Wednesday, March 22, 2017

On Recent Opinion Polling

Yesterday, two polls were released - the latest Roy Morgan and most recent Reid Research. They're both interesting, albeit for almost entirely different reasons.

The Roy Morgan data is probably what folks with an implicit left-wing bias will be most interested in; due to its showing a reduction in National support of 4.5%, and corresponding rise in Labour/Greens support of 5% - for totals of 43.5%, 29.5%, and 14.5% respectively.

The explanations for these rather radical shifts in numbers are immediately obvious. After a somewhat protracted 'honeymoon period', Bill English's tenure as Prime Minister has started to enter rocky territory. His comments on large-scale immigration being justified because Kiwi workers were allegedly unemployable due to drug use did not resonate as they might once have, leading to a backdown of sorts shortly afterward in which he conceded that changing immigration policy-settings might be possible. The recent (and ongoing) semi-literal quagmire over water - whether pollution of waterways, or the extraction of our resources for a pittance to be sold offshore as the latest example of Kiwi-victimizing Neo-Colonialism - has also followed a similar trend. Namely, inflammatory statements made to the media [although in this instance, by Environment Minister Nick Smith] based on either a misreading of public sentiment or just sheer bloody-mindedness, followed up in relatively short order by a signaled possible change in position.

On top of this, English's apparent determination to walk the fine line between death and destruction entailed in messing with superannuation will also have cost him. It was, after all, the same issue which effectively sealed the fate of Labour at the last Election, and which has caused serious problems for the National Party in previous contests (admittedly, mostly in the 1990s). Although if the controversy over the retirement age is actually a salient causation in National's shedding of votes in the Roy Morgan, then it is somewhat surprising indeed that New Zealand First [on 7.5% - a reduction of 0.5% on the previous poll] has not been a greater beneficiary.

Perhaps this indicates that there are indeed some stirrings of mood out there in the electorate for a fulsome change of government, rather than mere dissatisfaction with the present regime; meaning voters who'd otherwise gravitate towards NZF are exercising trepidation in doing so due to media speculation that we'd side with National.

To these factors we may also be able to add Labour's decision to elevate Jacinda Ardern to the Deputy Leadership. Regardless of whether one thinks she's made a truly substantive contribution to our nation's politics over the previous decade, it would appear indisputable that she is the highest-profile Deputy Leader of the party since the days of Michael Cullen. And, as we shall see when it comes to dissecting the Reid Research poll's Preferred Prime Minister results, her promotion alone has certainly made a bit of an impact. Certainly, it is difficult to imagine a situation in this Parliamentary Term wherein Winston Peters has found himself out-polled by a Labour Party MP for Preferred PM [indeed, according to this list from Wiki, it is an event without precedent going back to the last Election.]

In any case, whilst my affection for the Roy Morgan poll is well known, it is certainly not the only game in town. And the Reid Research material out the same day makes for some decidedly interesting comparison-work between the two analyses.

Particularly because in many respects they flat-out contradict one another.

In contrast to the Roy Morgan's falling National but rising Labour/Greens, Reid Research has National increasing by 2% to 47.1%, Labour falling by 1.9% to 30.8%, and the Greens dropping 0.3% to 11.2%. New Zealand First, meanwhile, has fallen 0.5% to 7.6%.

So what to make of this. Well, for starters, it's probably worth noting that Reid Research have just changed their polling methodology in a bid to reach out to different [and traditionally less-contactable] voters. It's possible that that has had an impact upon the results we're seeing here, although difficult to determine whether this axiomatically makes their conclusions more or less accurate than their previous and more exclusively landline-based efforts. Certainly, a cursory look at their record in the immediate run-up to the 2014 and 2011 General Elections would appear to suggest that Reid Research's old methodology had some noticeable flaws in it [consistently over-polling the Greens, and having National's result out by more than two percentage points - which in this day and age is the literal difference between Governments continuing or falling upon the ashheap of history].

The alternate interpretation, of course, is that Reid Research's new-and-sharper methodology is, in fact, on the money - and that the cautious optimism which was beginning to break out on the Left in recent weeks has found itself somewhat misplaced. Certainly, this would be in demonstrable keeping with the trends of previous Elections, wherein at every turn the 'hope' that the latest scandal of whatever flavour would be National's undoing has turned to ashes in our mouths as they've emerged in each successive poll or popular vote almost entirely unscathed. Indeed, almost seeming to 'feed' off the controversy!

