Bill English has announced he will instruct the Governor General to hold the next general election on September 23rd.

It’s worth quickly pointing out that it is utterly bizzare that the Prime Minister gets to control the election date in any way other than their government falling down. I sincerely hope that the next government, whoever it is, will pass a law that gives us a fixed date for general elections, and preferably make it a public holiday rather than simply setting it on a weekend. (because it drives turnout when people don’t have to ask for time off to vote, and many people do work on weekends. Besides, getting a holiday the years we don’t vote will actually, you know, give people an incentive to enjoy election day when it does happen, and not feel like it’s a chore)

There were the usual noises from a Government declining in popularity that it’s “untrue that we don’t not dislike New Zealand First,” as Bill English may need to suck up to Winston to make his coalition numbers. This is an advantage the Opposition gets because they’re not as likely to be asked about coalition composition unless polling indicates they’re looking very likely to unseat the Government, and the last polls were a statistical tie between the three relevant outcomes: Labour and the Greens decide who govern, National decides who governs, and New Zealand First decides who governs. We can all only hope that it’s one of the first two, as we don’t need our own take on white nationalists getting more negotiating power in the era of Trump.

The responses to the announcement sound confident from everyone. It’s anyone’s game at this sage, although I wouldn’t be surprised to see a trend start up in the next political poll, which we should probably expect to be published within a week or two, but that concession to New Zealand First should probably be seen as a sign that Bill English is not as optimistic about his internal polling as Labour and the Greens are.

How’s that for a title, huh? The new Trump administration in the US is making it very clear that the US is up against a (proto)fascist regime 1, as its very first actions have teed up a conflict between the judicial and executive branches, with Customs and Border Control going rogue in favour of the President, ignoring legitimate court orders based on internal instructions to comply with the President’s agenda, and mass protests assembling at airports in solidarity with immigrants who, in many cases, just want to return to their lives in the the US, or escape persecution.

The only time you get to ignore a court order in a well-constituted democracy is when a higher court contradicts it, so anyone at the US CBP who’s refusing to follow those court orders after being informed of them is actually breaking the law. The ACLU is going through heroic efforts to try and legally represent anyone impacted by this new executive order, however many are being illegally denied access to counsel. This is not the sort of story you expect to hear from a democratic nation, and of course, it’s made even worse by Trump firing his acting Attorney-General, a rare holdover from the Obama administration who took the logical step of advising the justice department not to defend the executive order, as it wasn’t legally defensible and its resources were better spent elsewhere. This of course put her in the nearly unprecedented position of publicly disagreeing with the White House, so her dismissal is understandable if wrong.

In the middle of this mess, we still have some well-intentioned conservatives, moderates, and even left-wing advocates of non-violence objecting to punching a Nazi, a debate which is at best, a distraction. Let’s get it over with so we can move on to things that matter.

Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s not my preferred tactic to punch anyone. But people are forgetting the extreme measures we went to in the Entnazifizierung (eng: denazification, usually of Germany) and that resistance against a regime employing the tactics of fascism might require several different approaches, some of which are distasteful concessions to the weaknesses inherent in a democratic system2. I maintain my stance that non-violent action is effective, ethical, and normally sufficient, and that if illegal action is required in protest it should be with the intention of getting arrested. However, there are reasons for violent action that go beyond appealing to moderates, which is largely what modern democratic protest is about. If I was given a definite choice between punching a Nazi in the face and facing a new fascist regime, you can bet I would be masking up and punching me a Nazi. (naturally, the real world is a little more complicated than that, and I have no immediate intention to go off punching anyone, as I don’t actually know that it’s necessary or sufficient to stop fascism, and fortunately, it looks not to be on the export into New Zealand just yet) The person who did punch Richard Spencer no doubt had legitimate objectives that have arguably been met by doing so: to intimidate neo-fascists, to motivate people opposed to them, to send the message that their policies of deportation aren’t viewed universally as non-violent, to act as a symbol of resistance, and so on. There is an argument that those type of tactics may be necessary against people setting up actual fascist regimes like Trump.

While I wouldn’t do it myself, I can’t condemn someone for punching a Nazi, and I think it’s an astounding display of lack of perspective as to the how much of a threat even muted whisperings of forced relocation (merely a more mild form of eliminationism, an ideology that has never met a genocide it didn’t like) that are going on within the new white nationalist wing of the Republican Party. Add to that influential advisors in the new administration such as Bannon and Sessions having close ties to white nationalism, and I’m frankly shocked that people don’t view punching nazis as an under-reaction, and for those who are still outraged at the idea of violence against Nazis, I hope you’re very regretful about World War 2, and pretty much any movies set between 1920 and 1945.

