Monday, February 20, 2017

Why I'd Be Voting For Joe Carolan In The Mt Albert By-Election

Disclaimer: I can't actually vote for Joe on Saturday, because I don't live in the relevant electorate.

But if I did, I'd have pretty much no hesitation in casting my ballot in his direction, rather than for one of the more 'major' parties presently showboating for your attention in that there seat.

The reasoning is simple.

I want Labour to run 'to the left' of where they were in 2014 - both because I'm sick of quasi-center-right warmed-over neoliberalism masquerading as progressive economic policy ... but also because I genuinely believe that moving to the left will help Labour's prospects later this year in September.

This might seem somewhat counterintuitive. After all, a pretty strong swathe of New Zealanders - and, for that matter, much of Labour's own support-base - self-identify as being "centrist". The 'received wisdom' thus suggests that in order to win elections, parties must basically push themselves as "National-lite", and eschew anything which might possibly look like a proper progressive economic agenda.

Except this doesn't work. Partially because it's really surprisingly difficult to 'out-National' National (not least because National is literally the most popular party the MMP era has ever seen), but also because attempts to hedge in on 'their' territory almost inevitably seem to wind up alienating those same crucial 'swing' voters in the self-described political 'center'.

We saw this at the last Election. For some inexplicable reason, Labour's headline policies were things like raising the retirement age in the name of fiscal sustainability, and slapping on the Capital Gains Tax which Bill English earlier wanted to do. All in some sort of quixotic pursuit of surplus - an enthusiasm so overweaning that the party wound up ditching other policies like its eminently sensible (because it was NZF-inspired) free doctor's visits for over-65s in order to bring said Surplus forward by a few months.

The Young Nats were cheering! And not just because they had front-row seats to Labour's electoral collapse. Instead, it was at least partially because they were FINALLY getting to see a major party advance the more extreme elements of their neoliberal agenda.

What was the net effect of all of this?

24.9%, if I recall.

Worst Labour electoral result in a century, thanks to working class voters deserting the party for the far more overtly left-wing (economically) New Zealand First, and activists and middle-class voters heading away in the direction of the Greens.

So having identified the problem ... how do we get them to change course?

Simple. Convince them there's actual votes in it.

One way by which we can do this is by putting our support behind more left-wing candidates, causes and political parties.

Jacinda Ardern or Julie-Anne Genter winning strong shares of the Mt Albert vote won't send a message. The electorate's been regarded as a 'safe' Labour seat for something like 70 years (i.e. since its inception in 1946), so Labour doing well there in this by-election doesn't change a thing. The Greens, meanwhile, came only a little more than two thousand votes behind Labour for Party Vote at the last Election - so as I said, a Greens result of strongness would also be expected - and thus not make much impact upon Labour's strategic decision-making.

But one thing that WOULD dent their confidence on the 'centrist' course, would be if an appreciable percentage of turnout in this week's by-election were for a demonstrably 'left of center' candidate.

The further left, the better.

Enter Joe Carolan.

Now, it's no secret that in some of his previous incarnations, Joe's been about as far left as it's possible to be within our political spectrum before you start building barricades and re-enacting select scenes from Les Miserables. (And, in fact, that's pretty much where I first met him about a decade ago when we were both vaguely connected to the ill-fated NZ iteration of the Socialist Worker Party)

But many of the core policies he's running on in Mt Albert aren't particularly extreme. Instead, they're "we can see it from here" extensions of directions that parties like NZ First and The Greens - and yes, even Labour - have already begun moving down. More importantly, they've got core kernels of a vital political commodity I like to call "Common Sense".

There is nothing controversial about advocating for a Living Wage; or a substantial State Housing building program. Who could argue against ending the ongoing rort of so-called "Council Controlled Organizations", opposing the TPPA - or making rents, public transport and tertiary education more affordable. I'm also fairly certain that just about everyone agrees that our present unemployment regime isn't working, and that far more could be productively done to make use of - and give a leg up to - workers presently out of a job. [As it happens, this was flagship NZF policy announced two years ago]

Indeed, the only thing remarkable about some of these policies (apart from the extent to which Joe's willing to push both them and the [Overton] envelope) is the way in which some parties still steadfastly refuse to see the light and do something about them.

A strong showing for Carolan in Mt Albert would certainly help to encourage Labour to become more strident about serious solutions to these - and other - issues that might help to connect them with the winnable voters they so desperately need if they are to form Government after the next Election.

So that's pretty much the 'strategic' case for voting for Joe.

But there are also some pretty good, strong and entirely free-standing reasons to consider giving him your support.

If you've been following the reprehensible saga of the suffering Indian students whom New Zealand so cruelly wants to deport ... well ... you might have noted the bearded chap who's been at pretty much every one of that campaign's events. Indeed, who's done a helluvalot of organizing to try and help out these people in need. Because that's what Joe does. He isn't some sort of "online armchair revolutionaries" we've heard so much about of late. In both his day-job as a committed Union organizer, and his personal and political lives outside of that, he puts his principles into practice and does his best to help others.

You could certainly do far worse than entrusting Joe with your vote if you wanted to take the 'principled' rather than merely 'strategic' route of reasoning.

Yet in this by-election, given the near-certainty of Labour sleepwalking to victory anyway ... there doesn't have to be a dissonance between "principle" and "pragmatism". You're free to both vote how you want, and in a way that will hopefully have a positive effect on the overarching strategy and positioning of the later General Election.