Personally, if I were a Labour supporter - and, not for the first time, I must confess to feeling inordinately glad that I am not - I'd probably be attempting to look for a 'silver lining' [other than Winston] in the form of both polls discussed here having Labour at or about 30%. It's probably a sign of how dismal Labour's prospects have been for the last few years that this is somehow an achievement worthy of note - and yet, it is. Thirty percent is where a party can start to credibly claim to be one of the 'Big Two'; in rather marked contrast to its previous low-twenties polling, which had many commentators (myself included) wondering how long until Labour effectively wound up relegated to semi-official 'Minor Party' status. [The requisite number for that, if you are wondering, would probably be semi-consistently scoring below twenty percent; although as Bill English-era National so handily demonstrated fifteen years ago, there is no axiomatic rule of political gravity which definitively states that a result just above 20% is unrecoverable from]

Having said that, instead of taking either of the above polls as 'good news' [an understandable eschewment], many Labourites will presumably be instead attempting to cast doubt upon the veracity and utility of opinion polling all up. Perhaps they will even be once again quoting former National Party Prime Minister [and arguable, in some ways, proto-Bill English] and resorting to his famous political maxim: "Bugger the polls!"

But this would be a bit of a mistake. It's no secret that political polls can occasionally be substantially inaccurate. The results from the US Presidential Election and Brexit both serve to bear this out in an Anglosphere context. There, as is now well known, the inaccuracies in results lead to an indelible false sense of security on the part of the 'Establishment' sides of those contests. Which fed into overconfidence, and consequent defeat.

It would, perhaps, be too much to hope for a similar occurrence here in New Zealand. Namely, that the National Party buys into the myth of electoral invincibility off the back of a few polls which have them in the mid-high 40s, and starts making ever-more-significant errors. Although some are, of course, of the opinion that we are already starting to see this happen. [A phenomenon which we can also tie fairly directly to the much-dreaded 'Third-Term-Itis']

Instead, the reason why it would be arguable folly for Labour supporters to write off polls entirely is a simple one. They appear to be getting more accurate.

This means that while it might have once been true - most especially in both of 2005 and 2008, wherein many polls had Labour and National several percentage points off, and often in pretty much inverted positions in terms of their rough support, these errors diminished in 2011 [with the exception of auguries for the Green Party's result - who appear to remain prone to chronic over-estimation by as much as 4%], and by 2014 had been reduced to frequently less than a percent out from the actual final electoral result. Particularly where Labour is concerned.

It would be both cumbersome and somnolence-inducing to go through poll-by-poll and show this; but as a sort of evidentiary shorthand, we'll take a brief excursion through the  final Roy Morgan poll of the 2014 Campaign season.

This had National on 46.5%, Labour on 24%, The Greens on 13.5%, NZ First on 8%, the Maori Party on 1.5%, Internet MANA on 1%, the Conservatives on 3.5%, and each of ACT and United Future on 0.5% apiece [which is considerably better than the 0% they'd registered in some - admittedly perhaps rather optimistic - predictions].

How did this compare with the actual results of the 2014 General Election? Well, National 47.04%, Labour 25.13%, Greens 10.7%, NZ First 8.66%, Maori 1.32%, Internet MANA 1.42%, Conservatives 3.97%, ACT 0.69% and a whole 0.22% for United Future [which, as it happens, is less than half of the Aotearoa Legalize Cannabis Party's 0.46%, but I digress].

That represents a difference of 0.54% for National between the Roy Morgan and the eventual result; 1.13% for Labour, 2.8% for the Greens [who, as noted, are almost invariably overpolled]; 0.66% for New Zealand First; 0.18% for the Maori Party; 0.42% for InternetMANA; 0.47% for the Conservative Party; 0.19% for ACT; and 0.28% [admittedly more than its entire vote, but bear in mind the Roy Morgan moves in 0.5% increments] for United Future.

That's pretty dang close.

So, given the Roy Morgan is the same poll which yesterday had Labour and the Greens swelling by a combined total of 5% to beat National ... perhaps there IS some hope for a non-National Government come 2018 after all.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Inter-Generation Collaboration, Not Age-Based Warfare Needed To Defeat Neoliberal Scourge

Earlier this week, several minorly amazing things happened. National decided to breach its nine-year commitment to leave the retirement age untampered with; Labour found itself with an MP in a leadership position whom the public actually seem to like; and I caught myself red-handed agreeing with David Seymour.

Having done a quick spot-check just to ensure that his (and my) home electorate of Epsom hadn't frozen over, I then moseyed my way over to social media to see what everybody else thought of the week's startling events - and in particular, the proposed increase to the pension age.

