The Democrats’debacle: some lessons from Donald Trump’s triumph and Hillary Clinton’s humiliation

In no particular order, here are some initial reflections on the lessons the Democrats ought to take on board when they conduct their post-mortem on Hillary Clinton’s flawed campaign for the American presidency.

* Don’t let your opponent dictate the agenda. Everyone knew exactly what Trump was promising to do if he became president. It is doubtful whether anyone could remember the policy planks Clinton was pushing other than helping women to “break through the glass ceiling”. Trump won because he constantly fed the media with the one thing it craved — the outrageous which fueled outrage. Clinton, in contrast, was extremely cautious and took no risks. Her tactic of not holding press conferences only succeeded in shutting her out of the campaign, whereas closer contact with the media have provided her with far more opportunity to push her policies. She needed to put some fizz in her campaign to get people excited about what she was going t9 do when she made it to the Oval Office. Confident Trump would self-destruct, she sat back and did not do enough to show how she would make a difference as yet another Democrat in the White House.

* Be cautious about how much you ridicule your opponent when someone like Trump makes it very tempting to do so. In doing so, you are ridiculing the people who are thinking of voting for that candidate. You risk making those people even more determined to do so. Hillary Clinton ‘s belittling of Trump during the televised debates between the pair might have gone down a treat with liberals. For those conservatives in Middle America who were leaning towards Trump, her performance in those debates exuded the very arrogance which made them so angry with the Washington establishment.

* Be careful who you get to do your dirty work. Both Barack Obama and Michelle Obama made cleverly-written and impassioned speeches during the campaign defending Clinton and attacking Trump. Those speeches had two effects. They made Clinton look as if she could not handle Trump on her own. It sent another message that a Clinton presidency would not be much different from an Obama one. That was a fatal image to project in what looked to be a “change” election. In that regard, a president whose power is about to fizzle out is best only seen but not heard.

* Ditch the practice of celebrity endorsements. Such mutual admiration societies are seen by voters for what they are — people who do not know each other using each other for self-promotion. But the major problem with such endorsements is that voters silently bristle at the implicit message that they are wanting if they fail to back the candidate being endorsed. People don’t like being told how to vote by someone enjoying their 15 minutes of fame and who probably understands less about politics than they do. Such endorsements look even more self-serving when there is a vast difference in age between the politician and the celebrity or artist endorsing him or her. There are not a lot of things which qualify as being more embarrassing than watching someone who is not far off turning 70 trying to look funky and dancing on stage as if Woodstock had only ended yesterday.

*It’s the economy, stupid. The maxim coined by James Carville, the campaign strategist behind Bill Clinton’s victory in the 1992 battle for the keys to the White House still remains as relevant as ever. In spite of Trump’s whale-sized ego, his narcissism, his racism, his misogyny, and his never having held public office at any level, he was the only candidate was on the same wavelength as the great bulk of middle America. He may have been an unreconstructed populist. But when he spoke he was saying what people wanted to hear. And what they wanted to hear was someone offering solutions to the loss of jobs and drop in real incomes. Those two things are fundamental when it comes to winning any election anywhere. Trump’s message of hope struck a real chord in the Rust Belt, where companies which were household names closed down, having been unable to compete with the cheap labour enjoyed by Asian conglomerates. In this part of America, globalisation meant only one thing  — the  death of small town America and inner-city urban decay. Those states which could no longer maintain even the pretence that they could satisfy their citizens’ aspirations to live the American Dream include Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin. Trump’s wins in those states were crucial in his securing the presidency.
* Never take for granted those who have supported your party through thick and thin. Wisconsin was considered by Hillary Clinton’s strategists to be so safe for the Democrats that she did not stump in the state during the whole campaign. There is no better measure than that of just how much the Democrats were out of touch with one of their traditional constituencies — white working-class males. They flocked to Trump. He was speaking their language. Clinton did not. A scathing critique by an anonymous Democrat contributor which appeared on Huffington Post after the election described Clinton as “card-carrying member of the global elite who helped usher in this era of inequality” and “who seems most at ease in a room of Goldman Sachs bankers”. The article went on to say her shortcomings had been obvious from the start to those who “bothered to open their eyes”.
The article went on to say the party had thrown its lot in with “the shiny world of corporate professionals, Wall Street financiers, and Silicon Valley gurus.”

* Note who is pulling in the punters. Early on in the primaries, foreign television crews regularly vox-popped people in the long queues waiting to get into Trump’s rallies. Those reporters wanted to know why those people were backing Trump. Fair enough. But they missed the real story. The men and women in those queues were almost all white and looked to be dressed by Walmart. They did not look or talk like people who spent much time thinking about politics or politicians. That they were prepared to spend time queuing up to see one in person, rather than staying home, was more than a hint that there was a seismic shift in American politics under way.

Australia’s 60 Minutes; one long hour of tabloid trash

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Let’s be blunt. The payment of at least $160,000 — quite possinly more — by Australia’s  60 Minutes programme to Gable Tostee in return for an “exclusive” interview is cheque-book journalism of the most sickening kind.

Tostee, of course, is the creep who was last month acquitted of murder and manslaughter following the death of Warriena Wright, the New Zealand woman who fell from the balcony of his 14th floor apartment on Australia’s Gold Coast.

No-one will have been surprised Tostee has flogged his version of events on that fateful night more than two years ago to the highest bidder.

That he has done so tells you all you need to know — and probably all you would want to know — about this low-life’s character.

It is worth recalling, however, that Tostee did not ring for an ambulance after Williams  plunged to her death. He instead called his father and then his lawyer and then left the apartment block and dunkenly wandererd around nearby streets in the early hours of the morning befor buying a pizza.

Australia’s Nine Network, which screens 60 Minutes, has said that Tostee,  who did not take thr stand during  his trial, saw the interview as a “chance to clear his name” .

He did not need to pocket the thick end of $200,000 to do that.

He had also declared that he would make a formal request to talk to Wright’s family.

Believe that when it actually happens.

Regardless, there is no pot of gold waiting for the family at the end of any rainbow.

To be fair, Tostee did rxpress regret regarding Williams’ fate in a lengthy post on a body-building blog some four months after her death. Against the advice of his lawyers, he gave a pretty detailed account of his version of what happened.

That only begs the question as to why he feels the need to spout it all again on nationwide television. The answer, of course, is that the sheer size of the fee negotiated with 60 Minutes makes it worth his while, even though he will be regarded with approbrium and detested and distrusted by his county men and women for the rest of his life.

All said and done,Tostee is cashing in on Williams’ death. That is obscene.  You would not expect anything better from someone so callous.

But you should expect current affairs programmes of the ilk of 60 Minutes to display at least a modicum of responsibility in deciding which stories to cover — and how.

If so, you thought wrong.

The likes of 60 Minutes have long preyed on human misery in all of its infinite manifestations. If  instances of that misery can only be accessed by forking out hard cash, then the only thing that will stymie an “exclusive” is the price being set by those who have a story to tell.

In paying 30 pieces of silver to Tostee, 60 Minutes and the Nine Network, which will screen the interview in Australia tonight, are as complicit as as he is in  exploting Williams’ death to boost ratings and advertising revenue.

This is, of course, the programme which arrogantly believes it can write its own rules  — as was the case earlier this year with its involvement the botched operation in Lebanon to snatch an Australian mother and her two children off a Beirut street.

That ended up costing the Nine Network a small fortune in legal fees and compensation. But in the warped world of tabloid television, the public outrage that followed that incident would have been seen as good publicity.

In Tostee’s case, the programme’s producers were probably likewise too busy congratulating themselves for beating Channel Seven, another mass audience channel, in the race for the “exclusive” to have even noticed they were now rolling around in the same gutter as the subject of the interview..

The feelings expressed on social media, radio talkback, and, most notably, by a very angry Queensland police, who prosecuted Tostee, shows that many people believe 60 Minutes has crossed a line into ethics-free territory.

The very programme which highlights bad behaviour by others is itself morally bankrupt.

That conclusion is reinforced by something else which really scrapes the bottom of this already putrid barrel.

Judging from the advance promo of the programme, Tostee’s replies to questions are interspersed  with the recorded screams of a terrified woman in the last few minutes of her short life.

It is one thing to have played that audio as evidence in Tostee’s murder trial in Brisbane’s Supreme Court. It is a very different story to regurgitate it on nationwide television.

In doing so, 60 Minutes is providing proof that it is interested in little else but serving up the salacious to satisfy the voyeuristic.

It is also cruel to Williams’ family who are left to pick up the pieces of their shattered  lived and who hardly need such reminders of what’happened.

60 Minutes would argue the interview is justified  in order to interrogate Tostee to get tomthe truth of what really happened on that grisly night.

The interview would be portrayed as cutting-edge current affairs.

This isn’t  journalism. It is the modern equivalent of a public witch trial in which the witch is known in advance.

Tostee has been paid a king’s ransom in the hope that his emotions will have got the  better of him and he breaks down and he incriminates himself in the glare of the lights of the television studio

But that won’t have happened. If it had, we would have heard by now.

There are some uncomfortable questions, however, that the Nine Network’s executives and directors should answer.

Would they have paid for a supposed “tell all” interview if it had been one of their daughters who had ended up in Tostee’s apartment?

