Archive for May, 2017

Lots of people in politics are fans of using the political compass system to describe politics, where we distinguish politics along two dimensions when talking about political ideologies instead of conflating both social and economic policy together in different ways for each nation when we pick the two words we use to describe political parties. This is especially helpful in systems like New Zealand, where we have 7 viable political parties at the moment. (assuming you define “viability” as “getting at least one MP elected”)

Some recent discussions have made me aware that not only are some people a little less familiar with the labels that discussing politics this way requires, but that we’re also missing a few relevant terms.

traditional poltical compass

Traditional political terms have largely focused on left-right or liberal-conservative divides

Usually this splits political dimensions into the economic/class aspect and the social/cultural aspect of politics. On this blog, I general refer to the left-right economic dimension of politics, and the liberal-conservative social dimension. It’s also sometimes called a “libertarian-authoritarian” social dimension, but both of these terms imply a lot more radical and specific political ideologies than liberal and conservative do, so I’m usually a fan of those names.

The original political compass site only gives us the most basic five: centrism, leftism, right-wing politics, “libertarianism,” (which in other sites is often substituted for “liberalism”) and “authoritarianism.” (likewise for “conservatism”) For a useful discussion, you really need at least nine labels for the various political positions, and if you want to get really technical, you probably want somewhere between 25 and 30 to try to translate the idea of a graph into colloquial language, even online.

It also doesn’t capture some complicated political variables that also operate on something of a spectrum, like degrees of nationalism, or of environmentalism, or monarchism-vs-republicanism, (or more generally, sovereignty versus independence, or federalism vs local democracy) etc…

Of course, every once in a while, you run into someone using a more specific political dictionary or reference that is technically correct elsewhere in the world, but places these political terms in a more regional context, when most of the political internet settles on using variations of left, right, liberal, and conservative. (sometimes substituting “tory” or “progressive” into the equation) For instance, in the US, liberalism still generally implies moderate right-wind leanings and a gradual approach to social reform. This isn’t anything inherent about the idealogy, it’s just how the democrats that call themselves liberals in the US have conducted themselves in congress. Confusingly, this old definition comes very close to neoliberalism, which is just the modern version of classical liberalism, which is not the same as generic US liberalism, which is generally in the Democratic party, and is also different to the Australian Liberal Party, which is actually to their right. To all of them I say: stop confusing people. When people use “liberal” as an adjective anywhere outside the US or Australia, it’s generally to refer to a freedom-oriented approach to social issues.

With all that confusion, we find ourselves maybe needing some extra terms, because actually we routinely do discuss all 25 spots on our 5×5 table of two-dimensional politics, and less loaded generic terms, as traditional names for complicated areas on that political graph can get you maybe 19 of the 25 really relevant areas, when really we need a full 26 terms to describe what we’re talking about, and they don’t follow any sensible system. (We need 26 because we need two terms for the middle so we can distinguish between the social and economic centre when talking generically, four names for the orthogonal extremes, (ie. right, left, liberal, conservative) four names for the diagonal extremes that mix the previous four together, eight moderate versions of the the eight previous extremes (ala “centre-left”) and another eight names for those with opinions on both dimensions but who value one dimension over the other, such as leftist liberals who value the economic politics more than social ones) The other confusing thing about using the traditional terms is that “liberal” shows up all over them with different meanings. Oh, and we can’t use the term “social” for conservatives, because they hate that word too.

Here’s what I’ve come up with:

generic political compass

Here we have a systematic approach to generic political labels. I have used the word “clutural” to describe people with more socially-oriented politics for international portability. I’ve stuck with “moderate” for the four extra diagonal centrist positions, because mixing “left” or “right” with “centre” in a larger term sounds stupid. The hidden 26th term is that “moderate” refers to social centrism, and “centrist” to economic centrism, re-using the distinction between British terminology for economic dimensions and American terminology for social dimensions that people already engage in. Most sucessful centrists are really only centrist in one of the two ideologies in order to fill a political gap elsewhere, so arguably there are also “conservative centrists,” “left moderates,” “liberal centrists,” etc… that can replace terms like “centre-left” if you prefer.

And yeah, the “circle” around the outside full of liberal-leftists and right-liberalists are a little confusing, I admit, but it could catch on as a way to describe the “north by northeast”-type directions on our political compass. I also considered terms like “right-conservatist,” for the lower half of the graph, but at that point it began to sound silly, as “liberalist” at least sounds like it should be a word, so I left out the quicker alternative names on the bottom half of the chart. (for the short names in the x-by-xy spots, whichever part is first is the one the emphasis is on, so if liberal is first, it’s cultural, and if left or right is first, it’s economic) Feel free to talk about conservative leftists and conservative rightists though instead of cultural left- or right-conservatives, those actually sound like words.