Now obviously, I don't necessarily agree with everything which Joe's advocating. But I've seen enough of both him and what he's advocating to know that his candidacy is an ideal place to make a stand on principle.

And perhaps, just maybe, forcibly reinject some actual POLITICS (and, for that matter, proper principle) into this otherwise boring (and arguably technocratic) "by-election" process.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

What If I Told You That Labour Has Walked Into A Trap In Mt Albert...

What if I told you that Labour has walked into a trap in Mt Albert?

Specifically, a most excellent trap of National's own devising.

You'd probably shoot me a somewhat incredulous look. Mt Albert, as the received wisdom goes, is a safe Labour seat - so safe, in fact, that National's not even standing a candidate there. Apart from a minimum modicum of expended campaign-funds, what possible detriment could Labour incur by winning in the Mt Albert by-election to be held later this month?

Well, the answer doesn't exactly lie inside Mt Albert.

Consider the way this by-election's caused Labour to re-arrange its battle-lines and formation going into 2017.

Are there any 'key' battleground electorates which are now presently bereft of a Labourite candidate-champion as the directly attributable result of what's happening in Mt Albert?

If you answered "Auckland Central", then you're bang on the money. (Or, should I say - "the McCully")

National has always known that its hold over Auckland Central has been a pretty flimsy one. Nikki Kaye has worked tremendously hard to first take the seat off Labour in 2008 - and then to hold it via a series of razor-thin majorities.

But hard work isn't an iron-clad guarantee of continued success in politics, and the risk was that through a combination of a slight swing against the Government (as the late-2016 poll trends appeared to suggest, alongside concerns that Bill English's more socially conservative style might be less popular with Auckland Central voters) and the net effect of an incumbent candidate who's recently suffered a rather scary health complication ... well ... a six hundred vote margin of victory appears to have been perceived as too tight to be a sure thing. Particularly in this new environment wherein Labour-Greens strategic co-operation might actually have resulted in something half-way intelligent like the Greens candidate standing aside in order to give Jacinda Ardern a clear run at Kaye. (A notion which, had it come to fruition, could possibly have counterbalanced the detrimental effect on Labour's vote of its Grey Lynn supporters being rezoned into Mt Albert with the change of electorate boundaries)

Now, as it happens, some of these concerns have since been nullified. National's polling appears to have rallied, and Bill English's elevation to the Prime Ministerial heights doesn't appear to have dented the Government's credibility nor popularity with just about anyone (in fact, it's starting to appear quite the contrary). Alongside this, the Greens and Labour are once again set to compete against one another in the seat (with Denise Roche having just recently won her selection battle against newcomer Chloe Swarbrick; and Labour having closed off nominations for the seat but not yet announced a candidate) - although I would be inordinately surprised if Ardern's successor in Auckland Central comes anywhere close to her vote-tally.

But at the time that this 'trap' was being constructed and set, these things were not known. Indeed, many signs seemed to point towards the 'uphill battle' scenario for National which I outlined above - in which a focused Ardern, supported by non-vote-splitting Greens, and up against a debilitated Kaye, would carry the seat. Given the knife-edge majority which the Government looked set to be on ... but a single electorate seat could have made all the difference.

Oh, and lest you think I am facetiously playing up the idea of Kaye not being able to put in the same level of campaign effort which just barely won her the seat last time around due to her illness ... I'm not. In her first major interview of the year, she states exactly that - candidly noting that she "won't be able to" replicate her previous on-the-ground effort. And there's no shame in that (indeed, quite the opposite for being open, up-front and honest about it) - but given this is her several months on (in terms of healing and reinvigoration) from the point at which these plans were made, you can well understand why National's backroom strategists were feeling quite nervous about her seat at the time. Particularly if she were to be up again against her old adversary, Ardern.

So with all of that in mind, if Auckland Central's status as a (tenuously) blue seat was to be protected, then something would have to be done. Specifically, something to excise Ardern from her long-standing candidacy there - on the assumption that a fresh (and presumably novitiate) Labour candidate wouldn't come nearly as close to beating Kaye as Jacinda had done previously, even with potential Green Party non-standing help. (I have my own private thoughts as to whether Denise Roche would have been likely to stand aside if asked, but that's another matter entirely)

Enter Murray McCully.

Now, at the moment he's known to most as our Foreign Minister - but inside beltway circles, he's long been given a different descriptor. In specia, National's "Minister of Dirty Tricks". This is because, when it comes to coming up with *ahem* "alternative" means for securing desired political/psephological outcomes ... McCully's something of an evil genius.

But he's also the Foreign Minister, and has presided over New Zealand gaining a fairly strong degree of prestige and renown at the U.N. over the last few years. Admittedly, we don't have the world's first female General Secretary - but, as you cannot help but have noticed, we DO suddenly have a New Zealander gearing up to receive his appointment as the head of the UN's mission in South Sudan.

I wonder how that could have happened...

Most explanations hinge around McCully leveraging the influence of his position (and therefore New Zealand's position on the world stage) in order to have David Shearer given a reasonable shot at the aforementioned top UN job. What a stroke of luck that New Zealand just happens to be on the Security Council when one of its own favoured sons is being put forward for a Security Council-appointed position. And, to be fair, it's not a role for which Shearer is entirely unqualified - he's got an impressive backstory, long-standing ties to the UN, and (going on the strength of the previous two points) may well have made for a better 'in-the-field' type than he did a politician. (We can also make the usual jokes about how dealing with fratricidal factions in pretty much open warfare is an apt summation of the state of the modern Labour Party - so even notwithstanding his experiences in Iraq, it would appear he's got some potentially directly relevant experience. Another instance of a formerly bright MP deciding that 'Saving The World' is likely to be far easier than 'Saving The Modern Labour Party', either way)

Encouraging Shearer to take an early retirement from his 'safe' electorate seat created a vacancy - and, as in the rest of nature, politics abhors a vacuum. Somebody would have to fill the void created by a departing Shearer.

