Archive for August, 2017

It’s official: Peter Dunne is withdrawing from contention in Ōhāriu. Rather than sticking around and trying not to lose, he’s decided to throw in the towel and quit. It’s not unreasonable given that he was the longest-serving MP in this session of Parliament, and I wish him well in his future, despite finding him politically unpalatable myself, I think he should be remembered as an MP who had a middle-of-the-road record. I will of course blame him forever for extending daylight saving time, but I’m petty like that.

This makes Ōhāriu’s electorate contest even more interesting, as Brett Hudson, National’s candidate, is likely to pick up a fair amount of Dunne’s votes. For those who previously found both likely winners unpalatable, there is now a third way, in the style of Hipsters for Goldsmith. And the best part is that Hudson is high enough (30) on National’s list that he will be elected regardless, so voters don’t even have to consider Hudson’s positions relative to the rest of the National Party: barring an utter collapse in National’s vote, they’re getting him no matter what.

And of course, the icing on the cake is that Hipsters for Hudson actually alliterates.

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I talked yesterday about what is the most urgent electoral reform in New Zealand, which is to dramatically lower the Party Vote threshold, preferably all the way to about 0.8%1

Kiwis have a recent tradition of liking electoral reform. We have a real streak of fair play about us, from wanting a more liberal and egalitarian society generally, to voting for smaller parties just to “keep the buggers honest.” We not only put national elections on a mostly-proportional MMP system, but we also implemented STV wards in some cities on local councils and for DHBs, and even an IRV2 vote for mayor in a couple places, too.

I attempted to canvas some party positions on social media yesterday, however I haven’t yet had any replies. The only electoral reform announcement we had recently was an old labour policy to implement the MMP review’s recommendations of a 4% threshold and removing the electorate lifeboat provision3. I will come back to this if I get some replies, so unfortunately I don’t have any concrete proposals from this election to talk about, but I will instead give you some ideas about where we could head in the future, while still keeping the best aspects that we as a country seem to like about MMP.

Electoral reform is a tricky thing to talk about, as to be really honest about it, you need to keep a mind to Rawls’ Veil of Ignorance in considering it4. I am being consistent in saying this, because although it’s currently the Greens and TOP facing a polling result near the threshold, we have had parties I dislike (more than TOP) facing that before and I have clearly said the threshold is wrong every election that has happened. The specific ones I am thinking of are New Zealand First and the Conservatives, but there was also a Christian party back in the day that merited a single list seat but didn’t get it. So let’s ignore for a moment what specific parties that would benefit from these proposals, and talk about Making MMP better, or even Transitioning From MMP to something even better.

Treat independents as overhang seats

Right now, there are different rules for Independent candidates winning an electorate, and parties that win more electorates than their Party Vote entitles them to list seats for. (I’ll call them “overhang parties” from now on) Currently, only those overhang parties get overhang seats.

Independents remove the 120th (and then 119th, and so on) list seat from Parliament right now. It hasn’t been a problem yet, because we haven’t had any independents in Parliament that haven’t simply split off from other parties since MMP, but I’m coming back to propose systems that will make them more attractive to elect, so this might be relevant if we go for those reforms, and besides, it’s simply daft to have different rules for each of them when our system to date has delivered for many more overhang parties than it has independent candidates winning electorates. And in terms of picking which rule we should use in both situations, I think it makes sense to use the rule whose results are easier to predict- it’s much easier to know what happens to parliament if we add an overhang seat than if we remove a list seat, and it actually violates proportionality less if add an extra seat, too.

The only good reason not to add overhang seats is if you’re worried that there could be so many that it drastically inflates the number of MPs and swamps the proportionality of Parliament. Right now, there is no indication that this is a serious worry.

Switch electorate votes away from FPP

MMP as we know it now is essentially a hybrid of two political systems, a Closed List system for the Party Vote, and 16x(1+ratio of North Island population to South Island population6) FPP electorate contests that can let people vote in candidates that might not be placed in winnable positions on their party’s list, or just guarantee smaller parties make it into Parliament.

While there’s no precedent for doing so, we could absolutely switch to IRV, STV, RV, or RRV for candidate votes in the medium term, or just because we like having MMP and want to make it better. Let’s go through them in three batches, as IRV and RV are the single-winner cases of STV and RRV and only need to be mentioned for their differences.

Such a system would technically no longer be MMP, (in fact, there’s no name for Closed List hybrids with anything other than FPP yet, so we’d get to invent it) although mostly it would function the same way.

