Matthew Hooton

Hooton on de-risking to win MMP elections

Matthew Hooton explains the risk averse nature of MMP politics.

All MMP elections have been horrendously close.

Just tens of thousands of votes stood in the way of prime ministers Phil Goff and David Cunliffe being real possibilities, and David Shearer would almost certainly have become prime minister in 2014 had the unions and the Labour left allowed him to lead the party to the election.

In 2005, the numbers existed for Don Brash to form a National-Act-United Future-New Zealand First-Maori Party hybrid. Even in 2002 a National-Act-United Future-New Zealand First government under Bill English was just four seats short of being a possibility.

Today, according to John Key’s pollster David Farrar’s weighted average of polls, the Labour-Green axis is just 1.6% behind National, with Winston Peters clearly the kingmaker. This is why the union bosses and far-left activists who surround Andrew Little remain relatively chipper, even as Labour’s more mainstream staff continue to walk out the door. With any deterioration in National’s support, they are confident they will be able to manoeuvre either their man into the prime minister’s office or Mr Peters on their behalf.

The electoral maths is also why Mr Key’s government appears so lazy and visionless as we enter what is best seen as the 18th year of the Helen Clark regime. Nevertheless, until a future Labour leader recognises that the easiest way to beat Mr Key is by outbidding him on economic ambition rather than playing to the gallery of left-wing Wellington social justice warriors, Mr Key’s lot is as good as it gets.

What’s more, right now Mr Key’s government is perfectly adequate as reasonable growth, low inflation, rising wages, low unemployment and improving surpluses suggest. All things considered, its default do-nothing political strategy targeted at the median voter makes sense.

Moreover, a few of the things it actually is doing at the edges – such as Mr English’s social investment strategy, Anne Tolley’s complete reform of Child, Youth and Family and Simon Bridges’ policy work on Auckland congestion pricing – are even worthwhile. While she will ultimately be forced to back down, Hekia Parata’s attempts to improve the school funding system are also commendable.

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Bob Jones on Matthew Hooton

Matthew Hooton is the latest person to draw the ire of national treasure Bob Jones.

After explaining some travesties of reporting against him by various media outlets he then sets about excoriating Matthew Hooton.

Despite my comments, I love newspapers and specially the Dom. But I give it maybe five more years due to the short-sighted Fairfax cost-cutting destroying all their publications. The latest newspaper circulation figures show it suffered a disastrous 14.4% drop in sales last year. Every newspaper is experiencing steady drops but none as bad as that.  Staff lay-offs have become a regular feature of late. These sackees are being mopped up by the Weather Office where their creativity has proven a boon to the forecasting department. The sole New Zealand exception is The National Business Review, which alone deservedly enjoyed a growth in sales.

Still, when it comes to fiction-writing, nothing surpasses NBR’sMatthew Hooton’s July effort headed “Bob Jones’ right-hand man set to save Labour.” Over a full page it described how Greg Loveridge was to be the next Labour leader. Apparently he was about to abandon his $9 million Auckland home and recently acquired $3.5 million Waiheke week-ender and shift to Wainuiomata for God’s sake, to pursue Trevor Mallard’s seat, as a first step to taking over the Labour leadership. Hooton backed all of this with an extraordinary NBR radio interview in which he outlined this virtually as a fait-accompli.   Read more »

Hooton on Little’s rejection of the centre ground

Matthew Hooton writes at NBR:

No one will ever accuse Andrew Little of being boring after his bold rejection this week of the political centre.

The one political concept almost everyone grasps is the traditional left-right spectrum. People understand that the right tends to want lower taxes and spending and the left wants to raise them; the right likes exams and the left school counsellors; the right is more supportive of globalisation and the left more interested in protecting particular jobs; the right is more likely to support a US military adventure while the left defers to the UN; the right wants to lock up criminals while the left prefers restorative justice.

These are all generalisations, of course but you can’t do political analysis, economics or any social science without generalising.

Moreover, people continue to be happy defining themselves broadly on the spectrum.  When asked in 2014 by pollsters UMR, 30% of New Zealanders roughly identified as left, a quarter as right and 42% as in the middle. That the largest group lies in the centre is why John Key, like Helen Clark before him, has trained his ministers to parrot in public “we think we’ve got the balance about right.”

More sophisticated models of political values have been developed but the traditional left-right spectrum continues to do its job.    Read more »

Are we done with Nick yet? Yeah, we are

Matthew Hooton thinks it’s time for Nick Smith to go.