Let’s rewind back to post-war Germany, which was occupied in four zones by the UK, US, Soviets, and French. Freedom of association in post-war Germany was gone. The Nazi party was disassembled, and people were questioned about their support of the party, and put on trial based on its membership list once it was recovered. Imagine for a moment that the Republican Party were banned in the USA and understand what a cultural shock that would be and an enormous task it was. Merely being a member of the party prior to Hitler’s rise to power automatically made you a a suspect. Imagine if voting for Trump in the US primaries were a crime for a second, and compare the scale of that to punching one alt-right neo nazi in the face.The task was so big that in the American zone, young people as a category were exempted under the rationale that they had been indoctrinated. The French didn’t bring people to court because they essentially considered the entire country guilty anyway, so they focused on specific high crimes, but they still had to fire a huge numbers of teachers due to their role in indoctrinating young people, so many they had to let some back on probation to cover all the vacancies.

Denazification was considered so necessary that it went on even in countries occupied by the Germans, not just Germany itself.

Even after denazification ended, (it was viewed as an overreaction by the new West German government composed of the non-soviet zones) several people were banned from working for the government in the future, and the new German constitution in place today gives the ability to ban political parties to their federal constitutional court. Imagine for a moment if the next President of the US had to amend the US constitution to allow the Supreme Court to ban political parties because nazis undermined democracy that much in the US. That is the level of threat they are legitimately facing right now.

I don’t say this in support of these measures, but rather to give us context: One person punching another in the face over this will be us getting off easy. Fascist regimes have ended up much worse, and while I’m heartened by the existing non-violent acts of resistance, I would not be surprised if violence ends up being viewed by Americans as necessary to prevent the worst of what Trump may have in store for the US. And of course that’s regrettable because assault is a crime. But it may have been the morally correct thing to do. Or the politically necessary thing. So we should stop wasting time having an actual debate about whether minor acts of violence to prevent genocide is morally excusable, because of course they are. Preventing fascism by opposing confirmed nazis is pretty much a moral duty, and it’s difficult to over-react to an imperative like that.

I honestly can’t say for sure whether violence will be necessary to stop American fascism. I know there are non-violent ways to do it. I don’t know how effective they will be. (In an ideal world, non-violent activism can solve any political problem. However, the US has in many ways been trending away from those ideals that empower non-violence, and it will be a matter of effective messaging and resistance to make progress. I will be thrilled, of course, if they can resist fascism without hurting anyone) But I do know hand-wringing over vigorous opposition to fascism is stupid.

Read the rest of this entry »

Tax the wealthy

Posted: January 19, 2017 in government, New Zealand, poverty
Tags: , ,

Idiot/Savant over at NRT has recently supported re-instituting wealth taxes, specifically in response to news about Oxfam’s wealth research, that there is vast wealth inequality in New Zealand. (which ironically, is not actually news- this trend to greater wealth inequality is a long-standing problem, even if it’s not yet as bad here as it is in say, the US, which is a virtual oligarchy for the wealthy)

Steven Joyce is frankly completely in error if he thinks nobody resents this level of inequality. It’s not appropriate, and there needs to be better measures in place to lift up the rest of society if we’re going to continue maintaining our pseudo-capitalist neoliberal/social democratic hybrid society,1 and some of that can be reasonably paid for with wealth taxes.

Some of this issue is down to corporate tax dodging, sure. But it’s worth looking at taxes on individual wealth too, as taxes on individual wealth are supposed to be high enough that the wealthy (which I generally define as people who rely on wealth for a significant portion of their income) are actually incentivised to invest money they don’t intend to actively spend soon in companies, so that it’s being productive for ordinary people.

I/S is quite correct that land taxes2 would be one desirable type of wealth tax we should consider, especially if some of that money is redirected into funding social housing, subsidising services for renters or even directly subsidising affordable rental properties, so as to offset likely increases in market rents from such a tax. This would have the effect of gradually pushing the least profitable (and hopefully therefore some of the worst) landlords out of the market, discouraging land banking, discouraging “housing investments” that aren’t lived in, and adding further incentive to have rentals occupied beyond offsetting maintenance, rates, and the opportunity cost of housing investments. Arguably people pay a “land tax” in the form of rates, but that’s more a building-value-based costing of local service provision than it is an actual wealth tax, although of course there will certainly be landlords that argue that paying rates on an empty property already incentives them to keep it full.That said, this isn’t exactly a radical idea. In fact, John Key was reportedly even mulling over the idea early last year.