Under these generic terms, you actually have political-compassy ways of describing some more complicated political idealogies. Neoliberals are Right-liberalists. Tories are Right-conservatives. Greens are Left-Liberals. Neoconservatives are Conservative-leftists. Libertarians are (normally) right-liberals, or maybe sometimes they’re Liberal-rightists, and Left-liberatarians are Liberal-leftists, which is what the old Whigs of their day roughly were.

In the New Zealand  political parties context, here are my estimations:

  • Labour are centre-left. (or, if you prefer, a coalition of leftists, liberal-leftists, left-liberalists, and economic left-conservatives that generally average out to somewhere between “centre-left” and “moderate left-liberal”)
  • National are a coalition of right-wingers. (including right-liberalists, and both types of right-conservatives)
  • ACT is a single right-liberalist who nobody takes seriously.
  • United Future is centre-right.
  • The Māori Party is the hardest to place but are probably wander between being moderate left-liberals when working with Labour to being moderate right-liberals when working with National. Somewhat like New Zealand First, they have a nationalist bent to their politics, but it is a specifically Māori one rather than a xenophobic one.
  • New Zealand first are centrist conservatives on most issues, but they can wander into left-wing and liberal politics from time to time too, as their defining political attribute is nationalism rather than economic or social politics.
  • And as everyone expects, both the Greens and Mana are both left-liberals, with the Greens having an environmentalist dimension to their politics, and Mana having a Māori nationalist one.
  • The alliance were probably left-liberalists when they were around, and ironically, the Progressive Party’s brief stint in the Clark era had them probably showing up as economic left-conservatives.

Hopefully people find these ideological distinctions helpful in discussing politics. I hope they also stop people reaching for those archaic variants on the word “liberal,” as politicians everywhere have tried to corner the rhetorical market on derivative words of “freedom.”

So, TVNZ has feverishly reported both that there is a highly unusual emergency meeting being called of the Queen’s staff, and that a representative has told them that “they can safely assume the Queen and Prince Phillip are not dead.” I won’t mock them for reporting that the queen isn’t dead, because it would be irresponsible reporting not to have sought assurance that she wasn’t when reporting about an emergency meeting with an undisclosed purpose.

I am somewhat amused at the generation gap that the New Zealand media still think the Queen is marginally relevant to life in the south pacific. If she dies, we replace her with another figurehead that literally doesn’t do anything important except sign off on the documents when we need to replace a Governor General. It will be sad if she dies, of course, because she is a human being even if I have no real emotional connection to her myself, and it will be newsworthy, because she is a foreign head of state.

But in de facto terms, she is not our head of state, all those functions have been delegated to the Governor General, and they don’t get picked up even during royal visits. In child custody terms, we’ve been all-but-adopted by the Governor General. She is a mere legal fiction to New Zealand, so the appropriate time to cover this sort of story is really when something has actually happened. If she is getting sick or deciding to abdicate powers in favour of her descendents, the only real effect this will have on us under the current arrangement is that we will be obliged to observe some official mourning customs and possibly change the title from “Queen” to “King” on a lot of our official government stuff, and we don’t need to breathlessly preempt that story online simply because of TVNZ has a large audience of baby boomer monarchists. Most of them probably don’t check your website, TVNZ, save it for the 6pm news.

If the meeting is not about a turn in the Queen’s health or a plan to step aside, then it is still timely for New Zealand to consider if we still want to be a monarchy after the Queen dies. A lot of the reason for public support for monarchy is that people like Queen Elizabeth II specifically, rather than the institution of monarchy in general, and there’s a good argument that we should have a plan for what we want to do on her death, even if it’s simply “enact mourning arrangements in the media and with flags, and switch up our letterheads, signs, and coins.”

And if public opinion or the resolve of our leaders is shifting towards republicanism like polls suggested around the time of the flag referendum, (I say shifting towards, not that it has a majority yet) then we need to start the conversation now about what our constitutional arrangements should look like if we really want the transition to a new monarch to be the point at which we become a republic, because rushing into that process half-blind is not a good idea.

