Friday, 16 February 2018

Princess Stardust versus The Crusher Queen.

Demolition Woman: Who is best placed to demolish Labour's Jacinda Ardern most effectively? Simon Bridges? Amy Adams? Some other National MP of whom the overwhelming majority of conservative voters have heard next to nothing? Or the woman tens-of-thousands of conservative voters already admire for her take-no-prisoners approach to parliamentary politics – Judith “Crusher” Collins?

IT’S GOT TO BE JUDITH COLLINS. There will be many in National’s caucus who bridle at the very suggestion of Collins replacing Bill English. “She’s too divisive!”, they’ll cry. “She carries too much baggage”, others will mumble. “It would be the Woman of Yesterday going up against the Woman of Today”, the pundits will pronounce. “Jacinda’s relentless positivity would leave Collins battered and bleeding in the rubble of her negativity.”

And all of them would be missing the point.

The sort of leader the Right chooses when the Left has been in power for nine years is always very different from the leader it chooses when the Left has been in power for less than nine months. The former needs to present himself as the friend of continuity: the man who will hold the country together; the fresh pair of eyes in a familiar landscape. The latter must be a demolition agent: someone who can smash to pieces the dangerous installations of left-wing radicalism; a living rebuke to socialism in all its forms: a crusher.

The most vivid exemplar of the National-Party-leader-as-demolition-agent was, of course, Rob Muldoon. The redoubtable Norman Kirk, himself, would have struggled to match the political force-of-nature that was Muldoon. The mild-mannered Bill Rowling stood no chance at all.

What do you say to a man who wisecracks to his followers that he has seen “the shivers running ‘round Bill Rowling’s body looking for a spine to crawl up”? (And here you were thinking it was Donald Trump who invented that sort of political invective!)

Muldoon’s weapon-of-choice against the Rowling-led Labour Government was his self-proclaimed mastery of all things economic. Presented with the political gift of the 1973 Oil Shock – which injected a virulent booster-shot of commodity price inflation into the already inflation-plagued economies of the West – Muldoon seized upon the Labour Government’s policy of borrowing heavily overseas (to prevent the New Zealand economy from falling into recession) as proof of its economic recklessness.

Given that the debate on whether or not Grant Robertson should relax his grip on the nation’s purse-strings is likely to grow ever more heated over the next few months, it would make sense for National to elect a leader who is ready, willing and able to expose and exploit the divisions over the proper level of public debt already widening within the government’s ranks.

Who is best placed to do this most effectively? Simon Bridges? Amy Adams? Some other National MP of whom the overwhelming majority of conservative voters have heard next to nothing? Or the woman tens-of-thousands of conservative voters already admire for her take-no-prisoners approach to parliamentary politics – Judith “Crusher” Collins?

The expectation of a head-to-head contest between the Kiwi equivalents of Game of Thrones antagonists Daenerys Targaryen and Cersei Lannister extends well beyond the boundaries of the political Right. Collins is one of those rare politicians who, like Rob Muldoon, are able to imbue their bids for leadership with a sense of political inevitability.

Jacinda Arden displayed considerable political skill in masking the scale of her ambition until she was certain of success. From the moment she trounced Julie Anne Genter in the Mt Albert by-election, however, that same sense of inevitability was all around her as well.

It was the tragedy of Bill English’s career that, in spite of his supporters’ best efforts, not quite enough New Zealanders were able to look at him and see a prime minister. A highly competent finance minister? Yes. But, a prime minister? Yeah-Nah.

The question National’s caucus needs to ask itself is how many New Zealanders look at Simon Bridges, or Amy Adams, and say to themselves: “That person is going to be prime minister one day.” Does either politician possess that twinkle in the eye; that infuriatingly knowing smirk; which betrays the leader’s intimate acquaintance with Destiny?

The other factor National’s caucus needs to consider is whether its leadership candidates are strong enough to truly test Jacinda? This is the question that the Labour caucus and party never answered honestly in relation to John Key. It would be astonishing if the National Opposition repeated the folly of sending one leaden amateur after another to do battle with such a consummate sprinkler of stardust.

It is a huge mistake in politics to pit like against like.

Judith is nothing like Jacinda.


This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 16 February 2018.

Thursday, 15 February 2018

The Second Coming Of National's Rough Beasts.

Its Hour Come Round At Last: Instead of being thankful that New Zealand’s democratic constitution transforms days of retribution into peaceful transitions of power from one combination of political parties to another, National's far-right seethes with frustration, and consoles itself with fantasies of imposing a day of retribution of its own. On that day, all those who have deprived them of their rightful power and status will get what’s coming to them.

