Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

On that stupid coalition deal…

Posted: September 29, 2017 in Uncategorized

So, the usual right-wing suspects are fomenting mischief about a possible National-Greens coalition, and it’s definitely not going away, at least not until Peters announces his decision, because it creates a false impression of pressure upon New Zealand First to side with National. Let’s discuss why and why not from a Green perspective, and I promise to take it seriously, possibly more seriously than it deserves. Advance warning: this will be long.

The whys are obvious: you could change the National Party’s trajectory, you could extract environmental concessions, you could prove that you care about the economy. (which is a very blue-green talking point: the Greens do care about the economy, they just disagree with National on what should be emphasized and how it should work)

These are worthy goals I agree with, and I will even concede that in the long term it may be possible to consider that, (probably at the beginning of a National government, however, not at the end) but I think that people who say the Greens should reach out are ignoring some relevant facts in favour of their dream coalition, and for those who voted National, are projecting their own party’s responsibility to develop a fair and just environmental and climate policy onto potential coalition partners.

The why nots, however, are numerous.

Let’s first talk about trust. The Green Party has, in fact, already approached National about working together on issues they can agree on, way back in 2009 when they first became government, (which was the appropriate time to have the discussion on whether and how the two could work together, I will note, something New Zealand First never respects) and managed to briefly convince National to extend Labour’s promise to subsidize insulation of homes, on the grounds that long-term it actually saves money on health spending. A sound investment, a classic win-win-win Green policy that National could share the credit for, and to their credit, they did take the Greens up on it. On that single policy. And then made no effort to continue the relationship, because for National, coalitions and allies are about political expediency, not about building long-term relationships, and it was not politically expedient for them to be seen as working too closely with the Greens. Sure, we now know there are the less-than-1%-of-National-voters signing that petition, but they would be risking a lot more enthusiastic and widespread support from certain businesses and farmers who are enthusiastic donors and volunteers.

Of course, that first failing is minor compared to things like the Todd Barclay scandal, Bill English rorting the rules (and if it wasn’t a rort, why did we change the rules to clarify it shouldn’t be done?) to claim a $48,000 housing allowance and only paying $34,000 back, the numerous instances the government has courted the oil industry, and their continued refusal to phase out fossil fuel power plants and fossil fuel extraction in New Zealand.

If the Greens can’t trust National to honour that agreement and to behave like a reasonable and ethical government, to take opportunities that would make them look centrist and reasonable without committing either party to any type of formal arrangement, how can they be trusted in a coalition?

Next, let’s talk about values/principles, and to be fair, let’s also talk about Labour and New Zealand First, too, because discussion of a National-Green coalition should, reasonably, be taken alongside its current alternative of a Labour-New Zealand First-Green coalition. We’ll return to whether the Greens can trust that alternative coalition at the end.

The National Party states its values here. You will note the strategic lack of mention about their alignment with farmers and business. You will also note that the environment is dead last on their list, with no mention of it “not being least.”

The Labour Party’s principles can be found in §1.2 of this document. (their website is currently still in campaign mode, so their values aren’t easily found) To summarise: democracy, communal ownership of natural resources, economic and democratic participation and access, co-operative economic relations, dignity & work, people over property rights, Te Tiriti o Waitangi, peace and social justice, human rights. These all sound pretty good, but we’ll get back to that.

And New Zealand First’s can be found here. As you’d expect, nationalism is first and populism makes the list, but there’s also some surprisingly progressive stuff in there from time to time, such as on education, health, welfare, and yes, even the environment. On the other hand, they also want lower taxes, a refocusing of foreign policy away from parts of the world outside of the pacific, (yet I’m sure it will still include the UK and US somehow, lol) and more referenda.

For comparison, the Greens’ fundamental values are also available here. (They aren’t yet on the new website, which also means they haven’t been updated to include the fifth fundamental value, Te Tiriti o Waitangi) The Greens keep their list short, but interpret those principles broadly. For instance, non-violence extends into not just supporting peace, but positive political campaigning, too.

Now let’s look a bit more holistically at how each grouping would or wouldn’t be compatible with each other.

