So the Greens co-leader James Shaw recently made a mistake. In his role as Associate Finance Minister approving funding for “shovel-ready” projects, he fought hard for a private “Green school” to get funding to expand their buildings and, therefore, their student capacity. There are many problems with what he did: forgetting to oppose private schools as per Green policy; supporting an approach to environmentalism based on individual education of wealthy elites’ children, rather than systemic change; finally showing some spine around the cabinet table and for this; being so out of touch with his party’s kaupapa and membership that he actually thought his actions would be seen as a “win” for the Greens. It was a big mistake and it doesn’t say anything good about Shaw’s political judgment.
But here’s what happened next: the Greens’ membership, supporters, and former MPs flipped out. They rightly criticised what Shaw did, instead of sycophantically defending his actions because he’s the party leader. And Shaw called an emergency meeting with members, admitted it was a mistake, apologised unreservedly, and tried to do whatever he could do to reverse his actions.
Meanwhile, Grant Robertson, Shaw’s fellow Wellington Central-based MP and carpool buddy*, was working on an announcement of his own. Robertson is also effectively the second most important leader of his party, and he’s also a Finance Minister… and not just an associate one, but the proper one.
Robertson’s announcement was that his party, Labour, are finally going to increase tax on the rich. First, they’ve brought in a new top income tax rate of 39% on income above $180,000. And second… there is no second. That’s it. In this country of notoriously low taxes on the rich, in the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression, their revenue policy is: Bringing back the Helen Clark/Michael Cullen top income tax rate of 39c, but to qualify for that top tax rate you have to earn as much as someone working 183 hours and 10 minutes per week on the minimum wage. No wealth taxes, just a small income tax change that even right-wingers think is too low. Australia, the UK, and other OECD countries have higher income tax on the rich, lower taxes on the poor, and of course capital gains taxes, even before the COVID recession… but Labour’s pathetic approach is literally lower taxes on the rich than what Don Brash proposed as National leader in 2005.
So what happened next after Robertson’s announcement? Well, there was dismay and anger from the left and from the centre (this example from No Right Turn is characteristically concise and well-reasoned: If not now, when?). But did Labour’s membership and supporters revolt? Did Robertson, like Shaw, call an emergency members’ meeting, apologise profusely for his massive misjudgment, and do everything in his power to rectify his mistake? Nope. None of that. The leader of the country’s biggest union, the PSA, even welcomed the announcement. The policy stands, and will probably become government policy after the election, unless polls change and the Greens get some leverage. Yet another opportunity for Ardern’s and Robertson’s promised “transformational change” has been wasted.
And therein lies the difference between the Green and Labour parties.
* “carpool buddy”: My partner saw Robertson giving someone a ride in his Labour car during the 2017 election campaign, and she’s like 76% sure it was Shaw.
I’m not entirely sure how I feel yet.
(I guess I’m happy? We’ll have to wait and see the content of the agreement and what the govt actually does. I hope the Greens demanded a lot and got it (this looks promising but we don’t have details or confirmation yet), and that Winston emphasised the 1/3 of him that’s like Sanders rather than the 2/3 of him that’s like Trump. There is real hope of climate action, more paid parental leave, faster minimum wage increases, reversal of the step-backwards pay equity law, adequate funding for health especially mental health, more support for students and some free education, repeal of national standards and charter schools, more affordable housing even if limited crackdown on speculation, adequately funding a full superannuation system in the future with the taxes future retirees are paying now, less poverty in families where adults are in paid work, and maybe even some benefit rises/humanisation.)
So instead of reactions or analysis I thought I’d do what I do best and make a couple of graphs.
Here’s the first one. It compares the votes received by the parties that ended up making up the government with the votes received by other parties who (a) managed to make it into Government and (b) plausibly might have banded together to form a government.1
The takeaway from this is:
- The 2017 government represents a majority of votes as well as a majority of seats. Under FPP, the government hadn’t represented the majority of votes since 1951. And even under MMP, governments don’t represent a majority of party votes every time (five times out of eight so far).
- The alternative bloc (National & NZ First) would have been an even bigger majority: it got 1.29% more party votes than the bloc that formed the government. But this isn’t new. In 1996, the alternative bloc (Labour & NZ First & Alliance) got 4.42% more party votes than the bloc that formed the government. Both times NZ First chose what they thought was the best government bloc, not the biggest government bloc.