The case for Single Transferrable Vote

STV would give us larger electorates, probably with 3 to 7 winners in each one. You would likely want to set a quota of at least two electorates for the South Island, and set a maximum of at most 55 electorate seat winners.

Each voter ranks as many candidates as they like when voting, but must write at least one number on their ballot to cast a valid vote5. When counting the votes, a “quota” is set to determine winners, an example quota is: 1 / (number of winners) + 1. So a three-winner electorate would require a candidate to win a quarter of the vote, assuming there are more than three valid candidates. (if there are only 3 or less, they are all automatically elected)

Then the votes are counted in rounds. Any candidate over the quota is elected immediately, and a new round begins. If no candidate is elected that round, the least popular candidate is eliminated.

In every subsequent round, the eliminated candidates have all their votes with lower preferences redistributed, and all votes with no valid lower preferences that can’t be redistributed are removed from the total. If a candidate was elected, a similar process is followed whereby their excess votes above the quota are fractionally redistributed. (ie. we look at where every vote for that candidate would have gone if they had been eliminated, and apply that as a ratio to their excess votes only)

We keep going through rounds until we have enough winners or we’re down to our last winner needed and only two candidates are left, in which case the most popular one with redistributed votes included wins the last seat.

STV is good in that your vote will, for practical purposes, likely count for at least one winner as long as you’ve ranked more candidates than there are available seats. It is largely immune to vote-splitting, although technically it can happen in certain edge cases. It’s also very hard to strategically vote in STV, as you would need hyper-accurate polling and a very close race in one of the rounds for it to be worthwhile.

But it has problems with expressiveness, complexity, and counter-intuitiveness: For instance, ranking every candidate and putting the ones you don’t like near the bottom can actually help candidates you ranked near-to-last, but it’s not obvious that you shouldn’t do this. Instead any candidate you don’t want to help, you should leave off the list.

Secondly, your vote becomes more effective if your list is longer. This isn’t obvious until you consider the fractional redistribution- that is, people who know what every single candidate is like and can list them all in order are more likely to effectively utilise the bonus of fractional redistribution of their vote. This means that the votes of high-information voters literally count for more, rather than simply figuratively counting for more where there’s an opportunity to vote strategically, so it kind of makes up for its relative immunity to strategic choices.

Thirdly, STV has some odd effects where ranking a candidate higher under certain circumstances can cause them to lose. It’s a result of its round-by-round tallying system. It’s also too complicated to be practically counted by hand, (arguably not a problem in terms of budget or practice, but really we should have a voting system where a winner can be declared even during a power cut) and you can’t provide provisional results. In short, it doesn’t get early results out very easily.

Having larger STV electorates would likely mean that each electorate would have at least one National and Labour winner, and we’d likely have a fair amount of Green and NZ First electorate winners, too. It would be harder to campaign for each electorate, but easier for more diverse winners to be picked. This would likely be good for non-Māori minorities as well as for smaller parties.

The case for Re-weighted Range Voting

RRV, or Re-weighted Range Voting, like STV, is a system designed for multiple winners, and it also uses rounds to determine its winner, although in a more limited way. You would likely want to set similar electorate sizes and quotas as for STV.

When voting, you would put a number in an arbitrary range (such as between 1 and 9, or 1 and 99. There are minor differences based on what range you select- eg. odd numbers without 0 let you evaluate a candidate as average, and larger ranges are more expressive, but more difficult to count, than smaller ranges) next to as many candidates as you wish, with higher numbers being better. It’s a more expressive system, because technically any number below average allows you to vote against a candidate, marking them as sub-par.

Some variations also take special consideration of candidates with no number next to them, or allow you to mark a cross next to them to indicate you’ve deliberately not voted for them. In those variants, you’re essentially saying you don’t know a candidate well enough to evaluate them. If plenty of people evaluate them anyway, that candidate’s rating is considered for winning a seat, but if a certain threshold of people don’t, say 75%, then they’re removed from consideration, so that you don’t get just a few enthusiasts electing an obscure candidate.

When the votes are counted, the first round proceeds as in normal Range Voting: An average is calculated for each candidate, and the candidate with the highest average (assuming they’re not disqualified for too few voters evaluating them) wins the first seat.

