Little’s Labour is less weak, fake, divided, and stale

Andrew Little has led Labour for about a week, and so far he’s managed to address some of the party’s biggest perception problems. Since Helen left for the UN, the party has looked weak, fake, divided, and stale.

The power of plain English

The party has looked weak because it hasn’t been able to land easily understandable hits on the government (Shane Jones aside). The party has looked fake because two of its last four leaders have screamed inauthenticity. The party has looked divided because of near-constant caucus knife fights. The party has looked stale because many of its current MPs are leftovers from the Clark era.

Little has addressed the appearance of weakness by coming out swinging. He has hammered the Government over the report by the Office of the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security. He hasn’t shied from calling out this government and he’s done it with enough fire to end up on the six o’clock news.

Little’s emphasis on front-footing issues helps shake the fakeness that oozed out of Cunliffe and Goff. He has distilled complex issues down to intuitive plain English. You don’t get much clearer than “cut the crap and apologise for running a smear campaign.” In doing so, Little has put National on the defensive, and is taking control of the discussion.

Mr Authenticity

Mr Authenticity

Little has addressed the perception of division with his caucus rankings and portfolio allocation. He has put a lid on dissent by drawing in some rivals, and driving others from the front bench.

Nanaia Mahuta has moved her up two places to number four, likely due to her supporters putting Little over the line. He has also disrupted the rival Gracinda power couple by pushing Jacinda Ardern down the list and bringing Grant Robertson up. Little also gave Robertson the Finance portfolio, which will ensure any serious Labour policy has Grant’s fingerprints all over it. It also gives Grant a prestige bump, and will hopefully keep him too busy to get up to mischief. There is less time for scheming when you are buried beneath Econ101 textbooks.

Similarly, Little has addressed the perception that the party is stale by pushing all former leaders and Clark era MPs down to the middle of the list. David Shearer might feel a little aggrieved considering his work in foreign affairs, but Little needs to put distance between himself and former leaders. Tough luck David(s).

The exception is the capable Annette, King of Rongotai, but I doubt she will be deputy for too long. She gets a sunset spot as deputy leader, and then I suspect she’ll be put out to pasture. Additionally, Party president Moira Coatsworth has quietly resigned. It’s not obvious how much say Little had, but the move helps refresh the party.

Another quiet change was Chris Hipkins. He has kept the Education portfolio, but has picked up the role of Spokesperson for photo-bombing. Since then Chris Hipkins has been promoted to the Labour website homepage, and continues to appear behind Little in press conferences. If Hipkins carries on this way, he could potentially be in the background of a Labour Prime Minister! Here’s a few shots of the man himself.

Hipkins on Labour's homepage

Hipkins behind Little on Labour’s homepage

Hipkins in Parliament on Monday 24 November

Hipkins behind Little in Parliament this week

Hipkins behind Little at a recent press conference

Hipkins behind Little at a recent press conference

Hipkins behind Little in next week's Women's Day article

Hipkins behind Little in an upcoming Women’s Day article

Hipkins after uploading his personality to a computer and hiding his tracks by using a Sigourney Weaver vocal track

Hipkins in 2805 after uploading his personality to a computer with a Sigourney Weaver vocal track. There is no end to his cunning.

The Nats want your view on offshore drilling

Yes, you read that correctly.

New Zealand Petroleum and Minerals (a branch of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment) is consulting on plans to open up an area almost twice the size of New Zealand for offshore drilling. This area includes the home of the last 55 Maui dolphins.

The over 476,000 square kilometres potentially up for drilling

The over 476,000 square kilometres potentially up for drilling

New Zealand Petroleum and Minerals want feedback, so I say we give it to them! You can give your feedback by calling 0508 263 782 or by emailing nzpam@mbie.govt.nz.

But that’s not the only big green consultation on at the moment.

National Policy Statement on Freshwater Management  

If offshore drilling isn’t enough to turn your green blood red, then the Environmental Protection Authority is also consulting on the Draft implementation guide for the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management (NPS-FM).

The draft guide says: “The intent of this policy is to provide a mechanism whereby a regional council may approach the Minister for the Environment to populate Appendix 4 by an amendment to the NPS-FM so a freshwater objective may be temporarily set below a bottom line in a regional plan. The decision to seek this transitional arrangement would ideally be made with community collaboration and/or consultation, as part of their plan preparation.” That little gem was buried down in page 67.