The baffling value Mr Key has placed on the UN has now created a threat to the durability of the quarter-century old Treaty of Waitangi settlement process, the stability of the government and the National Party’s long-term project to prise the Maori vote from Labour.

With Mr Key keen to have something headline-grabbing to talk about at the 70th session of the UN General Assembly last October, the government’s chief energiser bunny, Environment Minister Nick Smith, popped up with a 620,000 square kilometre marine sanctuary around the Kermadec Islands. As Mr Key then boasted to the UN, the sanctuary would be one of the world’s largest, twice the size of New Zealand’s land mass.

The problem is that, in his enthusiasm to please his boss, Dr Smith forgot about the interests of those holding fishing quota, including that granted to iwi under the historic 1992 Sealord deal which kicked off the treaty settlement process, and about the government’s relationship with the Maori Party.  Even the iwi most directly affected were told about the announcement just hours in advance, with Dr Smith calling them with what he thought they would consider good news.

Dr Smith, who entered parliament at the tender age of 25 having first stood for the Rangiora District Council as a schoolboy, seems unable to comprehend that Maori have commercial interests and aspirations beyond, in this case, kai moana swimming happily through the reefs. Similarly, in an issue my PR company was involved in last year, Dr Smith was unable to comprehend that Auckland’s Ngati Whatua’s interest was not his cyclical political problem but protecting the value of its historic treaty settlement and maximising the value of its property portfolio in the long-term interests of its people.

He seems to have the same problem understanding the perspective of other Auckland land owners in his frantic and failed attempts to address the so-called housing crisis.

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Hooton on election dates and campaign mode

Matthew Hooton wasn’t a fan of an early election but he has noticed that some parties are campaigning already.

The argument for a pre-Christmas election is that Mr Key’s government isn’t really doing anything anyway, Labour is in utter disarray and a quick win by National, even with Winston Peters’ NZ First, could make 2017 more a year of substantive governance than endless selfies in shopping malls.

On Monday, though, Mr Key ruled out not just a pre-Christmas election but the March one predicted over the weekend by Mr Peters.  The prime minister argued, probably accurately, that New Zealanders don’t want an early election but also, totally inaccurately, that it is not within his power to call one.  Instead, Mr Key indicated the country would not go to the polls until “the back half of next year”.

With him referencing All Black tests and the need not to get too close to the annual Apec leaders’ meeting in mid-November 2017 in Da Nang, a late September election seems most likely, as in 2014.  That’s a whole year away.

My favourite year in the political cycle.

[T]he whole political class is already in what amounts to election mode.

There has been talk of new but certainly hopeless political vehicles and a mini-scandal over a donation to NZ First.

The opposition has used the time-honoured tactic of a parliamentary filibuster to disrupt urgent housing legislation that a government with its eye on governing would have passed months ago.

A broke Labour Party stands accused of getting up to its old 2005 pledge-card tricks by using taxpayer funds for a campaign office in Auckland.

Mr Key has abandoned major and long-promised local government reforms on the grounds they are too controversial but is warm to Mr Peters’ idea of paying for elderly people to go into secondary schools to teach teenagers to drive.

Most excruciating, the year-long questioning of Mr Peters’ post-election intentions has begun, along with his inevitable refusal to answer.   

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Matthew Hooton says Key should keep torturing Labour

Matthew Hooton explains why John Key should resist the temptation for an early election.

Basically to keep piling the pain on on Labour.

John Key must be sorely tempted to call a snap election before Christmas.

Labour is now in its most parlous state in its 100-year history. In the past two elections, it suffered its worst two results since its formative years in the 1920s. It is now polling much worse than it did in 2010 and 2013, the years before those 27% and 25% debacles under Phil Goff and David Cunliffe.

The latest leader, Andrew Little, was not wanted by Labour MPs or party members, instead being imposed by the unions. He is now significantly more unpopular with New Zealand voters than Jeremy Corbyn with the British and, as National’s campaign chairman Steven Joyce picked so astutely, has an issue with anger.

In our ninth consecutive INCITE poll on approval ratings (use the code “firstmonth” to get your first issue for just $1), Andrew Little has slipped to his lowest ever rating and has never had a positive result.

Organisationally, Labour is broke, advising the Electoral Commission it received no donations above $15,000 last year. It has had no communications chief since May, after the departure of former NZ Woman’s Weekly editor Sarah Stuart. Its chief of staff, Matt McCarten, has been let go to set up an election headquarters in Auckland after a power struggle with finance spokesman Grant Robertson.

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Should there be a snap election pre-Christmas?

