Saturday Synopsis

Saturday Synopsis – How we will know Labour is serious about winning in 2014

Phil Goff’s departure as leader of the Labour Party may happen before or after the election. When it happens the new leader will have to make some major changes to make Labour electable again.

Labour is burdened by grey middle management types who have little appeal to the general public. These people grew up fighting the big ideological battles that shaped the 1980s. The Springbok Tour, homosexual law reform, nuclear ships and Treaty of Waitangi settlements.

The first three of these issues have been consigned to history, and liberal elite angst about the Treaty has been dispatched as Treaty settlements have been made. It is hard to claim that Ngai Tahu have been hard done by when they have become the biggest property developers in the South Island, and they are just one of many. New Zealand seems to have listened to the “Full, Fair and Final” rhetoric, and thankfully so have many of the more pragmatic Maori.

The issues facing New Zealand in the future are likely to be economic and environmental. Labour will have to have people who can sell policies in both areas, whether it is water rights & cleaning up rivers, lowering compliance costs and ACC levys for self employed tradies, or increasing average incomes for all New Zealanders.

These are very different issues to those old MPs like Goff, King, Mallard, Dyson, Dalziel, Street, Horomia, Ross Robertson and Barker cut their teeth on. All of these MPs are either too closely associated with the past, or too grey to sell new policy, and need to go.

It will be easy to see if Labour are serious about winning in 2014. Immediately the new leader comes in they will tell all the above MPs they should retire for the good of Labour, and if that means by-elections so be it.

The next indication of Labour’s seriousness in winning in 2014 will be to recruit MPs who can win votes in middle New Zealand to replace those in safe red seats. Careful management of selection processes will be required to make sure more MPs like Stu Nash make it into caucus rather than decidedly average union hacks like Carol Beaumont or Carmel Sepuloni.

Ex-rooter Nash may not have union credentials but at least he can appeal to middle New Zealand on issues that matter to modern New Zealand and he certainly does appeal to women, lots of them, unlike Phil Goff who hardly even appeals top his wife. Nash is a classic case of one of the few good retail politicians in Labour getting the bums rush because he is not a self serving unionist or one of the gaggle, and the sisterhood disliked his rooting. This is a short sighted view, and Labour need fewer self serving unionists and members of the gaggle and more MPs who like Nash can win votes by selling policies to middle New Zealand.

Labour will have to rapidly recruit more people like Nash. Moderates, good retail politicians, and not too associated with either the past, unions or minority groups. This may mean not rewarding many loyal party servants who simply do not have the ability to win votes for Labour, no matter how long and how diligently they have sat through boring party meetings.

The next Labour leader needs to stamp his authority on the party. (It will be a him as there are no compelling women who could lead the party as there was no regeneration and no good women coming through). He needs to force out some of the deadwood immediately, demote the rest and recruit good strong candidates to win by elections in seats like Mt Roskill, Hutt South, Rongotai, Christchurch East and Port Hills. List MPs Street and Barker need to be pushed to stand aside for better candidates, and this needs to happen quickly or the opportunity will be missed.  This needs to happen in early 2012 to give new MPs a chance to get some experience, and to completely disassociate Labour from the failed policies Helen Clark’s government was kicked out for.

Unless this happens the Labour caucus will continue to have little relevance to modern New Zealand. Until they become relevant again they will not make much progress in winning the votes in middle New Zealand they need to win. The next leader needs to have a very big axe and to swing it hard and repeatedly or 2014 is a near guaranteed National win.

Saturday Synopsis – Likely New Ministers

A continuation of the series thinking ahead until after the Election.

The current polls mean anything other than a massive National victory is about as believable as the fairies at the bottom of Phil Goff’s garden. This opens up at least three places for new ministers after the election, and perhaps more in the event that ACT fail to get enough MPs to have influence or chose to have a big sook and sit on the cross benchers.

Three current Ministers, Mapp, Te Heu Heu and Power retire at the election. This theoretically opens up three gaps, and perhaps more if John Key decides to demote any under performing ministers, or those caught up in ethics or sex scandals.

John Key chooses the National Cabinet, and from what this blog can gather there are going to be a large number of very disappointed people who entered parliament before or at the 2005 election.