Likewise, would they have done so had it been an Australian woman who died rather than an anonymous New Zealand tourist.

Had Williams been the former, the Nine Network would have had a ton of bricks falling on its head from those who knew her or who lived in her local community.

That Williams was an unknown New Zealander who had just arrived in the country has made her easy pickings for the vultures at the Nine Network.

Let’s say it once more. This is not journalism. It is out-and- garbage, nothing more and nothing less.

Perhaps above all, it explains in part why viewers are deserting free-to-air television in droves now that there are far more — and far better — alternative viewing options available to viewers.

When it comes to substance, programmes like 60 Minutes rarely deliver. They hype each week’s show. But the content more often than not disappoints.

In order to shore up ratings, the hype becomes ever more intense to the point of being dishonest. The content leaves viewers feeling even more shortchanged.

It is a vicious circle, but one over which few tears will be shed.

Gareth Morgan’s Opportunities knocks

Tired of bleating from outside the political tent about what’s going wrong in New Zealand, Gareth Morgan has worked out that he might achieve a whole lot more by by getting inside the Body Politic.

In setting up his own party, he is putting his large pots of money where his mouth has long been.

And every one knows just how voluble that mouth can be when asked about pertinent matters of the day.You will never die wondering what Morgan thinks about something.

When it comes to mouths, most people would not recognise Morgan as an economist and a philanthropist. They only know him as an apparent cat-hater.

‘He may be the first politician in history who finds he is obliged to kiss cats as well as babies.

His penchant for straight talking when it comes to dissecting New Zealand’s ongoing economic and social maladies is the biggest asset his rather oddly-named Opportunities Party will have going for it.

His suggested solutions to those problems may get a lot less applause from the listening public, however.

But you can only lecture people for so long before you sound like a cracked record. And Morgan had reached that point some time ago.

Setting up his own party was thus not just a matter of choice. It was a necessity.

It would be a supreme irony were his party to secure seats in Parliament by virtue of the current proportional voting system — the very thing he implicitly blames for the established parties becoming “champions of inertia and only ever reluctant proponents of incremental change”.

The prime reason for such inertia is that under MMP small shifts in votes from one party to another can have major repercussions as to who ends up governing the country.

Morgan is absolutely right in inferring that politicians — especially those in the current ruling party — will not touch matters which are highly sensitive.

The country is already paying a big price for that.

The National Party deserves every criticism it gets for a failure of leadership in not introducing a capital gains tax or some equivalent. The absence of such an impost has instead turned the residential property market into a speculator’s paradise.

The same criticism applies to National’s gamble that the country will be able to maintain the current level of state superannuation payments for long into the the future and regardless of the looming huge increase in demand for health services as the baby-boom generation ages.

Morgan says he wants to “light a fuse” under the current moribund parliamentary culture. If nothing else, he will be a wild-card entry in next year’s election. And a highly-quotable one who will get much attention from the media.

Some media reports have drawn parallels between Morgan’s entry into the electoral market-place and Kim Dotcom and his already forgotten Internet Party.

Both men like the sound of their own voices. Both have polarising characters which means people love them or hate them. But there the similarities end.

Morgan’s party will be ultra-serous about policy across a broad range of issues and will focus heavily on that. Dotcom’s outfit was far more narrowly focused on matters flowing from the arrival of the Digital Age.

Morgan should take heed, however, of the lesson from Dotcom’s debacle. New political parties struggle to get their message to penetrate voters’ skulls no matter how good their policies might be.

It becomes even more difficult when the electorate is as apathetic as it now seems to be.about day-to-day political events.

They are averse to change, especially when they see no need for it.

John Key’s great political achievement as Prime Minister has been to avoid too much attention being paid to his Government’s long-term reforms, such as the privatising of social services, by being seen as pragmatic in his handling of short-term problems which briefly get huge attention, but don’t really matter in the overall scale of things.

Key has taken the politics out of politics. And he will continue to so as long as minor parties allow him the luxury of being able to run a  single-party minority government which behaves much like a single-party majority one.

That means if Morgan wants to produce real changes he wants, then his party needs to become part of a formal coalition with a major party and thus able to influence policy-making throughout the life-span of a government, rather than being limited to what concessions it can get in a confidence and supply agreement which is negotiated in the setting up of a minority government.

Of crucial importance to Morgan the economist would be to have a real say in the process of putting together the annual Budget.

‘He wouldn’t be allowed to get anywhere near that process if was to instead stick to the preference he has expressed for sitting on Parliament’s cross-benches were his party to secure seats seats in the House.—rather than becoming party to any governing arrangement cobbled together by National or Labour.

This might seem to be virtuous in that a party which holds the balance of power can thus theoretically say “yes” or “no” to pieces of legislation promoted by the governing party.

That is why Winston Peters likes to keep voters thinking he might choose such a worthy-sounding option rather than once again seeking the baubles of office.

Sitting on the cross-benches would be the last thing he would do, however.

Note the word “theoretically” in the paragraph above. Things simply don’t work out like that. For starters, the cross-benches are a fast road to irrelevancy if you don’t have the numbers to hold the balance of power. It is far better to have the ciear demarcation as an Oppostion party.

Even if you do hold the balance of power, you will only get attention when you block a government measure. If you do that too often, you risk being portrayed as being a minority view blocking the will of the majority, as well as having a detrimental to political stability. But if you don’t exercise your veto, you risk being painted as weak and thus irrelevant.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves here.

The current political atmospherics are not sympathetic to a new entrant to an already over-crowded political marketplace.

Sure, Sir Bob Jones’ New Zealand Party overcame the in-built bias against small parties which made the old first-past-the-post electoral system so unfair, and won an impressive 12.3 per cent of the vote at the 1984 election, as did Jim Anderton’s New Labour Party in capturing 5.2 per cent in 1990.

But both parties profited hugely from the chronic unpopularity of the incumbent governing party.

The reverse is currently the case. National is still polling at high levels. Should the economy continue to grow at the current rate through next year, it is not immediately apparent what might emerge to dent the ruling party’s popularity.

There are no obvious signs of the kind of alienation from the political process felt by voters and which has driven Donald Trump’s presidential campaign as well as fuelling Brexit.

That may be because National polls relentlessly to ensure it is listening to voters and hearing what they are saying. Morgan’s argument is that National has taken this kowtowing to voters is not really serving those voters’ longer-term interest.

Should the Opportunities Party become a real political force, National will be hoping it draws votes that National cannot reach rather than cannibalising its core vote. If Morgan’s party were to break through the 5 per cent threshold and be willing to back a National minority government, that might be just sufficient to shut Peters out of post-election government formation talks.

National’s fear will be that Morgan’s party falls just short of the threshhold and ends up wasting centre-right votes and makes National even more dependent on New Zealand First to remain in power.

Regardless, for all his money and public profile, Morgan will find that building a successful new party is incredibly difficult.

He wisely kept yesterday’s announcement low-key, rather than having a flash launch. By not making a big deal of things, he has given himself an exit strategy which would limit his embarrassment should his new pet project, so to speak, flop.

Pheonix rising? Part One. Same old Aussies, always cheating.

If, by chance, you were to ask Football Federation Australia to show a bit of Anzac spirit, the game’s top brass would more than likely rifle through their drinks cabinet searching for a fancy liquor they will never find.

Just as there would be no bottles overflowing with the milk of human kindness, especially the ones labelled “Wellington Phoenix”.

All this is a long way of saying that when it comes to the future of New Zealand football, those in charge of the game in the Lucky Country could not give a toss whether there is one or not.

Ever since Australia switched from FIFA’s Oceanic Confederation to its Asian cousin ten years ago, football authorities across the Tasman have turned their backs on New Zealand and other South Pacific nations.

The All Blacks, rugby league’s Kiwis and the Silver Ferns netball team all have games, if not whole series scheduled every year with their Australian counterparts.The last time the All Whites saw battle against the Socceroos in an international was in 2011.

The Auckland Warriors, along wth the same city’s Breakers’ basketballers play in domestic Australian competitions without causing much angst being being displayed by administrators on that side of the Ditch.

Federation Football Federation Australia no doubt rues the day — or should that be roos the day — when the sole New Zealand franchise in the Hyundai A-League was transferred from the hapless Auckland Knights to the rapidly put together Pheonix.

The federation’s ill-feelings were nakedly apparent during negotiations last year over the extension of the Phoenix’s license which the club required to remain in the A-League.

The federation’s antipathy was equally evident when the league’s new season kicked off earlier this month.

Despite being part of the A-League for nigh on a decade, the Phoenix have won their first game of the season on only one occasion.

There has been far more optimism than in past years that key signings made during the off-season will not only lift the quality of the team’s play — especially in attack — but will also strengthen the whole squad so when players get injured their are replacements who can do the job just as well.

So there was disappointment that the Pheonix went down 0-1 to Melbourne City in the opening round.

But there was also much frustration.

The game was lost as much off the pitch as on it.

The Phoenix were deprived of five senior players — Kosta Barbarouses, Andrew Durante, Michael McGlinchey, Louis Fenton, and Matt Ridenton — who were on
international duty for the All Whites in Mexico and the United States.