Matthew Hooton thinks there should be a snap election. So does Rob Hosking. Where they differ is the timing.

NBR’s political commentators are squaring off over the merits of a potential snap election being held later this year.

Rob Hosking, NBR’s political editor, says Prime Minister John Key should call an early election,rather than wait until next spring.

“Governments don’t really do a lot in an election year,” he argues.

“We saw that in 2014 and we’re seeing the [effects] of that now as 2014 is when the whole issue of housing supply should have been cranking up but the government effectively spent nine months posing for selfies.”

He says after the local body elections in November would be an ideal time for a central government election.

Political commentator and NBR columnist Matthew Hooton believes waiting until next year would be a better bet for the government.

Although he says there are good economic reasons for the National to call an election at the end of this year, he says there are good political reasons to hold off.   Read more »

Hooton on the Red/Green civil union

Matthew Hooton writes in NBR about the Red/Green civil union:

One of the parties to this week’s red-green pact knew exactly what it was doing.

Since its formation, the Green Party’s political goal has always been to supplant Labour as the main party on the left. Professional politicians’ usual lust for office drives some of that.

But the Greens’ goal is also based on their belief that history is on their side: that the industrial and technological revolutions and the ascent of unrestrained consumerism have rendered the old-fashioned notion of “labour” obsolete while generating intolerable social injustice and planet-threatening environmental degradation.

The Greens acknowledge Labour had a vital role in protecting workers from the horrors of the dark Satanic mills but believe the issues of the future are all theirs.  Moreover, in contrast to the class warfare of the traditional left, part of the green message has always been inclusive: that, from Bill Gates to a Bangladeshi peasant, we’re all in it together and the politics of hate doesn’t get us very far.

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Hooton on the bumbling, fumbling, hapless Labour party

Matthew Hooton looks at the pressure on Andrew Little to move Labour to the left.

It has all the hallmarks of Matt McCarten blabbing to his mates trying to duck the blame for Andrew Little’s hapless bumbling.

The most common description of struggling Labour leader Andrew Little’s big Budget 2016 speech was that it delivered “mixed messages.” That was the kindly conclusion of reporters as diverse as TVNZ’s Katie Bradford and the Herald’s Claire Trevett.  It raises the question of how an opposition leader could have allowed himself to present such a mishmash of contradictory slogans.

In the speech, Mr Little declared Labour had a “positive plan” for “middle New Zealand” to achieve the “Kiwi dream.” This was defined as “a good job, a home they can call their own, a good school to send their kids to, healthcare if they get sick” and a “decent chance to get ahead … if they put the effort in.”

So far, so good: Elections are decided by the median voter and these are words with which three-time election winners like John Key or Helen Clark would begin a big speech.

But Mr Little just couldn’t manage it beyond the opening words and what followed was more 1980s student-politics Leninism aimed to please the quad.

Mr Little spat out the names of the class enemies: the property speculators, the land bankers, the tax dodgers. Only the kulaks failed to get a mention.

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Hooton on the rise of King Peters

Matthew Hooton was one of the first to posit that Winston Peters is aiming for a big swansong to leave politics.

The polls are pointing to that conclusion.

He’s never been Prime Minister, but wants to at least have some time in the job.

Sceptics of the Peters’ plan all miss two important points. The first is that the people of New Zealand simply aren’t stakeholders in post-election negotiations. No one voted for Mr Peters to become Jim Bolger’s treasurer in 1996 or Helen Clark’s foreign minister in 2005. On both occasions, voters would have considered the very idea laughable – and, indeed, I was laughed at on Radio New Zealand’sNine to Noon in 2004 when I first raised the idea of Mr Peters becoming foreign minister.

More recently, it’s doubtful New Zealanders have really wanted United Future’s Peter Dunne to have responsibility for tax collection or drug policy, or Act’s David Seymour to set up charter schools. But, immediately after an election, the next is a political lifetime away and the politicians go for whatever they can get, regardless of what voters think.

The second point is that a Peters-chaired government would not be seeking a second term anyway. If Mr Peters’ aspirations could be negotiated back to a single year, Andrew Little or a new National leader would have to wait just 12 months to become prime minister and would then have two full years to refresh the government and make a pitch for re-election. Sir Winston would be safely packed off to Observatory Circle or New Zealand House.

Ambitious politicians would have little doubt they could get voters to forget about the controversial origins of their government in that timeframe. Do you recall what the political controversy du jour was even six months ago? (Hint: in early November I wrote about the Royal New Zealand Navy’s invitation to the US to send a vessel to its birthday party later this year.)

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