideological and policy compatibility between the Internet and Mana Parties – so far. And initially Sue Bradford captured the attention by walking out of the Mana Party over the alliance, arguing that the Mana Party was only being used by a wealthy foreigner who would not respect their founding kaupapa.
Ms Harre, however, has impeccable left-wing, trade-union credentials to bring to the Internet party. Her strong political nous and experience will help to fill a major gap for the Internet Party. She will bridge the apparent ideological gap between the two parties. But I doubt that many of the 'young and disaffected' that this new party is supposedly targetting will recognise Laila's name.
The danger is that the alliance between the two parties could tarnish both of their brands, and confuse voters about what they actually stand for politically. That risk has still to be managed, but Laila Harre's appointment does help to give an initial impression of a closer compatibility between the two. How compatible Hone and Laila will be as personalities is another question, but one can easily imagine more troublesome partnerships. And it is most important that the limelight be taken off Kim Dotcom (if that's possible!), as he is not able to stand as a candidate.
The Internet Party has some policy development to do in order to bring its present manifesto up to speed on social policy and Maori issues. Policy-wise, they still do not look like an obvious partner for Mana. The alliance agreement requires that the Internet Mana Party will have 'an agreed policy platform' that all its MPs commit to. But it also permits each component party to develop its own policies, with consultation with the other party.
A critical question will be whether the Mana/Internet alliance can inspire young people, especially the less well-off, about an exciting new approach to politics that buys into the world that youth live in today, and that will improve their participation and opportunities in the digital world of the future. Will the young get the message? With the Internet Party's online communication skills, it's likely that they will get the message.
In electoral terms, it appears that Laila will be back in parliament after the next election as Internet Party leader. The Internet Party's resources may well be useful in the Waiariki electorate, giving a boost to Mana's Annette Sykes, and presenting a real challenge to the Maori Party's Te Ururoa Flavell.
So, three or four Internet Mana seats is a conceivable result just for starters, provided the deal doesn't backfire due to voter confusion or cynicism.

27 May 2014

Hone and Kim: Friends with benefits?

Hone Harawira's Mana Party and Kim Dotcom's Internet Party have announced a pre-electoral 'formal alliance.' This is a 'cash for coat-tails' deal, by which Mana benefits from Kim Dotcom's cash, and the Internet Party stands to get one candidate into Parliament thanks to Mr Harawira's (probable) hold on the Te Tai Tokerau seat. To get a second seat, this alliance will still need to get over 1.6% of the party vote, which is achievable (especially given Dotcom's money), but not guaranteed. Mana won only 1.08% of the party vote in 2011.
The identity of the Internet Party's leader is (as I write this) yet to be revealed, but that choice will make a difference to voter perceptions of this alliance.
In terms of policies, it's hard to see these two parties as ideologically compatible, and they appear to be united largely by a desire to win a seat or two each and to help bring about a change of government. Dotcom's antipathy to John Key is legendary.
But a long-term alliance (as opposed to a temporary, pre-electoral deal for the sake of seats) would require a much more convincing platform that somehow melds Mana's commitments to the poor and dispossessed with Internet Party's commitment to a freewheeling, globalised, internet-savvy future. But perhaps long-term commitment is not the aim.

26 May 2014

Opinion Polls

After John Key had just delivered a speech over the weekend predicting a 'tight and tough' election, and John Armstrong in the NZ Herald had pointed out how Labour is hitting the right notes lately, two opinion polls appear to tell another story. The 3News/Reid and One News/Colmar Brunton polls both have National up to more than 50% (a big rebound from the 42.5% in the last Roy Morgan poll), and Labour down slightly to 30% or below. Figures like that, if translated into election results, could mean National being able to govern alone, with 61 seats, assuming the minnows (ACT, United, Maori and Mana parties) all retain 1 seat each.
Based on past elections, it's unlikely, however, that such a commanding lead in the polls by the party in government will be sustained into the election itself. National's poll result is probably a halo effect from a relatively well received budget. One or two more scandalous revelations about ministerial behaviour or croneyism and National will see their polling come down again from the recent high  – and then the 'tight and tough' prediction will be looking more credible.

15 May 2014

Budget: The bluffer's guide

Bill English: "Mr Speaker, I move that the Appropriation (2014/15 Estimates) Bill be now read a second time."

Plain English: "Mr Speaker, I move that we spend half a billion dollars of taxpayers' money to help National get back into office after the coming election."