However, after this, each unique combination of votes is re-weighted according to a criteria. (there are several, each one effectively a different electoral system. The one I find most useful is “divide by distance above average,” so I’ll discuss it specifically from here)

In the second round we come up with a weighted vote for all candidates according to the criteria. In this specific example, everyone who voted for the first winner has all their remaining choices de-weighted, based on how enthusiastic their support for that winner was. (in 1-9 votes, this would be everyone who rated the winner 6 or above.) The next winner is selected based on the average of the weighted support, so that you don’t just get a tyrrany of the majority. This tends to spit out candidates proportional to popular support, but it also advantages compromise candidates, too. A candidate that everyone rates as 7/9 is much more likely to be a winner than one that 60% of voters rate 9/9 and 40% rate 1/1, because they’ll average out to somewhere around 6/9. Range voting works well this way because it penalizes controversy in balanced electorates, (other than of course, natural inclination away from boring politicians that penalizes centrists in general) but rewards it in unbalanced ones.

We keep re-weighting the votes based on the number and degree of support for winners, then picking a new winner until all the vacancies are filled. The weighting for the third and subsequent rounds is based on whether your original rating for a candidate was above average, not if the currently weighted value is above average.

This has several good effects:

  • The re-weighting algorithm incentivises you to be brutally honest about how much you support each candidate you think is likely to get elected, as you get “punished” less for a compromise candidate being elected, and not at all if you vote someone as average or lower. It arguably doesn’t punish you from exaggerating your support for a candidate you want/expect to win in the last round, however.
  • Compared to other RRV criteria, there is no perverse incentive to rate all candidates you dislike as 1s, which happens if your criteria includes increasing the weight of votes below the average, or decreasing the weight of all votes above the minimum.
  • How you evaluate one candidate has no direct effect on other candidates in the first round.
  • You can rate two candidates exactly the same, unlike in STV where writing duplicate numbers invalidates your list from that point on.
  • You can express the difference in your support between several candidates by having larger jumps between your ratings than a listed vote would allow, unlike STV where missing a number invalidates your list from that point on.
  • The winners will be proportional to both the reported enthusiasm of voters and their popularity with voters, making “displeasing nobody and pleasing nobody” a losing strategy.
  • There is no inherent advantage to rating more candidates, so the system respects low-information voters and treats them equally.

It also has some bad effects, mostly shared with STV:

  • It’s difficult, although not as practically impossible as with STV, to calculate the winner by hand.
  • Polling places have to report a count of each unique combination of votes, and as counting is done in rounds, you can’t release provisional results.
  • There is a disadvantage to rating more candidates above the average, as you become statistically more likely to have included the winner of an extra round before you get to the last round. (however, if you have good reason to believe that a candidate won’t win until after the candidates you most prefer, then the risk is lower in providing an honestly positive vote) This disadvantage becomes more prominent the larger the number of vacancies is in your electorate.
  • It makes electorates larger in compensation for giving you multiple winners.

The case for single-winner variants (IRV and RV)

Mostly, the case for single-winner variants, where we keep something like the current system, is the case for smaller electorates. You are more likely to capture communities of interest outside of large cities, and less likely to end up with large conglomerations of regional New Zealand.

Also, Range Voting is possibly the best single-winner system that exists, and unlike RRV, most of its disadvantages are arguably advantages. (ie. votes can count for less, but only if you decide to vote honestly in the mid ranges instead of voting 1s and 9s. It’s vulnerable to strategic voting, but basically turns into Approval Voting, also better than FPP, when that happens. (Approval is basically ‘tick as many candidates as you like’) It’s also not proportional, being a single-winner system)

I’m not a big fan of IRV, as in edge cases it’s actually possible for the candidate you ranked first to lose when they would have won if you ranked them second. (this is due to some oddity in the order of elimination being relevant. RRV  suffers to this problem to a lesser degree as a system that also uses rounds, but it doesn’t really effect the final round of tallying, and arguably if you manage to get all your strongly preferred candidates elected, you no longer care about diluting the weight of later votes, and STV suffers from this problem in full force, as well) If we’re using a single winner system, it should really be RV.

Couple a move to a proportional electorate system with some tough love for micro parties

If we choose STV or RRV, our electorate choices should also be proportional, giving us a compromise between national proportionality and regional proportionality.

If we chose one of the multi-winner systems, we could reasonably require party-affiliated candidates to have their party meet the threshold to be eligible for election7. This would discourage de facto independents like Dunne or Seymour from running as “small parties” in order to get more media attention, and instead paint them as the local curiosities they are. It would also incentivise parties like the Māori Party to contest both the Party and electorate vote, making it a dangerous strategy to shoot for too large an overhang. Coupled with a lower threshold and reforms of the rules for independents, and this would actually be a reasonable move, rather than the punitive one that simply removing electorate lifeboat provisions would be. It would also allow us to elect genuine independent candidates without disrupting the proportional allocation of list seats.

