Monday, October 13, 2014

Why David Parker *isn't* a credible choice for the Labour Leadership

The one electoral contest this year that a Labour leader is sure to win heated up over the weekend with the late entry of Finance Spokesman (and interim caretaker leader) David Parker into Labour's leadership race.

I'd blogged late last week about how Andrew Little's candidacy is likely to become an underrated but popular effort, thanks to his three core easy to understand and implicitly resonant policies.

These include axing Labour's proposal to raise the retirement age for workers to 65; taking out Labour's Capital Gains Tax on the middle class's retirement savings (because seriously - who raises the retirement age at the same time as promoting a policy to take more of the retirement savings you'll assumedly need to keep above water between 65 and 67); and removing the confusing and ultimately problematic in the efficiency stakes Labour/Greens joint policy of a single electricity buyer called NZ Power.

These are awesome points to reform Labour with, and they resonate well with tens of thousands of voters who decided not to back Labour last time around. The fact they're lifted direct from the New Zealand First policy manual is only further proof they're common sense :P

Now given how eminently *reasonable* (and, dare I say it, /electable/ if his policy agenda goes through) Andrew Little's platform was, I started counting down the seconds until somebody from inside Labour rocked up to remind me why they lost the last three elections.

Enter David Parker.

It's no secret that I'm rather leery about David Parker. He's quite clearly  frightfully intelligent and well versed, and I genuinely thrilled to hear him verbally slap down David Seymour at the Auckland Central BackBenches just before the election - Seymour had made a point in favour of reducing planning and zoning restrictions ... Parker lightning-riposted by asking Seymour how his Epsomite constituents would feel when planning/zoning restrictions were a thing of the past, resulting in things like five-story prisons in residential areas ruining the views and the property values. Top stuff. Regrettably, however, he partners what's obviously a pretty sharp mind with a somewhat hesitant speaking style (not that this stopped David Shearer exceeding David Cunliffe's Preferred Prime Ministership polling for months..) and a penchant for REALLY REALLY REPREHENSIBLY NEOLIBERAL SOUNDING policy outlook and orientation.

I mean, let's start with two of those policies that Andrew Little wants put out to pasture: the capital gains tax and raising the retirement age to 67.

Both of these are David Parker authored policies, apparently. And, as Finance Spokesperson, he's directly and personally responsible for their ongoing presence in Labour's policy manifesto.

Don't get me wrong, I'm really glad that Parker has *finally*, after two elections, realized that the only thing Labour was accomplishing by banging on about raising the pension age was losing votes and causing Young Nats to demand the Old Nats did likewise (because Young Nats *know* a hard-right policy when they see it, and are dearly annoyed when their parent party comes out *to the left* of Labour on an issue) ... but considering it's taken *two elections* for Labour to realize that the most obviously unpopular policies in its manifesto weren't exactly helping to win votes, I'm not entirely sure how legit it is to celebrate a sudden outbreak of political nous in the upper echelons of the Labour Party. This is particularly the case given Parker has not actually backed down from raising the retirement age ... but instead appears to be seeking to put the question of raising the age of superannuation to a referendum so as to avoid the stigma of Labour itself putting the age up.

He's also demonstrated how he operates by saying he'll put Labour's Capital Gains Tax policy (aka the thing David Lange said you SHUT UP ABOUT AND STOP PUSHING if you are a Labour Party seeking a term in government) up for "review". Not sure quite why you need a "review" of the policy when Andrew Little's already cottoned on to the obvious and electorally viable solution of removing the policy entirely ... but I suppose the review process is basically there to assuage party rank and file who've been banging on about the policy's unpopularity for some time - while finding eminently surplus-serving reasons to keep the CGT regardless.

Of arguably greater concern, however, is the man's record of really, really, obviously neoliberal quotes.


During the 2011-2014 Parliamentary term, David Parker made a speech setting out Labour's stance when it came to asset ownership and privatization.

See if you can spot the blindingly obvious problem with what he had to say: "Labour published a closed list of assets that we believe ought to be run in the New Zealand interest [...] That list excludes telecommunications and electricity generation."

So David Parker isn't actually concerned about whether electricity generation assets like those privatized by National are state owned ... or even whether they're "run in the New Zealand interest". I appreciate there is some difference of opinion as to the extent to which formerly SOE power companies being 49% privately owned is a bad thing ... but SURELY Labour and Parker ought to be, in reality, regardless of what he said in the highly publicized and much quoted speech, advocates for these power generation assets being run in the New Zealand interest (and, one would hope, by the state) rather than, say, a foreign shareholder's interests?

Well, given Parker stated in the New Zealand Herald as recently as last year his belief that "competitive markets don't need regulation", I suppose I really shouldn't find his hostility toward electricity generation or telecommunications assets being "run in the New Zealand interest" - or even state-owned - in any way surprising.

Just to recap, David Parker appears to be running for the Labour Party leadership on the old trick pony of sidestepping personal responsibility and avoiding ditching what surely must have been two of Labour's least popular policies for two elections running. Instead of listening to the broad swathe of New Zealanders who've comprehensively rejected both measures at the ballot box every time they've come up - and axing the policies as a result ... Parker is apparently calling for a "referendum" on raising the pension age, and a "review" of Labour's CGT policy. What's the bet the "review" process roundly ignores voter concerns with the CGT and instead attempts to blame Cunliffe's debate gaffe for the CGT's singular and enduring unpopularity.