Ideally with community collaboration? That sounds pretty weak to me. They want to set an objective below the bottom. ‘Ideally‘ doesn’t cut it. You can give your feedback by calling 04 916 2426 or by emailing freshwater.guidance@mfe.govt.nz. Consultation closes on 30 November 2014.

I’ll grant you that consultation documents can be pretty boring, so here’s a little entertainment on the power of local level decision-makers.

Biblical struggle ahead for Little

It’s been a big day for Labour, so I can’t help but reach for the big book. I’m not a religious person, but The Bile has some wisdom for Labour (trigger warning: sacrilege, blasphemy, completely inappropriate comparisons).

Saint Andrew the Little, heralded by the Herald

Saint Andrew the Little, heralded by the Herald

Ye shall know them by their fruits.” –Matthew 7:16

Andrew Little was the least popular candidate with caucus, according to first preferences. As he said in his interview with Duncan Garner, he was expecting more than five votes from caucus. That means some MPs lied to him and, if Little is able to have his way, they will be the first heads on the block. No wonder there were grim faces at the press conference.

The second preferences were equally interesting. All of Nanaia Mahuta’s second preferences in caucus went to Little, as did almost all of her member votes and union support. In a sense, Nanaia and her supporters were the kingmakers.

Once again, Labour’s Māori MPs showed they are a force to be reckoned with. They can win votes against the tide, effectively represent and articulate Labour values, and are a significant power bloc in caucus. The party will have to give their views, values and voters the respect and priority they deserve.

Screenshot 2014-11-18 20.45.02

First, second and third rounds of voting in Labour leadership contest.

“I came not to bring peace, but a sword.” -Matthew 10:34. 

Grant Robertson was the peace candidate and Andrew Little is the sword. Robertson stood a better chance of bringing peace to the party’s factions, but probably couldn’t grow the party vote as much. Andrew Little stands a better shot of carving out some party votes, but will struggle with party unity and loyalty. Admittedly, it’s better to fight National with a sword than with bird shit from a flock of doves, but Little has to survive that long first.

Before taking the sword to National, Little will probably want to cut out some rot. Robertson thought it would be a good idea to ‘refresh’ the caucus and Andrew Little probably agrees. And I suspect his message to Labour’s far left twitterati will fit nicely in a tweet: ‘#STFU or #GTFO #LittleComfort’.

“’I will give you the glory of these kingdoms and authority over them,’ the devil said, ‘because they are mine to give to anyone I please’.” -Luke 4:6

Screenshot 2014-11-18 22.40.35

Gower, Prince of Darkness

Paddy Gower will tempt Grant Robertson repeatedly between now and the election. Every time Little slips up (and he will slip up), Paddy will ask “would you have said that, Grant? Don’t you feel robbed, Grant? Doesn’t the power and the glory rightfully belong to you, Grant?”

The challenge for Grant will be to ignore his gut, his clique, and the TV3 news team. Andrew Little is the second coming of David Shearer, but without the backstory; he is another unpolished, stumbling bloke ripe for white-anting.

Grant has ruled out running again, but I think we can take that with a grain of salt. He is careerist to the bone. I doubt he can walk away from a shot at becoming PM so easily. It’s a simple matter of “the situation has changed/I have been approached by people across the country/some men have greatness forced upon them”. It’s very easy to imagine caucus rolling Little a year from now, while there is still time to change leaders before the election.

The Portrait of Christopher Hipkins

But regardless of what happens, I can be sure of one thing: It doesn’t matter who leads the party, Chris Hipkins will be by their side. Although he is looking less chipper by the year.

Screenshot 2014-11-18 23.56.36 Screenshot 2014-11-18 22.58.07 Screenshot 2014-11-18 22.59.17 Screenshot 2014-11-18 22.22.33 Screenshot 2014-11-18 23.51.43

PS- Yes, I know that first picture is Darren Hughes. I just couldn’t resist the dark power of the Ginger Faction

The racist elephant in the room

This is the third post in a series looking at Māori and Pasifika voters and the Labour Party (part one and part two). 

There’s something ironically bigoted about the idea that Māori and Pasifika are more socially conservative. It’s a broad-brush slander that stinks of sneering white liberals and plausible-deniability. It’s the racist elephant in the room – will South Auckland support an openly gay leader?

Thankfully, I haven’t heard the question asked much in this Labour leadership contest. Although that may be because the public doesn’t care about Labour anymore.

Why do so many people claim Māori and Pasifika are more conservative? Is there any truth to the claim? The data is uneven. In 2008, the New Zealand Electoral Study (NZES- New Zealand’s most comprehensive political survey) asked respondents their views on the statement “Homosexual relationships are always wrong”.