Enter Jacinda Ardern.

Ardern is, quite clearly, ambitious (which, as I've previously remarked, is not necessarily a sin in a politician - indeed, its absence would seem to constitute a most marked character flaw); and as somebody talked about as a potential future leader for the Labour Party, there is an obvious symbolic importance to both being able to win one's seat ... and, for that matter, perhaps to holding *that* seat in particular (i.e. Mt Albert specifically). It was, after all, 'Aunty Helen's old seat - as well as providing the springboard for another Labour MP to take the Party Leadership (specifically, the one presently departing for the Sudan).

To add impetus to her decision, National made sure Ardern knew she'd have a fight on her hands if she remained in Auckland Central by having Nikki Kaye make a well-publicized return to Parliament late last year (about two days before news of Shearer's impending departure was picked up by the media). They deliberately made sure she looked "fighting-fit" and enthusiastically energized for the task ahead - also signalling that she'd be taking over the high-workload Education portfolio in the very near future in order to help complete the impression of strength. (After all - you wouldn't give such a crucial portfolio in an Election Year to somebody who's anything less than brimming with capacity, now would you)

It has also been suggested that the news of Shearer's 'move sideways' by about fifteen thousand kilometers was then deliberately leaked into the media two days later on McCully's orders. The idea with that was to carry out a conventional 'carrot and stick' approach on Ardern. First, the 'stick' of facing a strong foe was deployed (in concert with the likelihood of Ardern's vote anyway being under threat due to the boundary change) - then the 'carrot' of an easily obtainable (and 'storied') Safe Seat was dangled.

And, as we have seen, Ardern straight-up went for it. Eschewing the notion of in-depth trench-warfare in one of the country's lead battleground electorates for her own (arguable) long term ambitions. And, in the process helping National to most likely outright win a seat that had previously been under threat - all without the proverbial shot being fired. They don't even have to stand a candidate in Mt Albert in the by-election to try and fight Ardern there. And why would they - they want this 'transition' of Ardern into Albert to be as easy and painless as possible.

What National have cleverly done here, is they've made use of the ancient military principle of - where possible - getting the terrain (and the nature of your opponent for that matter) to do the fighting for you.

Labour has gained - and will gain - nothing from re-arranging their forces in the aforementioned way. National gains something of quite considerable importance - the pressure off in a much-watched battleground seat, and of an MP of theirs whose reputation they rather want kept in tact.

All things considered, the best summation of this that I've yet heard comes from an associate:

"It's diabolical! It's MONSTROUS!" It's masterful!

...It's McCully"

Monday, February 6, 2017

On The Left-Wing Case For Willie Jackson

Waitangi Weekend featured, as predicted, a controversial candidate announcement as part of a political resurrection. Fortunately for my hopes, it was Willie Jackson's spot in the limelight rather than a ... certain other figure. Although it did strike me as somewhat surprising that there was so much opprobium and opposition to the gentleman in question returning to politics with the Labour Party. 

Surprising, I suppose, because it makes for such a logical fit. Jackson is not perfect - either as a person or as a candidate - and he's already experienced first-hand just how fractitiously internecine the Labour Party's internal politics can be after a mere few hours 'officially' in the Team. But he does add value to what Labour's selling this Campaign season. And that's a pretty important consideration for those of us who're interested in Changing The Government later this year. 

So how does he help this mission.

Well, for starters he'll help to counter Labour's "profile problem". Few people could probably name anyone outside of Labour's front bench. Fewer still would have actually seen or heard them through popular media in recent weeks. Leaving aside the level of media attention which Jackson's announcement has attracted this weekend, for most of hte last decade and a half he's been a familiar voice for hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders via his broadcasting ventures. And while this also evidently provides a potential supply of ammunition for his detractors (both within and outside his own party), one could argue that in the desperate situation Labour now finds itself - such a strong public profile for a candidate is not something to be sneezed at. 

But the area where he will most prominently have featured in Labour's electoral machinations is Maori politics. It's no secret that Labour is presently on-edge and cold-sweating about its prospects in the Maori seats and with Maori voters. On paper, it looks to be in a strong position - holding six out of seven Maori seats, some of them by comparatively wide margins. But in reality, the looming tidal wave of a MANA-Maori electoral compact to 'take back the Maori Seats' has them seriously worried. In Te Tai Tokerau especially, there will be no Kim Dot Com to weigh down Harawira this time. And in a number of other seats, the combined total of MANA and Maori Party votes well exceed Labour's majorities - certainly, well enough that the chance cannot be taken that some MANA voters might instead choose to back Labour if their own party's candidates are pulled. (The Greens, incidentally, are probably not going to be helping on this score; seeing as they're already announcing candidates for a number of the Maori Seats, which will only serve to split the Labour vote further)

Enter Jackson. 

Before the weekend's announcement, it was widely rumoured that he'd put his name forward for Tamaki Makaurau with the Maori Party. No disrespect to Labour's Peeni Henare, but most projections had Jackson doing seriously well and quite probably taking the seat. By bringing Jackson onboard with its own waka, Labour have effectively neutralized a pretty big threat to one of their precious electorate seats. What was that Sun Tzu quote about the best way to defeat an enemy being to make him a friend instead? 