National’s values start with “loyalty to our head of state,” an obvious reference to monarchism. The Greens are officially republicans. Not a good start. They continue on to national and personal security, which is coded language for militarism and tough-on-crime policing. Non-violence is right there in the Green charter, hmm, also pretty terrible match. Both parties do agree on equal citizenship, although the Greens want a bit more than “equal opportunity,” they believe in social justice, and that with limited resources on our planet, they must be used in a way that benefits everyone fairly, and this contrasts to a later National value, competitive enterprise. They do, largely, agree on individual freedom and choice, but National feels that this applies to the economy more than society, and the Greens feel the opposite. The Greens believe in consensus decision-making and social justice, and the National Party believes in limited government. They do, apparently, agree in principle to sustainable development, however the emphasis on that one is tricky. The Greens believe in sustainable development. The Nats believe in sustainable development. To me, this looks like a recipe for co-operation from the cross benches at best, until such a time as National modernizes its values further, or proves it can be counted on to prioritize sustainability.

Secondly, let’s look at the “three-headed monster.” On paper, Labour and the Greens are very compatible. Their values look mostly the same. In practice, the Greens’ problem with Labour is one of emphasis, to the point where many Greens view Labour as little better than National, a party changed by decades of compromise away from its values for electoral expediency that isn’t doing enough, and whose voters are targets to become future Green supporters. There is an uneasy peace between the two. Yes, they’re friends now, but that’s only because they’re worried about short term problems. It is an alliance of convenience, with Labour detractors viewing the Greens as too radical, unwilling to compromise and a bunch of dreamers. That’s not to say that there aren’t friendly feelings as well. The two parties are by a large margin each others’ preferred coalition partners, and not all members of either party are skeptics.

New Zealand First and Labour have a lot of commonality, too. They both agree that immigration rules are too loose, despite our immigration policy being so right-wing that US Republicans have it on their wishlist and the German AfD party of neo-nazi nationalists are using it as an example of what they’d like to do. They both agree in state intervention into the economy, in limited but actually effective environmentalism, in retaining state assets, in fighting corruption1, in improving skills for New Zealanders, in revitalizing the export economy, in working out the details of a Pike River re-entry, and in spending more in health and education. They disagree on some details in those areas, pretty substantially on Māori affairs, rights for women and queer people2, and Labour’s will-they-won’t-they flirtations with republicanism. But the big sticking point is probably tax. New Zealand First loves Labour’s economics on expenditure, but hates it on revenue. They are classic Muldoon-style don’t-tax-and-still-spend interventionists, wheras Labour believes in something approaching a fair taxation system, where state benefits accrue responsibilities to the state, and we decide on benefits and responsibilities democratically.

The hardest part of this alliance is New Zealand First and the Greens. Given my rathers, I would prefer that the Greens never had to work with New Zealand First. The parties could not be more different on immigration. This is an extension of the larger problem: Greens are out-and-out liberals, and New Zealand First are the most conservative party in Parliament. Seriously, conservative religious groups endorse them ahead of National and ACT. So a three-party coalition would be a government whose social policy focus was mainly on education and health, the areas where all three agree, with a much larger focus on economic reform away from neoliberalism and towards policies that benefit regional and rural New Zealand, which is the area where strangely, New Zealand First is much more enthusiastic than Labour, and would find the Greens an enthusiastic ally. There would likely be Green concessions on more hawkish immigration policy, in return for Labour and New Zealand First concessions on stronger environmental protections and more urgent action on climate change3. There is also likely to be three-party agreement on rail transport, and most of the core policy to solve the housing crisis, but with a three-way divergence on tax’s contribution to that problem, with NZF ideologically opposed, Labour hesistant, and the Greens ready to plunge in. What looks like an incompatible mess when viewed from both extremes might just be doable with a resurgent Labour Party in the middle to glue it all together.

And here I have essentially moved on to policy concessions. Some of the Greens’ most important policies, such as the Zero Carbon Act, a Capital Gains tax to adjust the housing market in concert with other policies, and so on, only seem realistic right now when negotiating with Labour. The best our happy little mischief-makers suggest that National would give the Greens is their levy on nitrate pollution, (although with no accompanying commitment to spend the results on transitioning to cleaner farming practice like the Greens propose) enhanced funding on predator-free New Zealand, a reversal on their loosening of water standards, and increased “targets” on poverty and emissions reduction. These policy concessions can be dismissed out of hand once we look at the fourth factor.

The Greens, a party run by its own base, have decided democratically to rule out a National coalition before the election, based on their record, and to avoid doubt. This is smart politics. The Greens have been hurt in previous elections by allegations they were considering working more closely with National. Even reaching out for the policy-based MoU was transmuted into a possible coalition by eager commercial political journalists looking to fill column-inches, and significantly confused supporters and hurt the campaign in 2011, which I know first-hand because I volunteered for it.

