Thursday, August 30, 2007

Labour's Next Leader?

I tend to agree that Labour's caucus would be bloody stupid to roll HC before the next election. Changing leader never works. I simply don't agree with the revisionist view that Moore helped Labour mitigate an absolute disaster when he was made leader seven weeks before the 1990 election: Labour had its worst result since 1935 at that time.

Helen Clark clearly has the support from Labour's three factions: the unions, the organisational wing, and the rainbow faction. None of them support Goff, and they never will. Helen Clark has successfully, over the last fourteen years, weeded out pretty much anbody who doesn't support her, and has fashioned the Party in her own image. That's good politics, and is a tribute to her political skill, ruthlessness, and longevity.

Goff's faction--the rump that still exists, consists primarily of Clayton Cosgrove, Harry Duynhoven, Annette King, Damien O'Connor, Dover Samuels, George Hawkins, and Paul Swain. Several of them are retiring at the next election. But that's it. Cunliffe could potentially support Goff, and he's politically much more closely aligned to him, but would only do so to see Goff fall flat on his face following a major defeat. Cunliffe aspires to the job himself, and would much rather take the deputy role to a left-leaning leader, see the leader take the hit, and slide into the job himself.

Having said that, Labour's MPs are a mercenary bunch: they don't generally have options outside of Parliament, and will swarm to whomever is most likely to save their skins. Maharey has cooked his own goose, and despite his prior ambition, he's now no longer interested in the leadership, and is most likely to announce in the next few months that he is taking up an academic post at Massey University and not standing at the next election. Mallard has also spoiled his ambitions with his muck-raking backfiring on him.

So who's left for leadership contention? Michael Cullen, a list MP, will retire soon after the 2008 election, rather than serve out a term in opposition. Annette King will be 61 at the next election: she would be a safe deputy leader, but she won't aspire to the role in opposition.

Mark Gosche has the political skills to grab the leadership if he wants it, but he's taken a back seat over the last few years to focus on his family life. He would have the support of the unions if he wanted it, and has the back-door cunning to snaffle the job for the Left in the Party. But there's no indication that he wants it.

Helen Clark will resign after the next election, but not before. Her problem is that there is nobody of the Left remaining who has the skills, and isn't tarnished by her office, to replace her. Pete Hodgson could emerge as an interim leader, which would satisfy the Left of the Party, but his macchiavellian tendencies, and downright human nastiness, will see him fall over quickly. Cunliffe could work as his deputy, hoping to inherit the leadership when Hodgson fails. Goff won't work as Hodgson's deputy.

Goff's only hope of winning the leadership after Clark steps down is to take over finance, and force Cullen out of the deputy leadership before the election. Both are reasonably likely. Goff will have to play a long game to undo Clark's years of stacking her party with her own supporters. If he takes the leadership, he cannot expect to get Labour into Government within the next two terms. That is a demoralising position for any leader.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Bad Nat

One of the temptations of an opposition party running high in the polls, in a relatively strong economic climate, with large fiscal surpluses, is to do as little as possible to damage its political constituency by presenting alternative options to the electorate. There are sound reasons for this. The most important of which, on broad economic policy, is that the flailing Government, short of good ideas, will steal the Opposition’s agenda at any cost to retain office.

For this reason, the Nats aren’t going to announce any broad economic policy until after Michael Cullen delivers his last budget next year. Apart from the risk of copycat policy-making from the government in retreat, the Nats simply don’t know how much money there will be to play with. All the indications are that Labour will throw caution to the wind, and use every resource at its disposal to offer massive bribes to the electorate. Fiscal prudence will be the first victim of Labour’s 2008 budget. I wouldn’t even be surprised if Cullen revises the Reserve Bank’s inflation agreement, to allow Alan Bollard to allow looser monetary policy within Cullen’s massive spending binge.

I simply don’t agree with criticisms of John Key as Labour-Lite. We won’t know what the big ticket policy items are for another ten months. The proof of the accusations of pink toryism won’t have any validity until John Key and Bill English commit to higher government spending in the long term. Frankly, I just can’t see that happening.

While I’m sympathetic to the view that Kate Wilkinson didn't actually endorse the proposal (instead saying it was a "welcome contribution to the discussion"), she should have slammed it immediately. It’s simply bad political practice to encourage a document from the Families Commission that is economically unworkable.

The country simply can’t afford to pay new mothers parental leave for 14 months in the short, or even medium term. And nor should the National Party be welcoming it. Sure, Kate Wilkinson was only publicly stating that she will take the proposal to Caucus. Yet any indication that the Nats are prepared to outspend Labour with taxpayers’ money, is a bloody poor message to be sending to overburdened taxpayers. It’s bloody stupid to be hinting at a massive fiscal injection independently from National’s broader economic policy.

John Key took a much more moderate position on Breakfast TV this morning, and certainly wasn’t endorsing the proposal. But Wilkinson should never have been endorsing it in the first place.

What Wilkinson should have said, and what John Key should have said this morning is:

“Look. The reality is that after eight years of Labour Government, Helen Clark and Michael Cullen have thrown billions upon billions of taxpayers’ money at all kinds of social problems. Taxpayers have paid for it, and the cost has been years of missed opportunity for New Zealanders to grow their incomes. Governments generally don’t spend money better than individuals do. Labour has shown for eight long years that it is ideologically opposed to people becoming wealthier, and instead throws money at people it wants to bribe. National is committed to allowing New Zealanders who aspire to have more, to have the economic independence to make their own choices with their money.