The reaction was sadly, somewhat predictable. And by this, I don't mean that a clear majority of the people I interact with were opposed to the age going up (because that vocal disapproval is anything BUT sad!).

Instead, I refer to this regrettable new trend of boldly declaring that any policy-set perceived to favour the older ('Boomer' and 'Greatest') generations in our society is somehow a manifestation of "Intergenerational Warfare". Forget "Class Struggle" ... this is now the apparent Dialectic Du Jour of the modern, trendy lefty.

Now this is not to say that English's recently announced pension policy is fair or equitable. By allowing the (presumably more National-voting) older generations of today to retire at 65, yet ripping the rug out from under the Gen-Xers, Ys, and Millenials who'll be looking to retire at or after the decade in which the policy actually comes into effect, National is cynically stating that they're quite prepared to engage in some SERIOUSLY unrighteous policy-making. Particularly given they effectively intend on making us pay for the costs of a 65 retirement age which we younger folk will never, most likely, benefit from. [That's the part I agree with David Seymour on, in case you were wondering]

But is this "Intergenerational Warfare", as some have suggested? I think not. That would imply that there is a broad mass of 'Boomer' and 'Greatest Generation' members out there enthusiastically cheering on the idea that they're somehow "winning" by continually impoverishing and short-changing their children and grandchildren.

Instead, what's happened is the neoliberal ideologues who actually run our economy are making bad decisions. Bad decisions, to be sure, which fairly deliberately mainly negatively effect those whom they perceive as least likely to be able to effectively fight back against them.

And yes, it's certainly true that a goodly number of the National Party Caucus who are presently pushing this change are, themselves, Baby Boomers. Just as was a fairly large proportion of the 2014 Labour Caucus who did likewise at the last Election. But this is tempered by the number of out-and-out Quisling young people (predominantly Young Nats), who seem to be looking forward with licking lips to being amongst the first New Zealanders to have to compulsorily work into their late-60s. It simply doesn't seem to be adequate to state that all those in favour of this present policy are older New Zealanders - still less, that all those opposed are young people. Indeed, with New Zealand First leading the charge against the policy, to attempt to assert so would be blatantly counterfactual.

Let's be clear about this. There IS a fault-line within New Zealand Politics that is presently screwing over young people. But it's NOT a consciously Older-Versus-Younger one. After all, the trends I'm talking about seriously deleterious affect older New Zealanders, too! If they're not already well up the property ladder, pensioners on fixed incomes do only marginally better than beneficiaries and probably worse than minimum-wage earning young people when it comes to navigating our new, dilapidated extra-neoliberal public services; and they're much less employable, in some respects, than either of these other demographics.

Instead, the 'fault-line' is between those in a position to effect policy, and those locked outside of the system. Between those who're able to benefit from the way our economy is structured, and those whose ongoing prosperity or survival seems continually undermined by same.

And that suggests that this calculated insistence upon casting X governmental policy decision as yet another battle in a war of Old against Young is classic "Divide And Rule" tactics from those in power. Because if we're really busy exerting all of our energy into blaming each other (on EITHER side of the age-divide), then we far more easily lose sight of the REAL forces and factions ACTUALLY to blame.

It probably feels good for the disenfranchised of all ages to lob insults and sketch stereotypes of people a few decades apart from them chronologically. To blame parts of the housing crisis on smashed avocado toast or gerontocratic greed, for instance. This does not make it accurate. It also doesn't actually help us to solve the problems being talked about.

What is needed is co-operation rather than conflict between generations with a view to stopping this monstrous neoliberal ideology once and for all. This does not mean ignoring the fact that particular manifestations of pernicious policy such as the proposed pension package are more unequal for some age-groups than others. But it does involve setting aside some differences of opinion - and the inevitable associated recriminations - in favour of pursuing shared advocacy for genuine solutions.

Once upon a time, as a much younger man at university, I was introduced to the idea of "cross-class co-operation" in a Marxist context. The idea there was that the challenges inherent in attempting to overthrow (or, at the very least, reform) the excesses of capitalism were of such magnitude that the working class by itself was unlikely to be able to achieve this. Which would thus necessitate the strategic co-operation with other classes in society in order to attempt to bring about meaningful change.

I am not making the case for some sort of Marxian insurrection here in New Zealand by drawing upon that point of theory.