Chief Whip Chris Tremain appears likely to take the step up after a solid tenure in the Whips office. Chris’ actual business ownership background helps when considering how few of caucus actually have put their own money on the line and employed people at their own risk. He has built strong links across the house through the parliamentary rugby team, and could well be the go to guy if negotiations with other parties are required later in the term.
Chris’ fantastic ability to turn a red seat very blue was noted by David Farrar and points to him potentially having a role selling tough National policies, as he is one of the few that actually understands strategy and front foots difficult issues rather than hiding.

The liberal media have been talking up Chester Borrows, who is very much on the wet/pinko/blue liberal faction of caucus, because he will replace media darling and pinko standard bearer Simon Power, although Tony Ryall seems to have the front running as the leader of this faction and it is my bet that the media will start talking about him as the next best hope for national after John Key. This blog remains unconvinced that National needs more pinkos or wets in cabinet when they are borrowing $380m a week and being tough on crime has been shown to be popular and to work.

Chester came up with a sensible compromise on the anti smacking issue, but around the house his stature is probably greater in the eyes of the media than in the eyes of his colleagues. Wanganui is a seat Labour need to win back if they are to win power, and Chester could lose his seat in 2014.

The Prime Minister will have to look to bring in more women so he doesn’t get criticised in the same way National will be hammered for having only 16 women out of 58 MPs, and so few new women entering parliament. This gives both Jo Goodhew and Amy Adams a potential head start on their competitors.
Jo is similar to Chris Tremain in that she can win votes and get swing voters backing her. She had the single biggest swing in the 2005 election, ousting Jim Sutton by close to 7000 votes, after Jim won it in 2002 by 6500 votes. Unfortunately for Jo she may be asked to run the Whips office so someone with experience remains there if Chris Tremain is elevated.

Amy Adams has managed to impress many, especially in the media where she has apparently masked her right wing tendencies to come across as very much part of the wet/pinko/blue liberal wing. She is known to be close to Simon Power, which is part of Amy’s real problem. Given her high positive ratings it is likely she will be promoted, but how far she goes is a unsure. Her indiscretion is legendary. At the beginning of her first term she was telling caucus colleagues what role they would play in her administration in her first term as Prime Minister, and openly talking of backing Power over Collins in a leadership battle. Unlike many successful women politicians Amy also seems more in touch with the modern ladette culture, and can drink and curse with the best of them and often remaining the last one standing.

As highlighted earlier, this term is likely to become unruly for National as there will be many who see themselves as perfect for Cabinet who are passed over for peers. Almost all of those in parliament before 2005 fit in this category, and it is easy to see objections to most of the rest of the 2005 in take. None of these people have really seized the day and made an indelible impression in politics.

Unfortunately the same can probably be said about most of the rest of the 2005 intake. Almost all came in with good credentials and high hopes but have probably not done enough to inspire promotions. Many are simply too old, and others faces don’t fit. David Bennett may be an outside chance but his womanising when colleagues are working is apparently a huge point against him in the eyes of the PM.

Some of the 2008 intake may make the step up straight after the election, but may be told to wait their turn. Some will likely never get a turn as they have blotted their copy book badly, including Nikki Kaye for getting off side with the party line and giving Nick Smith a hard time in the house, and Melissa Lee for the shambolic Mt Albert by election.

Men like Simon Bridges and Todd McClay have been talked of as potential candidates to step up, and may well do so but not immediately post election.
This all assumes that the Prime Minister decides not to demote anyone else from cabinet to bring new blood through for the good of the people.

Saturday Synopsis – Can Labour win in 2014?

It is hard to imagine any a scenario where Phil Goff becomes Prime Minister after the 2011 election, unless a sex scandal or ethics scandal completely undermines National.

The Election result will determine how effective Labour can be in opposition in the next term. If Goff leads them to ruin like Bill English did to National in 2002, it will be 2017 before Labour can seriously contemplate winning an election. Too few MPs means an inability to put a government under real pressure, and too many challengers to incumbents which makes winning votes expensive and difficult.

If Labour continue to track within a band of 27-33% of the vote they are going to struggle in the next term not just because of the size of their caucus. More worrying for Labour is the deadwood that will be preventing new blood coming through and connecting with the electorate.

There are two types of deadwood, those who have limited contributions to the Labour caucus but keep out good people. In this category fit Rick Barker, Steve Chadwick and Ross Roberston. MPs like this can be safely ignored, because though they potentially hold up someone good they do not get in the way of senior Labour MPs connecting with the electorate.