He may also help Labour to bolster its support amongst Maori via attracting party votes, as well. 

But there are also other considerations to be made. 

One element to Jackson's political persona which I don't think I've seen anybody comment on just yet, is how close he is with Winston Peters. I mean seriously close. 

This is vitally important. If Labour and the Greens want to form a non-National government after this year's Election, they are going to have to work out some way to reach an accommodation with New Zealand First. Linkages with Winston which he'll hopefully listen to are absolutely imperative if this is to happen. 

In addition to this, Jackson's background as an Alliance MP may indicate that he could play a role in helping to keep the modern Labour Party 'to the left'. In an age of public embarrassment due to its representatives doing bone-headedly "principled" things like choosing to vote for the TPPA .. that could be no small thing. 

So with all this in mind, why are such a number of 'lefty' people across social media and elsewhere so blatantly unexcited about his candidacy?

Well, a good number of them will have seen and taken their lead from fellow Labourite Poto Williams' bringing back up of Jackson's comments during the Roastbusters travesty. While it's generally agreed upon that John Tamihere was by far the worse offender in that sad incident, critics can also point to words of Willie's which have also caused offence. And, in any case, due to both a perception that "where Willie goes, J.T. goes too" and the fact that it was a joint show ... it's not hard to see why even Jackson's apologies over the matter for what he personally said have failed to sway some opponents. 

We demand high standards of both sensitivity and empathy from our elected representatives. I can well see why hard questions have been asked from various quarters of Jackson over this. 

But as it happens, I also think there are other drivers for 'lefty' opposition to Jackson. 

Foremost among these, from what I've seen, are concerns from Greens supporters that some of Jackson's previous rhetoric in their direction might cause problems for a harmonious Labour-Greens relationship. Personally, I think that a Red-Green Prospective Coalition has far bigger issues facing it this year than what one of the Red party's newly-minted candidates might have said about the Green partner in his past life as a broadcaster ... but the perception is nonetheless there that Jackson's candidacy is a bit of a flick in the ear for the Green Party. 

Alongside this are the customary jibes about being a "party-hopper" or an "opportunist" which emit from other quarters of the electorate. And yes, it's certainly true that a decade and a half ago Jackson was part of another party. One which is truly dead and buried, and which has seen a not insignificant number of its former glittering diamonds saddle up for Labour - whether motivated by shining idealism or a less lustrous personal ambition. 

But I suspect that objections based around Jackson's previous pedigree may have less to do with any idea that his political principles are 'fungible' enough to see him fit into a number of parties (the Maori Party which he was snatched from, as an obvious example). 

Instead, some folks out there have looked at what's been going on in Labour for the last wee while. Things like Matt McCarten running strategy for Labour as Andrew Little's Chief of Staff (a function which he appears to have at least partially kept even if he no longer holds the official role). Or Laila Harre rejoining Labour and potentially considering contesting a seat. Or, as we've seen this weekend, Willie Jackson turning up on the Labour Party's List. 

The common denominator for these three figures, of course, is that they're all Ex-Alliance. 

And there are a number of people amidst Labour who have never really forgiven The Alliance for existing. Let alone breaking away from Labour, pointing out Labour's troublesome neoliberal legacy for much of the 1990s, attempting to replace them as the leading 'left-wing' party, reducing Helen Clark to tears during the Taranaki-King Country by-election, and all the rest of it. 

If I were a slightly paranoid and seriously pretentious Labourite member, I'd presently be jabbering about an impending "Alliance-party" takeover of my beloved quasi-neoliberal vehicle, with a purported view to setting up a sequel to their now-mummified party. And I'd be throwing up mad shade in an attempt to act as a circuit-breaker. 

But that's just a theory - albeit one based upon previous conversations.

In any case, while there are good and solid reasons for Labour to put Jackson forward as a candidate, many of these seem to have been lost recently amidst the rush-to-recondemn from some on the left. 

Regardless of the rightness or otherwise of such an impulse, there are other factors to be taken into consideration as applies Jackson's candidacies. Factors which the Labour Party, sorely hard-pressed as it is, may be in dire need of being the beneficiary. 

Foxholes under artillery bombardment are perhaps not the right place for overwrought moral purists.

Friday, February 3, 2017


This has not been an easy piece for me to write. Watching in mounting horror as somebody - or something - you love and care deeply about gears up to do something self-destructive is never easy. And yet, that's the apparent position which quite a few of us dedicated New Zealand Firsters appear to be in right now.

Unless you've been living on the dark side of the Moon for the past few years, you'll most likely be aware of the swirling rumours that Shane Jones intends to mount a Parliamentary comeback at this year's Election with New Zealand First. The media have consistently been reporting this notion for much of the last two years, in line with tips disseminated by a certain figure in NZ First's Leader's Office. And, for that matter, supported by things seen with their own eyes - Jones appearing with Winston at the latter's Northland victory party, for instance; or Jones' now-wife acting as Winston's campaign manager for the same race.

But up until relatively recently, I was mostly content to dismiss speculation of Jones' political necromancy as being empty media stirmongering. A sensationalist impulse looking for a story's spine to shiver up. And not least because it appeared so self-evidently stupid for NZ First to even think about running Jones as a candidate.

That all changed late last month when I received independent confirmation from a number of different directions of Jones gearing up to announce his (NZF) candidacy. This was initially pegged to take place in somewhere around two months' time - i.e. at or after the contract-period of his South Pacific Ambassadorship ran out (due to its strictures on political neutrality).