Phoenix coach Ernie Merrick pleaded with the federations’ officials to allow the match to be postponed to a later date.

But he got nowhere. Under FIFA’s rules, once players are called up to represent their national team, their clubs are obliged to release them.

That rule even applies to so-called “friendly” internationals like those two games the New Zealand national team played in the Americas.

There are stiff penalties — including the loss of points in their domestic league — for clubs that flout that rule.

Taken in isolation, such regulations would obviously severely disadvantage clubs with squads stacked with foreign players.

But — as in the case with the Phoenix — there are clubs where international call-ups for the domestic national team can also reek havoc.

FIFA has dealt with this dilemma by the introduction of “international windows”.

This device enables countries to agree to a “co-ordinated calendar” which sees them playing one another during brief periods set aside for that purpose in their domestic season.

Each such window lasts nine days and thus includes Saturday and Sunday, the two days often preferred for the scheduling of international matches.

The nine-day limit is deemed to be sufficient to enable players to fly to wherever their national side is playing, allow some time for pre-match training, take part in the match itself and then fly back to the country where their club is located.

The crucial thing, however, is that while the window applies, no games take place in domestic competitions, be that league or cup.

This is all very straight forward. It is just common sense.

But go tell that to Federation Football Australia.

It has repeatably refused to follow suit despite calls to do so from other A-League managers and coaches, not just Merrick.

The federation claims “FIFA windows” would result in drastic cuts to broadcasting royalties which are a vital source of revenue for A-League clubs.

That would be so detrimental to the A-League that it would halt its expansion and could make it too difficult for some clubs to continue operating.

The federation insists broadcasters put a premium on “consistency” in the scheduling of fixtures to keep advertisers and sponsors happy. To ensure viewer ratings are high enough to meet that criteria, people have got to know when the matches are on the television so that they can establish “viewing patterns”.

That is a rather archaic statement in the digital age where the positive is that viewers are no longer tied to the television set and have other options for watching sport.

The obvious negative is that they now usually have to pay extra to watch live sport — thus creating a rather large incentive to be well-informed about programming schedules.

The federation also argues that football has to be careful not to annoy broadcaster because there is huge competition for the advertising dollar from AFL, rugby league and Super rugby union.

All of that offers no comfort for the Phoenix who face Catch-22. If the club asks New Zealand Football not to select players from the club’s squad the All Whites end up being handicapped.

This is a crucial period for the national team. The All Whites have qualified for next year’s Confederation Cup finals in Russia. They could well end up being drawn to play football giants such as Germany and Portugal. Ironically, they could end up meeting Australia, who have also qualified.

On top of that, there are qualifying matches for the 2018 World Cup finals, which are also being hosted by the Russians.

It is thus vital that the All Whites arrange matches with quality opponents during international windows.

Merrick is adamant the national team takes priority. His big worry, however, is that there are more such windows on the horizon this season.

Of particular concern is that the Pheonix’s highly-talented and exciting striker Roy Krishna, who is a Fijian international, may be absent for some Key club games.make a

Merrick makes a valid  point in arguing that the A-League’s integrity is at risk of being compromised by the fact that some clubs will play a depleted Pheonix.

Those which do not and instead come up against the full Wellington team and lose will have grounds to gripe.

It is also worth noting that Australia’s best players are contracted to overseas clubs because it is much more lucrative to do so.

The consequence of that is not surprising: the most recently announced Soceroos squad contained 23 players, but only two of those came from A-League clubs.

You can only wonder what Football Federation Australia would do if the ratio was reversed. But that is highly unlikely to happen.

Slightly more likely is a possible promotion-relegation system which would see poorly-performing clubs drop to some kind of second tier.

The home crowds for the Pheonix now average around the 8000-mark. They would plummet if supporters were subjected to watching second-rate Australian teams. The club would fold.

Ultimately, the A-League will want expand into Asia.
That is where the big television audiences reside.

That is where the big money is. And for Football Federation Australia, that seems to be its only bottom-line.

A Little goes the wrong way

When the time comes to hand out the annual award for the silliest things politicians have said or done during the year, Andrew Little should be on the short-list.

National MP Nuk Korako and his ridiculous private member’s bill on the advertising of lost luggage at airports will he hard to beat.

But the Labour leader’s dismissal of Helen Clark’s view that parties on the left must “command the centre ground” to win elections as “a pretty hollow view” comes close to edging out the National backbencher for this unwanted award.

Just what possessed Little to pour cold water on Clark’s supposition heaven only knows.

Sure, he may not like living in the shadow of a predecessor in Labour’s top job, especially the kind of lengths cast by Clark.

If he disagreed with Clark’s view, he would have been best advised to keep his mouth shut.

Clark fought five general elections as her party’s leader, winning three of them and losing two.

She knows from experience — especially the bitter kind —what she is talking about.

But it is a party on the right which has rammed her message home in no uncertain fashion, such that it should give Little considerable pause for thought.

There is the old cliche about a week being a long time in politics. But it took National just three days to show that nothing is off its agenda when it comes to ensuring it has an unshakable hold on the centre-ground of domestic politics.

It was cynical. It was nakedly expedient. It demonstrated both the arrogance and desperation of a party which has long been in power.

It involved U-turns and flip-flops which left you wondering whether National really believes in anything beyond power for power’s sake.

But it will probably be darned effective. Labour likes to believe that voters will punish governments which shift tack and look very messy in the process.

It seems to be more the case that voters want policy solutions that show the Government is listening to them. They are not too bothered how that is done.

John Key understands this — as does Bill English even though he is motivated by ideology.

Together the pair have unchallenged power to do things their way.
National has emerged from what has been the party’s roughest patch during its current time in power refocused, though not necessarily re-energized.

Labour never saw it coming. It all began last Tuesday with English causing surprise by indicating that the Government would become a player in the private housing construction sector.

That was an admission or defeat, but it was a victory for realism.

The Government has sought all year to find remedies to alleviate its biggest political headache — the Auckland housing shortage which has become ever more complex in its various, but interlocking manifestation.

Up till now, National has tackled this crisis which it has refused to acknowledge is a crisis with all the co-ordination and aplomb of a headless chicken.

English flagged that over the next ten years, the Government would be a provider of a “significant” number of medium-density, medium-priced housing in the Auckland market.

There was no detail as to how National was going to go about doing this. Having repeatedly ridiculed Labour’s promise to do much the same thing, National is definitely putting a low price on consistency.

It is instead making a priority of neutralizing one of the few matters where Labour has secured a distinct advantage, namely its promise to build 100,000 new and affordable homes over a ten-year period.

Almost in his next breath, the Finance minister was re-iterating the Government’s intention to accelerate the building of new state houses — something he has argued previously as being pointless.

Drawing far more attention, however, was that day’s announcement of changes to immigration settings which will make it a lot harder for families resident in New Zealand to secure entry for close relatives still living in their home countries.

But the other part of the package, which covers skilled migrants, is likely to result in only a very modest cut in the numbers being granted residency.

Along with New Zealand First, Labour dismissed the package as window-dressing driven by National’s panic at being on the wrong side of the immigration debate.

The two Opposition parties were right. National wants to appear to be doing something without actually doing something. Whatever National came up with would never be enough to silence Winston Peters. But may be enough to quieten Labour which seems to be far less inclined to make swinging cuts to current migrant levels.

The Beehive would have been delighted that evening’s One News headlined its coverage with the word “crackdown”. It was nothing of the sort. Not being willing to bother themselves with the technical detail of immigration policy, that was the word that many wanted to hear, however.

But National wasn’t finished. Little had planned a major policy announcement for Thursday covering law and order. Given he was speaking at the Police Association’s conference that day, you didn’t have to be a genius to predict what it would be about.
Little had anyway given the game away on radio on Monday.

Labour’s promise of an extra 1000 police in its first term was the perfect example of the kind of policies that Helen Clark’s doctrine demands.

But National had plenty of time to respond, with Police Minister Judith Collins saying the Government was also looking at a “substantial” boost in numbers.

It can be presumed that National is not going to allow Labour to outflank it on an issue which the centre-right sees as being very much its territory.

There is one policy area where Labour will not be endeavouring to outflank National — tax cuts. English sounded unusually bullish about the possibility of an announcement of such cuts in next year’s Budget following the release of latest set of the Government’s accounts during the week.

Should the Budget be in surplus while it is in power, Labour will use the extra money on meeting social needs.

Labour is punting that the media reports over the past six months or so revealing the high degrees of homelessness and other forms of social deprivation have shocked many New Zealanders.

National’s willingness to talk of pushing through yet another round of tax cuts suggests it does not believe there is any such seed-change in the air. At least, not yet.

That may be partly because the media have exhausted all the obvious angles that are available in stories covering poverty.

The ruling party will anyway argue that any tax cuts will be targeted at helping the poor.

So far the opinion polls have yet to register any significant shift in party support to give pause to National to worry that it will suffer a political backlash as a result of the inexcusable failure of government agencies to foresee that those at the bottom of the socio-economic heap would end up suffering inordinately from the chronic shortage of residential properties in Auckland.

Much, if not all, of National’s hectic activity last week was not solely driven by the party’s need to shore up its defenses in critical areas and realign itself with majority public opinion.

The timing was also crucial .