The reason why I rate Andrew Little, by contrast, is because he's done exactly the opposite of what Parker's done. It's always difficult to edit, cut, or outright abolish policy you, yourself have worked on. I'm no major party finance spokesperson (yet), but I definitely get very attached and protective of some of the policy I've written (for example, elements of the NZ First Tertiary Education Policy) and find myself frantically attempting to mentally justify why it's the electorate rather than the policy/party that's wrong so that I don't have to cut something I've worked hard on and believe in.

This appears to be what's going on with Parker. Rather than take heed of the electorate's screaming demands for the pension age to be kept at 65 and a CGT avoided if at all possible, he's digging his heels in on the CGT (hence "review" rather than "remove") and has sought out an alternative implementation mechanism for his pension age reform that either leaves the blood on the collective voters of New Zealand's hands if we vote to raise the age - or doesn't really do anything whatsoever and hopefully puts this political football firmly back into touch if we all vote NO. This affords Parker the interesting position of being able to push for a particular policy-outcome without ultimately wielding the knife, and keeping his hands a little cleaner for when the electorate comes baying for blood.

Little, by contrast, did the smart thing. He's evidently been out talking to Labour's volunteers, supporters, affiliates and voters. Arguably more importantly, he's also been looking at the lie of the political land; and has taken the obvious lesson that those parties which were opposed to raising the pension age or the implementation of a domestic CGT appear to have reaped considerable dividends at the polls.

This reveals a fundamental difference of approach, and potentially priorities between Little and Parker.

Where Parker has embraced a narrow and technocratic mindset when it comes to the CGT and pension age, that emphasizes fiscal considerations at the expense of democratic-viability ones; Little has actually demonstrated an ability to engage with the electorate and respond to its perceived misgivings about some of Labour's more unpopular policy.

Dependent upon which style of leader you feel is best to combat John Key with - fiscally restrained but obviously intelligent technocratic economic manager for the direct rival; or man who actually engages with what a neglected part of the electorate that Labour's needed to reconnect with for two elections now ... your faith in either candidate's ability to do the job will vary.

However, taking a slightly longer-term perspective, it's worthwhile noting what each candidate's difference of approach to these issues tells us about their likely leadership style if and when they actually ascend to lead the nation. I'd be lying if I didn't own up to being a bit trepidatious about the idea of a somewhat neoliberally inflected technocrat whose policy priorities and philosophic penchants seem occasionally far more at home in the centre or centre-right than they do in the left-hand corner of the social democratic milieu where New Zealand's political epicenter *should* be situated at.

It's also worthy of note that, in stark contrast to Parker's complete lack of care about whether our formerly state-owned energy companies are run by the New Zealand government - or even in the New Zealand national interest - New Zealand First has had some measured success with pushing a power company #Renationalization bottom line.

The reason why I mention this, of course, is because one part of our rationale over here in NZF for advocating for full-blown #Renationalization and amalgamation of the nation's electricity generation capacity ... was, in point of fact, penned by David Parker. According to 2006 David Parker, a single buyer model as encapsulated in 2014 Labour's NZ Power scheme was likely to be less efficient and desirable than the fully #Nationalized and amalgamated generation entity that NZF advocates for.

So who knows. He might be amenable to reason after all.

In any case, I'm not here to back or support any particular Labour leadership candidate. I know how incredibly annoying it can be when pontificating and prognosticating figures from other parties grandstand and pick over your internal politics - not least because outsiders can very easily wind up producing breathless and decontextualized observations that are frequently fraught with inaccuracies if not outright laughably wrong.

But considering the manifest importance of the outcome of the Labour leadership contest for the electoral hopes of the less-terrible end of politics in 2017, I do definitely feel that the candidates - as well as their policies and style of politics - deserve close scrutiny from all quarters. After all, as incredibly unlikely as it might seem right now ... one of these gentlemen may in the not too distant future be Prime Minister.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Why Andrew Little's a credible contender for the Labour leadership

Not so long ago, 3News managed the unprecedented feat of broadcasting a political piece that made me sit bolt upright in my chair, my ears and eyes straining to take in every detail.

What was it, you ask? Andrew Little putting his hat in the ring for Labour's leadership contest.

And why, exactly, would a failed electoral candidate from the bottom of Labour's list going for the top job excite the hell out of me?

Simple. When he stated his policy priorities, in marked contrast to David Cunliffe and other leadership contenders the last time around grandstanding about a Pasifika TV channel and the like (not a bad idea, but hardly headline policy for wider New Zealand) ... Little went straight in and proposed Labour dropping its Capital Gains Tax; abolishing its callous policy of raising the retirement age to 67 for workers; and striking out the NZ Power policy it shared with The Greens.

I'm a fan of axing every one of these ideas (as is New Zealand First) ... and so is the average Kiwi voter!

At last, somebody heading for Labour's top job who's *actually committed* to fixing the ruinous policy dysjunction between what Kiwis want and what Labour's policy hackitariat wants!

Predictably, the reaction from some on the left was not exactly rosy.