Adjust the South Island Quota

If we’re keeping single-winner electorates, we probably need to adjust the minimum number for the South Island soon, as we’re arguably closing in on having a number of electorates high enough that Labour might start getting overhangs if it gets a low result, and the two largest Party Vote parties shouldn’t really risk winning overhang seats. If we’re forming multi-winner electorates, we’ll need to adjust it anyway, because we’ll need to include language about both the number of electorates and the number of winners the South Island should get.

One way to do this is simply to say that the proportion of electorate seat winners in the smaller island out of North and South should be equal to at least their proportion of total voters when the boundaries are set, but that there shouldn’t be a disparity of more than, say, 25% of that ratio.  Then set a minimum and maximum to electorates in general- say that there should be no less than 40 electorates, and no more than, say, 55. This sets the rules in a way that works no matter what the demographics of each island are. (although it does seem unlikely that the North Island will ever have a smaller population, it’s not impossible that we get a large volcano erupting or something that drives people south) It also slightly over-represents the location where less people are, which seems fair so long as it’s only slight, given that they are still likely to get geographically very large electorates with disparate values.

Ditch electorates altogether and replace them with another way to directly vote

This one’s my favourite, but I think it’s a long shot, as New Zealanders are irrationally attached to their idea of “their local MP” thanks to decades under FPP. It might be practical once I’m old and everyone is more attached to list voting than they are now.

I talked about the list part of MMP being a “closed list” system. There is, of course, a perfectly proportional system with a built-in accountability method that’s still based on Party Voting.

It’s called, appropriately, “Open List.” The open part comes from the fact that while parties still provide their lists of candidates, you’re actually allowed to vote on them directly as a voter even after the internal selection processes have been finished. Currently, the Greens let members vote on their list, but they’re the only party that does it, as there simply needs to be some sort of “democratic process,” according to the law. In practice, this means you can simply have the party leaders choose their own delegates, and the delegates vote on candidate selection, which is just a roundabout way of doing backroom deals.

You can get variations on this system, based on how you handle list voting, for instance, you could leave ordering the candidate lists entirely up to the voter, and you could handle voting on them using any multi-winner system. (my two preferred options are listed above, RRV and STV) You could have the lists voted on as a primary, then hold a second-round general election with just a simple party vote, allowing low-information voters to skip the first round while still being heard in the second, or you could have a recommended list order from every party, and let people adjust it based on their votes on election day if they like.

You would likely still have candidates representing local regions, but it would be an informal arrangement, where parties genuinely have to campaign about issues popular in large enough regions to get moved up the list, rather than the arbitrary electorate boundaries we have now.

In Summary

To be clear, my interests in electoral reform are:

  • Make representation more proportional in all senses. (ie. give fair numbers of MPs to each party, have roughly 50% of MPs be women, and representative numbers of various races, and from various regions of New Zealand. Obviously, there’s a bit too many things going on there to balance those factors with also electing the best qualified candidates, so we’d expect a little variance. That’s okay, so long as that variance is both up and down. Historically, it’s just been down for every group except men, Pakeha, and recently Māori)
  • To provide avenues for smaller parties with popular ideas to grow into larger parties, so long as doing so wouldn’t adversely effect quality of government
  • To remove barriers that discourage people from voting. (We are already mostly good on this front, we just need to consider what effect reforms will have on voter interest)
  • To reduce the influence of rules that override the decisions of voters whenever doing so doesn’t adversely affect good media coverage of politics.
  • To ensure that geographically disparate ideologies that are still a significant portion of the population get fairly represented in Parliament.

I think, with the possible exception of giving some tough love to micro-parties, that all of these suggestions don’t contradict any of these goals, and generally meet multiple of them. I would love to hear feedback.

I think an Open List is the best way forward for all of these, but I can’t see New Zealanders supporting it just yet.
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There has been some discussion on Twitter recently about how to describe what happens if the Greens don’t clear the 5% threshold, which is beginning to look like a real possibility and not just right-wing trolling. To illustrate this, I’m going to use the results of the recent Colmar Brunton poll, but I don’t actually think it’s definitive yet that the Greens are really polling below 5%1.