So, any discussion of a coalition with National also has to discuss the Green Party’s commitments to its own supporters and members, too, as these petitioners and right-wing commentators are suggesting that the Green Party break at least one of those commitments, which would probably result in the party splitting at best, or imploding at worst.

Right-wing commentators (who, conveniently, often have some background connection to groups closely aligned to National or ACT) have suggested that Metiria’s unfortunate resignation will leave James Shaw open to consider a more pragmatic deal. Firstly, that’s insulting to James, who is just as commited to Green values and principles as Metiria was, even if his policy emphasis is in a different area than her, it doesn’t mean he doesn’t care about her issues and support her stand for better treatment of beneficiaries. Secondly, it misunderstands the Green Party’s internal structure. The co-leaders aren’t elected dictators like in other parties. They formulate tactics and strategy, they lead caucus and are head spokespeople, but they don’t actually make coalition decisions, or decide the party list, or electorate selection, and they consult on those decisions they do make, so that the party is behind them, and their leadership is more about being head candidates rather than actually controlling the party. That work is for the party executive, the policy committees, the various co-conveners (“Co-Cos,” the equivalent of party presidents, branch presidents, and sub-group presidents) and the members.

Any coalition deal must pass a vote at a Special General Meeting. This means every branch sends delegates that are instructed by the consensus of that branch on the issues on the meeting’s agenda. (for AGMs, this includes whether to continue supporting the co-leaders, which is more of a symbolic tradition, as there is a hatred for backroom politics and spills within the party- which is why Kennedy Graham hasn’t been welcomed back immediately despite his credentials. For SGMs, it’s usually exclusively about the Greens’ position on supporting the next government) You need a 75% positive vote to pass, so a deal with National would need to be one with overwhelming support from Green members, not just however many of the 8 thousand-odd petition signers are actually Green members. There is no realistic way that anything National is realistically willing to offer the Greens would survive such a vote, even if we do slightly better policy concessions out of National than Farrar seems to think we would get, which I think probably represents a reasonable guess at National’s best unprompted offer to the Greens.

This isn’t to say that a National-Green alliance is permanently out of reach. But the ball is, and has been, in National’s court if that want to resume a productive relationship right now, not in the Greens’, and it will take longer than the duration of post-election negotiations to conclude. It would require a genuine transformation of the party towards a more blue-green posture, and is why the Green Party and CDU in Germany have been able to work together at the state level- because in Germany, bluegreens are actually influential within their political movement, they are trustworthy, and therefore there was values alignment and trust between the two parties that allowed a coalition to work, so it wasn’t just about a cynical policy alignment, like New Zealand First has previously favoured when working with National.

addition: Oh, and while we’re talking about betraying bases, let’s talk briefly about the Progressive Green Party, a right-wing split from the Greens in the 1996 election. They got 0.26% of the vote. Now, maybe the bluegreens of today are stronger than that, but even if we assume they have twice the votes that their petition indicates they have, they would still struggle to earn a list seat if they, say, split off an electorate MP from the National Party for the 2020 election. So there’s no indication that bluegreens would provide more support to the Greens than sticking to their principles.

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I’d like to share for you a scene from my head:

She takes a long drink of water. It’s been a hard day of negotiating.
“So, we think we know what he’s after. Do you?”

He replies. “Yes, we’ve got it about sussed.”

Shaw joins the conversation: “So, let’s get serious now. Which of us is it going to be?”

And then the bidding starts:

“We’ll be quiet about roads for six years if you do it,” says English.

Ardern counters with: “Oh yeah? We won’t put the boot in about Canterbury if you take him.”

Shaw issues a gentle reminder. “Well, if both sides fail to do a deal and he abstains, you’re kinda stuck being a minority government, Bill.”

English stares him down and says: “Okay, so we concede to him we’ll cancel the tax cuts and spend it on some of his priorities and health, and I won’t say it was your idea. Let’s hope we don’t see each other again in three years.”

…This is how I imagine things going next week at the moment in my head, but of course, in reality National wants their first turn at four terms, and Labour would like to dethrone English before he can pick up any momentum, even if it means a three-way deal with two significant junior partners. And there are people, like those Metiria talked about, who can’t afford another three years of this government.

But it’s definitely not fun being stuck in a position where the three adults around the table are forced to trade favours with a nationalist. There is a real possibility that he’ll drag down a National government with him, and that he’ll manage to arrest the momentum Labour has been enjoying and lock them out from developing a stronger negotiating position in three years if he successfully steals the spotlight enough.

