Archive for December, 2016

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.



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.


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)


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.


The legislation to set up the new successor ministry to CYFS, Oranga Tamariki1 had its first reading in Parliament today, (assuming I finish this post on time) and there are a number of interesting things going on with it that bear discussion.

First, a quick disclaimer: There is a Treaty of Waitangi issue around Oranga Tamariki led by the president of the Māori Women’s Welfare League. I have some familial ties to the league2 and have given them some of my time and experience in the past, and although I don’t speak for them in any way, I’m not necessarily an entirely neutral party in that particular issue, so I won’t talk about it much. Louisa Wall, whose partner is said president of the League, also seems to deliberately not be talking about the case and instead leaving that to her Green and Labour colleagues, which seems like a wise separation to make as an MP.

I will say, however, that the government under the Treaty is supposed to do good-faith and substantial consultation with Māori around issues with significant effect on Māori. As Māori children are something like 60%+ of “clients” for CYFS, Māori are essentially the key stakeholder in the new Oranga Tamariki ministry, and have every right to expect substantial consultation, including input on the structure and key points of the new legislation. That is literally a constitutional requirement on the government, and there is an argument that although the structure of the bill has been presented to Māori, no significant changes incorporating feedback were made. Anne Tolley has committed to further consultation with the League in the new year, so hopefully she will take on board and largely address their issues and there will be no need for the dispute to continue.

Like most good (for spectators) bill debates, all of Parliament agrees on what the goals of the bill, broadly, should be, and that a law change is necessary. Evidence suggests that CYFS interventions, on average, are not guaranteed to be safer than the previous situations children found themselves in, which basically means they are, while well-intentioned by all involved, a very expensive and traumatic public relations exercise.

Greater emphasis is being placed on the wishes of children and outcomes for them in this new legislation, which is good, although arguably other legislation around government services also needs to be amended as well to make this a whole-of-government culture change, rather than a rotation of the guard from CYFS to Oranga Tamariki.

The two issues in contention are whether it’s acceptable to remove a clause from the old legislation that allows for extended relatives or community to have priority as caregivers over other people registered with the Ministry. Because extended family holds a special place in Māori (and Polynesian) society, this is basically removing a legislative guarantee that children should be placed within their own community or culture when possible. Basically, the government and New Zealand First think that should be taken into account but not guaranteed by law, and the opposition and the Māori Party think it should, but possibly as a tertiary priority behind the child’s safety and their preferred living situation. I think given the stipulation that it’s actually a lower-tier priority, it wouldn’t hurt to enshrine that principle in full law rather than simply in department policy, as I can definitely tell you that laws get treated far more seriously than policies in the government sector.

The other was a rather odd dig at the Youth Court by Darroch Ball3, who doesn’t ever want 17 year-olds sent to it. (the legislation allows for non-serious offenses by 17 year-olds to go to the Youth Court) Mr. Ball looks at the proportion of offenders who had previously been through the youth court. That’s a terrible way to measure whether the Youth Court is effective. The correct measure of whether the youth court is effective is actually looking at the effectiveness of young people sent to the youth court vs slightly older young people tried as adults. (I have not yet done that, but then again, neither has Mr. Ball, so I will defer to social scientists on that matter, who I imagine are generally in favour of youth courts, if not necessarily of how they’re implemented in New Zealand) Now, there is a reasonable argument that it’s worth giving additional teeth to the youth justice system for when offenders need a more serious punishment. As to views of police on the justice system, frankly, I don’t expect to get a neutral point of view from the police, they’re almost always in favour of harsher punishments, more convictions, and more legal powers. You don’t even need to ask the police to know their (collective) opinion on something, and that sort of rhetoric is just tough-on-crime nonsense that doesn’t help anybody and is purely there to be red meat to social conservatives.

Lastly, there were some amusing parliamentary hijinks around National opting to only brief Labour about the legislation rather than including the Greens and New Zealand first, too. According to Carmel Sepuloni, Labour was not involved and was under the impression that it was a whole-of-opposition briefing until they turned up. Whoops, National!

Overall, this is an important bill that the government needs to get right, and it’s not really doing its job well enough yet.


Worth noting today is that Laila Harré has formally re-joined the Labour Party, (h/t to Andrea Vance) and intends to stand as a candidate. (depending on party decisions on electorate selection and list ordering, of course)

Laila has excellent credibility with the Left in general and working people in particular, and her selection as leader was basically the reason the Internet Party enjoyed any legitimacy at all, pre-Mana alliance or post-.1 It wasn’t exactly a great move for her reputation in retrospect due to how successful the Right were in associating Mana and the Internet Party with Kim Dotcom due to his donation, but it does make clear that she has a lot of mana with the left.