You will know if you’ve followed my blog since last election, or have seen my commentary from previous blogs or elsewhere online from even earlier, that I am very opposed to New Zealand’s current threshold, and believe it should be lowered to somewhere around 0.8%. (the amount to win a single list seat outright) These facts bear obligatory mention because we shouldn’t even need to have this discussion, as the Greens have enough support that they shouldn’t risk going under the threshold.

Back to the topic at hand, the first and most simple way to describe what happens if the Greens don’t clear the threshold is that essentially every Green vote doesn’t count, so is ignored for determining who wins List seats. It’s still worth voting even if you don’t want to give your Party vote to anyone else, as 4.3% (+/-1.25%) is well within the margin of error for getting over the threshold, and I think it’s likely that any polls that surveyed later than this one will probably show the beginnings of a rebound. The recent low Green polling seems to be largely (but not entirely) attributable to the Jacinda effect. A month, as this campaign has shown, is an incredibly long time in an election campaign.

The second description is regarding what happens to the seats. Let’s, for a moment, pretend that there is no threshold in New Zealand. (because that’s roughly what Parliament should look like at every election. You can also call this the “Green Party wins Nelson” scenario, if you like) This is what the recent Colmar Brunton poll would indicate, assuming Dunne loses in Ōhāriu, and Seymour wins in Epsom, and either Marama Fox or Te Ururoa Flavell wins an electorate:

CBpollaugAct: 1 seat
National: 55 seats
New Zealand First: 12 seats
Māori Party: 2 seats
Labour: 46 seats
Green: 5 seats
Total: 121 seats, 61 seats needed to govern

I’ll get to how this is calculated in a minute, but the upshot of this is that the Greens would win the 11th, 34th, 58th, 80th, and 102nd seats in Parliament. (Yes, each one is calculated separately)

If we add the threshold back in, we get the following results:

ACT: 1
National: 56
New Zealand First: 13
Māori Party: 3
Labour: 48
(Total/government threshold both as above)

Note that National, the Māori Party, and NZF each get a seat that “should” belong to the Greens, making things even easier for them in coalition negotiations. Labour gets 2. It is a little bizarre that National should ever get any seats that “belong” to the Greens, but by ignoring under-threshold votes, that means the seats are re-allocated somewhat proportionally.

Things are even more complicated, of course, than where the seats go, as you may have noticed that one of the Greens’ seats went to the Māori Party when we implemented the threshold rule, when they really didn’t have enough of the vote to warrant it. This is because the system we use in New Zealand isn’t actually governed by percentage of the vote.

CBpollaugslcalc

This is the third way to describe what happens if a party falls under the Threshold- to get into the weeds on what the Sainte-Laguë method. (a mathematical system for allocating items using divisors) actually means. The image is a snapshot of my spreadsheet running the numbers for the seat calculation above (it’s a little primitive, I haven’t automatically coded it to cut off under-threshold parties yet, instead I just manually guarantee certain parties likely to win their electorates one seat in formulas, but it suffices with a little bit of checking-over for ties, (note there are two 116th seats here, those work fine as it will skip rank 117 in the formulas, but if there’s a tie for 120th it doesn’t note that, as there would be a tie-breaker then and it’s important to know who might lose a seat)

Essentially, we start off with the raw votes (it’s currently showing percentages multiplied by 1000, because it’s showing polling numbers, but in reality the first National Party number might by 1,000,000 or so) for each party, then we divide them by 3, by 5, by 7, and so on, until we’re satisfied we have a long enough list of numbers. (that’s usually by the time we get to dividing by 125 or so, which allows for 63 MPs for the largest party. If you were genuinely expecting a landslide you might go to) We then go through that list, and pick the largest number that hasn’t got an MP yet, and give that party the first MP, then the next largest for the second MP, all the way until we’ve got 1202. Because it’s sequential, it’s a little different to divvying up those seats according to the percentage of the total valid votes for over-threshold parties, as it doesn’t always exactly “round” the same way you would if you were looking at raw percentages of 120 seats.

If a party falls below 5%, we essentially just don’t bother to calculate their numbers for the list, and they get no seats allocated even though if we plugged them into the calculation they would likely be entitled to a fair number.

This divisor method is very friendly to small parties who aren’t discluded, but pretty proportional for parties that are polling in double digits. This is why I generally advocate for a 0.8% threshold- removing the threshold altogether would likely have awarded a seat to satire parties if people voted like they currently do, which seems a reasonable cutoff to me. There’s also something inherently fair about making it hard to win that first seat, but easier to grow larger from there.