Now is a time for at least our side to be fair but tough. If National wants to sell the country to get Winston, let them over-bargain and have their government suffer for it, then beat them in three years. Having the Greens at the table, rather than waiting to be called by Labour like the Alliance was, would be Ardern’s smartest move. Clark’s negotiations in ’96 suffered badly for her not being able to promise that the Alliance would accept a deal without modicifation, when they should have been at the table to tell both parties themselves. There are certainly sticking points. NZF won’t want to move on environmental rules that impact farmers too harshly. The Greens won’t want to move on immigration. And Labour will be reluctant to be as radical on the economy as both the Greens and New Zealand First would like.

Let’s not even entertain the notion, that some National supporters who seem content to spend plenty of time talking on social media but have made no discernable progress in moving the politics of their own party, have put forward that it is somehow obligatory for the Greens and National to at least try to work together. We can talk if National changes its tune, but right now there’s no credibility and no trust between the two movements. That there is more room with New Zealand First, who our leaders had to remind everyone in the media is in fact a party that engages in racism, is saying something.

The reason the two parties won’t work together is because the Greens will compromise on practical matters, but not their values, and the Nats will compromise their values, but not oppose their donors, who don’t like Green ideas, and aren’t so sure about green ideas, either. If bluegreens are really so desperate to get a coalition, all 6,500 of them, they should be working on making National greener first before asking. This is because their economic policies are fundamentally opposed to the Greens’ philosophy, so it would take stronger environmental concessions to make them competitive with Labour, which they have not made, and show no indications of considering. Most of National’s environmental policy is little more than a green-wash marketing gimmick, and the Greens can’t even get behind Labour’s greenwash attempts.

I expect we’re in for a wild ride, but who’s heading down the stream and who’s waiting behind safely onshore on this one is anyone’s guess at this stage. I am currently of the tentative view that the ride is not sufficiently safe for the left to jump in enthusiastically, but it looks like they’re at least toeing the water. All we know is that Winston, surprisingly reasonably1, schooled the media that we do in fact have an MMP system now, not an FPP one, and that they should perhaps have covered his party a bit more before the election rather than playing catchup, which is half-reasonable if you forget that the reason we didn’t see Winston until afterwards is because he refused to show to debates that didn’t feature Ardern and English. (In reality, we should probably have four “tiers” of debates: all-party debates where it’s acceptable to send deputies or senior MPs, smaller-party debates where only over-threshold parties should do the same, list-party debates where Greens, NZF, Labour and National all get together, and Leaders’ Debates which we got far TOO many of this time around.)

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Universal Te Reo

Posted: March 29, 2017 in Uncategorized

The Greens had the first policy launch of the year, arguing for universal teaching of Te Reo in Primary schools, intermediates, and to a limited degree in Secondary schools. (that is, as a core curriculum subject for Years 1-10) This is not entirely unprecedented1, and it is a reasonable reaction to the still-declining ability of Māori to actually hold a conversation in their own language. I had meant to talk about this earlier but other events displaced my work on this post, so you can have it on delay instead.

Some would argue that this is a hippy-dippy thing for a party to promote, but I think that’s probably because very few of them have actually sat down and read up on the matter like I did after the policy announcement. (despite being a language nerd and being in favour in principle, I wanted to know the statistics around this and familiarize myself with a few of the broad issues facing educators and students in this space)

The last information2 we have is that Te Reo is only available in less than 50% of New Zealand schools. As an official language with legal recognition in New Zealand, (fun fact: this means Te Reo Māori actually has a higher formal status than English in New Zealand law, as English has no legislative status despite being a de facto official language) Te Reo Māori deserves better. Also included in the policy, but not being talked about, is a push for better access to Māori sign language for the intersection of the deaf and Māori communities, which is incredibly important. As a second-language speaker myself, I can definitely say that my brief experiences with not always being able to accurately explain New Zealand culture were not just frustrating but incredibly alienating, and that’s only a small taste of what children who don’t even have the vocabulary to understand and discuss their own culture because they’ve only ever been taught signs for European cultures must feel.

Because we’re mostly talking about primary and intermediate schools, (plus the first two years of secondary) the usual practice is that all education is considered core education, and the differences come about in optional parts of the curriculum that each school decides to cover, so in practice it would no longer be an option not to learn Te Reo in Years 1-8 once it is available in all schools, however arguably there might be some flexibility for secondary school students depending on how universality is handled there that might make the last two proposed years non-compulsory. I think the benefits grossly outweigh the compulsion required, as with compulsory education in English language.