Another thing worth considering is that there’s no inheritance tax in New Zealand. Why not? If you’ve got a large enough collection of property to actually merit the name of an “estate,” (ie. well over a million dollars worth) maybe your heir(s) should pay some tax on it if they want to collect, or forfeit part of it to the state if they don’t pay. That’s not unreasonable. And the law can be designed to allow reasonable exemptions for family farms that might trigger such a tax due to large land areas so that farms don’t have to be sold or part-sold to large or overseas commercial interests when their owners pass, so long as those farms remain closely-held family enterprises for a reasonable period of time.

Capital gains taxes and financial transaction taxes also fall into this area, although if we were to institute other wealth taxes, we might not need a CGT.

Wealth is almost3 completely untaxed in New Zealand, and that’s not actually right. If we have to put up with GST that unfairly overtaxes the poor, and PAYE that targets labour for tax, the wealthy can at least pay a Capital Gains Tax, if not several more different types of taxes because they can afford it. If they want to pull an Atlas Shrugged and all go off and live in tax havens, fine by me, we can just nationalise any assets they own here in retaliation if it ever becomes a legitimate problem4.

Read the rest of this entry »

You would be forgiven for thinking that New Zealand didn’t do anything major on the international stage just before Christmas if you just followed the mainstream New Zealand media. You would of course be wrong, but forgivably so. What we did was take over, with the help of Malaysia, Senegal, and Venezuela, a resolution from Egypt calling for an immediate halt to settlements in Palestine. New Zealand has actually done something really good by helping to keep this resolution alive, and the US was actually really smart from a peace-seeking perspective in abstaining from using their veto under the justification that there is no legitimate attempt to make peace by Israel, because, well, there isn’t, at least by their government. Obviously the Israeli peace movement still exists, it just hasn’t yet enjoyed the support of the government, ever, and all the government-level peace talks to date have been more about having an excuse to continue oppressing the Palestinians under the shield of the US’ security council veto than about actually moving towards a peaceful solution.

Israel’s reaction, typically, has been to completely spit the dummy and attempt to shun those countries involved.

There has been some reaction to this fact, generally supportive from the left, and contempt of the measure from the right. Before I respond to that reaction, it’s worth quickly noting that there are good people in Israel, and good people in Palestine, but each country is in the grips of powerful movements, respectively driven by paranoia and frustration with the blockade. There are also outright criminals or at least demigogues on both sides, (not necessarily equally in frequency or extremity, but definitely present) most notably those who are involved in settlements, disproportionate military strikes, and eliminationist1 rhetoric on the Israeli side, and those involved in terrorism, promotion of violence, and other violent resistance to occupation on the Palestinian side.

However, this shrill reaction against the UN resolution is coming from zionist voices. To be clear, when I say that, I’m not implying any vast “zionist conspiracy” controlling mainstream media in democratic countries like the certain extreme right-wing anti-semitic bigots believe, I just mean by that word that some Jews believe they have a right to colonise as much of Palestine as they see fit with no consideration for the inhabitants of Palestine or for peace or for law, and they are the ones pushing for diplomatic consequences and dismissing New Zealand as not understanding what is going on. Most people actually supporting Zionism have no objection to the term when used to describe Israeli colonialism in a factual manner.

The defense I linked is a typical establishment, right-wing tactic to belittle serious moves to curtail unacceptable behaviour. Israel has been behaving like a bully, and this resolution calls them on that behaviour and demands they stop. It makes clear that settlements colonising Palestine are illegal, which was already international law, and it actually provides Israel some incentive to come to the negotiating table in good faith, (ie. they will want a negotiation that allows for land trading to bring those settlements into Israeli territory, which means the Palestinians might actually have something to trade other than the moral high ground of “you would be complying with international law”) which previously they have had no need to do.

It’s clear that critics of this sort of measure misunderstand peace in a way that is best elucidated by the late great Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, who said:

True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.