So, in conclusion: don’t panic yet, and even if this poll result is real, there is plenty of reason to keep voting for the Greens, it just means there’s more campaigning to do, not the least is that if they don’t secure that 5%, my vote and plenty of other people’s votes won’t be counted towards changing the government, as I’m not Party voting Labour this election under any circumstances. And I won’t even start in the main article about the whole “I’m voting Labour so they’ll be large enough to form a Government” mess3.

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Wow, what is up with this election, right?

David Clendon and Kennedy Graham last night attempted to force Metiria Turei’s resignation as female co-leader of the Green Party by saying they would quit if she didn’t, and their bluff has been called. James Shaw has since addressed the issue, and confirmed that he will be seeking to have them both removed from the Green Caucus, (for actions bringing the party into disrepute- as I have said elsewhere, Green MPs aren’t supposed to engineer leadership spills, and the party actually takes good behaviour rather seriously) although he will most likely not seek to remove them as MPs and replace them given how little time is left in this sitting of Parliament.

What this means in practice is that they will be removed from the Green Party List for the coming election, likely confirming Hayley Holt and Teal Crossen1 as MPs if the party holds ground on its average performance in polls, and possibly even Teanu Tuiono and Leilani Tamu as well, if it achieves its maximum bound to date. These are all excellent candidates who deserved to be further up the list, so in terms of political impact, it would be like Clare Curran doing the same thing in the Labour Party2. Teall can easily fill Kennedy Graham’s shoes in the Green caucus, so all they need to do is get sixteen seats (2 more) to make sure they’ve got someone with comparable mana to speak on climate issues and negotiations. I see this as the most likely interna cause of movement in upcoming polling of Green Party support, (continued coverage of Metiria may cause movement, but if anything it’s likely to increase support to the Greens, and a resurgence of Labour support may tempt some soft Greens support away in the polls) but I don’t know if we’ll actually see any dips because of this.

To clarify what’s going on here a little now that things are clearer, their objection was apparently related to Turei’s having been signed up in the wrong electorate and her refusal to resign after a weeks-long media beat up that has refused to dent Party support, not simply to her admission about her actions while on a benefit, as they were part of the decision to tell that story publicly, and that decision was made with consensus within the Green caucus. (ie. everyone agreed to support the decision) How one reconciles that initial decision with creating a perception of instability for the Greens with this late resignation is something I personally find baffling, but apparently they think there is some world in which that makes sense, and they are taking a principled stand by saying it’s wrong to withold information from the government, even though Metiria has very publicly admitted the very same thing to the media several times.

This strikes me as a rather good example of making a mountain out of a molehill. These were actions that, while technically a crime and rather stupid, came before she became an MP, and that two successive Prime Ministers haven’t been punished for performing because it’s the long-standing policy of the Electoral commission that you live where you bloody well say you do, so long as you can answer mail there. Nobody was actually taking seriously the possibility of dissension within Caucus until these two went to the media, and it doesn’t seem like they had actually made the leadership team adequately aware of their concerns, as nobody seems to have been aware that they weren’t fully onside.

These are people who served our country well as MPs to date, both performing well above average, but if they can’t stand by someone whose personal story has finally given us a real and honest conversation about poverty and the welfare system in New Zealand, then they needed to go, especially if they can’t respect the way that things are done within the Green Party, and can’t have an open and honest conversation about their problems. Metiria won’t resign unless she believes that she’s done her dash, Greens don’t do leadership coups or engineering resignations, and it’s appropriate for both men to not only stand down from the campaign, but be ejected from Caucus and even to potentially be kicked out of the party altogether given their breach of normal process.

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Metiria Turei announced today that she does not intend to resign as Green Party Co-Leader, but that she would deliberately rule herself out for ministerial positions due to media scrutiny. It’s good to hear the first part, and sad to hear the second part, although it seems a sensible measure given how much the media are focusing on playing the person not the ball on this particular issue. It would make no sense for Turei to go, (in fact, the Party is pretty enthused with the fact that she was willing to put herself out there like this, and would probably back her even if it had cost the Greens politically to do so) and it would undermine Ardern’s position by painting the entire left bloc as unstable. It’s got to be a very hard time for Turei right now, as journalists have clearly been paying stark attention to her past in a way that they haven’t to say, John Key and Bill English when they both did the same thing in being registered to vote in electorates they didn’t or claimed not to live in, or Todd Barclay, who actually did something straightforwardly unethical and tried to cover it up, rather than merely doing something illegal and admitting to it.