- As I argued in my last blog, MMP creates monarch-maker situations more often than FPP because it more accurately reflects how people vote. As Winston pointed out in his reveal speech, neither National nor the Labour-Green MOU succeeded in winning a majority and king/queenmaking themselves. This left NZF able to make up a majority with either side. A lot of people don’t like kingmakers—especially when they’re people we don’t like, and especially when they don’t choose how we’d like. And I get it. But First Past the Post was worse. It artificially advantaged major parties and leads to disproportionate situations like 1978, 1981, 1984, and 1993 where the opposition bloc won more votes (often substantially more votes) than the government bloc but didn’t get the all-important majority of seats.
Here’s the second graph:
The takeaway from this one is pretty obvious.
- This means I’ve excluded other parties who might have liked to be part of a government bloc but they didn’t make it into Parliament (TOP, Conservatives, Christian Coalition, Legalise Cannabis, Values, sometimes Social Credit, sometimes NZ First, etc.). I’ve also excluded parties where it’s not plausible that they might have worked together: e.g. ACT with National and NZ First this time (they wouldn’t have been needed or wanted). I dunno if it’s plausible that Social Credit might have gone with Labour in 1978 and 1981 and National in 1984 because I don’t really know anything about Social Credit, but I’ve erred on the side of “who knows—maybe”. If we removed Social Credit from the numbers, the opposition blocs would be reduced. But still, in ’78 and ’81, Labour won the popular vote but National won a majority of seats. ↑
The Mana Movement and the Internet Party have made their unlikely strategic alliance official – the full agreement is here. It will be a new party for electoral purposes, with a combined list for the party vote, but both parties will retain their own separate identities, policies and leaders.
My first reaction was sort of like Sue Bradford’s, but unlike her, I’ve rethought it and I’m now (tentatively) for it. I could change my mind, but I’m quite likely to vote for them in September.
Here’s the main pros and
cons hesitations as far as I see them.
The anti-democratic thresholds in our MMP system place very high barriers of entry to small and new parties. It’s a vicious circle – in order to cross one of the thresholds you have to assure voters their votes won’t be wasted, and to do that you have to guarantee you can cross one of the thresholds. Thus, small parties (and their larger allies) usually need to make use of various strategies like the cup of tea, the reverse cup of tea, specialist targeting of Māori seats, and – yes – the strategic alliance.
The right-of-NZ First parties have been much better at these strategies than the left-of-NZ-First parties. If it wasn’t for these strategies last election, we could have avoided asset sales and the GCSB bill, and passed Feed the Kids. iPredict thinks both ACT and United Future‘s cups of tea will remain successful this year, and National has another cup up their sleeve if they’re desperate – Colin Craig. This election is looking even more tight than the last, and the relatively-left bloc need to get better at using MMP strategically (this is welcome news from a strategic perspective, despite the hypocrisy; let’s hope the Greens join in).
The alliance strategy was used fruitfully in the aptly-named Alliance party for about three elections, almost-fruitfully by the Christian Coalition in 1996 and semi-fruitfully by United Future, Outdoor Recreation and WIN in 2005.
The beauty of an electoral alliance rather than a merger is that it enables both parties to maintain separate identities. Under the Internet Mana alliance, the parties have separate policies and policy spokespeople, separate leaders and very clear identities. It even allows the same people to be list candidates for Internet Mana and electoral candidates for their individual parties (are they allowed to do this? Apparently yes). They also have an exit clause – the current agreement will expire six weeks after the election, and they’ll re-assess after the election.
However, as long as they’re aligned they’ll pool resources, campaign together for the party vote, run a Get Out the Vote campaign and develop a shared policy platform of stuff they both agree on and they’ll all vote for.
I’m a Mana supporter – I voted for Mana in 2011 and was probably going to vote for them again. Mana seem to be the most (arguably the only) genuinely left-wing party in Parliament, and one of the parties who care most about the most vulnerable. I like what Mana bring to this alliance and to Parliament – whether in government, keeping Labour accountable to the poor and Māori, or in opposition as a prophetic voice. And I’d love to see John Minto in Parliament.