Budget: The voter's digest

Viewed as a pre-electoral message, Mr English's Budget speech has to be seen in a political light. So, what are the key messages for voters and for the opposition?
Mr English is implicitly saying 'vote for us again' by arguing that the strong economy is allowing households and the government to bank their gains, and (above all) that we should 'stick to the plan.' He is also warning the opposition that any claims to increase spending will run them into the counter-argument that these could put upward pressure on interest-rates, thus cancelling out the benefits for householders.
The Budget attempts to 'head off at the pass' political arguments by the opposition that the government is doing nothing for critical social issues such as child poverty and education. Naturally the social sector and the opposition will accuse the National-led government of not doing enough for the worst-off. But Mr English's speech presents a more optimistic view, with impressive figures to boot. For instance, $493 million over four years for support for children and families. Spread over four years that is actually less impressive than it sounds, of course, but it's material for sound-bites that pre-empt or counter opposition attacks.
Hints about future tax-cuts for middle-income earners suggest that the election debate leading up to 20 September could well focus on the big left–right contest of 'more state spending' versus 'working people can bank (or spend) the benefits themselves.'
So, Budget 2014 is neither an election-winner nor an election-loser for National. It stands in stark contrast to the badly received Budget delivered in Canberra recently. But Mr English's Budget speech does give us some big hints about how the election campaign will be fought.

13 May 2014

Karen Price for PM!

Campbell Live's At home with the leaders episode this week was just great. Karen Price will make a great Prime Minister. She is smart, vivacious and caring. She knows how to keep the beehive under control. Her husband's a decent bloke too.

Should political reporters be barred from political-party membership?

This question has arisen from the controversy around and the inquiry into the political activities of Shane Taurima (as a member of the Labour Party) while working for TVNZ.
An independent report has recommended that any employee of TVNZ with an editorial influence over political reporting should be required not to be a member of any political party and not to carry out any political activity. A regime of mandatory disclosure of party memberships and political activities is recommended for an even wider range of TVNZ staff. No doubt the same principles could be applied to staff at all TV, radio and newspapers.
Is it possible to be a member of a political party and to report political news with impartiality and fairness? I argue that it is possible, provided one is not a highly active member with ambitions for election. Taurima's error was, in my opinion, to mix his political ambitions and activities with his employer's resources, not party membership alone. Taurima was cleared by the inquiry of any bias in his role as a journalist.
Nonetheless, political party membership does compromise the perceived impartiality of a political reporter, and hence it is advisable that reporters not join any party at all.
Conversely, it is equally possible that a reporter may belong to no political party and yet be politically biased or unfair in his or her reporting. Hence, banning party membership alone does not necessarily solve the problem of bias. I just wonder, then, where this could all end up: Should reporters be banned from voting too? Should we bring in the Thought Police to force them to disclose all of their political opinions and expunge them one by one?
OK, that's the reductio ad absurdum. But political party membership and voting are democratic rights in a society like ours. Certainly, at senior levels in journalism (as in the public service) individuals will have to make decisions to distance themselves from political parties and activism, in order to preserve their independence – and to preserve their credibility as employees. But these decisions need to be made individually as a matter of prudent choice. The prospect of an employer (and, in the TVNZ case, a state-owned enterprise) demanding disclosure of employees' party memberships and activities is, in my opinion, an unwelcome and disquieting development. It's a step too far.

08 May 2014

National's Nightmares

According to the Roy Morgan poll (published 7 May), there's been 'a large fall in support for National (42.5%, down 6%) now well behind a potential Labour/Greens alliance (45.5%, up 5.5%).' But they wrongly draw the conclusion that the poll results imply 'that the potential Labour/Greens alliance would be elected.' Assuming that the Conservatives do not win an electorate seat and the Internet party doesn't coat-tail in with Mana, then National would have 53 seats and would be able to form a government with NZ First support (7 seats) plus support from United Future and ACT (assuming the latter two retain their single seats). Labour and the Greens combined would have 56 seats, and so they too would be able to form a government, but only with NZ First's support.
Even if the Internet Party and Mana successfully form a pre-electoral arrangement and they gain a total of 3 seats between them, the numbers would still add up for a National-NZ First coalition (with support from UF and ACT), but with a wafer-thin majority of 61 out of 120 seats. (I'm assuming there's no over-hang). So, it could go either way (National- or Labour-led government), but all would depend on Winston Peters!

Could we end up with no clear winning coalition and a deadlocked parliament after the next election? Yes we could, and here's how...
Suppose the Conservatives steal votes away from National and NZ First, but neither the Conservatives nor NZ First gets over the 5% threshold, resulting in, let's say, 9% of the party vote 'wasted'. At the same time, National dives to 44%, Labour gets 30.3% and the Greens 13%. The remaining one-seat parties (UF, ACT, Maori and Mana) all get around 1% each or just under and retain their one electorate seats.
That gives National 58 seats; and then Labour 40, and the Greens 17 (58 between the two them).
National can rely solidly on ACT and UF for their support, but they then only have 60 votes in total in a 120-seat parliament. All eyes would be on Te Ururoa Flavell as the sole member left from the Maori Party. He has the choice either to support a National-led government with a wafer-thin margin of one vote (and hence his party faces political doom for doing so), or perhaps to abstain on confidence votes and let National carry on as a lame-duck government fighting for every piece of legislation. If he preferred to support Labour (as I suppose he does), then that too would only have 60 seats.
Under such circumstances, the incumbent National-led administration would presumably stay in office for the time being, but it would have great difficulty passing legislation, and may be stymied when it comes to supply. What could be worse?