Ardern is setting herself up as being brutally honest and transparent by admitting she would have insisted on not giving a Ministerial Warrant for Turei even if she didn’t volunteer not to ask for one. I’m not sure that admitting that fact would have been my first instinct, (I think there’s a balance to be had between distancing yourself from something that technically is a fraud1, but also not actively letting the media hype this story up more by failing to support your coalition partner) but then again, I’m not in Labour and have different political instincts. I can certainly accept that Labour was never going to rally behind Metiria even with just the first admission let alone the latter one, but it would have been nice to see a bit more of a supportive tone, at least.

What this really seems to be about is that there’s one standard for women who were fighting their way out of poverty and another for rich people who know they won’t really get called to account for their own personal histories so long as everyone involved keeps quiet. While I normally think of voting-related crimes as very serious, I also am on the record as thinking electorates are anachronisms and need to go, so I don’t particularly care if someone registers in the wrong electorate, at least so long as we’re not all dogpiling into Ōhāriu, Epsom, and Te Tai Tokerau. I super-duper double-dragon don’t care when it’s to vote for a candidate that’s obviously not going to win, like every single McGillicudy Serious candidate in 1993, including Turei herself.

We will see if these extra revelations actually hurt. I think it’s unlikely to make a difference with voters, especially as Metiria has been more than willing to front up on this, (she had literally gotten away with it on both counts before her admission) and neither are things that will strike most Green voters as particularly wrong, especially given Metiria’s willingness to take personal responsibility on this matter, not only in promising to repay the money and co-operating with the investigation, but also in ruling out the possibility of personally working to reform the welfare system as Minister. While some will say a person of integrity would never have concealed the truth in the first place, I actually think it takes more integrity and honesty to do the right thing after you’ve done something that’s questionable in the first place.

I also think that some of the people worked up about these issues don’t understand that actually Metiria was on the losing side of an ongoing class war in New Zealand, and that there was no way for her to live her life successfully. She could either have suffered, or have cheated, and neither choice was really right in a moral sense. It was better that she got paid a livable amount and transitioned to a stable career than that she end up not getting what she and her child needed to survive out of the welfare system. They like that there are other complications going on with Metiria’s life at the time, because it allows them to distract themselves from the reality that benefits in New Zealand aren’t really livable.

It’s easy to be honest and transparent if there’s nothing to call you on. We’ll see if New Zealand agrees soon, (I wouldn’t be surprised if it continues to be polarising, or if there’s a mild price to pay to the revelation that she committed electoral fraud as well when she was a young woman) but we’re going to have to get used to the fact that in a high-information environment, a lot of little things that people of Gen X and younger generations did as youngsters are going to be out there, and we’re just going to have to relax and accept that you don’t have to be perfect to be a leader. In fact, it’s much better for leaders to be aware of just how frail the human condition can be.

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It’s literally the second day we’ve had a woman as a leader of one of our two largest parties again, and already people are trying to metaphorically get their noses up into her womb, and the usual brigade won’t stop talking about her age.

So, let’s make some things clear. We, the voters of New Zealand, are on a very real and not-so-metaphorical level Jacinda Ardern’s employers. That means we have all the responsibilities that entails as well as the rights.

If an employer in any way implied that your family status had a direct impact on your status in your job, you would absolutely have a discrimination case against them, even if you weren’t a woman. If they tried to imply your age was relevant to your qualification in an interview, that would also be a huge problem for them. While nobody can police you in the ballot box for voting that way, if you genuinely want MPs to act more like they’re employed by the public, (which they are) then we have to accept that there are certain debates the public doesn’t get to have about MPs, or even coalition leaders, and that we should do our best to ignore those factors in our votes. I know for a fact that some of the people expressing sexist opinions about how Ms Ardern’s age disqualifies her or how we supposedly have a right to know whether she plans to start a family while Labour Leader are equally as keen on being allowed to fire MPs like Todd Barclay or Metiria Turei. They certainly can’t have things both ways.

When do Jacinda Ardern’s family plans become our business? Like any employer, when she actually is pregnant and needs to plan how to reconcile that with her job. Until then, we don’t actually have a right to know- it’s up to her how much she chooses to share, and anyone who asks outside of a personal capacity is being incredibly rude. (And honestly, it’s a bit of a minefield to ask that sort of question even in a personal capacity when they haven’t already made their general opinions clear to you)

When does her age become relevant? It doesn’t, at least not until she’s literally old enough that we might legitimately worry about her health not being up to the challenge of being a leader, which frankly, is unlikely to happen before her political career ends, and New Zealand politics has largely avoided the issues that say, American politics has with people running at older and older ages, so as long as that trend continues, age itself should be an irrelevancy. We can discuss her temperament, and we can discuss her experience, but assuming those directly from her age is unfair.