That is, in this context, that peace isn’t achieved when Palestine stops making demands of Israel. It is achieved when the fighting stops, trust is built, and criminal actions by both sides are judged fairly under a law that can be accepted by everyone, even if that law can’t offer full restitution. (or even if the most that can be agreed to is a truth and justice process where nobody actually goes to jail, even for actual crimes) So even if I believed the tension could be ended somehow by not passing this resolution, justice demands it be done, as the settlements in Palestine are colonialism and an attempt to eject Palestinians from what is effectively conquered territory, no matter your position on the British Mandate of Palestine under international law. Thus if we are to have any hope for a genuinely peaceful approach to Israel and Palestine in the future, I have to believe that peace is still possible even with international law calling for an immediate halt to all settlements. Because Israel’s security doesn’t depend on its army, or security screening based on profiling, or oppressing its Arabic population to ensure a Jewish majority. Rather, it depends on building trust in the region so that at some point it can start slowly relaxing its military and end conscription, so that it can rely on good relations with its neighbours instead of profiling, and it can rely on real democracy to protect its jewish citizens and their jewish culture, rather than this strange streak of eliminationist zionism we see in certain parts of Israel, where it is apparently okay to have Israeli arabs only so long as they remain forever a minority.

These defenses of zionist Israel are the same line of thinking that protests that Palestine doesn’t recognise Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. Sure, neither do I, and I doubt anyone who actually believes in secular democracy would, either. There is no right to a religious, cultural, or racial hegemony, and a “Jewish state” is arguably at least one of those things, if not all three. Israel currently exists. Unless a one-state solution is negotiated, Israel will likely continue to exist, although perhaps with less de facto territory and different de jure territory. None of that gives Zionists a right to insist that Israel must be a Jewish country, the same way the KKK doesn’t have a right to insist that the USA must be a Christian nation. They have a right to a free nation where Jewish culture can be preserved. We consider these types of policies human rights abuses when Islamic theocracies push them, so we should be consistent with a Jewish “democracy” like Israel.

Why do we get this? Why do we know what we’re talking about? Because New Zealand is a multicultural nation whose government was born of settlers and colonialism. We oppressed our native population to the brink of extinction, letting disease and war kill them, seizing their land, and even, in Parihaka, killing those who peacefully protested using legal means to protect their rights and property. When that didn’t work, we tried to assimilate Māori into a British New Zealand, punishing children for speaking their own language or talking about their own culture in school, so that they could no longer value it. This, too, almost succeeded, to the point that Māori is arguably a different language today than it used to be because so much of it has had to be reconstructed due to the loss of critical knowledge about old Māori vocabulary. (some of this is being re-integrated, but sadly there are likely to be holes where neologisms and loan words will kill off the original word)

And then we came out the other side. As we became a more open, tolerant, and democratic society, laws were changed. Māori language was protected , revitalised, and then promoted. Parliamentary seats that were once a means of ghettoisation of Māori voters were turned into a vehicle for genuine political representation, and breaches of the law that made settlements illegal were investigated and heard in court, and reconciliation, apologies, and even some degree of reparation was made for those illegal actions by the government in Treaty settlements. We’re not perfect. There are still issues to sort out, still injustice and inequality that is worse for Māori than for Pakeha or even some other ethnic groups. But we have started and it is clear we intend to continue, and even if it’s not enough yet, there is the promise that one day we might actually get it right.

If New Zealand doesn’t know how to start recovering from colonialism, nobody in the world does, and Israel has no hope to ever be secure because it will inevitably be at war with enough of its neighbors to put its existence in peril, either from conventional force or by forcing it to use the nuclear weapons it presumably has but officially denies. If New Zealand doesn’t understand colonialism, then Israel is fighting a rearguard action with a United States that will, eventually, be unable to afford to continue funding their military (which, effectively, it currently does to a large degree, as “foreign aid”) as its status as a superpower continues to wane. Peace is the only viable long-term strategy Israel has, and they have been running from it. Our history in New Zealand teaches us that there is no path to peace without first promoting justice, and that survival is possible (and even, arguably, profitable) for a minority culture if they are willing to participate in a free and democratic society that provides them the cultural acknowledgement and promotion that they deserve. Israel needs to stop putting off its responsibilities and start paying the prices that peace demands2.