We are now 12 months or less away from the next election.
The Christmas-New Year break is less than two months away. John Key does not want to find himself watching a resurgent Labour Party in positive mood going into election year.

Whether that happens or not largely hinges on the coming byelection in Mt Roskill.

National is trying to strait-jacket Little so that there are few if any issues which he can exploit because the point of difference between the two parties is in Labour’s favour.

The obvious example is housing. National’s abject handling of the whole caboodle meant one thing: if Labour could not get the better of National on that question, it could not get the better of National on anything.

Labour has unquestionably got the better of National on housing, largely thanks to the untiring work done by Phil Twyford, Labour’s sharp-minded housing spokesman.

But his and others’ efforts have yet to pay any dividend in political terms.

The byelection result will be better measure than the polls of whether Labour is gaining any ground in Auckland or just standing still.

In 2014, Phil Goff held the seat for the party with an 8000-plus majority. But National won the party vote in the electorate, securing just over 42 per cent of that vote as against the nearly 36 per cent recorded by Labour.

Despite that, the chances of National capturing the seat are remote.

In Labour-held seats where the party vote has has gone National’s. wayin the general elections both before and after a byelection, voters have stayed loyal to the Labour candidate in that byelection in sufficient number to get him or her into Parliament.

The Greens’ decision not to stand a candidate will help Labour, but likely only marginally if the result follows the 2014 pattern which saw the Green candidate pick up a mere 5 per cent of the constituency vote in 2014.

When it comes to door-knocking in the electorate and getting people out to vote on byelection day, Labour’s Auckland political machine will be of huge help through being able to pool Labour’s city-wide contingent of volunteers.

They will be able to focus solely on one seat, rather than having to spread resources across a multitude of electorates demanding attention as is the case in general elections,

The Labour camp is making the obigatory noises about “not being able to take anything for granted” in order to hose down any expectations that the party will win and win big.

But with Labour’s support in opinion polls still struggling to get above 33 per cent on a consistent basis, Little really does need a big win in Mt Roskill.

Defeat would be an absolute catastrophe. A narrow victory would be little better. Even a comfortable, but not crushing victory would not do much to change the current status quo in national politics.

Labour would start 2017 where it left off in 2016 — stuck in the doldrums with National pilfering its policies.

Perhaps that was why Little was so acerbic when asked about the truth and value of the Clark Doctrine.

When he does make a grab for the centre-ground, he finds Key is in his face. Another 1,000 police officers is a big deal. It is fair guess that the policy won’t have the backing of everyone in the party. There  will those who will be thinking the money to implement the policy could be better utilized elsewhere.

The police policy, however, is exactly the kind of policy which Clark would advocate under her doctrine. But Little has to watch his back.

Key does not have to worry about operating outside his party’s ideological parameters. There are two reasons for that in addition to him being a conservative pragmatist by instinct. First, in the early days of MMP, the pundits said National did not have any friends on the right to enable it to rule without having to be party to a an antagonistic and unstable coalition government with all that entails by way of concessions and compromise.

Key has made a mockery of the Jeremlahs’ predictions not once but three times, and possibly may even do so a fourth time next year.

While some policy areas remain out of bounds, MMP has not been a major handicap for Key And therein lies the second  reason. His administration has been able to run a centre-right reform agenda which is just tough enough to satisfy those on National’s  right without offending those all important voters who sit in mass in the Centre.

The end result?  Labour puts out policy. If Key  can spot even a hint of blue in it, he pilfers it.

Little may have convinced himself that he could make a lot more progress when it comes to lifting Labour’s parlous share of the vote by heading leftwards with policy promises that not even Key could dare to match.

But that did not work for Goff orDavid Cunliffe when they did likewise when they led the party.

Such a strategy requires that the wider electorate is also moving in the same direction at the same speed.

In that vein, Clark enjoyed a huge advantage which will almost certainly be denied to Little.

Clark surged to power in the 1999 election because her adversary was a tired National Government which did highly unpopular things which it persuaded itself were necessary for the voters’ own good.

It displayed a high degree of machismo to give the impression of strength which everyone knew it lacked. That was because it was a minority Government hostage to a rabble of waka-jumping MPs who remained in Parliament after the collapse of the National-New Zealand First coalition government.

In marked contrast to then, there is still no discernible mood for change despite National being in its eighth year in power.

It is highly unlikely that the Mt Roskill byelection will provide the kind of stunning victory for Labour which would change those dynamics.

Unless things go horribly wrong, the byelection is not quite make or break for Little. But everyone will be judging whether his performance bodes well for him really footing it with Key on the 2017campaign trail.

Little cannot afford to leave the task of winning the byelection to Labour’s candidate Michael Wood.

Little needs that platform. He needs it to lift his current basement-level profile.

it is time for him to make the step up.

 

 

 

A man in a big hurry

Phil Goff is suddenly talking like someone who already has Auckland’s mayoral chains hanging from his neck.
Something has definitely changed. The focus, emphasis and tone of his remarks and replies have undergone a subtle, but noticeable switch.
He would deny it until the cow’s come home. But he now sounds like someone has made the transition from “if I become mayor” to “when l become mayor”.
This shift was apparent when he was questioned in depth during Monday’s edition of Morning Report on his call for the imposition of a stiff tax which foreign nationals buying a property would have to pay on top the purchase price.
The idea isn’t new. But there has been little debate here about the efficacy of what is otherwise known as stamp duty. National does not appear to be enthusiastic about a mechanism which might cool the Auckland property marker. Labour did not include the device in its recent-released housing package.
But Goff was very keen. Gone was politician’s caginess that can make him sound flat and underwhelming. He did not try to fudge the issues which would arise from the introduction of such a levy.
Goff spoke with the authority of someone confident of a decisive victory on Saturday. He is a man in a hurry. He cannot wait until he gets his hands on the levers of the most powerful job in Auckland.
He wasn’t being arrogant. Goff would be one of the very last politicians to say or do anything which might be misinterpreted as such.
Donald Trump might go on ad nauseum about being on the yellow brick road to certain victory in America’s presidential contest.
Such boasting in advance of the ballot papers being counted is as alien to Goff as the likelihood of finding life on Mars.
Goff suffers no such Trump-like delusions of grandeur. There is no time in his working day to indulge in bouts of self-glorification or self-congratulation. And we are talking about working days which make other workaholics look slothful.
Geoff’s capacity for work is legendary — so much so that he can seem robotic.
But presuming he is no robot, he would not be human were he not contemplating what needs to be done following the announcement of the winner of the mayoral contest.
He will have some kind action plan on hand to ensure there is no political vacuum following his election. He will list his immediate priorities, as well as setting out a broader agenda for change. One of the more essential tasks is to rebuild public confidence in the Auckland Council.
He would be derelict in his duty, not least to himself, if he had nothing prepared on advance. But that won’t happen.
It has been obvious ever since Goff threw his hat into the mayoral ring that he was going to win and win easily.
But the certainty of his victory will have had the effect of heightening voters’ expectations of what his mayoralty ought to be able to deliver.
Given that pressure will intensify, he will want the strongest mandate possible so that he can exercise maximum influence and leverage at the head of the council table.
There are two things which he cannot control ahead of Saturday afternoon. Those are the size of his majority and whether it would have been larger but for the endemic non-voting in local authority elections.
There is a danger that because Goff is a dead cert, people will not have bothered to vote.
But the same scenario applied in Len Brown’s in 2013, his popularity was such that movers and shakers on the centre-right did not put up a serious candidate.
John Palino thus became the default candidate. He got thrashed by Brown. But he topped the 100,000 mark in terms of votes.
That seems to have deluded him into thinking that in a multi-candidate contest like the current one, he could secure enough votes to come through the middle.
But Palino is not solely responsible for what will become very apparent on Saturday afternoon.
In a word, slaughter. Absolute slaughter.
The Charge of the Right Brigade has been an utter debacle from start to finish.
It is Auckland’s version of The Three Stooges, but without the laughs.
Together the three add up to much less than the sum of their parts.
To end up with three candidates fighting over the same segment of the vote requires a special kind of incompetence.
It was equally inept — and arrogant — try and impose a candidate on the electorate simply because he or she ticks all your ideological boxes.but has nothing that appeals to the mainstream voter.
Vic Crone might have a chance were the voting public confined to those who inhabit city’s corporate board rooms. Unfortunately for Crone, it isn’t.
Throwing someone with no experience of politics into the lion’s den against someone who has seen `all that can happen in politics several times over is almost an act of cruelty.
Mark Thomas is the only one of the three candidates who is politically savvy. So much so that he has obviously suffered great torment from the hopeless position that he, Crone and Palino find themselves.
Despite what would have been great pressure to pull out of the mayoral race, he has instead created a new political phenomenon — the candidate who isn’t a candidate.
He conceded it was “inevitable” Goff would win “unless the community gets more engaged”.
Rather than quit, he would instead use the remainder of his campaign to “make people aware of the lack of change a Phil Goff mayoralty will bring”.
It is more likely the community — which tends to punish disunity in all its forms — will have become disengaged from Thomas.
Whether Thomas’s de facto withdrawal of his candidacy will have helped Crone is very much a moot point.
She is further handicapped by a fourth candidate who will further split the centre-right vote — Goff.
He is a liberal when comes to economic management; he is a conservative on law and order.
He has handled the many and varied ministerial portfolios with such competence that it is difficult to remember anything going off the tracks under his watch. Having been Trade minister, he knows how to negotiate deals. That is a vital attribute for the mayor of the country’s biggest city, given the priorities of local and central government do not always coincide.
In short, Goff is someone who can be trusted to do the job no matter how difficult or daunting.
His opponents have tried to turn the argument around by saying his experience counts for little. They claim that the length of time he has been in Parliament renders him incapable of providing the fresh ideas desperately needed to lift the aspirations of Aucklanders and turn the metropolis into what Chrone calls”a world-class city”.
True, Goff lacks the X factor when it comes to being a source of inspiration. That was clear during his relatively brief stint as Leader of the Opposition.
But the former Labour leader remains a very skilled politician — as was shown by his backing for the introduction of stamp duty.
A lot could be read into Goff’s positioning on how best to slow the rate at which prices are rising, if not bringing them to an abrupt halt.
His remarks about stamp duty were designed to show that what he says about resolving Auckland’s housing crisis is not just talk — and that he is open to any idea which might ease the pressures on the demand side of the house price equation.
More than anything, however, he was sending a message to the National-led Government.
Legislation would have to be passed by Parliament to enable such a levy to be imposed on foreign buyers. Local authorities do not have the power to do so.
National has been most reluctant to curb demand-side pressures by drastically cutting immigrant numbers or bringing in measures which would make property speculation not worth the bother.
But Goff is flagging that he is not going to be silent when government actions — or the lack of them — are detrimental to Auckland’s interests.
Likewise, Goff is unlikely to put up with Cabinet ministers rubbishing the Auckland Council’s planning and resource consent procedures as a scapegoat for them taking so long to realize the number of new houses being constructed each year was woefully short of that required to cope with Auckland’s fast-rising population.
The claim that Goff is someone who is past it cuts no ice with voters. They see someone who is reinvigorated by the new challenges he will be facing.
The time had come for him to leave the Labour caucus and Parliament altogether. That was not because he was doing a bad job. Goff always gives his all and more no matter what task lands on his desk.
It is fact of political life, however, that party leaders have to freshen up their line-ups on a fairly regular basis by reallocating portfolio responsibilities and rewarding those who are doing a good job by moving them up the caucus rankings.
Long-serving MPs can get in the way of that process. A change in personnel means a break from the past. In Goff’s case, his support for the free-market policies master-minded by Sir Roger Douglas has been the one thing in his past that political opponents have let him forget.
But it has not disadvantaged his mayoral campaign. For Aucklanders, it is a thing very much in the past. The far more pressing matter is what happens tomorrow.
Goff will clean up in west Auckland. He will likewise capture vast swathes of the mortgage-belt elsewhere across the city. He will soak up what votes are cast in low-turnout south Auckland. He will do very well when it comes to securing middle-income voters who play a large part in determining the victor in any election,
He has a good chance of making deep inroads into territory which is the preserve of the centre-right; areas whose inhabitants would rather be stretched on a wrack than cast a vote for anyone who has even the slightest whiff of Labour about them.
Geoff has made it a little bit easier for the affluent to depart from their ingrained voting habits by running as an independent.
He will be trusting them to return the favour. They will have to have good reason not to have done so. Why? The answer is because Goff is the most capable candidate by more than a country mile regardless of what ever measure you choose to use.
Crone might argue Goff is long past his use-by date. But she nay well discover the shelf-life of a failed candidate can turn out be rather short.

