Archive for August, 2017

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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