But it does seem, when so much energy is taken up by young activists objectifying our older forebears into The Enemy, that there is something productive to be had in remembering that working WITH our parents and grandparents may, in fact, be the superior way to go about making our situation better.

For all of us.

Certainly, if we wish to be cynical about this, the National Government have already resoundingly demonstrated that they have precious little interest in actually engaging with the perspectives or the votes of younger New Zealanders. Yet they're evidently potently paranoid about the possibility of losing support from the Older Generations (hence, presumably, their decision to defer raising the Age of Entitlement until persons thinking about retirement today are already WELL on their way to dotage).

Part of the answer to our present circumstance, therefore, does obviously lie with attempting to turn younger New Zealanders into the sort of high-turnout voting demographic which can make or break elections. But this is longer term thinking. In the short and medium term, the way to start the beat-back upon Neoliberalism is to foster inter-generational co-operation against it. Rather than, as some are wont to do, give in to the temptation to blame our forebears for policy-sets and governments which they may very well have played very little role in empowering. (It's worthwhile to remember that our parents' generation are also the ones responsible for the MMP system which we enjoy today, delivered as the fairly direct result of their cohort's attempted fightback against the disempowering and ultimately unrepresentative FPP system which gave us first Rogernomics, and then Ruthanasia)

In any case, as noted above - much of the present Parliamentary-Political opposition to this raise in the retirement age for younger people is being driven by older New Zealanders (supplemented and assisted by many of the younger Parliamentarians). This represents a great example of the interests and advocacy of the two generational groups coming together in order to oppose Neoliberalism.

Long may it continue.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

In Defence Of Ron Mark's Record

It has been said that strong arguments attack concepts; weak arguments attack people; and spurious diatribes careen off into the side of a barn by attempting to hit the wrong targets entirely.

This latter description is pretty much how I'd surmise the attack-piece which appeared on The Daily Blog on Tuesday, aimed (at least nominally) at none other than New Zealand First Deputy Leader Ron Mark.

Why do I say this? Well, for starters, its premise - that Ron was allegedly "a mercenary" - is factually incorrect. Mercenaries, it may interest you to know, fight as the militaristic equivalent of contractors. They aren't actually a part of a given standing army, and instead are paid to supplement a force whilst remaining independent actors.

As a commissioned officer in the Sultanate's forces, this is not what Ron did in the state of Oman - in fact, quite the opposite. Rather than being a 'soldier of fortune' who'd fight for the highest bidder, he made a commitment to a sovereign nation with longstanding ties to both Commonwealth and Anglosphere, joined up as an actual part of their military and saw it through.

Oh, and while we're on the subject of alleged "mercenaryism", it's frankly inexplicable that Peterson seems to allege that Ron's service with the United Nations in a peacekeeping capacity counts as "evidence" of mercenary conduct. Unless you're some New World Order-touting conspiracy theorist, the UN is not generally seen as being a dodgy cartel-like employer of mercenaries. Given, you know, it generally holds them to be illegal.

More to the point, the broad thrust of Peterson's nail-clipper job (like a hatchet job, but of minuscule effect) appears to be an attempt to use Ron's military record in the Middle East as part of a bid to cast doubt upon his political judgement here at home. Yet if we recall, it was precisely this hard-won experience in Arabia which made Ron such a tumultuously effective opponent of the recent National Party decision to deploy Kiwi troops to Iraq. Who better to point out that NZDF 'boots on the ground' weren't going to solve the issues they were nominally there for, than someone with a first-hand knowledge of both the region, and the realities of soldiering therein.

And indeed, the superior moral heft and informational base which Ron derived from his previous service in uniform allowed him to deliver the greatest anti-war rhetoric Parliament has seen in recent memory.

In case you've forgotten, it went like this:

"Do not make light of this. See, the thing I know about people in Parliament—and I used to say this to Keith Locke—is that most often the people who have the loudest voices when it comes to deploying people into theatres of war are those who have never worn a uniform and never want to. And very, very often, sadly, you find that they do not allow their sons or daughters to go either. So button it, Mr Goldsmith—button it. You have no place commenting on this because, quite frankly, you do not know what you are sending troops to."

Certainly has prominent echoes of General Eisenhower's quote about "[hating] war as only a soldier can".

I've also written previously about how I believe Ron's military background has become a strong asset for New Zealand First internally, on an organizational level. Officers tend to know how to build structures and turn groups of enthusiastic volunteers into effective units for campaign. It's right there in the job description. This is, obviously, something that's been most useful for us in recent years, and which is truly going to come into its own in a few months' time. As New Zealand First looks forward to the future, these organizational skills and competencies are going to become more vital than ever.