Craig comes an awful cropper (twice); National counts its blessings it never struck a deal with the Conservatives’ flawed leader

The decline and fall of Colin Craig is a tawdry tale which has all the ingredients of a Mills & Boon romance gone terribly wrong.

It is a bodice-ripper on steroids; a grotesque fable of unrequited, but apparently unconsummated love.

Someone should turn the whole sorry affair into a steamy soap opera, like the ones which run in the wee small hours of the afternoon.

National should daily offer up sacrifices to the political gods as thanks for the party not being part of the script for such a programme.

That would have been the case had National struck an electoral deal with Craig to ensure centre-right votes were not wasted.

Much of the news coverage of Craig’s defamation trial focussed almost exclusively on the titilating, but often conflicting evidence offered up by a motley collection of political misfits.

That was hardly surprising. The proceedings in the Auckland High Court provided seemingly inexhaustible amounts of what is called “good copy”.

The media, however, did not get a clear answer to the unspoken, but paramount question which hung over the courtroom. What was the degree of adultery committed by the former leader of the Conservative party?

In the end, the court had to take Craig at his word that — to use his immortal declaration — he had never taken his trousers off in the company of Rachel MacGregor, his estranged former press secretary.

The pantomime of recent weeks was brought to an abrupt end last Friday afternoon when the jury in the trial returned to court to deliver its verdict.

Its finding that Craig had defamed Jordan Williams was not a great surprise.

Such a verdict was almost inevitable under New Zealand’s tough libel laws, given what Craig had said about Williams at a press conference last year and the accusations contained in a pamphlet which Craig had distributed to some 1.6 million households.

What was a shock was the jury’s award of $1.27 million in damages to Williams. On initial reflection, the record sum seemed both utterly ludicrous and deeply disturbing.
The jury should have considered whether the courts were the place to fight what was essentially a political battle

The jury could have still found in Williams’ favour. But it could have set a useful precedent by imposing token damages of just a single dollar.

At this stage of proceedings, you might be asking Jordan Williams who? Well may you ask. Williams has the pretentious-sounding title of “executive director and co-founder” of the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union. The what? Well may you ask.

The Union is not a trade union. It claims to be 100 per cent independent of party politics. That it feels it has to make such a declaration is a fair indication that at a minimum the organization is aligned with a particular political party.

The Union is comprised of a handful of like-minded individuals firmly ensconced on the right of politics. Their self-appointed role is to root out examples of government waste of taxpayers’ money. They are doing so on the expectation that people like themselves on high incomes will be rewarded by having to pay less tax.

Williams is a political neophyte. He is one of the many gadflies who feast on the more extreme elements of the Body Politic, be it on the left or right of the spectrum.

When you involve yourself with the affairs of a party of the Conservatives’ nature, you really are operating on the fringe.

Williams would argue that he was a white knight who came to the rescue of a friend, namely MacGregor.

But if so why did he put her through more hell than she had already suffered by taking Craig to court? Whatever loathing she might have for Craig and desire for revenge, having her personal life painted all over town day after day would have still been traumatic.

She was not the only one whose emotions got the better of them during the trial.
Williams exudes self-confidence and undoubted intelligence and is not slow in ensuring everyone knows this. But on at least a couple of occasions, he appeared distinctly uncomfortable.

If he harbours ambitions of entering Parliament one day, he will need to develop a much thicker hide.

Everything is fair in love and politics.The courts should not be as a mechanism for exercising political vendetta. If they were to be used in such fashion, they would do little else.

That point was made by political blogger Martyn Bradbury. Describing Williams as “manipulative” and akin to a “venomous spider”, Bradbury told the court that Craig’s leaflet was “an appropriate response to a pack of political sadists”.

The jury, however, decided Craig was the one with all the venom. Its unanimous verdict was that Craig should be punished.

The jury seems to have set the level of damages at such a height because of the level of malice and ill-will they considered Craig had shown towards Williams, the copious amount and extent of the libelous material, the widespread distribution of the offending pamphlet and, finally Craig’s subterfuge which culminated in him being outed as the “Mr X” , who posed as an anonymous whistleblower in the leaflet.

Seen in that context, the scale of the damages is not as precedent-setting as some in the mainstream media may be fearing.

Craig is — or perhaps more accurately — was the Frank Spencer of New Zealand politics.

Nothing he says or does seems to embarrass him. Whether it be conspiracy theories surrounding the Moon landings or leafleting the Prime Minister’s electorate because John gKey was “too gay” to represent the people of Helensville, Craig seems to be irresistibly drawn to the extreme, the bizarre, the mysterious or the mythical.

Craig lives  on the edge. If the earth was flat — something he may or may not believe — he would fall off it.

But it now turns out the credibility of the House of Craig — what little was left in it — was already in free-fall prior to Friday’s High Court verdict.

Craig might feign nonchalance regarding the huge bill he must pay in damages. (‘, it will be interesting to see what Williams does with the windfall.

Not so easy for Craig to dismiss is a Human Rights Review Tribunal decision which required him to pay nearly $130,000 to MacGregor for repeatedly breaching the confidentiality agreement which was a vital condition of the pair’s pay dispute and MacGregor’s claim of sexual harassment.

The tribunal’s report was suppressed until Craig’s defamation trial was over. It did not mince words, saying that Craig had “comprehensively, deliberately and systematically”  breached the confidentiality of his settlement with MacGregor.

The breaches had been “extensive, calculated and engineered to attract maximum publicity”.

They had caused MacGregor “significant humiliation, significant loss of dignity and significant injury to feelings”. The tribunal’s order that Craig pay MacGregor $128,780 in damages plus costs is the largest sum it has ever awarded for emotional harm.

The tribunal’s ruling is the final kiss of death for any resurrection of Craig the politician should he be stupid enough to think he can make a comeback if not soon then later.