However, possibly in reaction to a growing chorus of disquiet within NZ First over Jones (which, I confess, I've played a certain role in stoking), it was then stated that the date had been moved forward. Most probably to the annual Waitangi Day BBQ which Jones holds every year at his property in Northland. Now, at this point I must reiterate that this date for the announcement - February the 4th - is not certain. It's based on good information from highly placed sources who are usually solidly reliable. But as with everything concerning the upper echelons of NZ First, secrecy and subterfuge are draped like a fine double-breasted suit. In any case, even if we don't see fireworks this weekend (either on the 4th or the 6th) - April (the other and perhaps more conservative date mooted) is not far away.

That's why this week has seen a fulminating flurry of frenetic activity from quite a number of people within NZ First. We feel that the clock is counting down on this matter, and we're anxious to ensure our voices are heard by Party decision makers. To that end, many of us have been writing letters to the Party's Board of Directors requesting that they either i) clarify that Jones' candidacy is not happening; or, ii) take into consideration our rather negative perspectives on him when making the determination under s44(a) of the Party Constitution as to whether not he'll be allowed to stand as a candidate. [Jones, for what it's worth, is not - as far as anybody seems to be aware - an actual Party member, and would require special Board dispensation in order to put his name forward for candidacy under the aforementioned section]

We can but hope that Democracy in New Zealand First wins out.

And that we don't find ourselves in a situation arguably similar to that of the Democratic Party over in the U.S. - wherein the 'rules' were bent by decision-makers in order to turn the selection of a questionable candidate about whom serious concerns were percolating ... into something of a fait accompli. That candidate's name was, of course, Hillary Clinton. And, in no small part, this is how we got President Trump.

With New Zealand First about to have an absolute watershed year at the Election in September, it would be a damn shame if the Shane Jones sideshow were to imperil our chances. We've already had a number of people write in to tell us that they'll be seriously reconsidering their support if Jones is put forward on our List.

And to be honest, who can blame them. A cursory examination of Jones' political record would appear to suggest that he's anything but a good fit for New Zealand First.

He rose to prominence advocating for causes which Winston would today describe as "separatist". (including being a part of the Te Kawariki group which designed the Tino Rangatiratanga flag that Winston periodically objects to) And then turned around and helped betray Maoridom by selling off 50% of Sealord to the Japanese, rather than a local consortium. Winston, at the time, described the fruit of his actions as "a tragedy".

Next, while serving as Labour's Minister of Immigration, he granted citizenship against official advice to one Bill Liu. Who later turned out to be a seriously dodgy character and apparent international criminal. Why was Liu given citizenship? Well, in Liu's words - he had (literal) friends in high places. I.e. Jones.

New Zealand First has long stood against cosy backroom deals - which, in this instance, bordered on corruption; and is eponymously associated with demands to clean up immigration. Jones' actions while holding a Ministerial Warrant fairly directly tied to one of NZF's hot-button issues were straight-up inimical to what we as a Party stand for.

Toward the end of his Labour career, he broke with his Caucus-mates (and, for that matter, the rest of the Opposition) to take a cautious stand in favour of Asset Sales. But only, you understand, provided that it benefited Maori corporate entities.

Again, a diametrically opposed stance to that which New Zealand First so resolutely believes in, on all fronts.

On top of this, the way Jones exited his previous party may prove sadly instructive for his likely relationship with a new one. Shortly after his surprisingly successful attempt at securing political rehabilitation following the damaging "Minister for Porn" scandal [which, for the record, I haven't elsewhere mentioned both because I accept that it was an honest mistake - and, perhaps more importantly, because there are other far more serious grounds to skewer Shane on], he found himself 'headhunted' by National to take up a bespoke diplomatic posting. National's reasoning here was quite simple - Jones represented one of the few prominent MPs within Labour to be perceived as able to 'reach out' to the working class/Waitakere Man voter; and thus, in National's view, had to be neutralized in order to keep Labour at a reeling electoral disadvantage.

This, they did by luring Jones out of Parliament with the promise of what amounted to an all-expenses-paid three year holiday in the South Pacific. Jones took National up on their offer - abandoning the party which had made him first an MP and then a Minister in what some might argue was their hour of direst need. Certainly, his actions directly contributed to Labour reaping its worst electoral result in a century later that year.

Can New Zealand First really trust him to remain loyal when Labour could not? What about his relationship with National? Will he be an 'enemy agent' within our camp due to his close ties in that direction?

Interestingly, when he was leaving Parliament in 2014, Jones made a promise that he would not return to The House with any other party. The fact that he is now fairly openly shopping about his intent to politically resurrect under our banner would appear to suggest that Jones is not, in fact, a man of his word.

Now as applies that aforementioned relationship with National - it is not merely an idle nor 'on paper' thing. The National Party was quite happy to deploy him in its bid to sell the TPPA to the New Zealand People early last year. Jones, for his part (and, presumably, his thirty pieces of silver) appeared to have no issue getting up in front of Maori and other New Zealanders to extol the virtues of the sovereignty-stripping "trade agreement" which New Zealand First has fought so absolutely /bitterly/ in Parliament to try to prevent.

Not only does this suggest, as I have implied, a deep working relationship with National ... it also rather luridly illustrates that Jones exists upon what we might frankly term the"neoliberal right" of New Zealand's politico-economic spectrum. And ought be looked upon in suspicion as a result. Particularly as applies NZ First.

So there you have it.