I'll address arguments against a Capital Gains Tax in a future blog (because this requires some depth); but for now it's enough to point out that i) pushing a Capital Gains Tax makes your party /unelectable/ for many voters. David Lange grasped this wisdom when he correctly characterized a CGT policy his future-ACToid mates were pushing for back in the 80s as a neoliberal bridge too far for voters and electoral death for Labour (in no small measure because you're taxing the middle class's hard-won retirement savings) ii) a CGT doesn't necessarily deflate a property speculation bubble, as proven by each of Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain having both CGTs and property bubbles. This is particularly the case in New Zealand where widespread property speculation exists in large part because people are averse to playing the stock market and being burnt *again* like they were in '87. Merely making property a less attractive investment destination won't necessarily help without corresponding measures to create or secure other investment opportunities. This is actually one of the government's stated reasons for asset sales (blech!) iii) There are other, better solutions to both the housing affordability issue and the increasingly regressive taxation structure we have here in NZ. The state massively increasing the supply of housing by building more of them itself; and political parties finally getting serious about cleaning up billions of dollars in tax evasion/avoidance while adding a few more tax brackets up top in the several hundred K-zone are just the beginning of the alternatives.

So yeah. Little getting Labour to FINALLY ditch the Capital Gains Tax policy that Labour's been shackled to for two elections will most likely be pretty positive for them in electoral terms. The tens of thousands of middle-class Kiwi voters who've deserted Labour for parties which *aren't* queuing up to tax their retirement savings might have one less reason to stay away on polling day.

The second thing Little suggested was that Labour ditch its ruinous policy of raising the retirement age. This is AWESOME. I think I was cheering at the TV when this was announced.

I make no secret of the fact that I have *never understood* why Labour thought it could outfox National by being hard-hearted neoliberal-inclined "competent" fiscal managers. Yes, they can point to a very positive history of being able to deliver surplus after surplus during their last term in government ... but the points they gain with one part of the electorate by being able to demonstrate that just because of their party colours they ain't going to have the nation's books perpetually *also* in the red are eclipsed and countermanded by all the points and votes they LOSE with many other parts of the electorate by being seen as prepared to sacrifice the living standards and historic right to retire at 65 of older New Zealanders in order to deliver same.

It doesn't especially matter that Labour announced its policy wasn't going to take effect for some decades (meaning *my* generation will be among the first who are expected to retire later to pick up the burden of our parents' generation). Older people heard "raise the retirement age", and saw the values calculation Labour had made of prioritizing neoliberal considerations of fiscal restraint over social democratic considerations of looking after our older people - and voted accordingly. I'm sure that NZ First's non-negotiable coalition bottom line of #KeepIt65 helped us to pick up many thousands of disgruntled and disaffected Labour voters in the same way that our opposition to Labour's Capital Gains Tax policy did :)

The third leg to Little's leadership edits is the move away from the Labour-Greens joint policy of NZ Power. This is positive from a number of angles. While it was pretty cool to see Labour and The Greens issue a shared policy, and I would speculate that if Shearer had been allowed to continue in the Labour leadership there would have been more attempts by Labour and the Greens to co-ordinate policy so as to present a viable alternative government to National ... the complexities associated with explaining to voters how NZ Power was actually going to work, along with a perception that Labour had some-how been taken for a ride by yet another slightly fringe idea from the Green Party definitely didn't help Labour's cause.

The two things that stand out for me about this policy alteration from the New Zealand First perspective, are that: i) this now leaves the door open to Labour adopting NZF's policy of a comprehensive #Renationalization of those assets privatized by National; while ii) in 2006 David Parker penned a Cabinet Paper which set out in no uncertain terms that Labour then considered an amalgamated (and #Nationalized) SOE running generation a la NZF to be a better structure for the electricity market than a "single buyer" option a la NZ Power.

So ditching NZ Power hopefully leaves Labour open to adopting better (and more NZF compatible lol) policy that's less fiddly to explain to voters while also delivering more positively charged results.

All taken together, a Little-lead Labour party (as opposed to the various iterations of a "little-lead" Labour party that we've had for several years previously) is therefore something of a threat to NZ First. It's no secret that we've benefited hugely and immeasurably from Labour's continual string of gaffes and policy that seems to be almost calculated to offend vital parts of their traditional constituency (like the middle class and people worried about being able to live with dignity in retirement); so were these things to come to pass, I would definitely expect some of NZF's 2014 vote to go from being in the black to in the red as they slide back over to Labour.

But a more sensible and electable Labour party may also be good for NZF in that it provides us with a straight-out-the-gate potentially more amenable coalition partner whom we're not going to have to browbeat with a slipper over fundamental incompatibilities like their quixotic desire to raise the retirement age and/or lose elections.

It will also be more positive for New Zealand - both because the policy's more sensible; and because, thanks to being more electable, they might FINALLY get a chance to implement some of it!

My Shortest Blog Ever

Earlier this week, FailOil penned a piece criticizing, among other things, my bowmanship. He then added insult to injury by misspelling my name (again), and inaccurately stating I'm no longer on NZ First's Board of Directors. He wishes! The final barb was his description of my TDB output as "TL;DR". (and yes, it frequently is. Working on it)

With that in mind, I've taken his editorial criticism on board, and produced my shortest blog ever.

It's subtitled "Ways FailOil has Improved New Zealand". And I could only think of one and a half:

> Inadvertently helping to expose the #DirtyPolitics imbroglio slash fiasco; and showing New Zealand exactly what sort of cretinous calumniate the National Government is prepared to work with when it comes to hacking at and smearing its opponents.

ACT: Addicted to Other People's Money

Apparently, they have a saying in ACT about the deliciousness and delectability of spending "Other People's Money". They think it's an addiction and a disease.

Well, as applies the actions and spending of their own parliamentarians, this would certainly appear to be the case!