But the thing which irritated me most about Peterson's piece wasn't his woeful misapplication of the word "mercenary". It wasn't even the complete overlooking of how Ron's prior service has helped him to be an effective representative and Parliamentarian today.

Instead, it was this line from the first paragraph describing some of the alleged characteristics of mercenaries: "They aren't driven by a set of principles, and are not fighting for a just cause or to defend their country".

That part really got under my skin, because while it might be a fair description of Executive Outcomes or Blackwater ... it's also the absolute antithesis of who and what Ron Mark is.

In all of my dealings with Ron over the last few years, and from my ongoing observation of the 'second phase' of his Parliamentary career, if I could pick but two phrases to sum him up they would unquestionably be "man of principle", and "fighting for a just cause, to defend our country".

This is a man, let's remember, who could have quite happily stayed ensconced in Carterton winning election after election for the local Mayoralty, and presumably setting himself up as something of the Lower North Island equivalent to Tim Shadbolt.

But he didn't. Because in 2014 he was called back into service with the express and explicit purpose of "fighting for a just cause" in Parliament. Namely, the defence of our country against the ongoing frontal assault on the very concept of good governance which we see emanating daily from the Nat-occupied Treasury benches. A role in which may observers would agree that Ron has excelled - being one of the foremost voices in the House when it comes to challenging our extant Neoliberal overlords.

Still, success habitually arouses envy - and, as the old saying goes, "the monkeys only shake the tree with the best mangoes". I believe that this is what has motivated Peterson's piece. A feeling on the part of some parts of the further-left of the NZ political spectrum that New Zealand First has 'unfairly' come to dominate 'their' self-appointed territory. That the strong support which we enjoy from ordinary working class New Zealanders - and the demonstrable lead which NZ First has taken in the long-term fight against neoliberalism are things which some of our apparent adversaries wrongfully believe they ought to enjoy a monopoly upon.

They see a Nationalist movement that is large and working well - and instead of asking how best they can work WITH us against our common foe ... they'd rather pen scurrilous innuendo that flagrantly misrepresents a leading Opposition Member's pre-Parliamentary career; because they're worried about, in the long term, New Zealand First eclipsing others and becoming THE leading party of the Opposition.

And they know that we carry the torch and banner of working class Kiwis in a way they'll never be able to match.

In any case, the surface-veneer of Peterson's piece was an attempted hit-job on Ron's character, judgement and political principles. I've already countered some of the factual inaccuracies and blindspots of interpretation in it, and hopefully conveyed a sense of why I continue to back this man.

But if you want a true measure of why Ron's a valuable contributor to the destiny of this nation, then don't just take my word for it. Turn on Parliament TV, follow him on facebook, or turn up in person to one of his speaking engagements in a town near you.

You won't be disappointed.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

You'd Have To Be High To Believe That Record Migration Is Due To Drug-Use

It's become a depressing pattern. Every time news of record migration numbers come out in the media, the National Party leap into action with another excuse for why they're justified.

The most recent "alternative facts" laden argument for adding tens of thousands of people to the New Zealand labour market ... is that apparently the workers already here can't pass drug tests.

Now, the notion that people are unemployed because they're on drugs is not a new concept to the national political lexicon. We've heard it before, quite a number of times. In fact, it even became such a serious concern that then-Social Development Minister Paula Bennett instituted mandatory drug-testing for beneficiaries thought to be out of work for this reason.

How did this go?

Well, in 2015 there were more than thirty thousand beneficiaries referred to jobs which required them to be drug free ... and only fifty five failures of the requisite pre-work drug tests. (Gosh, what a wonderful use of taxpayer money) This is a rate of failure of 0.173%; which would rather strongly suggest that drugs are not a significant barrier to participation in the workforce for tens of thousands of beneficiaries.

So clearly, something else is going on here.

In order to find out what, we need to ask ourselves two questions.

First up, why do some employers seem to have a preference for immigrant labour; and second, why the Government is continually content to airbrush reality and attempt to present the ongoing importation of tens of thousands of people a year as something of an economic necessity.

The answer to the first question is, regrettably, quite simple. Less scrupulous employers want to take on migrant labour rather than employ Kiwis, in the main, because the former are far more readily exploitable than the latter.

Now obviously, this will not be the case in all instances. The Skilled Migrant category of immigration exists precisely because we've long recognized that on occasion it is more desirable to bring in somebody with a needed skill, rather than waiting the potential months or years for a Kiwi to either upskill or otherwise become available for the position.