I apologize for both the length and the vitriol of this piece; but it's on a subject that's simultaneously near to my heart and of great potential importance to the future of New Zealand politics.

In amidst the emotion, I hope that I have manged to set out some of the reasons why many of us here in NZ First are all up in arms about the potential for Shane Jones to turn up on our 2017 List; and, for that matter, outlined some elements of the strategy by which he may hopefully be blocked from candidacy.

When I signed up to this Party way back in 2009 - I did so out of a genuine desire to put New Zealand first. Given what Jones represents, it feels frankly uncontroversial to assert that advancing his political career is not a part of that. Maybe he's changed? I'll believe it when I see it.

But in any case, I'm pretty glad I'm not fighting this particular battle alone.

If you're interested in what we're doing - or you want to help - you can find us over at the Never Shane facebook page.

However our campaign plays out - there looks sure to be 'interesting times' ahead.

I believe that's a Chinese curse.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Did Gareth Morgan At Ratana Just Demonstrate Political Nous?

Having witnessed yesterday's excitement at Ratana, I am starting to wonder whether Gareth Morgan may actually be a surprisingly good political strategist.

Consider this: year in and year out, New Zealand First manages to cobble together an impressively diverse coalition of opinion ranging from rednecks to Rangatiratanga enthusiasts. Proof of this can be seen in the fact that the Party's strongest performing electorate seats are in fact the Maori Seats [seriously - look it up], while simultaneously the Hobson's Pledge organization offers us money.

It's not always easy keeping these two sectors of voter opinion on-side and moving in the same direction - particularly when the rhetoric required to wrangle them can wind up being fairly diametrically opposed [consider, for instance, Winston Peters angrily pointing to his personal record fighting against what he called the largest government confiscation of Maori land in history ... and then juxtapose that against his customary advocacy for going back to the legislative situation of the 2004 Foreshore & Seabed legislation - which, perhaps ironically, has *also* been called the largest Crown confiscation of Maori land in history, thanks to a legislative provision written by Winston himself].

I believe that Morgan has realized that there is an 'exploitable' fault-line here. Hence his references in his Ratana speech today to Winston and NZF's previous record.

The objective he must have in mind by drawing attention to NZF's "Principles of the Treaty of Waitangi Deletion Bill" effort from yesteryear - particularly at one of the highest political pilgrimage sites in Maoridom - must surely be to attempt to back Winston into a corner. Forcing Winston to either choose to double down upon his previous rhetoric and stances in opposition to Maori politics (with the consequent risk of alienating Maori support from NZF) - or to ameliorate his anti-'Separatism' (or "Apartheid" to use Winston's own somewhat hyperbolic wording) positioning in order to keep Maoridom on-side.

It will be interesting to see whether Morgan continues along this present line of attack for the rest of the Treaty Politics summer season. And, for that matter, in what direction (if any) this bears fruit - certainly with MANA looking to be back in contention this year, there is a possibility of NZF losing votes in other directions.

Although one could argue that Morgan's attack may represent a fundamental misreading of what we're about here in NZ First - and, for that matter, why we've continued to prove so undeniably popular to so many Maori voters and communities regardless of some of our previous actions and rhetoric.

New Zealand First stands for a unitary nationalism. Its very Caucus and membership embodies this concept (with the former being about 50% Maori, and the latter representing possibly the greatest concentration of Maori parliamentary-political activism in the recent MMP era outside of the Maori Party at its founding - seriously, attending an NZ First Convention is an exercise in applied biculturalism in more ways than one). And, as Morgan pointed out today, one in five NZ First voters are Maori. This would appear to suggest that there is a rather significant current out there in Maoridom who empathize quite strongly with what we're about.

With this in mind, it is possible that Morgan's efforts will have perhaps less impact upon NZF and our actual support base than he might anticipate - instead reprsenting something of a pantomime performance to project values to other parts of the electorate.

Besides, if the sympathetic media coverage (gosh, there's an odd phrase to be associating with Winston) from today is anything to go by - Winston may be "too big to fail" as he continues to snowball towards the Election; with intriguing points of scrutiny being as molotovs against Poseidon.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Arguments In Favour Of Raising Cigarette Prices Are A Costly Smokescreen

Another year, another hike in the price of cigarettes.

This time, the first in a series of ten-percent increases that are going to hit once a year, every year, until 2020. The nominal goal for this exercise in extortion is to make New Zealand "smokefree" by 2025. Hidden in the small print is the caveat that "smokefree" in fact means less than 5% of the population smoking on a daily basis. And, slightly further into the 'small print', the revelation that simply throwing more taxation at the problem is unlikely to actually reduce consumption to the desired levels.

Meanwhile, ongoing price-increases in tobacco have already been fueling a crime-wave which targets the nation's corner dairies, liquor stores and service stations; while the burgeoning black market in tobacco sourced from both theft and illicit importing (which, incidentally, allows punters to avoid the high price of taxation completely) shows no sign of abating.

So why are we doing it then? What motivates us year in, year out to place a highly regressive tax upon some of the New Zealanders who may be least in a position to afford it? (smoking, after all, being overwhelmingly a 'pleasure of the working class')

Personally, I think we went down this road because some of our politicians - specifically those in the Maori Party - felt an overweaning need to be seen to be Doing Something about an issue. To be fair, this is an issue which DOES disproportionately affect Maori - hence presumably the supposed 'solution' of disproportionately taxing them, instead.

But irascible, 'gut-response' policy-making is rarely either perspicacious about impacts, or particularly concerned with whether a given law-change will actually stand up to close scrutiny.