The bigger problem for Labour is the second group of deadwood, deadwood that thinks it is still alive long after it has died in the minds of the public. Labour still have a large number of reasonably competent people from the Clark regime exerting huge impact on the culture and direction of Labour. These people represent the failures of the last Labour government, and have continued to recycle Clark era policies in a totally changed world. They still have expectations of making it back into cabinet, but realistically they are past their used by date and will never again be able to connect with voters on a mass scale.

Included in this group are Phil Goff, Annette King, Lianne Dalziel, Ruth Dyson, Trevor Mallard, Maryan Street, and Parekura Horomia, all assured of a place in the next parliament. While they are still around it will be difficult for the very grey men, Parker & Cunliffe to change the culture of the party, even if these people will leave Parliament in 2014.

These seven MPs will likely retire or be pushed in the next term, some potentially forcing by-elections, but while they remain in caucus they provide a huge barrier to Labour successfully rebranding and reconnecting with the public.

As a party Labour have failed to regenerate, and failed to make a clean break with the messy past. The likely outcome of this is another messy term where they are unable to make National look inept or corrupt, the key role of an opposition wanting to win back power.

Saturday Synopsis: Will National’s Caucus be Unruly after the Election?

This is the first in a series of posts about New Zealand’s political scene after the 2011 Election.

Will National’s Caucus be Unruly after the Election?

Phil Goff’s hopeless polls means that unless Labour changes leader National will be back in for another three years. The next three years could be a lot tougher on the PM than these three years where his bully boys have been able to easily keep caucus in line.

Thinking hard about the National Government there are only two examples of dissenting opinions from the back benches playing out in the media. Both were from Nikki Kaye, the first over her opposition to Nick Smith’s entirely sensible removal of the need for a resource consent for cutting down trees. This was a good move from Nick, and the sky hasn’t fallen on anyone’s heads despite the dire warnings from Nikki and a whole bunch of smelly greenies.

The other time Nikki Kaye got on the right side of an issue as National had to pull back on mining in National Parks as the mining minister was a bit busy trying to work out which pie shop was the best in the country and didn’t listen to Captain Panic Pants. Nikki took a principled stand on mining on Great Barrier Island, and apparently after asking for permission to dissent so she played it by the book.

The reason National will be fractious in the next term is when the big guy comes around to lean on a back bencher with the direct threat of a low list place or not getting into cabinet the back bencher will tell him to f*** off or preferably die so they have a shot at his cabinet post.

Unless there is a major sex scandal that takes a few more cabinet ministers out of cabinet it looks certain that the only three positions up for grab are the retiring Power, Te Heu Heu and Mapp. There will likely on be three more people making the step up, and perhaps some changes in the whips office if the whips are promoted.

If you are not one of the lucky three, and have been in parliament for two terms or more already you will probably have realised that you are not going to get a promotion because you have played nice for two whole terms and you are getting nothing.

The same situation applies to back bench List MPs. If you have been there for two terms and don’t get an immediate promotion after the election it will be unlikely you will get one. You will start questioning if it is worth hanging around as a scum list MP and a backbencher to see if you get a slot in cabinet after the 2014. This probably means you start thinking “I had a productive and interesting life outside parliament where I earned a lot more and didn’t have to deal with dickheads like Trevor Mallard”. Then you start thinking there is no point in playing nice any more, and you might as well start taking a principled stand.

This also is likely to be how the 2008 and 2011 intake think. You won’t have much chance of getting into cabinet in the current administration so you are better off forging a reputation for being principled. If you didn’t sign up to the National Party to borrow $380m a week or you don’t subscribe to any of the other wet policies of this administration you will probably decide to take a principled stand on issues so when the next National government forms in ten years or so you are known as a person of principle, not a party lackey.

This will cause problems and if certain hefty bully boys start trying to lean on MPs they will likely be told to get stuffed because there is no real reason for a backbencher to play nice. Unlike Labour, National do not have a vice like grip on caucus, or an H2 to brutally enforce decrees. The other important difference for National is most of their caucus have been successful in the private sector before becoming MPs, and aren’t beholden to the party for future success. Many have taken a big pay cut to be a back bencher, and could have a fulfilling and lucrative career outside of parliament.

A fractious caucus means the whips position could be a poisoned chalice. It will not be something anyone with ambitions for a major role in the next National government should accept.

This blog likes principled political debates of the type that MMP has pretty much stopped in its tracks as MPs have to toe the line if they want to get a decent list position. So hopefully this will pan out and the next term of the National Government will have more than just Nikki Kaye taking principled stands against the government.