Prior to Sue Moroney taking over the issue, Laila was the original champion of paid parental leave in Parliament, (she successfully pushed for 12 weeks) has been a friend to the union movement and a vocal critic of neoliberal policies ever since Rogernomics, and quit as a Labour member to join the NewLabour Party and thereby eventually the Alliance, which as its name suggests, was an electoral alliance of radical left parties, such as the Greens, (temporarily) Mana Motuhake, NewLabour, and the Democrats for Social Credit. After her election in ’96, she has served as Minister of Women’s affairs and associate Minister of Labour and commerce, fighting hard for much of the pro-worker legislation that occurred prior to collapse of the Alliance as an effective political vehicle. She has also served as a strategist for the Green Party, so this is a woman who has literally been prominent in every significant left-wing political movement since the 80s, and would provide credibility to the notion that Labour is positioning itself as a senior coalition partner for the Greens, as Ms. Harré is still to a degree part of the Green whānau, and having her at the table for that discussion could legitimately make it easier for both sides.

If Andrew Little wants to run a big-tent campaign that targets both the Labour left and Middle New Zealand, or even if he is going for a left-wing Labour campaign that targets demotivated voters, (ie. “the missing million” strategy) Laila is an excellent candidate who he should be placing high up his list, as she is persuasive to both groups2. (given her crowning achievements have mostly been around securing pay and benefits for workers, she has a lot of pull with left-leaning centrists) He should even be considering how quickly he can move her to the front bench, I would argue. While she’s not new to politics, she is part of the populist change Labour could represent in 2017, and she deserves a winnable electorate or list position when compared to some of  the less inspiring electorate MPs, and even a couple of the senior List MPs that snuck in with the 2014 election. (Compare and contrast Laila to Mallard or Ardern, for instance, both of whom were given very winnable list and electorate positions. Then compare with her to some of Labour’s less stellar candidates like say, Clare Curran, and I think an objective observer can agree that Laila deserves to be on or near the front bench)

Laila would make an excellent Minister for Women, or a great head of MBIE, or even both, whether or not Labour intend to split MBIE again3 into Labour and Business ministries. While normally I would be promoting a Green candidate for most ministerial positions if Labour can win in 2017, I can’t really see anyone more qualified to advocate for women, and there is simply no way a party branded as “Labour” is going to even consider handing over the ministry dedicated to working people to any other party in more than an associate role. Little should be seriously considering not only his current shadow cabinet, but how the people on his list and winning electorate selection could contribute to a possible cabinet in 2017 if he is taking his job as Bill English’s opposite seriously, and Laila is an excellent way to give himself more options in both the Labour and Ministry for Women areas.


I’m sure we’re going to see some very excited pollsters looking to be the first to compare Bill English and Andrew Little. (It’s probably going to be Colmar Brunton in first, as they’re the only ones who have been regularly running polls, but I expect the leadership change will prompt the bit players to show up suddenly)

In advance of that, (because saying it afterwards doesn’t have the same impact) and as someone who is frequently on record as saying that polling is relatively accurate1, I would like to remind people that Preferred PM almost literally means nothing. Almost the only important part of NZ polls is the party vote question, which actually has some reasonable predictive power for the general election.

Preferred PM also doesn’t do a particularly good job of predicting who will be in Government, (most PMs lose the Treasury benches while still being more popular than the other person, because a PM is usually more popular than their party as a whole) rather it’s more an indicator of whether a leadership coup is likely for either the Government or the opposition. The only time it generally means anything is if the Leader of the Opposition actually overtakes the PM during the election campaign and stays consistently ahead, in which case, we would expect a change of government because that’s a Big Deal.

It’s also a metric that behaves a little differently for left-wing and right-wing leaders. The Left tends to not be very keen on uniting. (which, fortunately, is actually an advantage under MMP, so long as all your parties are over-threshold or winning an electorate) The Right loves it, so long as they view their leaders as successful, so even if you restricted answers to actual leaders of political parties, (which pollsters do not, it’s an open question, hence why Helen Clark kept showing up even after she was long gone) you would still likely get a bunch of people saying they want Winston Peters or Metiria Turei or even Hone Harawera to be PM, wheras even Bill English’s previous preferred PM polling leading up to his disastrous loss was still higher than Labour’s has been in opposition.

What will be interesting in the upcoming preferred PM results is how many people simply answer John Key because they don’t follow politics. I expect John Key will fall off the preferred PM polls faster than Helen Clark did, but he will probably show up at a significant level for at least the next two.

So, even if Little outperforms English in the next Preferred PM poll, remember:

  • That’s only important if English is actually enough of a drag on the Party Vote to bring Labour into fighting distance of forming a Government.
  • A lot of people won’t be able to name Bill English unprompted just yet, even if they think he’s not doing badly.
  • There won’t really have been time for more than an initial impression, and it’s actually more important how the trend shows up over time. (ie. whether Little and the Opposition in general start gaining ground over time)

And likewise, if English outperforms Little, that doesn’t even necessarily mean he’s on his way for a win, just that he hasn’t immediately lost all of National’s former support. There’s still a possibility that his support will trend downwards if people want to give him a chance but don’t like what they see as time goes on.

This is also why Bill English rather smartly has ruled out commenting on the timing of the next election until next year, as he will want to see not only how National is polling immediately after the transition, but he’ll want to see whether the government’s poll numbers, both in internals and public polling, are moving up or down. If it’s down, expect an early election, if it’s up in early polling, expect to wait.