I won’t ask people whether they’d ask these questions of a man, because honestly, we’ve had a man with a pretty large family as Prime Minister for a few months now (and yes, Bill English has from time to time taken time off from votes or responsibilities to see his family. And that’s actually okay, so long as he’s delegated responsibilities appropriately and is still actually keeping up with his job, which there’s no indication he isn’t) and it hasn’t come up, so anyone who says they would is lying, either to you or to themselves.

If we can simply assume that a man with a large family can do the job, then we should be willing to give the same trust and leeway to a woman that might potentially want to start a hypothetical family. If we can simply assume that some of the older MPs we’ve had in leadership positions are up to the job without having dumb discussions about non-existent health concerns, then we can simply evaluate a younger MP on her experience and leave her age out of it. It’s not too much to ask of us to be good employers.

And honestly, the more people use these things as criticism against Ms Ardern, the more strident support she’s going to get from liberal voters who are tired of this whole ridiculous song and dance, and there’s really no good evidence it’s going to be very convincing to swing voters.

Strap on your jetpack and leave, apparently. Andrew Little painted himself into a corner, commiting an unforced error by admitting he “offered to resign.” (but didn’t “offer to resign”) This is the sort of unprofessional slip-up we’ve come to expect from Andrew Little, but listening to his interview, you can tell he was trying to inartfully say that he laid his head on the chopping block for accountability and nobody decided they wanted to pick up the axe.

Politics editors all over the country were likely set to run a whole weeks worth of “will he should he” resign stories, and Little has done a strangely brave thing by simply pre-empting that discussion with an actual resignation. It’s a bit of a gamble: it brings back the “Labour is constantly changing its leader” criticism which Little had, largely, killed off during his tenure. On the other hand, he was looking very embattled, and his communications strategy clearly wasn’t working. I’m no comms manager, but even I could see that he was making amateur mistakes in interviews and taking punches when he didn’t even need to be in the ring. You could tell his heart was in it, but Little was dog tired.

I actually discussed last night what should happen after that interview, and said that whoever was responsible should quit, assuming it wasn’t Andrew Little. Well, apparently someone had the same first part of that thought.

But here’s the good news: Jacinda is now leader, and she’s set up in another Mike Moore type situation, except hers is a little easier to climb out of, because whatever your criticisms of Labour recently, it’s not in as dire a state as it was after Rogernomics. She seemed confident and at ease. She oozed confidence even when the media threw recent polling in her face, something that always tripped up Andrew Little. “Are you going to tell me I can’t?” she fired back to questions of Labour’s credibility to lead the government at 24%, and suddenly the adversarial nature broke slightly. This is not a woman to be trifled with, whatever your criticisms of her. She communicated with the media genuinely, effortlessly, and with humour. She looked like a leader, and as Clark has shown, Labour voters like a brainy woman in charge. I haven’t always been firmly on team Jacinda, but her press conference was impressive. She’s said she’s going to take stock for 72 hours, then start coming back with any changes needed. The Māori Party has already reached out, and new deputy Kelvin Davis1 managed to be reasonably graceful in saying he would listen but he wanted them to do better than they’d done under National, which is the height of reasonableness given that they were trying to engineer a Mana/Hone Harawira win in his electorate.

Metiria’s welfare announcement made me feel like the Green Party has turned a leaf, inspiring the base and pulling in new voters to the Green Party. Seeing Jacinda’s first moves as leader, ironically, I’m beginning to feel like stepping down as leader may end up being one of the best things Andrew Little could have done for the campaign, as desperate as it could be painted. Labour now has room to make the rhetorical turn it has desperately needed for months. It’s only 6-8% to go before the coalition equals National in the polls, and the under-covered story in recent polling is that National is still leaking support.

For the first time I can look at both opposition parties and feel like there are genuine messengers at the helm who are effective and getting things done. It is uphill from here, but I’m cautiously optimistic. We’ve all known Jacinda was being groomed for this, and after Clark, expectations on what it means to be a woman leading the opposition or the government are high. But so far, Jacinda seems to be smashing through the glass ceiling perfectly well, and I can’t speak for anyone else, but I didn’t even find myself comparing her to Clark, which is high praise, because I constantly did so with Goff, Shearer, and Little. I look forward to seeing how she handles the campaign.

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