This alliance should make that more likely – it’s a great deal for Mana, giving them positions 1, 3 and 4 on the combined party list and an IP leader at #2 who’s another classic NZ leftist from way back (see below). The pooling of financial/human resources means Mana will also benefit from Kim Dotcom’s $$$, which has led to accusations of “selling out” etc. That’s a bit rich given Mana, more than any other party, have stood up for their principles even when they’re unpopular and non-utilitarian. Harawira, Sykes and Minto would not have agreed to this deal if they felt it compromised their principles. Just like with rich amateur sportspeople criticising poor professionals, it’s easy for the party who doesn’t need to “sell out” to criticise those who do make strategic use of offered resources for mutual benefit.
I’m not really a fan of Kim Dotcom, but I like some things about the Internet Party – they’ll be more radical than any other party on certain issues such as spying, intellectual property and (perhaps) free tertiary education. Free tertiary education is normal where Kim Dotcom is from, and was received by most NZ MPs older than about Metiria Turei’s age, but is too “far left” for any other party at the moment.
I’d (tentatively) like to see the Internet Party in Parliament (but see “Hesitations” below). If the rumours are true, it’d be good to see Laila Harré back in Parliament too (see below).
I probably wouldn’t vote for them ahead of Mana or the Greens, but the same goes for Labour, and I’d still want Mana and the Greens to work with them after the election. Why not work with the Internet Party before the election too, if it could get more representation for both parties, inspire apathetic people to vote and avoid wasted anti-John-Key votes?
I don’t agree that the two parties have “practically nothing in common.” They have at least as much in common as the unionists and neo-liberals in Labour, or the urban liberal businesspeople and rural conservative farmers in National, or the eco-socialists and eco-capitalists in the Greens, or the libertarians and fascists in ACT.
The central thing Māori, leftists and Kim Dotcom fans have in common is not wanting empires raiding their homes, controlling their lives and oppressing them. None of these groups are fans of US military dominance of our privacy and policy, or capitalist dominance of trade and intellectual property. The spirit of the internet is the spirit of freedom, consensus and self-determination – the opposite of the spirit of colonisation, corporate dominance and inequality.
Of course, there are differences between the groups. That’s obvious. But I don’t think there’s anything in the Internet Party’s policies signalled so far that a Mana voter should oppose. This guy powerfully shows the appeal of the Internet Party idea to a certain constituency, and it definitely sounds like something a Mana supporter get behind. I think the two parties can learn a lot from each other, and (in true Internet spirit) they’re maintaining a lot of autonomy for where they disagree.
The IP are kind of a single-issue party (well: they have about four single issues), so perhaps they could basically provide policy on their specialist areas and let Mana provide the rest – so long as they’ll accept that. I also think it’d be good to get the literal single-issue party, Legalise Cannabis, on board – I think a lot of Mana and Internet Party voters would be sympathetic to their cause. Perhaps they wouldn’t provide candidates, but they’d join the alliance in exchange for a promise that those elected would work towards decriminalisation and eventually legalisation… though maybe that’s too much to ask this time around.
No Internet Party candidates have been named yet. It won’t be confirmed until 2pm tomorrow, but it’s been leaked that the Internet Party leader will be former Alliance leader Laila Harré. This is an interesting choice – I’m not sure what her internet credentials are, but she’s definitely someone I’d be happy to vote for. It’s likely their leader she will make it into Parliament – they’d only need 1.2% of the party vote, or 2% if Annette Sykes wins Waiariki. The IP leader will be announced tomorrow – it will be someone with name recognition, whom Mana are “extremely happy” with. My money would have been on Martyn Bradbury, given his previous suggestions, but apparently he’s been ruled out. iPredict has no bets on – I expect it’s all too sudden.
It’s possible other IP candidates will be elected too (though they’d need about 3.6%). These candidates are being chosen over the next few weeks – we’ll have to wait and see who they are.
Internet Party policies are similarly “in progress.” Kim Dotcom has signalled support for various policies like better & cheaper internet, opposition to the GCSB and TPPA, combating inequality and free tertiary education, but the actual policies are being developed via online forum. There’s a lot of uncertainty what they’ll eventually look like, and (I expect) a danger of policy being shaped with a post-modern “my opinion is as valuable as yours” mind-set, rather than decent research. I’m not sure how the Internet Mana joint policies will be decided on.
Nonetheless, the strategic alliance strategy works in theory even without any shared policy platform – so long as you don’t hate each other’s policy enough that you’d rather disadvantage your own side’s policy than advantage the other’s.