Craig’s future in politics is easy to assess. He has no such future.

He deserves no sympathy. He will get none. He has used his wealth as a weapon to threaten legal action against almost anyone who has spoken ill of him.

He has taken this to ridiculous lengths, most prominently in taking exception to some perceived slur on his character made by the website, The Civilian. He ended up thinking — or was persuaded to think — that suing satirists was not such a good idea after all.

Likewise his similar threat to take action against Russel Norman. The former Greens’ co-leader’s uncompromising response was a Dirty Harry-like invitation to Craig to “make my day”. Craig subsequently chose not to do so.

The High Court’s verdict and the accompanying damages will be viewed by the majority of people as very much Craig’s just desserts.

Assessing Craig’s future in politics is easy. He has none.

Heaven knows what he thought he was doing by thinking he could transform a working relationship into something that was far beyond the platonic.

Heaven knows how he thought he could keep juggling all the balls in the air without dropping at least one.

Craig is hardly the first politician, however, to have become besotted with one of his staff.

He may have kept his trousers on. But in the Court of King Colin, however, he was seen as an emperor with no clothes, judging from the observations of other staff working in the Conservatives’ head office.

In their minds, MacGregor’s relationship with Craig had blatantly gone far beyond that normally expected between press secretary and politician.

With rumour and innuendo mounting at an exponential rate, Craig’s affaire de coeur was doomed not to have a fairy-tale ending.

It was instead destined to be more the stuff of Brothers Grimm.

One question remains. And it is an important one. What would those who used his liaison with MacGregor to dump him from the party leadership been so enthusiastic about doing so had Craig succeeded in crashing through the 5 per cent threshold and secured six or seven  seats for his party in the new Parliament?

The answer is an unequivocal “no”. Like all fowl fattening themselves by picking and pecking at the perks and privileges of life in the parliamentary farmyard, these political turkeys, had they made it to Wellington, would never have voted for an early Christmas.

Like moths to a flame, some of those who signed up with the Conservatives did so because the party offered a much easier route into Parliament than was the case with National.

By ensuring the likes of Christine Rankin were high up the party’s list, Craig hoped to raise the Conservatives’profile and make the party look something more than a one-man band.

in doing so, Craig was sowing one of the seeds of his destruction.  Rankin was als9 the party’s chief executive. She was much perturbed by Craig’s behaviour. She had joined the party because of its principles. She rapidly lost coofidence in Craig.

But the real killer for Craig was MacGregor’s resignation. Coming just two days before the election, it was timed to perfection, completely eradicating Craig’s by now slim hopes of breaking the threshold.

On election night, the Conservatives  won just under 4 per cent of the party vote — a result which was only marginally better than the near 3 per cent which the party had secured in their electoral debut three years earlier.

The disappointment rapidly morphed into a behind-the-scenes campaign to force Craig to step down. Not only had he blatantly and brazenly infringed, cheapened and thus undermined the very morals and values which were the party’s core foundations.

He had wrecked the rationale for the party’s existence. How could the party proselytize the virtues of its policies when the leader had — as a minimum flirted with breaking the seventh commandment: thou shall not commit adultery?

But the plotting to rid the party of Craig was at the same time a four-landed highway which to nowhere fast, of course. Craig was the founder and funder of the party. Without him, there would be no party.

As so often is the case with minor parties, however, electoral failure is followed by finger-pointing, recriminations and infighting in general which becomes an end in itself.

The protagonists often prefer to split the party than cave in to factional opponents.
Once the bellicosity and belligerence erupted onto the public stage, it was all over for the Conservatives.

It was not so much a case of destroying the village in order to save it. It was more a case of destroying the village come what may.

What can be learned from this debacle?  Two things. Political parties which are the playthings of their founder and funder are always vulnerable to some life-destroying crisis be it generated within the party or outside.

The Greens have understood the dangers of someone believing they are bigger than their party. That might be an unstated reason beyond the one of gender why they have a constitutional structure which requires two co-leaders be elected.

In contrast, New Zealand First could easily and quickly disintegrate once Winston Peters eventually exits. The grooming of former Labour Party heavy-hitter Shane Jones as Peters’ sucessor may do little to stabilise things.

If Peters leaves a vacuum, there will be chaos. That is because whomever succeeds him has precious little chance of matching Peters’ finely-honed political skills, popular appeal and razor-sharp political acumen. The party will start dropping in the polls. Infighting will spread and intensify.

Peters makes politics look easy. It isn’t.

The other lesson to be drawn from Craig’s demise is 6hat religion-based political parties have consistently failed to get themselves elected to Parliament despite the possibilities offered by MMP.

The reason is simple. New Zealander tend to be conservative of mind. They occasionally break out of that mode and elect Labour governments. But they tend to keep National in power for longer.

The true meaning of conservatism is to “conserve” changes made by another administration,  but manage them better.

Natoonal fits that prescription to a tee.

Parties which want to ditch reforms and return the country to doing things as they used to be done are defined as “reactionary”.

Craig’s Conservatives could not be more misnamed. Graig’s Reactionaries would not be easy to market, however.

The dismal performances of Christian=based parties have also confirmed that New Zealanders are averse to religion being mixed with politics and vice versa.

There are just too few people who want to see religious values having a real impact on the political discourse and action. Furthermore, there are already political parties which would argue their values and policies are very close to Christian beliefs.

The centre-left parties’ promises to attack social and economic disadvantage is the obvious example.

None of the above, however, will deter people from trying to establish a Christian-based voice in Parliament.

When it comes t0 would-be political messiahs, there always seems to be a would be politician who ignores history and is convinced there is a large latent Christian vote just waiting to be tapped, be it the Conservatives’ Colin Craig, Destiny Church’s Brian Tamaki, Christian Heritage’s Graham Capill or, going back to the 1990’s, the Christian Democrats’ Graeme Lee.

The latter had been a long-serving National MP prior to founding his own party. Lee’s party formed an alliance with Capill’s outfit to jointly fight the 1996 election under the banner of the Christian Coalition. The coalition registered 4.3 per cent of the vote. It remains the high-water mark for the Christian vote.

Tamaki’s 2004 prediction that his church would be “ruling the nation” by the time it celebrated its tenth anniversary in 2008 proved to be a trifle optimistic. Destiny New Zealand failed to get even 1 per cent of the vote in the 2005 election.

Capill’s party dissolved after its leader was sentenced to nine years’ jail in 2005 after pleading guilty to charges of sexual molestation and rape involving girls between the ages of five and twelve.

Add to those embarrassments the several mliions of dollars that Craig has poured down the drain in a vain bid for self-glory in the form of his doomed attempt to turn his Conservative brand into a real force in New Zealand’s domestic politics. Then add his current disgrace which has seen him sink fast an animal stuck in quicksand.

All up, you can say without question that the track record of the county’s Christian parties has varied between being just dismal to being truly pathetic.

The saving grace — to mangle the famous dictum of the English political philosopher   Thomas Hobbes — is that while their lives have been nasty and brutish, they have also been mercifully short.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Something’s in the water; something’s astray in the Bay

If it did not already have a name, Havelock North might accurately be called Remuera South.

What the Hastings District plan somewhat old-fashionably describes as a “dormitory suburb” housing people who work in Hastings, Napier or elsewhere in Hawkes Bay now has a population of more than 13,000.

Despite that, long-time inhabitants still refer to their home town as the “The Village”.

That is increasingly a myth, but one the local business association is glad to perpetuate in its material promoting the town. Such advertising of the idyllic offers a point of difference from the multiple attractions of busy Napier, Havelock North’s prime competition for the tourist dollar.

Some dormitory suburb; some village.

Having an address in Havelock — the locals also drop the “North” bit — has long been regarded as an indicator that you have arrived.

The plush homes that pepper the hills above the town — and which enjoy panoramic views across the Heretaunga Plains and Hastings — are testimony to the wealth of the town’s inhabitants.

Those who enjoy upward mobility are not necessarily granted admission to the local nobility, however.

Old money matters here more than flash money.

In the unlikely event of a class war breaking out in New Zealand, then Havelock North would be one of the first battlegrounds.

The less well-heeled citizens of Hastings consider their plutocratic brethren in Havelock North to be a bunch of class obsessed phonies suffering from a misguided superiority complex.

But Hastings has long projected an unappetizing image of a city downtrodden.

That has been the case ever since the Labour Party’s free-market policies ripped the guts out of the local economy back in the 1980s.

Two large labour-intensive freezing works were shut down. Likewise other factories, such as fruit and vegetable processing plants, which had provided what was then well-paid seasonal employment for the unskilled.

Labour’s flirtation with far-right economic theory was brief. The damage inflicted by that party’s betrayal of the very people who had remained loyal through thick and thin is still palpable nearly in another dormitory suburb of Hastings more than three decades later.

You won’t find East Flaxmere mentioned in any tourist brochures.

According to an index derived from data produced by Otago University, this urban area is a member of a not-so-exclusive club suffering the worst extremes of social deprivation in the country.

The gap between the rich and poor is widening in New Zealand. But in Hawkes Bay, it has been a chasm for quite some time.

According to the last census in 2013, more than 42 per cent of those living on the Havelock Hills were earning more than $50,000 a year.