The reality is that New Zealanders simply aren’t wealthy enough to afford such a gold class paid parental leave policy. We aren’t wealthy enough to pour billions more money into health and education, as Labour has done, with no improvement in outcomes. If we’re going to spend more taxpayers’ money, we should expect much better results for taxpayers. We just haven’t had the better results. We can’t afford to be paying 24,000 more civil servants, either. New Zealand taxpayers are struggling to get ahead, not because we don’t have a gold class paid parental leave policy, but because Labour believes in taxing New Zealanders so heavily that they can’t get ahead.

There is a problem in New Zealand with a low birth rate. It is an enormous financial commitment for middle income New Zealanders to have children. Ironically, the state currently encourages many people without the tools to advance themselves economically or socially, to have children they’re not equipped to have. That isn’t a workable policy prescription. The solution is to provide an environment where people take responsibility for the children they do have, and for the state to allow those who do take responsibility for their actions, to have greater freedom to exercise their choices with the money they earn.

This policy proposal from the Families Commission is a precursor to the Government bribing you again with your money at the next election. Michael Cullen will announce another $500 million in his budget, because he is hellbent on doing all he can to expand the size of the state, at your expense. That policy prescription doesn't work. You save and invest your money far better than Michael Cullen does."

It should have been a huge opportunity to slate the excesses of this Labour Government, that they have set up the absurd Families Commission, full of irrational civil servants, who have nothing better to do other than come up with stupid policy proposals that just aren’t affordable. Instead, Kate and Judith have missed the boat by taking a woolly approach that will never be implemented.

Monday, August 27, 2007

When the Poultry Comes Home To Roost...

Politics can be a dirty game. Just ask Don Brash.

Having inherited the leadership of the National Party after its biggest ever election defeat in 2002 to within a whisker of winning the Treasury benches in 2005, it was always clear that Labour’s knives would be out for him.

It is an unwritten convention in New Zealand politics that while politicians themselves are fair game, an attack that is likely to bring harm against the family of the politician isn’t. The Press Gallery generally cooperate with this. Thus when Trevor Mallard and David Benson-Pope claimed under parliamentary privilege that Brash was involved with another woman, Brash decided he’d had enough of politics: that his family and personal life were more important than becoming Prime Minister.

It is the nature of parliamentary life that MPs spend most of their time away from their families. This puts a strain on their relationships. They are also permanently in the public spotlight, and are subject to the kinds of temptations away from home that they simply weren’t exposed to prior to coming to Wellington.

MPs from all sides of the House have, in the past, suffered marital breakdown. It isn’t new in politics. It’s also not uncommon for a jilted spouse, out of spite, to break the story: thus David Lange’s split with his wife hit the headlines in 1989. So too did Don McKinnon’s, some years later, in similar circumstances.

The story is never about the break-up, or the infidelity, for good reason. Gallery journalists are not immune to aphrodisiacs of fame and power, and are frequently too close to the political players to risk damaging media relationships about matters that the public doesn’t want to hear about. Yet when a jilted wife decides to out her husband for having an affair that has led to the end of a long-term marriage, the story gathers a degree of legitimacy.

So too is there legitimacy around a public figure making public, moral statements that are at odds with their behaviour. The hypocrisy of Newt Gingrich, then speaker of the US house of representatives, leading the charge against Bill Clinton, after thrice-married Gingrich had served divorce papers against his critically ill wife while he was having an affair, made Gingrich a legitimate target. Brazen hypocrisy, as Gingrich found, is bad politics.

So too is the story of Trevor Mallard’s marital split legitimate. This is the same man who hounded Don Brash out of public office. It is simply cowardly for the Gallery to put Mallard’s break-up—which they have known about for two months, after Mallard went around the Gallery explaining it to them, and how he expected them to respect his privacy—in the context of all the other failed marriages in politics.

Again, the story isn’t about Mallard’s marital split: it’s about the hypocrisy of a man who deliberately conspired to dirty political life in New Zealand for political gain, engaging in the same kind of behaviour that he alleged of Don Brash.

Trevor Mallard’s family legitimately deserve privacy at this time. Mallard himself doesn’t deserve. It has been well known in Wellington for some time that Mallard’s marital split has not come about simply due to the stresses and strains of political life: there is another person involved. It is time the media fronted up and asked Mallard the hard question: in light of the way he used Don Brash’s personal life to destroy Brash’s will to continue in politics, what right does Mallard think he has to be treated with respect and privacy when his marriage breaks down?

Friday, August 24, 2007

Muckraking Tony Censors Blog--Again!

You would have thought that Tony Milne, Labour Party council member and left-wing candidate for Council, might have learned from his last censorship activities: despite his attempts to conceal the outrageous and defamatory claims he made on his blog about Mayoral front-runner Bob Parker, it appears that Tony still has time to read from Pete Hodgson's song-sheet.

I made a comment on his post pointing out that I expected Tony to censor it, but the fact that Tony got into hot legal water the last time he engaged in muck-raking doesn't seem to have deterred him.

Tony Milne is not a bad guy. He's relatively bright, given the company he keeps. But he does seem to be very misguided. It's clearly not in his nature to engage in this kind of shit-flinging. How much pressure are otherwise good and hard-working Labour Party officials under to attempt to assasinate the character of National's leader?

How long before these otherwise upstanding and loyal Labour Party members see the light, and accept that trying to pull down John Key will only damage their political fortunes further? Or is another strategy at play? Is Pete Hodgson on a suicide mission within the Labour Party: to harm its electoral chances so significantly as to prime the Party for a total purge next year?