ACT MPs have, through the years, attempted to make names for themselves as "perkbusters" and enemies of entitlement. Irrepressible scourges who champion the taxpayer's right to exert ceaseless scrutiny over how their precious dollars are being spent, in pursuit of maximum efficiency. They've also railed against "troughers" whose chief function in public life appears to be extracting maximum 'lifestyle support' out of the public purse.

But, you see, the interesting thing about politicians on moral crusades is that they're frequently exercises in projection. As Christopher Hitchens put it:

"Whenever I hear some bigmouth in Washington or the Christian heartland banging on about the evils of sodomy or whatever, I mentally enter his name in my notebook and contentedly set my watch. Sooner, rather than later, he will be discovered down on his weary and well-worn knees in some dreary motel or latrine, with an expired Visa card, having tried to pay well over the odds to be peed on by some Apache transvestite."

Now without wanting to get into the long-running political issue of the previous MP for Epsom's various historical homophobic outbursts (including, memorably, praying in Parliament against the passage of the Homosexuality Reform Act 1986), it seems like there's a fairly close correlation between the sentiment of this quote as applies the hidden activities of gaybashing elected representatives and the penny-pinching plutocratic patrician-pandering public-purse pilfering projectionist proclivities perpetrated by politicians from the ACT Party.

The best and most well-known example of this is, of course, Rodney "Perk Buster" Hide using taxpayer funding to fly his girlfriend to Honolulu. There's something a little breathtaking in the obvious and overt hypocrisy of the "perkbuster" using somewhere in the region of $25,000 of taxpayer money to cart his partner about the place; although I also seem to remember the original "anti-privilege" neolibertarian, Sir Roger Douglas, using taxpayer funding to fly half way round the world to attend his son's wedding over in London.

While both Rodney and Sir Roger are able to point toward the time-honoured defence of "but it was in the rules, therefore it's ok" ... the fact they've spent reasonable proportions of their respective careers attempting to hold public figures and public bodies to higher ethical/moral standards than the mere black-letter of the rules or law means this isn't an especially compelling defence, much less mitigation when it comes to their own usage of the public purse to fund a lifestyle.

Still less defensible (at least in my eyes), however, are the cluster of issues surrounding the latest ACT MP (what is that ... the 5th leader they've had in 4 years? I believe this is what's known as "inflation"), one David Breen Seymour.

These fall into two distinct categories: stuff associated with his previous work on Charter Schools; and stuff associated with David Seymour the Parliamentary Under-Secretary.

We'll start with his new and interesting approach to political transparency. You see, the interesting thing about the position Seymour's just been given in lieu of Associate Minister of Education (because even Key wasn't arrogant enough to appoint a first termer from the most despised party in the House to *that* lofty position) is that it renders him un-OIA'able and unquestionable in Parliament. Never mind the hundreds of thousands of dollars of expenses which this one-man "party" is going to be able to draw upon to feather his parliamentary office/nest (I wonder if the Taxpayer's Union will be covering this..?) ... the bit I'm really interested in is the obscure and arcane protection Seymour, champion of transparency with the use of taxpayer money, has just been given that renders him almost completely opaque when it comes to outsider scrutiny.

People of ACT (and I use the term loosely) ... is this REALLY the best example of an MP living your party's values you were able to dredge up? Are you going to object to a first term MP being placed ABOVE yours and my scrutiny just because there's a higher chance he'll screw up? Surely, if we're applying your mad-cap philosophy consistently, the fact your MP is *more* likely to act in error is *greater* reason to subject him to *more* scrutiny, particularly considering how much *more* you neoliberalbaterian types care about public scrutiny of public money and ensuring the greatest value is extracted from the expenditure of your taxpayer dollar.

This gets exponentially *worse* when it comes to another policy area Seymour is closely associated: Charter Schools.

Now, one verbal missile that I've repeatedly lobbed in the direction of the local ACTivists (and, being Epsom, there's quite a few of them) without ever having received satisfactory answer is why charter schools are exempt from Official Information Act requests. This is weird. I mean, not only is this an example of some taxpayer-funded expenditure being subjected to different standards of scrutiny and transparency than other classes of same (i.e. public schools can and have been OIA'd about all manner of things; 100% taxpayer-funded charter schools are exempt for some reason) ... it's an example of a novel, untested and untried new way of expending public money, and therefore surely should be subject to the very highest degree of scrutiny.

If charter schools are as awesome as ACT claim, then allowing them to be OIA'd would only serve to further strengthen the case for their widespread adoption (blech!). If, by contrast, they're actually vastly less efficient than their state school equivalents and use several times the educational funding given to a single public school student to produce one Charter student (~$7,000 for a state school, between $10,000 and $40,000 for a charter school)... then surely my ACTress friends would agree that a greater degree of scrutiny than what is presently available for charter schools would be a pretty good idea.

The fact that ACT is so incredibly scared of taxpayer scrutiny of either its single solitary MP or its flagship policy-set just indicates to me that they i) can't actually abide by what's raggedly left of their own "principles" when it's in application to themselves; while ii) they're deathly afraid of what greater taxpayer scrutiny of their MP and policy would actually turn up about whether what they're up to is an efficient, effective, or endorsable use of public money.

But I guess that's just ACT all up. Tonnes of money and damn the cost and consequences when it comes to pursuing the latest foreign-inflected neoliberal-infected policy "offering" ... hard hearts and closed palms when we want benefits that are actually enough to live on, or a caring, interventionist state that cares more about ending Child Poverty in New Zealand than it does about delivering a right-wing surplus.

And rank hypocrisy all the way down.