Te Tai Tokerau
The whole plan is predicated on Hone Harawira having a safe seat to bring in others on his coat-tails; but it might not be as safe as it seems, despite his having won it for the Māori Party, as an independent, and for Mana. Labour’s usual philosophy is to oppose anyone further left than them, and they’re certainly not offering Harawira any cups of tea to keep the seat. Their candidate Kelvin Davis is a strong candidate who’s just made it back into Parliament after Shane Jones’ retirement. He slashed Harawira’s majority in the seat in the last two elections, and he’s hoping to take it off him this time. There’s a danger the whole plan could massively backfire if Harawira’s constituency don’t approve of the alliance, and he loses his seat (of course, Annette Sykes could still take Waiariki off Te Ururoa Flavell).
This leads into my last hesitation – voters. Other potential voters might not be so supportive of a strategic alliance. While I don’t think Mana and Internet Party policies are really opposed to each other, their voters are another story. Mana voters could be morally opposed to voting for billionaire businesspeople who donated money to John Banks. And the Pākehā cynical/apathetic torrent/Reddit lovers who (I imagine) form many of the Internet Party’s prospective voters might be swayed by the mainstream media demonisation of Harawira. So, again, the strategy could back-fire if it costs more votes than it gains. Time and polls will tell.
You might think tough economic times are a good time to do some study, but that hasn’t been true under this government. This week my union showed clearly and simply the damage Steven Joyce and National have done to tertiary education since 2009:
Step 1) They’ve made tertiary institutions “fund more people for less money while costs rise,” and there’s no sign of funding keeping up with inflation, let alone increasing student numbers, any time soon.
Step 2) Therefore, staff:student ratios have worsened at all our universities.
Step 3) All our universities have decreased their world ranking scores, and these drops are “closely related” to the worsening staff:student ratios.
Steven Joyce supposedly has a master plan for tertiary education – but it’s basically just funding cuts, along with shipping in more international students to make up the funding, more postgrads (but no more student allowance for postgrads), making governance corporate rather than democratic and making tertiary study less a critic and conscience of society, more a skills factory for the economy. The above stats clearly show it’s not working. Lincoln University has followed Joyce’s formula more closely than any other university in NZ. They’re not included in the above data because there’s not enough information available – but they’re in deep trouble economically at least.
The national students’ union, NZUSA, suggests a very different approach – funding full fee scholarships and support services for the first in any immediate family to get a degree. It would cost $50 million a year, surely a bargain in terms of the benefits it would bring: obviously it’d be great for the students and their families, and for building a fair and socially mobile society, but it’d also reap huge dividends for the economy by utilising people and talents that usually fall through the cracks. What Steven Joyce claims to want – tertiary education to benefit the economy – would be better achieved by this than by his exactly opposite approach.
PS: The obvious objection is “but money has to come from somewhere! If they didn’t cut tertiary education funding, something else would have lost out!” To which I say: correct… Perhaps anti-democratic irrigation schemes or anti-environmental motorways or anti-poor tax adjustments should have lost out.
PPS: I wrote the title of this blog before I found the above picture on critic.co.nz. Surely there’s something wrong with your tertiary education policy when it leads at least two people to independently describe you as chowing down on universities.
Photo by Greg Presland
The spectre of a possible leadership challenge in Labour isn’t going away as long as David Shearer remains incoherent, visionless and powerless against John Key. A lot of good stuff has been said about this whole mess by The Standard, Tumeke, Chris Trotter, Gordon Campbell, Brian Edwards etc, but I want to highlight one sad result of the ongoing dominance of the caucus by the old guard, anti-democratic, right-leaning, “Anyone but Cunliffe” clique.
The main feature of the recent Labour rankings reshuffle is promotions of Shearer supporters and opponents of the democratisation of the party, and demotions of Cunliffe and democratisation supporters (note also Charles Chauvel’s recent resignation).
Most notable among these demotions is Lianne Dalziel, who goes from list rank 14 to the unranked back benches with Cunliffe and most of his other supporters. This is a slap in the face to Dalziel who has been a tireless advocate for Christchurch, and an advocate for the East and the people against Brownlee’s support of big business in the recovery. Unfortunately for her, she has also been an advocate for the democratisation of the Labour party and for a return to its left-wing roots. The only two Canterbury-based MPs in Labour’s top 20 now are Clayton Cosgrove (who has no earthquake-related portfolios) and Megan Woods (who moves off the back benches to number 20).