In East Flaxmere, there were less than 10 per cent in that category.

A product of the 1960’s, East Flaxmere was built some way out of Hastings on the stones of dried up riverbeds to avoid more and more of some of the most fertile land in the North Island being gobbled up by state housing.

Such town planning restrictions on the housing of the poor do not seem have been applied with the same enthusiasm when it came to house construction in Havelock North.

The town has expanded regardless. The demand for up-market homes has been boosted by virtue of many of Hawkes Bay’s landed gentry living out their retirement years in Havelock North after the time comes to hand over the running of the family farm or station to their heirs.

These aging members of the Hawkes Bay aristocracy pay big money to buy roomy townhouses on small, manageable sections or to purchase villas in one of the town’s retirement villages which are mushrooming like tipsy.

Havelock North is a market leader in something else. No less than three private boarding schools are located within the town boundary. They cater for the agrarians In the rural hinterland of Hawkes Bay and beyond.

If their children gain no other qualification, incarceration in these institutions means their progeny usually exit with a Lord or Lady Snooty accent at the very least.

That is something which can take you far, though not as far as it once could.

Over the past two weeks or so, however, the English twang previously encountered in the town centre’s fashion boutiques, other specialist shops and cafes has metamorphosed into a not-always silent scream.

Privilege counts for nothing when your water-supply is contaminated with a vicious gastro bug. It is not picky about its victims.

Third world-type epidemics simply do not happen in well-to-do boroughs like Havelock North. Safe water is a given. That is why the town’s inhabitants pay higher rates than the hoi polloi down on the flat. End of story. It might happen in East Flaxmere. But Havelock North? Never. Ever.

It will be of absolutely no comfort to those 4000 or so residents struck down by water-borne campylobacter in the town’s supply and those caring for them that they are not alone.

The number of cases in New Zealand of endemic drinking-waterborne gastrointestinal disease has been estimated to be between 18,000 to 34,000 annually. In most instances, the number of cases is small. Many are not reported to health authorities,which is why the estimates vary so much.

However, New Zealand has not witnessed an outbreak on Havelock North’s scale since one in Queenstown in 1984 when an estimated 3,500 people were afflicted.

Unlike Havelock North, the cause was easily traced to a sewer overflow that discharged sewage into a creek which entered Lake Whakatipu within 200 metres of the water intake for Queenstown’s then untreated supply.

In 2012, more than 400 people in the Canterbury town of Darfield became ill with campylobacteriosis following heavy rains, contamination of water with animal effluent from nearby paddocks and failures in the treatment of drinking water which led to pathogens being distributed through the town’s water supply.

Again ,that is cold comfort for Havelock North’s residents who must be asking why such incidents continue to occur more than three decades after the Queenstown outbreak.

Their initial fury at what has happened will be replaced by a steely resolve to ensure those responsible for this calamity are made to pay for it one way or another.

This town’s residents are not people who take no for an answer. They will not be fobbed by public relations film-flam..

That is indicated by the talk of the Hastings District Council being obliged to compensate local retailers and other businesses suffering a drastic downturn in cash-flow — and their taking a class action against the council if it doesn’t

Those are not just empty threats. And the council knows it.
The mayor, Lawrence Yule, is not the only politician very much under the hammer, however.

The local MP, National’s Craig Foss, had looked more frazzled by the day. No doubt he has been ear-bashed almost to death by the locals.

Yesterday’s  announcement that the Goverment and the council will each contribute $100,000 to a promotional fund to resuscitate the village’s reputation as a regional destination for tourists and other would-be vIsitors could not have come too soon for Foss.
Meanwhile, Inland  Revenue has been told to waive interest on any late PAYE, provisional tax and GST payments which have fallen due for local businesses.

Neither move amounts to compensation for loss of business. But no government of any hue would want to set what could end up being an expensive precedent which could result in Cabinet ministers feeling obliged to shell out money every time calamity strikes.

With emotions running so high in the town, other politicians have been loath to exploit the anger for fear of copping a backlash for playing politics with people’s health.

Labour did force a snap debate in Parliament. But that happened because of procedural ineptitude on National’s part.

For some inexplicable reason, National failed to deliver a ministerial statement to Parliament at the first opportunity to inform the House of what had happened in Havelock North and what was being done to remedy it.

That would have negated any granting of a snap debate. But National’s blunder left Speaker David Carter no choice.

Given the scale of the outbreak, there has otherwise been a relative drought of the usual flood of press statements and questions in Parliament that are generated by such calamities.

Labour has instead had much fun taunting Health Minister Jonathan Coleman for once saying “we don’t have these terrible water-borne epidemics in New Zealand”.

There are other reasons why Opposition parties have been so quiet.

All the blame is being directed at the council. Nothing has yet emerged to cast the Government in a bad light.

Labour, the Greens and New Zealand First will have to wait until the debate widens and questions start being asked about drinking water standards across other parts of New Zealand.

There are few votes to be gained in the interim. The party vote for National in Havelock North at the last election was of landslide proportions.

If you add National and Labour’s vote together and ignore other parties, then National’s share of that two-party vote is close to 80 per cent.

The overwhelming majority of these voters back National out of habit.

A fair chunk will be National Party members. If they have a gripe or think National has done the wrong thing, they will say so, but only behind the closed doors of party meetings.

Foss could be in a bit of trouble. But his survival will more likely hinge on the strength of the Labour vote elsewhere in his Tukituki electorate.

What is clearer is that the Government’s somewhat haphazard response to the crisis in Havelock North is an example of the fatal mix of complacency and weariness starting to rot the administration from within.

National appeared to forget a fundamental law of New Zealand politics. No matter how big or small the problem and no matter who else might be responsible, that problem always ends up landing on the desk of the relevant Cabinet minister in some form or other to sort out.

Sooner or later comes the public cry demanding to know “what is the Government going to do about it”.

That is how it has always been. It is a simple fact of political life. Any politician who ignores that reality does so at his or her peril.

Even if you are not doing very much in actuality, it is therefore vital that you appear to be doing something.

John Key and his Cabinet colleagues have generally been very good at doing just that.

But National’s usually slick damage-control machine went on the blink.
By the Monday of last week the vast extent of the gastro outbreak was already painfully clear.

The Prime Minister merely stated the obvious by declaring that the presence of a gastro bug in a town’s water supply was “not acceptable”. He promised an inquiry into what had gone wrong. Later in the week, he confirmed the inquiry would be independent.

But there was little information regarding exactly how central government was helping on the ground.

With the whole of Havelock North collectively holding a gun to the Council’s head, however, maybe National thought there was no good reason to become too involved and risk making itself a target or suffering collateral damage by being seen

This was a local government problem, not central government’s responsibility. And that was the way it was going to stay.

There has been some criticism that the Government did not declare a formal state of emergency.

But the powers that become available through such are mostly simple common sense and were already being actioned by authorities in Hawkes Bay.

Coleman made the correct decision. Whether it was the correct decision politically is a moot point.

National might have handled things rather differently had he been in the country when the outbreak first occurred.

But Coleman was in Rio de Janeiro in his other capacity as Sports minister.

The associate health minister Sam Lotu-liga was delegated as acting health minister.
A Cabinet minister since 2014, Lotu-liga failed to take firm control of the tricky Corrections portfolio and was replaced after little more than 12 months in the job.

He was instead given responsibility for Local Government, a portfolio assumed to be so innocuous that even he could not get into any trouble.

But sometimes fate intervenes in politics and ruins even the most clever and cunning political stratagems.

Lotu-liga failed to get on the front foot to show the Government was maximizing its efforts to contain the water crisis and slow to make the usual visit to the affected area as a symbol of the Government’s concern.

Fortunately for him and National, all of the blame for the campylobacter outbreak is currently being firmly sheeted home to the Hastings District Council.

This was an accident waiting to happen.

It should have been obvious that the now infamous Brookvale bores had major problems.

Bacterial contamination of the town’s water was discovered in 2013 and 2015.

In both cases, the supply was immediately chlorinated. Residents were told there was no health risk.

But alarm bells should have been ringing when the Ministry of Health’s monitoring of drinking water quality gave Havelock North a fail in the 2013-14 year when it over-shot the required standard for levels of bacteria in the supply.

The ministry said “remedial action” had been taken. In the following year, the Havelock North supply got the big tick as being okay.

But the forced closure of one of the Brookvale bores suggested something was seriously amiss.

The latest instance has seen the council scramble all of its public relations resources to grasp tightly any credibility it might still retain.

Yule and the chief executive Ross McLeod have acknowledged the council’s failure and issued their “sincere apologies”. The pair have thrown themselves into the lion’s den by calling two public meetings next week.

Those will be the best indicator of whether the town’s residents have lost all trust in the council and no longer have any confidence in its assurances.

This week’s bickering between Yule’s council and the Hawkes Bay Regional Council, however, is about the last straw. It will have only intensified public despair in what are openly dysfunctional relations between the two arms of local government.

The tit-for-tat behavior says only one thing: that those partaking are more concerned with covering their butts than acting in the public interest.

Regardless, Yule should have stepped down long before now and announced he was not contesting October’s local body elections.