All this is essentially talking about is teaching basic vocabulary and rote phrases to young kiwis. Advanced language learning where people are actually taught language structure and how to compose their own sentences without rote memorisation is usually left until Year 11 in language education, although given how early the Greens want to start, (as usually languages other than English don’t start until Year 9) it’s possible that advanced grammar could be taught much earlier in terms of what school year it’s introduced in while still going slower than the secondary school pace of second-language education, in which case, great.

This would have the pleasant side-effect of improving education of English as students not failing Te Reo would have some basic understanding of grammar. Te Reo grammar is much less complicated than English grammar, so they’d still both need to be covered either separately or comparatively, but they would likely need to become familiar with concepts of what nouns are, what verbs are, how plurals work, what pronouns are, and how possessives, indefinite articles, and definite articles work, even though a few of those things differ in Te Reo.

And language nerdery aside, it’s shown that education that integrates Māori culture and language is much more effective for Māori students, (as you would expect!) which means it will help provide equality of opportunity in education, and that language revitalization efforts integrating compulsory education into the mix is very effective, and giving it status as a core subject that everyone needs to learn will help remove the element of peer-pressure that is likely contributing to declining ability in Te Reo.

And on the benefits for non-Māori students, the UK has had a lot of benefits migrating to a very similar policy of compulsory second language education3, although there have been challenges in up-skilling the workforce to cope with it that they still haven’t met, which we would likely encounter as well, and would thus need to aggressively plan for. And unlike generic second language education, compulsory Te Reo should lead to much increased racial harmony between other ethnic groups in New Zealand and Māori due to increased ability to understand the Māori perspective and participate meaningfully in Māori culture, which can only be a good thing.

Overall it’s a well-founded bit of policy, and it’s shot across the bow in terms of values: the Greens know it’s not a general vote-grabber to propose policy that benefits Māori, but it’s a debate they want to have and reverse public perception on as part of their planned win. This is much like what Cunliffe managed to do with wealth taxes, despite his loss, (which was due to other reasons) and it’s the right way to campaign in an election year. Despite being in a populist mood, people will always prefer a genuine party with values to an establishment one without, and populism is best aimed at things the people most care about, so let’s hope that Labour has also understood that lesson from both 2014 and 2016.

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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.

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So John Key announced today he intends to resign as Prime Minister in a week’s time, heralding the end of a political era. (or perhaps a political error, take your pick) Coverage was initially not particularly clear on whether he’s to resign from Parliament at the same time, but it looks like he’s staying until the election at least, so no by-election for Helensville1.

There are several implications of this. For those who are not political nerds, all the new Prime Minister requires to be Prime Minister is the confidence of the House. That is, a majority of Parliament has to be willing to vote for the replacement. Essentially that means it will be an internal National choice that will then be endorsed by its coalition partners. We don’t get a “by-election” or anything of the kind, and Bill English doesn’t become Prime Minister automatically because he’s the deputy. Those are the sorts of things that happen in Presidential systems, we’re a Parliamentary democracy.

The most obvious fallout is that it’s absolutely going to cost National in polling going forward, and probably even in the Party Vote in 2017. A lot of the party stability was driven by the perception that Key was unassailable as a leader, while his resignation speech has talked up his caucus colleagues, all of them has significant problems as potential Prime Ministers. Let’s go through them:

The Throwback: Bill English

English, a former Leader of the Opposition, has tried to make a run at PM before, back in the Clark era. In National Party history, he had the second-worst election campaign ever, bested only by Don Brash’s later implosion. While he’s not unpopular within the National Party, it’s likely his appeal to soft National supporters is minimal, and wouldn’t be able to hold the “Key coalition” together. There’s also a good argument that English makes more sense as Finance Minister, although if John Key is staying in Parliament post-election, they could potentially swap roles. While he hasn’t succeeded in the past, he’s also in the interesting position of probably being the most popular option with the general electorate- initial (non-scientific) polls have Bill English as a favourite to replace Key, although this could be driven by the perception that he’s also the most likely option.

Key has said that if English puts his hat in the ring, he will have Key’s vote, making him a natural choice for establishment supporters, however there’s a real risk that English would simply be a caretaker Prime Minister who doesn’t look appealing compared to Little.