 Response Pākehā Asian Māori Pasifika
Strongly agree 10.37 19.8 12.24 18.07
Agree 9.78 20.79 7.46 20.48
Neutral 24.74 15.84 18.16 22.89
Disagree 20.15 19.8 23.14 15.66
Strongly disagree 32.32 19.8 34.23 20.48
Don’t know 2.64 3.96 4.78 2.41
Total: Agree and strongly agree 20.15% 40.59% 19.7% 38.55%

As the table demonstrates, Māori respondents were less opposed to same sex relationships than other groups. Pasifika voters were more concerned than Māori and Pākehā. But when it comes to views on marriage equality, 2008 is a long time ago. We need more recent data.

Research New Zealand surveyed views on marriage equality in 2011, but somehow failed to notice that Māori and Pasifika are different communities with different views. Their survey asked “should same sex couples also be allowed to marry?” In this case, the ‘Māori/Pacific’ respondents were more supportive of same sex marriage than other ethnic groups.

Screenshot 2014-11-01 12.39.36

The data suggests Māori are less bothered by same sex marriage than the rest of the country, and therefore probably less likely to care about a gay leader. Thus, no problem for Labour.

The data is less clear with Pasifika voters. While some in Pasifika communities may not care for same-sex marriage, neither survey revealed the importance of same sex marriage to Māori or Pasifika voters.

Certainly, some Māori and Pasifika voters oppose same sex marriage, but do they oppose it enough to change their vote? The last election suggests not. Louisa Wall and Labour led a very high profile campaign for marriage equality, and Labour’s party vote increased in many electorates held by Polynesian MPs.

The simple fact is that Māori and Pasifika voters, like any other voters, are concerned with a number of issues, many of which matter more than the leader’s sexuality. People can have strong views on an issue, but not value that issue enough for it to affect their vote.

The campaign against asset sales is a good example. The majority of New Zealanders opposed asset sales, but didn’t care about it as much as Labour had hoped. The same goes for surveillance.

But let’s flip the question. Instead of asking ‘why are Māori and Pasifika so conservative?’, we should ask ‘why do we care so much about their conservatism?‘. Why is a brown person’s conservatism more of an issue than anyone else’s?

I think part of the reason is good old fashioned prejudice. The whole ‘brown people are bigots’ idea is built on a solid foundation of racism and classism. The notion that non-white people are less socially developed has a long and very ugly history. Similarly, the idea that poorer people’s views are uncultivated has helped neutralise and exclude them from power. Throw in some confirmation bias, and you have a cluster of excuses for thinking ‘brown people are bigots’.

The fallacy at the root of prejudice. Courtesy of http://xkcd.com/385/

The fallacy at the root of prejudice. Courtesy of http://xkcd.com/385/

So will South Auckland support an openly gay Labour leader? I have no idea. I’m not from the community. The more interesting question is: why aren’t we looking at the homophobia in our own community?

NOTE: I did not actually ask any Pasifika people whether they would vote for Robertson. Typical white guy.

Voters and values, loyalty and leadership

This is the second post in a series contrasting Labour’s Māori and Pasifika MPs with the careerists Robertson, Ardern, and Little. In this post, I’m looking at who effectively represents Labour values.

People like Tau Henare argue that Māori MPs should be promoted because Māori voters stayed true to the party. But is this necessary?

On the one hand, there is the argument that loyalty should be rewarded. On the other, there is the more Machiavellian view that the party can safely ignore loyal voters, since they won’t stray. Ethical? No. Good politics? Arguably, yes. Resources are scarce, and it makes sense to allocate them where they can attract the most votes.

I agree with Tau Henare’s proposal, but not his reason for proposing it. Labour’s high performing Māori and Pasifika MPs should be promoted; not out of loyalty to voters, but because they better represent the party’s voters and values.

The difference is subtle: the former rewards a past action; the latter acknowledges and responds to a present reality. Labour’s Māori and Pasifika MPs know their communities, and are better than the careerists at articulating those mythical Labour values.

Well, I thought they were mythical, until I listened to the maiden speeches of MPs Peeni Henare and Jenny Salesa. Henare and Salesa outlined Labour values in clear terms, and tied them to Labour’s past achievements, current Labour policy, and the Labour Party itself.

The speeches are solution-oriented and people-focussed. Salesa in particular speaks clearly and convincingly of the values Labour is supposed to be about: community, fairness, Continue Reading

Quiet successes, noisy failures

Since the election, there has been a lot of commentary on how Māori and Pasifika voters ‘stayed loyal’ to Labour. Some have even called for a Māori leader/deputy leader.