If, by some remote chance there's anyone from ACT reading this (and given I apparently got FailOil to read The Daily Blog earlier this week, there's always hope) ... join us here on the left in demanding better from your elected representative. They're YOUR principles of transparency and accountability we're seeking to have immanentized here! And what was that quote about "nothing to hide, nothing to fear" that your government seems to be so fond of when it comes to other people's privacy? :P

Saturday, October 4, 2014

OURTEAROA - Bringing Back Civil Society and a Progressive Nationalist Youth Organization

Like just about everybody in the political prognostication and power-projection game, I make a regular habit of entrail reading. The trouble with entrail-reading, however, is that it customarily requires the beast you're looking into to be dead, its belly slashed open like a Tauntaun whose life force, along with its intestines, slowly seeps out into the snow.

So it was with the nominal Left immediately following the 2014 election. Labour's dropped into the low 20%s, there's still upwards of a million non-voters, and even that great verdant hope the Green Party managed to lose a percent and a caucus member. Looking at the preliminary results late on election night (and far too early on the following Sunday morning) ... once the incredible jubilation at New Zealand First's result had died down (which took some hours along with much music and dancing), it really DID feel like the guts had been ripped out of the relatively more left wing of our politics for guys like me to pour over for weeks to come - looking for some hidden sign about why this happened and how to prevent it ever recurring.

[Because I'm acutely aware that I'm writing two weeks after E-Day, and that it's entirely possible that you've already trawled to death any number of political postmortems which arrange various combinations of percentages and absolute figures in pursuit of closure ... if another round of that's going to bore you, feel free to skip to the conclusion. It's something ENTIRELY different.]

The lessons I took from polling day were as follows:

National dropped nearly 50,000 votes. This is good. It indicates people in their "core" support base are FINALLY starting to grow weary of endless unfulfilled promises and ongoing dodgy-looking policies and politicians.

Despite the fact it's still a huge number of non-voters, turnout improved slightly from 74% to 77%. Considering the ABSOLUTELY HUGE EFFORT put in by organizations like NZUSA in getting out the vote, and the eased restrictions on advanced voting ... this is just absolutely mind-boggling, and hardly something to celebrate. I'll consider this gall-ing bladder in more detail a bit later on, but for the moment it's enough to state that there's a feeling out there in the electorate that neoliberal (or centrist-moving) parties and their policy-menus don't tempt still much less represent many voters; while the fact NZ's political civil society has become all but vestigial means it's more difficult than ever to actually reach out and energize voters without having to rely upon a clown-car full of partisan uber-hacks to have the wherewithal to do it.

Now as applies the conventional (somewhat softer) Left bloc ... Labour dropped from 27.5% and about 615,000 votes down to 24.7% and somewhere in the region of 519,000. That's incredible. The main opposition party is handed a spying scandal, actual evidence that the Prime Minister lied numerous times in an area he said he'd resign if falsehood was proved, a horrifically unpopular and damaging neoliberal governmental economic agenda ... somebody event puts out a novel-length hard-copy best-sellling proof of a Watergate slash Stalinist Salami Tactics style dirty tricks campaign on behalf of the Government ... and yet the main Opposition party STILL somehow manage to LOSE somewhere in the region of a hundred thousand votes.

And apparently, some people still think changing just Labour's leader is going to be sufficient to save the New Zealand left :P

Meanwhile, over in Lothlorien ... the Green Party somehow managed to shed 40,000 votes; going from 11% and 247,000 to 10% and 211,000. I'm sure there is some capacious and considerable headscratching going on inside The Greens about how, exactly, they managed to turn an agenda full of reasonably pleasant-sounding centrist-appealing fully costed policies and a weakening Labour party into a worse result than they enjoyed last time.

Russel Norman blames InternetMANA. I like to blame the sort of milquetoast rhetoric that sees Norman setting the Greens up as being less inclined toward state intervention in the economy than National. We're probably *both* right to a certain extent, but the fact that I'm blaming Norman moving the Greens into the center, while Norman's blaming things on the further left ... ought to tell you something about how we each view the New Zealand electorate.

I would also like to take this opportunity to state that not all New Zealand First faithful were pleased to see MANA go from the House; and I mark the passing of the party that gave us FEED THE KIDS with great sadness. Still, the fact they only managed to add 2,500 votes (taking them from 24,000 to 26,500 and from one seat to none) despite having four and a half million dollars as well as clearly and singularly awesome policy may evince that personalities such as Harawira's and DotCom's are even more capable of dissuading voters than Cunliffe's. (Also, isn't it funny how nobody actually credits Labour with winning Te Tai Tokerau, but instead insists other parties won it for them)

[Made it through all the numbers? Right. Here's the important bit. Prefaced by more numbers!]

New Zealand First, however went from strength to strength - building on our impressive return in 2011 to increase our vote by nearly 40,000 and add 4 MPs to our Caucus. I like to think this evinces the growing popularity of an unapologetically economic nationalist and anti-neoliberal party and policy-set. I'll blog more about what this means for the NZ Left in the near future (hint: Awesome, awesome black-and-silver things!) but for the moment I want to talk about the incredibly long electoral "shadow" that I feel has been cast not just by NZF but also by Labour and The Greens.

We've got a situation now wherein the right-wing neoliberal no-future bloc is, for the first time in half a generation's worth of election cycles no longer gaining votes and support. I think I was in intermediate the last time this happened. Unfortunately, we've also reached a point wherein - with the exception of New Zealand First - left-wing parties aren't exactly gaining support either. Quite the converse, in fact.