Of course, the lack of Christchurch representation in Labour isn’t new. Christchurch people, who tend to be more working class than Auckland or Wellington, are more left than liberal; that is, they seem to be more attracted to a classic left politics of economic justice, as embodied by the last great Christchurch prime minister Norman Kirk, rather than the liberal identity politics that Labour has turned to since Kirk’s time. I’m a lot more supportive of Mana and the Greens than what Labour have become, but I’d still hope that Labour would prioritise the Canterbury region at the moment. If they really want to win back the city, they should be articulating a powerful people-first alternative to Brownlee’s way of doing things – not to mention to school closures and the steamrolling of ECAN.
I’ve remarked before that “Anyone but Cunliffe” should apparently be taken in its full possible meaning: “Key rather than Cunliffe”. It’s very sad that it apparently also means “Brownlee rather than Dalziel”.
Here’s the full numbers for the reshuffle; list and portfolios are here, I’ve noted promotions, demotions, locations and (suspected) factions/cliques. Sue Moroney is the only exception to the general pattern.
‘Cunliffe’ supporters are taken from TV3’s Patrick Gower, so should be taken with a massive grain of salt. ‘Old Guard’ are taken from bloggers Chris Trotter and The Standard, who seem to have have been a lot more honest on these matters than the mainstream media (please note this conflates various groups that don’t necessarily fit together neatly: the ‘old guard’, opponents of democratisation, neo-liberals or those fearful of returning to the left, and supporters of Shearer). The rest all most likely support Shearer, but have been less vocal about it.
1 David Shearer (no change) – Auckland
2 Grant Robertson (no change) – Wellington – OLD GUARD
3 David Parker (no change) – Dunedin
4 Jacinda Ardern – (no change) – Auckland – OLD GUARD
5 Clayton Cosgrove (little change) – North Canterbury (office in Kaiapoi) (no earthquake-related portfolios)
6 Annette King (PROMOTION) – Wellington – OLD GUARD
7 Shane Jones (no change) – Whangarei
8 Phil Twyford (promotion) – Auckland – OLD GUARD
9 Maryan Street (no change) – Nelson
10 Chris Hipkins (PROMOTION) – Wellington – OLD GUARD
11 Nanaia Mahuta (demotion) – Waikato-Hauraki (offices in Hamilton and Auckland) – CUNLIFFE
12 David Clark (PROMOTION) – Dunedin
13 Sue Moroney (PROMOTION) – Hamilton – CUNLIFFE
14 Su’a William Sio (demotion) – Auckland – CUNLIFFE
15 Phil Goff (little change) – Auckland – OLD GUARD
16 Darien Fenton (promotion) – Auckland – OLD GUARD
17 Damien O’Connor (promotion) – South Island West Coast (offices in Motueka, Westport and Greymouth)
18 Clare Curran (promotion) – Dunedin – OLD GUARD
19 Andrew Little (promotion) – New Plymouth – OLD GUARD
20 Megan Woods (promotion) – Christchurch (Christchurch Transport Issues Spokesperson) – OLD GUARD
Remainder of Caucus listed by length of time in the House
Trevor Mallard (DEMOTION but lined up for Speaker) – Wellington – OLD GUARD
Lianne Dalziel (DEMOTION) – Christchurch (Earthquake Recovery Spokesperson, EQC Spokesperson, Civil Defence and Emergency Management spokeperson) – CUNLIFFE
Ruth Dyson (no change) – Christchurch (no earthquake-related portfolios)
David Cunliffe (DEMOTED last year) – Auckland – CUNLIFFE
Parekura Horomia (no change) – North Island East Coast (Office in Hastings) – CUNLIFFE
Moana Mackey (no change) – Gisborne – CUNLIFFE
Iain Lees-Galloway (no change) – Palmerston North
Raymond Huo (no change) – Auckland – CUNLIFFE
Rajen Prasad (no change) – Auckland? – CUNLIFFE
Kris Faafoi (no change) – Wellington – OLD GUARD
Carol Beaumont (promotion – brought into Parliament as Chauvel leaves) – Auckland
Louisa Wall (no change) – Auckland – CUNLIFFE
Rino Tirikatene (no change) South Island (offices in Invercargill, Christchurch, Nelson, Wellington) – CUNLIFFE
Ross Robertson (no change) – Auckland