The Compromise: Paula Bennett

One of the most senior MPs, Bennett has a lot of the same advantages as a potential leader that John Key does- she’s from a more modest background, she’s popular within the party, and she has support with various factions within National. In many ways she’s a middle-of-the-road choice: not too liberal, not too conservative. Not too popular with the general electorate, but popular enough with core supporters. Bennett arguably represents the best bet at continuing National’s current political strategy of populist neoliberalism, where they pair a right-wing core economic agenda with poll-driven social policy.

The Conservative: Judith Collins

Collins is a bit of an interesting case here. Previously booted from her ministerial position for conflicts of interest, Collins has long been eying the leadership position, and is a favourite of the faction most opposed to Key’s leadership style: Conservative voters. Like a lot of the potential options, Collins isn’t particularly popular outside of core National voters, unlike the others, however, she’s actually viewed very negatively in the public, possibly due to her aggressive conservatism, possibly due to her perceived corruption. Either way, Collins is something of a Trump option: an aggressive conservative populist who the opposition views as an easy road to victory, but could surprise us.

The Strategist: Steven Joyce

Joyce, also a conservative in the same faction as Collins, has largely avoided controversy in his career, but also inspires deep hatred among liberal New Zealand. He is most likely remembered as “Dildo Baggins,” for self-explanatory reasons. If you’ve been living in a hole, please go and YouTube it, the rest of us will wait.

Joyce has many of the upsides of Collins, but without her aggressive style or the stink of scandal. While he might be a more palatable option to the liberal wing of the party, he’s arguably a less effective conservative, too.

Others: Brownlee, Adams, etc…

I’m about 90% sure one of the four listed above is going to be our next Prime Minister, but there are others inside cabinet who arguably could put forward something of a case for selection. The National Party is usually pretty serious about seniority, so I expect the only other MP with a shot at the top job is Gerry Brownlee, who is honestly an objectively worse pick than any of the four listed above, and doesn’t have the social intelligence to be Prime Minister.

My money at this stage is on Bennett, as she seems the least objectionable option that is most likely to be able to duplicate Key’s strategy, and to hold their caucus together.

Whoever National pick, they’re in for a tough ride. They have eight months of actual Prime Ministering before an election campaign. They will get the benefit of Key’s experience given he’s staying on as an MP, but that’s a very short time to make any differentiations you need, get a grip on the polls and make sure you’re not losing political ground in the transition, and to ensure you have an effective political strategy that works without Key. (although if they’re lucky and smart in their pick, their current strategy will be portable to whoever their new Leader is)

Ultimately, the winner from this news seems to be Andrew Little, who has gone from anticipating a general election against a Prime Minister that was more popular than him and needed to be torn down, to a battle against a neophyte leader who might face similar issues to Goff or the pack of Davids that preceded Little as Leader of the Opposition.

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Our half-baked schoolyard bully of a Prime Minister has once again contracted a case of foot-in-mouth disease, saying it is a “stupid” idea to have a cabinet that includes a fair number of women1.

I have such a long list of arguments against ridiculous comments like this it’s practically an orbital ring.

The first and most obvious is that implying that you’re not capable of putting an equal amount of women into cabinet/ministerial positions and you “instead” promote by merit implies at least one of two things, neither of which is acceptable:

  • Either you can’t locate ten/thirteen women within your caucus who are qualified to be ministers.
  • Or you don’t think women as a category are inherently equally qualified to be ministers as men are, so it’s okay for you to have more men, rather than a recruitment failure on your part for not finding and mentoring enough women.

I’m going to state the obvious and say that the former is definitely true. If you want to have ten women (or twelve to thirteen if you want equality for ministers outside cabinet, too) available for ministerial positions, you generally need to have twice that many women in your caucus so that you are mentoring potential replacements for your A-team. With 17 women in Caucus, National only has enough female “talent” to  comfortably maintain 8 women in cabinet. (which Key clearly recognises, as only 7 women are ministers inside cabinet) If you want fully equal number of ministers, you really need 25 women in your government, which is roughly a 42% ratio.

The phrasing of Key’s objection also seems to imply he believes the second implication of what he said, too.

And all of this is admitting to a poverty of talent not only in National’s female caucus, but its party leadership. Surely a competent party and a competent government should not only be able to pick 25 qualified women, but it should be able to pick at least 30, given you need 61 people to govern. And within those 30, there should not only be thirteen women qualified to be ministers, but you should have the ability to choose based on merit, and other less obvious qualities. (such as who wants to do what, affording appropriate seniority to various ministers, and managing the various political factions and personality conflicts) This isn’t like squaring a circle, for someone who wants to be Prime Minister, this is simply something you need to be able to do to be qualified. If John Key isn’t capable of adding “have I fairly considered all of the women in my party?” to his decision-making criteria, then the qualification question reflects back on him. And we understand he might need some time to get to the point that he can actually have a completely equal cabinet, that’s fair. He needs to recruit more women, and mentor the ones he does have in his caucus. But to dismiss the idea as silly without even trying smacks of arrogance.