What the surge of NZF support tells me is that there is a growing vibe in the electorate for uncompromisingly statist economics and an aggressive, bellicose protest voice in the House. This hasn't translated into corresponding greater support for either the Labour or the Green Party - because the literal hundreds of thousands of Kiwis out there who might have voted for these parties previously, or who would have vaguely considered the possibility of doing so this time are standing in that "shadow" of democratic engagement *behind* our parties rather than the light of actually being engaged. They're behind us, rather than off the political spectrum entirely because many of them genuinely believe in and identify with many of our values ... but feel there's barriers (whether of policy or personality or something else entirely) to their greater participation in - or even voting for - an organized political party.

We can venture any number of party-specific reasons why this is so. Some Labourites presumably don't like the guy leading the party (whomever it might be) and/or the neoliberal policies Labour keeps running with election after election like raising the retirement age and taxing the middle class's retirement savings. I'm not quite sure *how* to explain the Green Party's reduced vote in 2014, as I don't know their voter-base well enough - although it does seem interesting that NZF's vote has gone up by nearly 40k while the Greens' has deteriorated by about the same figure. There's also an argument that #DirtyPolitics actually helped rather than hindered the right wing by switching tens of thousands of voters "off" politics because they mistakenly believed that we're all as bad as the Nats and had the sense that no matter whom they voted for, they'd be electing a "politician".

So the really big question that every serious politico should be asking is this: how do we reach out to these million non-combatants and bring them out of our democratic shadow and into the light.

It seems like the main vehicles we've used to foster political engagement for the last few cycles - whether political parties, or non-partisan voter-mobilization projects like Rock Enroll or the Electoral Commission just simply aren't working; and at the same time, the growing disconnect between political parties and the non-hack portions of the electorate is only widening, with corresponding deleterious effect upon the ability of parties to actually represent the concerns, vision and aspirations of electors - much less encouraging people to join up, and play an active role in keeping those policies and parties fresh and relevant to the electorate.

As applies my own experiences with New Zealand First, and more especially NZ First Youth ... for about six months in the run-up to the election, I had a near constant stream of people hitting me up via social media, calls, and even random encounters in the street to tell me two things: first, that they genuinely and strongly supported our economic nationalist agenda; and second, when I asked if they'd be keen to translate that support to the next level by joining the party ... it kept coming back to a few core themes about why even in its present 21st century state, they couldn't ... just yet. Rest assured, I'm working on 'em :)

What this tells me is that at the same time Kiwis are getting ever more disenchanted with, and disenfranchised by the present government; they're less able than ever to express opposition in our institutional and parliamentary political process thanks to an ongoing breakdown in the way parties act as an opinion conveyor between polis and policy elite.

A number of potential remedies for this have been suggested, ranging from direct democratic measures like binding referendums through to changing the electoral system or mandating that parties reform themselves. Each have their merits, and to that list I'd love to add broadcasting standards for political journalism; but given that, to my mind, the stumbling block for democratic engagement at the moment is many of the parties themselves, I'm most interested in extra-parliamentary political vehicles for engaging with, shaping and transmitting public opinion.

Organizations like Generation Zero have already had some considerable success with this, from an environmentalist perspective and with a view to engaging youth; while Bomber and others played a role in getting tens of thousands of people informed, aware, and pissed off enough to be taken into political consideration when it came to the GCSB bill.

These two causes have now attained recognizable salience in the Kiwi electorate, along with the twin forces of economic nationalism and anti-neoliberalism as core parts of what New Zealanders want out of their politics.

I contend that this occurred in no small part because there were extra-party and extra-parliamentary organizations and organizers prepared to put in the hard yards to make events happen, interface with political parties, and otherwise co-ordinate, contribute to, marshal and immanentize public sentiment on these issues.

The effects have been palpable and obvious - even if, in the case of environmentalism, it's taken some years to go from an activist-niche cause to something so pervasive and prominent in the Kiwi political consciousness that even the neoliberal National party has to maintain a "BlueGreen" interior organization to accommodate environmentalism in its deep-blue right-wing politics.

That's the power of civil society, particularly when the already established political vehicles are being average with taking up or implementing a concern.

It's my contention that just as civil society was able to propel environmentalism along with widespread concern for privacy rights and opposition to mass surveillance into the political limelight previously; there's now a present need and vacancy for civil society to do something similar with economic nationalism. Previous efforts in this area back when neoliberalism was last seriously challenged in the mid-1990s like the Campaign Against Foreign Control of Aotearoa (CAFCA) met with some marked success; and it certainly seems like popular opposition to privatization, land and asset sales offshore, and other issues of economic nationalist salience such as the TPPA is at a twenty first century high.

With this in mind, I'd like to take this opportunity to call for the creation of a new extra-party political vehicle focused around linking up youth with economic nationalism in a similar manner to how Generation Zero's done an exemplar job with youth engagement and climate/environmentalism issues.

As I've already said, there's a huge swathe of unrepresented opinion out there in the polis on these issues; and due to the nature of economic policy, it's my generation - the youth, some of the least-listened to voices when it comes to economic policy - that will be bearing the brunt of the consequences for a failure to act in our own future.

Let's call it "OURtearoa". Watch this space for more details.


Monday, September 29, 2014

W(h)ither Labour (!/?)

There's an old saying that success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan.

Not so in the Labour Party, wherein soul-crushing defeat on a scale unseen since 1925 definitely has many fathers (and more than a few mothers and eager midwives) ... but for the most part, the serious questions of blame and paternity have only really focused on the role of one man - the Leader.