Read the rest of this entry »

So, the first post-resignation Roy Morgan poll came out today. (this is of course the only regular poll in New Zealand at the moment, and it’s not even run by a New Zealand firm…)

Their analysis is somewhat on-point, although I’d be very cautious about attributing the good performance from Labour to the by-election or the resignation, rather those seem reasonable explanations for National’s slump. Even though this is a dramatic change from the last poll that would usually make it suspect of being a rogue1, it follows dramatic political events and moves in the expected direction, so I believe Roy Morgan deserve the benefit of the doubt on this one that their poll is probably on-trend.

Roy Morgan doesn’t show the results in terms of seats in Parliament, you may be interested as to what the poll indicates if it’s bang on. (NZF holding the balance of power, with National and Act having a couple extra MPs compared to Labour and the Greens) But that’s a little superficial, as polls don’t really work that way.

What a poll does is give you, 19 of every 20 tries, a range within which we expect each party to perform. As such, I need to introduce you to a rather odd type of graph to show what the RM is really telling us. This graph is a “doughnut hole,” or essentially a way to compare two pie graphs that show different scenarios or results from different time periods, but with the same categories.

On the inside, we have the leftmost Parliament we can expect. On the outside, we have the rightmost Parliament2 that this Roy Morgan poll indicates we could have got if an early election were called.

rm-poll-2016-12-11-margin-of-error

If a general election were held back on the 11th, Parliament should lie somewhere between the results shown in those two rings. That is, we could possibly get either a Labour-Green coalition that can flex between the independent Māori Parties and NZ first for support, or a National-Act coalition that can flex between the Māori Party and NZ First for support, or we could end up with a result where Winston is kingmaker if the result is somewhere between those two scenarios. As the first two scenarios are literally the most extreme ones, we should expect that the likeliest thing this poll indicates is that the blocs are pretty evenly balanced at the moment, (even though Labour and the Greens are polling lower, they may be in a position to have more friends on their side, too) but that New Zealand First will decide who governs unless New Zealanders tip in one direction or another.

If this RM is a valid starting point for the new trend with Bill English as Prime Minister, then the race has essentially started in a dead heat. It’s possible that future polling will show a difference, (I’m waiting for a poll other than Colmar Brunton and Roy Morgan to show up to give us some better data)

Read the rest of this entry »

So I remarked yesterday on a couple weird things going on in Labour’s reshuffle. This has been completely blown out of the water by National’s hilarious reshuffle announcement this afternoon. For those wanting a comparable diagram to Labour’s, you need to go to twitter for it. (actually, I’m sure it will be available elsewhere, but having found it on twitter already there is no way I am wading through publicity pieces on the Nats’ website to check. I did confirm that neither Scoop nor the major digital media players were bothering to post it, however)

Worth noting is the announcement that Parata is retaining education until May 1, at which point she will retire to the back benches. As this implies a plan to continue sittings of parliament at least into May, this likely rules out an early election, and puts the election timing anywhere between 1st July and 18th November 2017. This also implicitly rules in a by-election in Mount Albert, which the government had been hinting at anyway. Given the relatively low stakes in a final by-election for this term, Labour should consider sticking purely for people power for this one to preserve their campaign warchest for the General Election. It will be a good test, either for Jacinda, or whoever she ends up competing with for selection.

Highlights of the new cabinet:

  • Wanting to one-up Michael Woods as Ethnic Communities spokesperson, Judith Collins is now the Minister for Ethnic Communities. Not only is it a white person, it’s also Judith Collins, perhaps the most odious (in both senses of the word) conservative in National’s lineup. This is a ministerial position practically designed for a liberal, so Collins makes no sense in any way shape or form in this role in terms of competencies or political philosophy, although as you’ll see one point down, it actually makes a certain amount of sense in terms of internal National Party politics, as Bill is essentially trying to undermine Collins with her own base by putting her in the position of either acting like a liberal to succeed, or acting like a conservative and failing at her portfolio. Bill’s approach to Collins is a lot less conciliatory than Key’s was thus far, immediately demoting her after ascending to the leadership, and I’m not certain whether that’s a good strategy for him- it probably depends on whether Joyce can credibly step in and take over the more conservative wing of the party now that he is #3. Collins also has Revenue and Energy, which are actually both important portfolios, but are usually awarded to people who need to be seen as important but aren’t actually valued in government. On the plus side, with Collins in charge of IRD, perhaps she’ll crush some corporate tax dodgers instead of cars. Yeah right. =/
  • The Deputy PM is now minister for Women. (which, honestly, is an appropriate importance to place on the portfolio that literally impacts just over half the population- it should ideally be someone within the inner circle holding that role at the least) She also picks up Key’s Tourism portfolio and grabs Police off Collins. Other than Police, this all makes sense to me in terms of her position as deputy and her strengths as National’s top liberal, but I expect the reason Police is thrown into the mix is that the portfolio is red meat to National’s base and giving it to the Deputy makes it seem like they’re a Law and Order party, and also pinches credit for that particular fact away from the most conservative member. It probably doesn’t signal much of a change in approach on the issues, however. So we’re taking a bit of a turn to a more conservative direction under English, for sure. As usual, I expect a lot of playing defense and publicity and very little substantively achieved under Bennet’s leadership of these ministries that actually owes anything to Bennet.
  • As expected, we get the pleasure of seeing Joyce vs Robertson for future Finance debates. Urgh.
  • The would-be deputy Simon Bridges is essentially moved up into #5 position, making him effectively Ardern’s opposite, which is highly appropriate as they’re both essentially deputies-in-training now. It’s almost uncanny in fact, as they’re both over-ranked for their competence, although Ardern to a lesser degree than Bridges, as she at least is suited to her portfolios, if not her numerical position in the Shadow Cabinet. Bridges has yet to give an acceptable answer to a question in Parliament, although I think to be frank that is seen as a qualifying factor in National’s lineup. There are subtle echoes here of Clare Curran’s entrance into Shadow Cabinet, as this is another promotion that makes no sense when evaluating Bridges’ actual competence as a Minister. Unlike Curran, however, the explanation is readily apparent: Bridges has networks and sway with a lot of backbenchers, and his promotion into the informal inner circle of the “kitchen cabinet” will satisfy them that their concerns are being listened to, and like Nash, his promotion is to mollify his ambitions .
  • Amy Adams is moved into the #6 position, taking up portfolios that basically make her the new Paula Bennet, however this puts her in the same cabinet ranking as Chris Hipkins would occupy if the government changes in 2017. (Assuming, that is, any Green members inside cabinet are unranked or at least ranked separately to Labour ones) This is a sensible promotion and I think Adams deserves a chance to succeed in her social and justice portfolios, not that I’m going to be any less cynical about the likelihood of the government doing good work in those areas.
  • Nick Smith isn’t demoted. There are significant calls for this, but honestly he is probably doing more than you would normally expect a housing minister under National to do. Although the situation is unacceptable, National have largely managed to stall it getting much worse, so they’ve actually done “better” on housing than the previous Labour government, which actually did cause the problem, but it was one they did need to cause to solve the economic problems they were dealing with at the time, so it’s not really much a of a dodge for National to blame this problem on Labour- they’ve had eight long years to solve it, and all they’ve managed to do is arrest the growth of the crisis. There’s certainly an argument that housing needs to be moved away from Nick Smith, but to be honest I don’t see any better outcomes under National if someone else is put in charge. Whether you like his priorities or not, at least within them, Nick Smith is quite competent. And he certainly shouldn’t lose his other portfolios, because good luck finding anyone else who actually cares about the environment to any degree in the National Party caucus.
  • No new portfolios for Nikki Kaye yet. I expect this is related more to her health than anything else, and we’ll see her pick up something significant when Parata resigns from cabinet in May, either Education itself, or by having something traded to her from whoever gets Education. It’s even quite possible she’ll be traded some of the other portfolios lying around once she’s back in politics full-time.
  • Louise Upston and Paul Goldsmith are both promoted into cabinets. I don’t really have much to say about Louise yet, so she gets the benefit of the doubt. Paul Goldsmith inside cabinet is the real Clare Curran of this bunch, a backbencher who deserves to stay a backbencher and is definitive proof that the government has run out of qualified ministerial candidates. This is literally the guy they put up to lose against David Seymour, who went around taking down signs for himself so he wouldn’t win. That is not the stuff ministers are made of.
  • A bunch of new people have become ministers too but none of them are exactly names you’d know easily even if you watch Parliament TV or In The House. We’ll wait and see whether they’re good, mediocre, or terrible.

Unlike Labour, however, National doesn’t have the excuse of a shallow caucus to draw from. They have 59 seats in Parliament at the moment, all but an outright majority, which should mean selecting the right minister for the right role is easy, so any failures here are down to either Bill English failing to square the circle of assigning ministers to the right positions without upsetting caucus or members, or, more likely, to whoever actually selected candidates for and/or ordered National’s Party Vote list. (because they definitely don’t vote on it!)