But it has become painfully apparent of late that under this Government, the immigration system is not being used just to plug vital gaps in our workforce - but instead, as part of a calculated and cynical effort to keep pay and conditions down in a number of workplaces and industries.

How else to interpret, for instance, then-Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse making the nonsensical statement that "supermarket checkout operator" apparently count as an "Essential Skill" in the eyes of Immigration New Zealand, as justification for dozens of entry-visas being issued.

Are we really to be expected to believe that amongst the tens of thousands of New Zealanders unemployed and looking for work on any given day ... that there weren't a few dozen people already here who could have performed the enormously complex task of operating a supermarket checkout?

I think not.

So what makes a migrant worker on a (temporary) visa more valuable to an employer than an equivalent Kiwi?

Simple. The New Zealander doesn't have the threat of fairly immediate deportation hanging over them if they should happen to do anything to incur their employer's displeasure. So if you're after a workforce you can pay less, feasibly expect to be less likely to unionize, and who won't get 'uppity' about little things like unpaid over-time or being denied their breaks ... why WOULDN'T you hire from offshore.

We hear a lot about migrant-worker exploitation in the hospitality and restauranting sectors, but it would be fallacious to attempt to pretend that similar things don't also take place in other industries. The Christchurch Rebuild, in particular, appears to have been carried out in large part upon the backs of unfairly treated foreign labour. A situation actively contributed to by, among other personages, the then-Philippines Ambassador to New Zealand - who scurrilously urged her countrymen not to join unions or otherwise involve them in workplace disputes.

The evidence is pretty clear. It isn't just a matter of employers hiring migrant workers rather than Kiwis - the Damoclean sword of being able to insta-deport large chunks of your workforce is also being used by some businesses to mercilessly drive down pay and conditions in some sectors of our economy.

Which leads us on to the next question. Why is the Government seemingly OK with this?

First part of the answer's easy. Lower wages help to keep a lid on inflation; and National has not for some decades been anything like a friend to Unions or the average worker. Some big corporates being able to rake in higher profits thanks to their lower-cost workforces certainly won't hurt, either - particularly if they later 'return the favour' by making donations to the National Party's coffers.

But I also think there's more going on here than initially meets the eye. It's no secret that New Zealand's economic growth rates have been comparatively sluggish. Despite all of the hype and spin about National being "the party of business", and the occasional high-profile success story; for the most part, the only seriously growing sector of the New Zealand economy is the property market. A market which, incidentally, can only benefit by rapidly adding more people whilst only veeerrrryyyy sloooooowwwwllllyyyy increasing the number of houses to domicile them in. Which is certainly good for upper-middle-class National voters who are on the property-ladder already (and thus able to borrow ever more against the increased value of their portfolios in order to fund a lavish lifestyle, or net incredible returns by rapidly flipping property for huge capital gains), and never mind about anyone else.

And there's also the matter of the cash which several classes of migrant are required to bring in with them representing a paper gain for the New Zealand economy.

So why is the Government really allowing unprecedented numbers of foreign-born workers to come to New Zealand? It seems to be because doing so serves their long-term economic objectives. An easy form of delusory "growth" (which never seems to take into account the additional costs of a rapidly expanding population requiring greater service expenditure), and a few favours to their corporate mates.

But this doesn't exactly sound great in a press conference. So instead of being truthful about their priorities, our Government instead insists upon laying down a fulminating barrage of falsehood designed to appeal to the prejudices of the middle classes. After all, who's an easier and more "legitimate" target for moral outrage than drug users. How better to make the moral fault for being unemployed that of the beneficiary rather than that of the economic system and its neoliberal presiding overlords. And how else to effectively silence the qualms of Middle New Zealanders worried about the potential futures of our young people ... than by blatantly projecting into the public political consciousness the idea that drug addiction, rather than migratory flows and other policy-settings are why our kids can't get jobs in a supermarket.

I don't blame nor begrudge foreign folk wanting to come here, make their contribution and in exchange receive the benefits of a better life here in New Zealand. But it seems hard to overlook the fact that some employers - seemingly actively supported in this by the Government - are obviously intent upon using them in a way that's detrimental to both foreign and domestic-sourced labour.

It cannot be allowed to continue. And while it's certainly an interesting change of pace for "drug addiction" rather than "racism"to be the officially designated Nat red-herring on this issue, about the only positive from this shift is that at least the recent claim is more easily statistically refutable.

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.