Post-election, the mainstream media narrative appears to have been all about Cunliffe (and occasionally a prospective replacement in the form of Robertson, once the flights of fancy about a Jacinda Ardern-led Labour proved lacking in any substance not being over-indulged in by the commentariat) - either not-so-subtly pointing out that some New Zealanders (a demographic customarily referred to as the "Press Gallery") have taken an instant disliking to the man ... or basically casting his main rival as a slightly-grown-up student politician.

Personally, I do believe that Cunliffe contributed to Labour's rather lackluster result - and in any number of ways. A complete demolition and take-down of the man called Silent T's role in this election campaign is well beyond the scope of this piece (and would take the focus somewhere not especially useful anyway) ... but part of me really, really hopes that Labour will finally, here in 2014, learn the obvious lesson it should have picked up in 2011 and all the way from 2011-2014:

Labour *can't* (yet) compete with National when it comes to presidential-style politics, and may arguably be better served through adopting a variation on Bill Rowling's old slogan of "Man for Man the Strongest Team" in concert with a healthy dosage of "let's at least *try* and make our headline policy agenda broadly palatable to the working and middle classes our votes majorly come from". Mostly the second bit.

Because seriously. When I think of Labour's policy priorities this last campaign, three things stand out to me: "Raise the retirement age to 67; Get into Surplus just a year later than the Nats; and tax the middle class's retirement savings with a CGT".

So let's run through that again ... Raise the retirement age - for workers. Tax the middle class on their retirement savings. Announce you're not going to deliver on your promise of free doctor's visits for over-65s ... because you really, really want to match the neoliberal National party's quixotic pursuit of surplus at all costs only a year later.

Read those headline policies back to me and then TELL ME that Labour lost the election because it was "too left" and needs to tack right. Go on. Do it with a straight face.

I know exactly how annoying it is when people and commentators from outside of one's party roll up with a newspaper and pretend to have become overnight experts in your party's affairs, development and history; so I'm not going to try and sketch out a detailed alternative policy manifest, campaign platform or Parliamentary List. Besides, if Labour wants a good example of a solidly left-wing economic policy-set that's demonstrably popular with the electorate ... they need look no further than New Zealand First's. As has been pointed out by any number of commentators, we're the only left-wing party to increase its representation in Parliament this term.

But what I will suggest is that in the minds of far too many in the electorate, the commentariat, and even by the sounds of it some within the party itself ... Labour has become subconsciously associated with a deep sense of malaise - indeed, unelectability.

Way back in April 2012, David Cunliffe electrified both Labour's support-base and a small segment of politically interested Kiwis by maintaining that "When the right-wing party says that it’s going to cut your leg off, voters want the left-wing party to say that it’s not going to cut your leg off. Voters don’t want to be told that the left-wing party is also going to cut your leg off, but cut it off a bit lower down and give you some anesthetic."

Obviously, he's completely and utterly correct about this; so it's just baffling and mystifying why the Labour campaign he presided over here in 2014 - with its strong emphasis on trying to match the Nats as hard-hearted surplus-producing, middle-class-CGT-taxing retirement-age-raising neoliberally "responsible" fiscal managers - was EXACTLY THAT.

You can see further evidence of this in Cunliffe's various vague and vainglorious attempts to blow-by-blow match New Zealand First. We announced an intent to provide 3 free doctor's visits for Gold Card holders a year. Cunliffe came out and said Labour would do free doctor's visits for over-65s all up. I cheered! They'd taken our commitment and ramped it up to eleven! Awesome!

Then Labour suggested that they had to axe that policy due to changed numbers in the pre-election economic forecast prepared by National, if they wanted to be able to deliver surplus on schedule.

So because it had hemmed itself in thanks to a virtually inexplicable commitment to try and match National as "competent" neoliberal economic managers able to deliver a surplus, Labour found itself demonstrating to voters that it prioritized trying to beat National at its own (fairly irrelevant) surplus game over the health and wellbeing of our senior citizens.

It then added insult to injury by subsequently attempting to meet New Zealand First's #Renationalization and #Kiwifund bottom lines ... through establishing a sovereign wealth fund that would seek to restore Kiwi state ownership of assets at a rate of a hundred million dollars a year. Considering there's several billion dollars of assets flicked by this National government, we might be here awhile; even leaving aside questions of whether free doctor's visits for senior citizens are a better use of public money than attempting to deliver a surplus and reprioritizing a few hundred million to play Coalition Footsie with New Zealand First.

All of this means that I was enormously surprised by Grant Robertson's claim on Monday that he would have been able to lead Labour to victory where Cunliffe couldn't.

I mean, what does this claim rest on? The idea that Robertson wouldn't have stuffed up a Leader's Debate question about the application of Labour's Capital Gains Tax?

Yeah, see if you answered that question with anything other than "wouldn't Robertson have done better as Labour leader by taking David Lange's advice and axing the CGT proposal in the first place...?" then you're fundamentally misunderstanding the problem.

There are a really, really, really long list of things unpopular, broken, or festering about the Labour Party here in 2014 - and I don't just mean some of their MPs.

This idea that you can just suddenly change what's sitting up the top of the pyramid and then expect all the great stone blocks beneath the capstone to Rubik's Cube around until they're in some sort of electable fronting is simplistic, reductionist, and also dangerously flat-out wrong. It leads to a lazy sort of thinking that basically suggests if you make one symbolic change ... then the entire substance of the rest of the edifice will follow.