While National have generally done okay at seeing off ministers whose used-by has been reached, (with a few notable exceptions) this definitely doesn’t look like a cabinet of winners. The political jeering that the leadership is now the “B-team” is looking to extend to a lot of the winners in this reshuffle as well, so I’ll be surprised if English enjoys anywhere near the media honeymoon or the polling strengths that accompanied Key given the announcements so far.

Labour announced its cabinet reshuffle (to deal with the resignations of David Cunliffe and David Shearer) on Friday, and it’s largely not a big deal.

Foreign affairs going to Parker makes a lot of sense- it double-loads him with senior portfolios but one of the two is likely to be negotiated away to NZF or the Greens. Tertiary Education going to Hipkins makes perfect sense.

Even throwing Nash some important portfolios like Science and SOEs makes sense, the man is a climber and you want him occupied.

Starting Wood off with some important portfolios like Consumer Affairs and Revenue is great, and makes perfect sense. This is someone who could totally be in the front bench if he stays on for another term or two.

Curran taking over as full ICT spokesperson, while arguably putting her out of her depth, is also logical, as she was the associate before.

It does raise two interesting questions:

Firstly, and probably more importantly: Is it really appropriate to give the Ethnic Communities portfolio to Wood? (the existing associates are Su’a William Sio and Ruth Dyson) A more logical approach would certainly have been to make him an associate, but you really do need to have someone ethnic leading a portfolio like that for reasons of presence and mana in my opinion. There is a role that white people can play in these sorts of areas, but it shouldn’t be the leadership role. That’s not understanding your lane in terms of fighting for racial equality. It would be like appointing a man as spokesperson for Women’s Affairs: It implicitly states that you don’t believe you have a woman (or someone who isn’t pakeha) who can do the job, which basically means you’ve failed in selecting candidates1.

Secondly, why the heck is Clare Curran moving into Shadow Cabinet? Don’t get me wrong, ICT is a portfolio that is (Shadow) Cabinet-worthy, but Curran isn’t someone who’s qualified to be in cabinet, and I doubt she ever will be. (Then again, Simon Bridges thinks he’s qualified to be Deputy PM, so we clearly live in a completely loopy world in 2016) Logically, Curran needs to be the successor for ICT so that you don’t need to get someone completely new into the portfolio, but it’s reasonable to lock her out of Shadow Cabinet and promote someone else.

If you were being optimistic about who you think in Labour would deserve a Shadow Cabinet position based on talent, (I wouldn’t, personally) you would expect Louisa Wall to have been given some of Shearer’s or Cunliffe’s cabinet-level portfolios and advanced into the Shadow Cabinet, as a talented new MP deserving of advancement. However Louisa seems to be viewed as backbench material for some strange reason, despite being the one to orchestrate our latest advancement of civil rights in New Zealand, and one of the more careful and ethical representatives within Labour.

If you were being cynical and expecting the portfolio to be awarded based on factors like seniority, loyalty, and similar considerations, the natural choice would be Ruth Dyson, who as Women’s Affairs spokesperson arguably belongs in Cabinet already. (Mallard, despite arguably needing to go, is likely to remain on as he’s the best Labour candidate for Speaker, and as such, isn’t going to be in shadow cabinet because he will either need to remain assistant Speaker if National win, or become primary Speaker if Labour do)

Realistically, I can only think of two explanations. One is that Curran has made herself a liability to get rid of somehow and has wrangled a promotion because she’s now viewed as critical to Labour’s success. (lol? If anything she typifies the problems with the Labour caucus and is a drag on their party vote) If she’s wormed her way into finding some buried skeletons, or gatekeeping some critical fundraising capacity, or is viewed as critical by members in a certain part of the country, putting her into Shadow Cabinet to keep her happy arguably starts to make sense, even if long-term it’s probably not a good idea.

The other possibility is that Little is using Curran to “bank” that position in his shadow cabinet against the 2017 election, and hoping that some new talent will come into the party that he can promote into that position. If he promoted an MP who arguably deserved it, it would be much more difficult to move them out of (shadow) cabinet later. So by bringing Curran in, someone who he can absolutely shuffle out of cabinet in for underperforming whenever he pleases in the future, he leaves himself open to who actually fills that slot after the election, and can move up Dyson if no new talent presents itself, or put Harré or some other new blood into cabinet if he picks up some additional list or electorate MPs.

Read the rest of this entry »