One of the frequent objections I hear to this idea is “why do you feel people are ‘entitled’ to be represented at roughly the same rate as you are in the overall population?” To which my response is that women aren’t entitled.

They’re qualified. They’re talented. They’re hard-working, they’re smart, they’ll fight, and they’re effective, you just have to be willing to reach out to people who believe in serving their country and your values, and that’s something that even the National Party can do, and I’m not even complementing them to say so, I’m just saying that this is Management 101-level stuff.

The people who are entitled are men who think it’s okay for us to hog two-thirds of leadership positions. If I am ever acknowledged for some particular thing I did, or some honour, I want to know I’ve earned it by merit, not because someone gave it to me because they’re too sexist to acknowledge a woman who genuinely did better than me.

I have been told I’m simply arguing for quotas and don’t understand selection by merit. Really? Well, let’s have a look at what National thinks is selecting by merit in its 2014 list:

  • Simon Bridges, a slick-hair seat filler who can’t seem to give a straight answer on anything, is one rank above Nikki Kaye, the one woman in National’s caucus that everyone across Parliament acknowledges is an effective and compassionate MP, and one of National’s best, even if they don’t always agree with her.
  • Murray McCully, of Sheepgate fame, is ranked significantly higher than one Amy Adams, who is largely successful in her job of “not making the news,” unlike McCully, who seems to have a reverse-midas touch.
  • Chester Borrows, who is due to some fluke of birth a freaking deputy Speaker, despite trying to compromise on beating children, and having run over the feet of protestors because they were in his way, still manages to rank higher than Louise Upston, who debates better than he does and manages to not be a disaster.
  • Despite both of them being odious, Melissa Lee is also ranked lower than Sam Loto-Iiga. Whatever you wish to say about Lee, I doubt she could mix things up as badly as a Minister as Loto-Iiga has, although arguably such a comment is me inviting her to disprove it.

And lest you think I’m simply picking every woman on the list and saying they deserve to be higher, I can tell you that the two highest-ranked women on National’s previous list are rubbish that deserve to be much further down, preferably trading placing with the actually talented Nikki Kaye. Parata is out of her depth running education, and I think everyone outside of the National Party faithful breathed a sigh of relief on hearing that she plans to step down with the 2017 election, and Collins is a scandal magnet who’s lobbying to succeed Key as leader, despite the fact that she wants to be Prime Minister of a majority liberal country2 and couldn’t effectively campaign to liberals even if she starred in a hit musical about intersectional feminism. (While I won’t tempt fate by daring them to pick her3, I can’t see any effective political strategy for an odious insider like Collins to win the Prime Ministership in an actual election as leader. The best shot she has is John Key resigning mid-term)

There are complications to be sorted out to do this, however, and unlike National, Labour is acknowledging them. One of the problems is that even if you alternate your party list, the two largest parties win a sizable number of electorates, many of them predictably going to either Labour or National. Some ‘safe’ Labour seats will need to be taken away from senior male MPs, and given to female MPs so that other list winners will balance out. Some competitive seats may also need to go to women, so that the potential for surprise wins makes it likely that labour will still average out to roughly even representation.

Despite all the sexist uproar about a “man ban,” Labour had actually worked this out reasonably well and agreed to the rule under Cunliffe, so unless it’s repealed in less than a year, you can expect to see a half-female Labour caucus in 2017, despite the difficulties. (the real question will be if they’ve managed to order MPs in a way that puts the minnows near the bottom and the powerhouses at the top and/or in safe seats. We need a lot less Mallards and Currans in Labour’s caucus if they want to take back the treasury benches)

In all, it’s 2016. We deserve to live in a country where not just the Left, but even the Right acknowledge that a cabinet with equal amounts of women in it is realistic, fair, and qualified, and anyone who said otherwise is desperately hanging on to outmoded ways of thinking.

(more…)

Those of you who are not particularly aware of the way electorate boundaries are drawn may not be aware that New Zealand actually has a quota for South Island electorates. Basically, regardless of the relative population imbalance, the South Island is always guaranteed to have at least 16 electorate seats. Essentially how they work is that the median electorate size is set to 1/16th the population of the South Island at the time electorates are reviewed, then the North Island seats are divided up relative to this so that they don’t vary by more than 5% from the median size. After that, Māori electorates are “superimposed” over the borders of the general seats in a way that divides them roughly by the Māori electoral roll population, and so that there’s a proper proportion of Māori seats to General seats.