At the very most, he should only stay in the job until the new mayor is elected so that there is some continuity while pressing matters surrounding the water supply are rectified.

Even if he is re-elected, Yule will be a lame-duck mayor until the independent inquiry established by the Government presents its report.

Given the council is most unlikely to end up smelling of roses when the inquiry’s findings become public, he may well have to go at that point anyway.

That inquiry’s terms of reference require it to determine the cause of the current contamination in Havelock North, whether relevant parties complied with their obligations, how local and central government agencies responded, and how to prevent future such occurrences.

The terms of reference go further by instructing the inquiry to also consider “the potential for similar situations to occur in other New Zealand water supplies.”

That goes to the crux of the matter. If Havelock North’s supply was “demonstrably safe” — as the latest version of the previously mentioned Ministry of Health report on drinking water standards attests — how many other councils are literally dicing with death even though monitoring suggests their supply is okay?

Since the Queenstown outbreak, the ministry has put much effort into raising compliance with the standards, including legislation passed in 2007 which declared every network supplier must take “all practicable steps” to comply with drinking water standards.That requirement falls short of compulsion.

Despite that, National still opposed to the-then Labour Government’s legislation, saying there was no evidence of a clear link between drinking water supplies and the majority of the cases of gastro-intestinal infections.

Try telling that now to the thousands of people in Havelock North who became sick after drinking water which from their taps.

Coleman was National’s associate spokesman when he made his emphatic, but extremely rash declaration regarding New Zealand and water-borne epidemics.

This week the now Health minister accused Labour of deliberately not providing the full context in which he had made the remark when speaking during a parliamentary debate on that legislation which became the Health (Drinking Water) Amendment Act.

Coleman added that all that had occurred a long time and, at the time, his comments were “absolutely correct”.

They weren’t then and they aren’t now.

But Coleman’s statement says an awful lot when it comes to explaining National’s on-going refusal since regaining power in the year following the enactment of Labour’s reforms to put real pressure on local authorities and make them lift their game.

Estimates as to how much it would currently cost to ensure suitable water treatment across the whole country are hard to find.

But reports produced for the Ministry of Health by a number of private consultants a decade or so ago contained figures ranging from around $250 million to more than $400 million.

In the interim, other ministry-commissioned reports have ascertained that as many as 770,000 New Zealanders are drinking water which does not comply with current bacteriological and protozoal standards.

That is not altogether surprising in rural areas, small settlements and townships.

What is shocking is that nearly 300,000 people live in cities or towns with populations of more than 10,000 and which have non-compliant water treatment plants.

The independent inquiry into the Havelock North schemozzle will consider the potential for similar situations to occur in other New Zealand water supplies and the lessons for local and central government agencies — and thus whether the relevant regulations are operating effectively.

But while the inquiry will be charged with determining the cause of the Havelock North outbreak, its terms of reference would seem to preclude it from conducting a wholesale review of all potential factors lowering the quality of drinking water across New Zealand.

That was made absolutely clear by the Prime Minister in Parliament on Tuesday.
The Greens co-leader Metiria Turei asked Key why land use was not specified in the terms of reference when it was well known that intensive agriculture was linked to declining water quality and, therefore, could be a factor in this outbreak.

He replied that the terms of reference were very broad, but not to an extent that suited the Greens’ political agenda.

Turei is right. Unless the inquiry examines all possible factors which could cause future contaminations — such as the intensification of dairy farming — its work risks being incomplete.

But this inquiry is just that — an inquiry, not a royal commission.

As the leader of a major party representing rural interests, Key can hardly afford to sanction the kind of review the Greens are demanding.

His fear will be that in setting up the inquiry, National could be opening enough of a Pandora’s box as it is.

But National will have only itself to blame if the inquiry cites central government as complicit in causing the nightmare in Havelock North.

There is a mile-high pile of reports written by hordes of scientists and other experts in recent years dealing with New Zealand’s water quality. Only a few of those documents make for good reading.

National cannot argue it wasn’t warned.

If that sounds familiar, look no further than National’s increasing proclivity for postponing the really hard decisions, be it a capital gains tax to halt sky-rocketing house prices, the unsustainability of current state pension entitlements or protecting water, that most vital of all resources, from pollution or excessive exploitation by its biggest users.

Fox on the run: Marama miscues

Not only have Marama Fox and the rest of the Maori Party made absolutely the wrong call in refusing to back Helen Clark’s bid for the top job at the United Nations. The party’s co-leader has also been incredibly stupid.

Fox was so consumed with climbing onto her high horse of indigenous rights this week that she completely forgot what she had said barely three months ago about Clark’s suitability for the post.

To say that is to be generous to Fox. If she did remember what she told Radio Waatea back in April, then she has displayed a cynicism which makes her unable to preach principle for a very long time.

When asked backed then about the former Labour leader’s credentials for becoming the UN’s new secretary-general, Fox said that as head of the UN’s Development Programme for the past seven years, Clark had been advocating for the rights of indigenous people, women, equity and fairness.

Having been removed from the “burden” of prime ministership and Labour Party policy, Clark had been able to advocate for “the human rights of human existence”.

Fox added that given Clark’s experience on the world stage, she would probably respond differently now to a foreshore and seabed type “situation” – the issue which sparked the establishment  of the Maori Party.

“So I have seen a change in the way she has conducted herself in the UN and I support her as someone who would be credible in the top job.”

That was the exact opposite of what Fox said earlier this week.

She instead attacked Clark for her record on indigenous rights, demanded an apology and – along with the party’s other co-leader Te Ururoa – said she could not back Clark.

Fox is just the kind of feisty MP that the Maori Party so desperately needs to raise its sagging profile. But she is a first term MP. She has to learn how to walk before she can run.  Being provocative is fine. For the sake of your credibility, however, you must still be consistent in what you say. And you have to give yourself some room for flexibility in case you have to change your mind at some point in time.

Fox raised eyebrows a couple of months ago when she stormed off the set of TV3’s The Nation during a debate with Imperial Tobacco spokesman Dr Axel Gietz, during which she accused him of promoting an industry  which made billions of dollars every year profiting off misery and death.

Her sudden exit looked contrived and pre-planned, however.

Fox’s gaffe only compounded the misjudgement already displayed this week by the two Maori Party MPs. In refusing to come in behind Clark, they have been petty and vindictive.

They did get a mild ticking-off from Tariana Turia, the party’s former co-leader, who will be worried by the failure of the party’s leadership to see the bigger picture.

A country of New Zealand’s size requires all hands to the pumps when someone is seeking a top international post, especially when that person already faces huge obstacles in securing the position, despite being the best candidate by a country mile.

The one saving grace is that the UN Security Council will have far bigger fish to fry than the Maori Party’s rotting kai moans when its members determine later in the year who will be in charge of the flawed, but very necessary institution for the next five years at least.

Auckland housing Part One: Not everything is big in Texas

 

PROPERTY FOR SALE

Ranch-style home on set-back section, 3 bedrooms/2 bathrooms. Kitchen has view to heated pool and private outdoor area. Deck on multiple levels. Kitchen has double oven, glass cooktop and microwave. Master bedroom has private outdoor access. Main bathroom has jetted tub, his/hers shower heads & double vanity. Several floor to ceiling picture windows let in the natural light, garage with entry from house Established neighbourhood close to city centre.

PRICE: $565,000.

So much for the real estate agent’s blurb. Given the median price of an Auckland home has now topped $810,000 while the average figure is even higher at more than $950,000, this property sells itself.

There has to be a catch. And there is one – and a rather large one. This house is in Austin, a city in Texas with a population of around one million people.

So what’s the point of all this? Making comparisons with other countries can be highly invalid. But pictures can tell a lot of stories. And the pictures above are really telling.

The price above is not American dollars. It is the New Zealand dollar equivalent of the listed price of US399,000.

There is some downside. Property taxes for this home – basically the equivalent of local body rates – are more thanNZ$11,000 per annum on current evaluations. If the property is Subsequently sold-on, then the sale could be subject to a capital gains tax depending on the size of any profit and other factors pertaining to the United States horrendously complex tax system.

There is nothing out of the ordinary about this house, however.You can find hundreds like it across Austin on real estate agents’ sites. And Austin was just picked at random.
If you were willing to fork out the equivalent of the Auckland median price, you would be on a whole new level again.

Why suburban American houses are cheaper than New Zealand ones is not immediately clear. Like Auckland, there is a shortage of skilled labour, such as carpenters. But there might be fewer restrictions on what kind of land can be used for building houses. Construction materials are likely to be cheaper. And, significantly, property prices have taken some years to recover following the slump which was part of the global financial crisis. However, Chinese investment in American real estate is mushrooming.

Does the following sound familiar?

Austin officials are quoted as saying house supply shortages have reached critical levels throughout the region.

They say the number of affordable-priced homes are becoming smaller and father away from jobs, with homebuyers now looking at homes an hour or more outside The city.

However, the increase in the median price of Austin houses is a lot slower than the rampant rate of the Auckland market. The median rate in Austin has risen from around $US175,000 to nearly $300,000 currently. In the same period, the median wage has climbed far more slowly, from around US$70,000 to about US$95,000.

But, again, the photos tell the story. There is something radically wrong with Auckland house prices – as if you if don’t know already.