That presumably explains why the latest round of tax-hikes have had such unintended consequences while seemingly being ill-fit for purpose when it came to their stated objectives.

Let's review the arguments behind the price-rises one by one.

The main argument people make in favour of placing exorbitant taxes upon smoking is that it's necessary to do so in order to raise funds to cover the extra costs to the healthcare system which a smoking population imposes upon it. This is, from where I'm sitting, a pretty good argument - and one which smacks of both justice and forward-thinking. Except that we're now in a situation wherein the average tax-take from cigarettes every year is more than three times as high as the estimated additional cost to our healthcare system of smokers. ($350 million relative to between $1.3 and $1.7 billion dollars - with this year's increase alone looking set to provide $425 million) So we've long since passed the point wherein this is a well-supported motivation for any further tax-increases. That's not to say it's necessarily a bad thing that smokers are now subsidizing quite heavily the non-smoking population's healthcare - if only because the next time somebody shoots you a dirty look, or starts fake-coughing in your presence as you're lighting up ... you'll be fully within your rights to beam at them and proudly tell them they don't have to thank you for your generosity.

But it's nevertheless somewhat disquieting that an essential state service (in the form of healthcare) has to be funded off ever-increasing levies upon a small segment of the population in lieu of properly sorting out taxes elsewhere - and we shall return to this point later.

The next argument often made for price-increases on cigs is that it's supposed to help people quit smoking. And maybe the first three or so rounds of price-increase actually did. But if you're still smoking at this point, despite the fact that a twenty-pack of cigarettes now costs about as much as an entire *bag* of roll-your-own tobacco did when this set of price-rises started [incidentally, about the time I quit smoking because I decided I'd rather spend my money on cannabis] ... then the chances are that a series of ten percent price-increases *probably* aren't going to cause you to seriously reconsider your habit. (And if you don't believe me saying it - this is actually the official position of the Heart Foundation advanced last year at Budget time when the ten percent tax-hike was last brought up)

Instead, as an addict, you're probably in a situation of regarding your cigs as what economists call a "reputed necessity" - and, as a result, the relative "inelasticity" of your consumption-pattern just means you wind up spending more of your income on the same or slightly smaller numbers of cigs.

Which is a bit of a problem for lower-income earners - as if you're using a greater proportion of your heard-earned cash on your nicotine habit (in some workplaces a virtual de-rigeur sanity-preservation tool in order to enable you to actually work the insufferable no-overtime shifts in the first place), then you've presumably got less money to spend on feeding yourself, or other items of what many now consider to be 'discretionary spending' such as visits to the doctor. (It is, of course, quite an irony that heavily subsidizing the healthcare of others might cause you to be able to access less of it yourself)

This is without mentioning the potential bugbear of low-income families having less to spend on their children - and that's something which I include in a spirit of completeness, because somebody WILL be thinking it. Not because of any belief that working class parents habitually place their own small pleasures ahead of the needs of their children - instead, it quite often seems to be diametrically the opposite.

And before the predictable retort of "well, they should just give up then" is advanced in response to the above ... that's not how reality works, unfortunately - and if we're interested in making a policy that's actually fit-for-purpose, empty moralistic platitudes in place of sound reasoning or evidence just simply won't do.

Although speaking of children ... one of the more refined forms of the above 'barrier-to-purchase' argument is that increasing the cost of cigarettes helps to keep them out of the hands of young people and children.

This is, again, a pretty nice-sounding argument. Nobody seriously thinks that children should have access to cigarettes (not that they do legally, anyway), and getting 18 year olds to defer the decision to start smoking til they're 'older and wiser' certainly doesn't seem an implicitly bad idea. Except again - there's a problem here with how the price-increases intersect with these (laudable) goals.

The expanding black market in tobacco - which has been created in no small part due to the tax-hikes - mean that it's now even easier for young people who wouldn't otherwise be legally able to buy cigarettes to come into contact with nicotine. At lower prices, too (because black-market cigarettes don't have the tax on them, inter alia, and vendors are also considerably less likely to check for ID).

So while in theory it sounds fine to make the case that a twenty five dollar packet of cigarettes is now further out of reach of a teenager who's scrabbled around to find enough pocket money to consider buying some smokes ... in practice, the reality may be very different.

Now that being said, there ARE some legislative interventions which may be of some use in reducing the rate of young people who decide to take up smoking. One of these could be instituting what's known as a raising age of purchase. The idea here would be to increase the age at which cigarettes can be legally bought by one year every year, til we reach 25 or some other arbitrary agreed-upon point at which people are mature enough to make bad decisions. (the policy could ALSO be run with no 'ceiling' to the continual increase - with a view to creating a situation in which it's pretty much impossible for subsequent generations to take up smoking, without restricting the ability of people who already are legally able to purchase from so doing).

But New Zealand, as far as I understand it, isn't looking into that - presumably because our lawmakers would much rather collect the extra taxation-revenue from an 18 year old smoking than they would actually attempt to ensure he's less able to purchase them.

Because ultimately - as I said earlier, and as I've argued in previous pieces - that's what this entire arrangement is about.

The Government, when instituting this long-running series of price-rises, had twin objectives.

First, to give their coalition partner a minor win which they could point to as evidence that shacking up with the National Party (with its attendant massive electoral cost) had actually been 'worth it'.

But second, they wished to tap a pretty sizable source of new taxation revenue. And one which, handily, isn't really allowed to complain when squeezed ever more tightly year-in and year out.