Regardless of who wins the Labour leadership, the party should give senior positions to Māori and Pasifika MPs. Not because they are Polynesian, but because they performed better than some of Labour’s leading lights, and can effectively and believably represent Labour values and Labour voters.

The leadership candidates

In this blog I will outline the strong performance of some of Labour’s Māori and Pasifika MPs, and contrast them with some of Labour’s current crop of careerists, namely Grant Robertson, Jacinda Ardern, and Andrew Little. I call them ‘careerists’ because they have followed the conveyor belt(way) from student/union politics, to positions as party staffers, to parliament (with a gap year or three in the public service). In the next post, I will compare Labour’s Polynesian MPs and careerists to see who best represents Labour voters and Labour values.

Quiet successes: Labour’s Māori and Pasifika MPs

An alarmingly large number of Labour supporters think their electorate MP won a hard-fought victory, but their Māori electorate MP only won because of a weak Māori Party. I understand why the party members wouldn’t want to celebrate the success of Māori and Pasifika MPs too loudly; to do so would make some prominent MPs look average by comparison.

Obviously, there are external factors beyond the control of MPs, and any win or loss is the result of both push and pull factors. But the performance of other political parties/candidates is only one side of the ledger. Labour MPs should not be separated from the party’s performance in their electorate. The decline of the Māori Party is a factor, but we shouldn’t overstate it. To do so diminishes the hard work of Labour’s Māori MPs.

The Labour MPs in the table below managed to increase the total party vote and mostly hold their vote share constant.

Screenshot 2014-11-10 22.55.01

Labour’s Pasifika MPs held off raids by Colin Craig and National, while Labour’s Māori electorate MPs fought off an established Māori Party and a well-funded Internet-MANA Party. In particular, Kelvin Davis managed to defeat an extremely well-funded Hone Harawira, despite reluctance from his own party.

Of course, the elephant in the room is election turnout efforts. It’s difficult to determine what role the get-out-the-vote strategy played, but considering how poorly Labour’s main election strategy fared elsewhere, I don’t think we should write off the MPs’ party vote gains.

Noisy failures: Labour’s leading lights

The table below looks at election results for Grant Robertson, Jacinda Ardern, and Andrew Little (David Parker is omitted because he didn’t contest an electorate in 2014). Since these MPs are the leading lights of their party, I’m looking at their recent results, rather than just the last election.

Screenshot 2014-11-10 22.12.05

In both total party votes and party vote percentage, Robertson, Ardern, and Little fare badly. In pre-Robertson Wellington Central (2005), Labour had almost 50% of the party vote, yet in 2014 the party came a distant third with 23.78%. Similarly, Auckland Central under Jacinda Ardern and New Plymouth under Andrew Little both shed over 10% of the vote since contesting the seat.

Robertson, Ardern, and Little presided over disproportionately large losses in vote share, yet they have flourished. Why are they currently the future leaders/deputies for the party if the party vote has crumbled around them?

They are ranked so highly because they are masters of the inside game. They know the strategies and tactics that help them climb the party ladder do not win general elections. Their skill is not winning broad support, but manoeuvring within the party.

So what about Nanaia Mahuta for leader? If the leadership race was determined by increasing the party vote, she would win by a landslide. Unfortunately, Nanaia’s charisma does not match her experience in ministerial and spokesperson roles (she may have blossomed on the campaign, but I haven’t seen it). Also, despite her experience, the commentariat wrote her off shortly after she announced. The highly questionable tone used by the media when discussing her campaign has undercut her chances.

Screenshot 2014-11-11 00.12.50

The next blog: Labour voters, Labour values

The ability to win votes is one aspect of a good leader, but not the only aspect. The next post will compare Labour’s Polynesian MPs and careerists to see who best represents Labour voters and Labour values.

Select Committee season

The election may be over, but the Left can still influence policy. The fight for progressive change is not always glamorous, so (as I’ve previously argued) it’s time to weigh in on mundane but important government consultations and Select Committees.

Select Committees are now open for submissions again. For a full list of what’s currently on, click here. There aren’t many bills of interest to lefties at present (a couple of treaty settlements and a bill giving custodial duties for Te Reo to a new government body), but now is a good time to get your head around making a submission, if you haven’t done so already.

The official guide on making submissions is available here.

That’s all for now! I’m currently working on a couple of big posts, hence the relative quiet on the blog. I will hopefully get them up online in the next day of two.