Unless there’s a sudden exodus of North Islanders to the South Island at some point, or a mass immigration to the South Island to get away from Donald Trump, there’s likely to be a long-term issue with that. Why? Because of something I call “list seat parity,” which is the idea that parties with significant shares of the Party Vote, like National, Labour, the Greens, and New Zealand First, should never have overhang seats.

MMP is intended to have a healthy proportion of list MPs- the original ratio was that just above 41% of MPs would be list MPs, presumably with the intention that the ratio would stay around 5 list MPs to every 7 electorate ones. We have added two new electorates to the North Island since we switched to an MMP system, reducing the number of list MPs to 49, assuming no Independents are elected. (independents elected at a general election remove a list seat vacancy rather than creating an overhang so that Parliament doesn’t inflate grossly due to independents being elected, a rule which hasn’t become relevant since like, ever, as every “independent” in our system has either been someone who quit their party, or a lone MP optimistically having their own political party, presumably on the theory that they’ll earn a second seat again sometime in the future. Not happening, Seymour and Dunne, not happening.)

It theory, there’s really nothing wrong with actually having less electorates than we do, but 60%-ish of MPs being electorate MPs isn’t unreasonable and doesn’t hasn’t threatened parliaments much larger than about 125 MPs in the past.

With 70 seats, there’s a reasonable expectation of list seat parity, but it’s not guaranteed. Almost all electorate seats are won by National or Labour. There are only five others likely to be in serious contention in the current political climate, (which as we know, can rapidly change, but this list is actually somewhat on the high side by historical standards) and those are Epsom, Northland, Ōhārui, Waiariki, and possibly Te Tai Tokerau. (As nobody polls for electorates, we have no real clue whether the Māori party agreeing not to stand there will matter enough to unseat Kelvin Davis in 2017. I’m assuming it’s within the realm of possibility until I have good reason to think otherwise) Let’s assume that small parties won’t take more than five electorate seats. That currently leaves 66 currently for Labour and National. Labour, with roughly 27.5% of the party vote, earned 27 seats in 2014.

That’s not currently a problem, but with some small changes to the way our elections work, and a small boost in North Island population, (ie. a few more electorates) it might be.

Imagine for a moment that the Greens start eating into Labour’s party vote but not their electorate vote. Let’s assume in this calculation Labour can hold on to a similar number of electorate MPs- it only takes about a 5% shift to the Green party for Labour to start getting overhang MPs, compared to current polling, and that’s without any extra North Island electorates, and assuming Hone takes back Te Tai Tokerau. A roughly 4% shift to the Greens from Labour will start giving them overhang seats if the 2020 election adds a new electorate seat again. (note the link shows all of Labour’s seats as electorate seats with no overhang, that’s because the Commission’s calculator doesn’t allow for us to award more than the current 71 electorates. I take it you’re capable of using your imagination)

I would much prefer that instead of having a South Island quota, we simply set the number of electorates to 70 in legislation, and the South Island get its share based on how many 70ths of the population live on the South Island and are part of the General Roll. This will limit the chance that either Labour or National (but most likely, Labour) will end up with overhang seats in the future. This should limit the likelihood of overhang seats for Labour in the future, especially as we’re approaching the point where certain Wellington electorates like Wellington Central might actually spontaneously decide to elect a Green candidate even though they’re not campaigning for the electorate vote. (In terms the party vote, most Wellington electorates are three-way races between the Greens, Labour, and National)

If we don’t adjust the South Island Quota, however, we’re in for an interesting problem in the long term. Until relatively recently, about .5% more of the population would live in the North Island every census, but that rate’s actually increased a little bit recently. Assuming that trend continues, it won’t take too long for us to end up with nearly 90 electorates, (it only takes a population growth of just over 1 million in the North Island, if you assume the South Island population stays static) which would make breaking list parity the rule, rather than the exception. (in fact, it was actually one of the potential “reforms” to MMP that Labour had been talking about at the time of the MMP review was to add another 20 or so electorates, because they knew that the party most likely to get overhang seats that way would be Labour) This could actually happen in 20-30 years time, depending on migration numbers, so I hope I’m not the only one noticing that the South Island Quota is a terrible way to determine how many electorate seats we have.