Matthew Hooton

Hooton on Labour’s crisis

Matthew Hooton wrote his NBR column before Micahel Wood won Mt Roskill. Hooton did expect that and so his column about the crisis still facing Andrew Little and Labour is valid.

Fortunately, Andrew Little will and has claimed this as the beginning of the end of John Key, so nothing will change inside Labour.

Labour is close to revealing the maximum life expectancy for a major political party in New Zealand.

By legend born of working men in the West Coast mines in 1916, Labour has governed the country five times, including introducing the welfare state under Michael Joseph Savage, leading New Zealand through World War II under Peter Fraser, saving the economy under David Lange and restoring confidence in the political system under the first-term Helen Clark.  There is now no prospect of another name joining the list of Labour’s greats.

Eight years into John Key’s National-led regime, every poll now has Labour under 30%: UMR on 29%, Colmar Brunton on 28%, Roy Morgan on 23% and Curia also within that range. Labour is now as many as 10 points behind where it was three years ago, 10 months before its 2014 debacle, the worst since 1922.  In the long history of both the Labour and National parties, neither has ever been doing so badly eight years into its opponent’s term in government.

The future looks worse.

In working class Porirua, former Labour mayor Nick Leggett has announced plans to run for National. Across the Cook Strait in Nelson, Labour members have resigned en masse in protest against plans by the party’s Wellington bigwigs to abandon the seat to the Greens.

It is a mark of Andrew Little’s desperation that he will try to present this weekend’s win by a deeply unimpressive party apparatchik in the safe Labour seat of Mt Roskill as some kind of victory for his leadership and platform for renewal. In fact, no opposition has ever lost a seat to a government in a byelection in New Zealand’s history. More pathetically, if the Roy Morgan poll corrects next month and has Labour back up to the mid-to-high 20s, Mr Little will claim some kind of prescience.

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Hooton on Labour and Little’s chances

Matthew Hooton explores the predicament that Labour have gotten themselves into by sticking with Andrew Little:

Steven Joyce’s greatest political achievement will always be to have so quickly dubbed Andrew Little “Angry Andy.”

We do not know if Mr Joyce picked Mr Little’s fatal flaw through astute personal observation or just a tip off from disgruntled former staff at the EPMU. Either way, like Donald Trump’s “Crooked Hillary,” Mr Joyce’s “Angry Andy” has the virtue of being true but also the additional rhetorical qualities of alliteration, rhyme and identical syllabification.

Now, within a year of the last legal date for the election and 10 months before the likely date, Labour faces an existential crisis.

Both National’s Curia polling firm and Labour’s UMR again have Labour below 30% and National heading up, and that was before John Key’s sadly well-practised response to the most recent earthquakes. Both companies’ polling suggests there is a strong belief New Zealand is heading in the right direction and that the overall economy and individuals’ standard of living will improve over the year ahead.

Almost all of what remained of Labour’s moderate faction, personified by former Porirua mayor Nick Leggett, has now permanently left the party. After a recent exodus, Mr Little’s office is now staffed entirely by middling former union organisers, half-baked academics and left-wing journalists from the Wellington echo-chamber.

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Hooton on Trump’s win and how the far left should be celebrating

Matthew Hooton writes at NBR:

We should not be under any illusion about how radical Mr Trump’s policy programme is, if his pre-election statements can be taken seriously. The wall between the US and Mexico is only the most symbolic.

On trade, Mr Trump’s prescription could have been written by University of Auckland law professor and far-left anti-globalisation activist Jane Kelsey. It includes not just abandoning the controversial Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) but also pulling the US out of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Canada and Mexico, scrapping any talk of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) with the countries of Central and South America – which puts his policy in line with that of the lunatic former Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez – and even walking away from the World Trade Organisation (WTO), which has done more to assure world peace than any intergovernmental body in the history of the world.

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Hooton on Goff

Matthew Hooton writes for Metro magazine about Phil Goff:

There are many Phil Goffs. There’s the long-haired student radical protesting the Vietnam War and paying his way working at the freezing works. There’s the short-back-and-sides 30-something Rogernome of the 1980s, introducing student fees and explaining why unemployed freezing workers were just part of the necessary reform process.

There’s the 90s version, certain Labour turning left was a mistake and working to undermine Helen Clark. There’s the 2000s Phil Goff, who loyally carried out her foreign policy, signed the free-trade deal with China and launched the negotiations with the United States for the Trans Pacific Partnership. And then of course there’s the version of the 2010s: first being pushed by the Labour left to front the most left-wing Labour policy programme since Norman Kirk and then — despairing of Labour’s further march to the left under David Cunliffe and Andrew Little — winning the Auckland mayoralty wearing National Party blue (while holding on to his seat in Parliament in the meantime, just in case).

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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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