Having reviewed the evidence, it becomes fairly obviously apparent that this recent round of tax-hikes isn't really a serious stab at reducing or eliminating the prevalence of smoking in our society.

Instead, it's the hallmark of a government playing parsimony when it comes to establishing wafer-thin 'surpluses', desperately attempting to scrabble down the back of the fiscal couch in search of a few hundred million more to make the books add up.

How else to explain the fact that the state raises so many more times in revenue off cigarettes what it spends on extra healthcare for smokers. How else to interpret Customs reports which place the emphasis upon illicit tobacco imports depriving the state of revenue, rather than expressing concern about putting a potentially dangerous substance on our streets. And Regulatory Impact Statements which stress that tobacco-taxes are a "reliable" and "very efficient" means of raising revenue. Why else, in short, would the state continue to make tobacco readily available for a captive (tax-paying) market rather than simply illegalizing it if it's so genuinely worried about all our collective welfare.

It's not hard to see what's really going on here. You just have to follow the money, and look past the perfidious smokescreen.

If you want to.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

What The Hell Is Going ON With Donald Trump's #GoldenShower

The 2016 election season continues to be quite the wild ride. No matter whether one is following events through the regular media and traditional outlets, or braving the wilds of social media feeds, each new day brings some shocking "revelation"which would have seemed utterly inconceivable the day before ... yet there it is in print.

The latest of these is the airing of the contents of a report which alleges that not only has US President-Elect Donald Trump been fairly actively in-cahoots with the Russians this entire time (again); but that this remarkable degree of hypothetical co-operation has been achieved in part via the Russian state-security agency producing blackmail materials of a sexual nature designed to ensure Trump's co-operation.

A month ago, we were all talking about "Fake News" and how it had the power to 'unfairly' swing election results by causing serious - yet hard to refute - political damage. It would be wise to recall what was said then, because this latest round of unproven allegations - incredibly flimsy statements which The Guardian referred to as "unverified and potentially unverifiable" - seem to fit pretty exactly into that category of "reporting".

At best, we are dealing with a breathless media (and any number of now-feeling-incredibly-smug/vindicated social media unprofessional commentators) taking note of something from a report that's now in official hands, and broadcasting it at loudspeaker-levels of both volume and distortion.

Because who doesn't love something exciting and sexually weird when it features a politician. It's certainly fairly ideal muck-raking material if you're employed to run what's known as "opposition research" by a rival political campaign. Which, of course, the author of this report was. He was also apparently an ex-MI6 operative . Although while the latter qualification is bandied about by those seeking to convince us of the allegation's authenticity, I'd respectfully suggest that the former vocation - that of paid-political professional hack-job executor - may potentially be rather more relevant when it comes to assessing the claim's credibility.

So why is it that my newsfeed's seemingly gone nuts reposting exaggerated recounts (and some rather hilarious hashtags and memes) attempting to put the boot in to Trump over this?

Well, the story appears to have acquired such vehemence across the sphere of human political communication because there are any number of people out there presently enjoying a sense of 'the shoe' being on the other foot. That is to say, last year they were annoyed at how Trump-amenable "fake news" stories were thought to have made a dent in Clinton's "guaranteed to win" status ... and feel it's now "fair" to descend down to the same level when the target's The Big Orange Opponent as a result.

Although other possibilities for the story's spread have also been advanced.

One narrative has anti-Trumpists still within the Republican Party popularizing the report and handing it on to various official bodies for the express purpose of tarnishing Trump. Perhaps as some sort of last-ditch attempt to prevent his now-impending Inauguration through the shadowy specter of "blackmail-liability". John McCain certainly appears to be a rather big player in this particular rodeo; and it's an almost-perfect mashup of both NeoCon and Conservative talking points (in specia: "Reds under the Bed", and the aforementioned bed being urinated upon as some sort of arguable sexual deviancy).

Another theory has those lovable scamps over on 4chan somehow managing to pass "Donald Trump erotic fanfiction" [eeuugh] off as credible material to the report's authors, who've since carried out their unwitting role in the 'prank' by feeding it into the international news media and intelligence world. In these days of "Pepe the Frog" apparently 'memeing' Trump into the White House, and various Breitbart personalities now becoming part of the new Trumpist political establishment, such a theory would certainly be in-keeping with the spirit of recent events. And certainly, it's no less plausible in some ways than the actual allegation being discussed.

Good grief. What a mess.

But this was far from the only report into the alleged Trump-Putin-FSB/GRU Bromance to make headlines this week. And some of the others are perhaps worth a look. If only, at least, to reconfirm one's suspicions that this whole big beatup on alleged Russian influence over Trump is .. well .. exactly that. A part of a long-running game of pinata between elements of the US Deep State who're pretty lukewarm on an improvement in US-Russian Relations taking turns to attempt to pillory the one man who might just make such a 'thaw' happen.

So in conclusion ... if we are being honest, it is too early for conclusions. More material may yet emerge from CNN's fact-checking to vindicate some of the seemingly wild rumours which have sprung up in the wake of this story. I doubt it, but in these modern times of the Current Year, anything is seemingly possible.

More likely, nothing substantial will come out from the shadows. And we'll be left - much as we were last month - with two bitterly divided rhetorically-armed camps flinging falsehoods at one another in the hopes that eventually something sticks.

But in any case, what has happened over the past few days is rather instructive for how a political party still reeling from seemingly-inexplicable [to themselves, at least] defeat behaves.

As I've said elsewhere:

> Also Democrats: "I just read that Trump's being blackmailed by Moscow with piss-fetish proof - it's all over Buzzfeed!"