If Labour wants a serious show at leading the left-wing and anti-neoliberal parties to coalition victory in 2014 - hell, if Labour wants to have even a shred of moral or economic legitimacy as it claims to "lead" the Opposition this term - then they are going to have to take one helluva long, hard look at who they actually are and what they actually stand for. Parading round in the colour red and referring to yourself as a "worker's movement" (I'm *assuming* that's what the word "Labour" in Labour is there for?) is no salve for having a finance spokesperson that apparently believes electricity generation assets don't have to be run in the New Zealand national interest (let alone state owned) or that "competitive markets don't need regulation". With quotes like that flying around, it's pretty clear that Labour lacks a genuine anti-Neoliberal vision for the future of this country; and even while I applaud and recognize Labour every time they go in to bat for workers' tea-breaks, or raising the minimum wage, or New Zealand First's awesome Reserve Bank Amendment Bill ...  I really have to ask if quibbling around the edges of National's economic model is *really* the best we can hope for from what nominally claims to be our leading Opposition party.

Sadly, I think it very well might be; and am citing my own fundamental pessimism about Labour's ability to galvanize itself (hell, even conceptualize itself) as a visionary anti-neoliberal party as justification for why New Zealand First and The Greens ought to take the leadership of both the Opposition and any putative future government. We certainly seem to do a better job on both policy and motivating voters to turn out on election day to support our causes. (although, to be fair, given the Greens have dropped a seat, it's really more a case of The Greens being *less worse* than Labour at getting their supporters turned out)

New Zealand deserves, wants and needs a government that will do more than just blow on the thermonuclear servo-station pie that is neoliberalism. Indeed New Zealand requires, fiends and /craves/ a fundamentally better class of policy and/or pie.

Like many readers of this blog, I know a small number of good, committed and principled people within Labour. I wish them every success in their quest to both grow and take back their pie.

But having seen what they've managed to deliver with their previous two attempts ... you'll understand why I think it's high time that NZF and the Greens take over the catering duties.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Themes of the Campaign

There's one area of a political campaign that just about everyone, at some point, falls afoul of. The campaign song. I'm not sure quite why it is, but it seems to be almost impossible for political parties to come up with a musical oeuvre that's simultaneously accessible to a broad swathe of the population, resonates with key demographics, embodies the narrative themes of your campaign, AND won't create some sort of bizarre blowback later.

I was therefore pretty surprised when National went with what was pretty clearly a slightly orchestrally elevator music version of Eminem's "Lose Yourself". It was broadly accessible (just about everyone's heard it in the decade or so since 8Mile came out); it resonated with key demographics (youth; the sort of upper-middle-class person who thinks Eminem is "edgy"); embodied the narrative theme of National's campaign (tough times, but a way forward out of them thanks to a visionary genius) ... and then it created some sort of bizarre blowback.

See, when viewing the Opening Night broadcasts, I thought that this election could be summed up as Eminem vs Coldplay (as Labour's ad featured a similarly elevator music'd Viva La Vida ... which quite possibly makes elevator music squared); although when researching this piece, it turned out that National vs Coldplay has, in fact, happened before... (they've also previously been sued by Warner Brothers, in 1984, for using the theme to Chariots of Fire.)

I'm not quite sure why there's such a pattern of right-wing parties using music they're not entitled to and which contains polemical points they don't understand; but it's not like National's the only offender.

Previous examples of this include the Republican Party borrowing the Foo Fighters' "Times Like These" to herald George W Bush, then doing the same thing four years later with "My Hero" for John McCain; although for the truly absolutely bizarre, look no further than the elected quasi-fascists of the British National Party using The Manic Street Preachers' If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next.

Yes, that's right, an actual quasi-fascist party used a song written in tribute to the International Brigades which fought in the Spanish Civil War ... and EVEN INCLUDES THE LITERAL LINE "So if I can shoot rabbits/ then I can shoot fascists!" ... as their electoral anthem. Really, really logical there, people.

But let's take a step back for a moment and consider the associations and themes of the song National's actually chosen to herald the #BrighterFuture this time around. What's Lose Yourself really about? (Apart from Mum's Spaghetti)

From where I'm sitting, the entire ethos and vibe of both the song, and the accompanying movie/vehicle it's drawn from is about a man and his community that's suffering from some considerable economic marginalization. That's why he's living in a "mobile home". That's why he "can't get by with my 9 to 5 [to] provide the right type of life for my family / Coz man these food stamps don't buy diapers" ... seriously, let's just pause for a minute and consider the fact that National's official campaign theme contains lines about how state welfare/assistance recipients can't access items they need because we refuse to trust them with money - food stamps not buying diapers is eerily similar to WINZ deciding tampons were a "luxury item" that couldn't be bought with a food grant... and then we wind up with "and these times are so hard - and its' getting even harder".

Now just remind yourself, for a moment, which political party it is which has taken the song about the man struggling to be able to provide for his child because wages aren't enough to sustain a family, and state assistance has been pared back too much to help him. For some strange reason, it's the party that *opposes* a Living Wage and which has done more than any government since Ruthanasia to slash state assistance to beneficiaries. And then, to add insult to injury, the ads featuring Lose Yourself in the background have a team of rowers - a sport more usually associated with Cambridge and Oxford or our best boys' schools down the Maadi Cup, rather than "Struggle Street" (or, if you prefer, McGehan Close)

Mad, yet?