So, Labour’s list is out. You can see bios for the most electable candidates at Labour’s website, although it hasn’t yet been updated for list-only candidates*. (update: you can find Labour’s article on their list here)

If you haven’t been following the news, you will note that in addition to the expected absense of Annette King after she decided to step aside next election in favour of Jacinda Ardern for deputy and Paul Eagle in her electorate, Sue Moroney is now gone too. This is a big loss for Labour, as she has been a champion for working women, making excellent strides with paid parental leave in Parliament, and it looks like they’ve naively looked at the party vote in her electorate and decided she’s a drag as a candidate, when I think it’s likely she just suffered from a tide towards national in the election, and deserved an electable list position. I expect if she hadn’t resigned, this means the highest she would have ranked would be the early 30s, and to be honest, that’s a very unfair ranking when compared to some of the performances of MPs who were ranked significantly higher, such as Stuart Nash, Clare Curran, Ruth Dyson, or Jenny Salesa. Appeal to the electorate can’t be the only consideration when ranking list MPs, there also has to be some concession to how effective they were at pushing key legislation and their performance in the house. Moroney should have ranked very highly on those two issues among sitting Labour MPs, and certainly among those who aren’t currently on the front bench, and probably deserved a ranking nearby Ruth Dyson and Jenny Salesa.

I’m honestly not as interested in the story about what caused the delay in releasing the list, and whether Little was trying to bump Willie Jackson up the ranks, as in all practical terms, he’s in a fairly electable position. If Labour polls below 30%, Jackson certainly hasn’t earned his spot in Parliament back, and being possibly the lowest-ranked list MP for Labour in 2017 will give everyone who wants him in the party a huge incentive to campaign hard for the Party Vote to make sure his position is secure. I think that’s win-win, and even if he’s disappointed, I think he’s done pretty well out of the list selection, to be honest, with some more talented newer political blood ranking lower than him. (Willie Jackson might be new to the Labour Party, but he was also the deputy leader of the Alliance back during the Clark era, so he’s old blood in the same sense as Laila Harré is. And we’ll all note that she, while far more qualified to be an MP than Jackson, has not had anyone advocating to get her an electable position in the Labour Party)

I’ve gone through and assigned each candidate to their electorate where I could find public comfirmation of their selection, and recorded which electorates Labour won in 2014, then threw in Ōhāriu for good measure, as there’s a real chance Labour could win there, and I have assumed for the primary scenario that Kelvin Davis will win again in Te Tai Tokerau. Neither of those are really guaranteed, but they are likely enough that Labour should be banking on them happening when it selects its list. (arguably, it should also be considering its candidates for Hamilton East and Hamilton West in terms of gender balance too, as most governments win at least 1 of the Hamilton seats, if not both of them) I’ve then calculated the effective list position for the remaining candidates, and compared it with the current average of recent Labour polling performances, which would net them 36 seats.

In that first scenario, where the two competitive races against minor parties go Labour’s way, they would end up with 20 male MPs, and 16 female MPs. Each of those two races would return a female list MP instead if Labour lost, assuming the minor party Labour lost to didn’t take a seat off them, which is a reasonably safe assumption given the polling of both United Future and Mana, so if Labour loses both Te Tai Tokerau and Ōhāriu and maintains its current polling into the election, its caucus will be gender-balanced for the first time ever.

According to its own regulations, Labour should be selecting its list so that women are expected to win at least 50% of its seats. This so-called “man ban” has not eventuated, as Labour will be assuming they’ll win both those key electorates, which means they need to make up four women in the party vote from current polling. The earliest they could do this would be to win exactly another 15 seats, (ie. 51 total, enough that they could govern with just the Greens in their coalition) which would require roughly a 41.5% Party Vote for Labour, assuming all of the votes were gained off National. That’s a 12% bump from current polling, something which would basically require Bill English to completely gaffe up the campaign, like claiming the Labour Party aren’t mainstream enough, or undermining our nuclear free-status, or simply being as racist as he was last time he was National Leader. Labour shouldn’t have to rely on National screwing up their campaign to elect enough women to get a reasonably balanced caucus, especially as women are a key constituency for Labour, especially as they are a fair amount of the unionised workforce nowadays.

The Herald seems to have run the same calculation I have to determine list eligibility, as they note that a party vote returning 40 Labour seats, which with current polling is about 33%, (which is about 1% higher than the error bars on their current polling, so a difficult result to get even if Labour is under-polling this election) would be required to elect Mallard as a list MP. This almost has me hoping that we don’t move too far from current polling and end up with a NZ First-Green-Labour government, as I suspect this election would be Mallard’s last if he doesn’t make it in, and Labour desperately needs to shed some of the dead wood that’s still somehow making it into the top 40 list positions.

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