WHAT ROUGH BEAST SLOUCHES towards Wellington to be born? What sort of National Party are the people who brought down Bill English trying to establish? And will there be enough reasonable men and women in National’s caucus on Tuesday, 27 February to stop them?

In the movie, Schindler’s List, the hero, Oskar Schindler (played by Liam Neeson) attempts to persuade the SS labour-camp commandant, Amon Goeth (played by Ralph Fiennes) to refrain from picking-off random prisoners with his hunting rifle. For a few days, Schindler’s appeal appears to be working. Eventually, however, the commandant’s murderous impulses get the better of him and he resumes his deadly sport.

For 12 years, Bill English has played the role of Oskar Schindler: cajoling, persuading and, on occasion, outmanoeuvring the far-right of the National Party into running with a moderate, liberal-conservative political agenda. It was by trading on the popular appeal of this agenda that John Key and Steven Joyce were able to give the National Party three general election victories in a row.

Not that English was some sort of bleeding-heart liberal in disguise. On the contrary, his Catholic faith mandated a deeply conservative stance on many of the social issues which Key supported as proof of National’s liberal bona fides. By the same token, however, it was English’s Catholic faith that caused him to reject the swingeing economic austerity measures imposed by right-wing finance ministers in the UK, Canada and Australia.

Not only was English convinced that austerity was economically ineffective, but he also recognized that it was politically counter-productive. Not that the economic and social policies of the Key-English era were entirely benign – far from it. The National Right had to be appeased with anti-worker and anti-beneficiary measures that were intended to – and did – inflict a great deal of unnecessary suffering on tens-of-thousands of New Zealanders. In the hands of a different finance minister, however, matters could have been a great deal worse.

This was the knowledge with which the National Right, like SS Commandant Goeth, found it so difficult to be reconciled. Why be just a little oppressive of the poor and marginalised when you possess the power to grind their faces in the dust? Why restrict oneself to fastening legal leg-irons on the trade unions when you can legislate the evil socialist bullies out of existence altogether?

For the far-right, political power only becomes real when it is used. To exercise restraint is to allow those within your power to set the limits of their own persecution. Far from being a manifestation of strength (as Schindler suggested to Goeth) the willingness to exercise restraint is a craven demonstration of weakness.

In his fascinating Newsroom essay on Bill English’s political career, Bernard Hickey describes the occasion upon which his subject was so moved by the recollection of his own and his wife Mary’s family histories that he wept:

“He talked of his admiration for his father-in-law’s family ethos and hard work in raising a big family in Wellington, despite the struggles of arriving with little from Samoa in an unfamiliar city. He also talked about a quiet chat he had with a kaumatua on a marae about the problems of Maori youth, and the need for strong communities with their own resources. His point was that he admired the self-reliance and quiet conservatism of family and community life. He saw his role as helping those communities and pulling Government out of the way to let them get on with it. It wasn’t an ugly or dry form of libertarian scorched-earth politics. It was a deeply humane and thoughtful approach where Government was supposed to treat people with empathy and dignity and as individuals, rather than as just another beneficiary locked into welfare for life. His views on helping to lift people out of poverty were a precursor to his championing of the social investment approach, which he was only just starting to roll out through the Government as Labour returned to power in late October.”

It was during this part of his talk that English was obliged to pause for a few moments:

“The tears rolled down his nose and splashed onto the lectern. You could hear a pin drop. The audience was with him though. English's story was utterly authentic and thoughtful and showed a depth of humility and humanity that struck a chord that night. He got a standing ovation when he finished.”

English’s moderate conservatism, Hickey seems to be saying, is born out of a love for ordinary people. By contrast, the vicious conservatism of the far-right is born out of the gnawing fear that ordinary people might one day decide to exact retribution from those who have found it expedient to grind their faces in the dust. That fear begets hate which, in turn, is translated into institutional and physical violence. The great paradox of far-right aggression, however, is that by oppressing the poor, the marginalised and the dispossessed it only brings the terrifying day of retribution closer.

Instead of being thankful that New Zealand’s democratic constitution transforms these days of retribution into peaceful transitions of power from one combination of political parties to another, however, the far-right seethes with frustration, and consoles itself with fantasies of imposing a day of retribution of its own. On that day, all those who have deprived them of their rightful power and status will get what’s coming to them.

That’s where we are now. English’s moderation is deemed, by his colleagues, to have failed the National Party. New, and much more aggressive leadership is required. Those panderers to, and enablers of, the poor and marginalised – Labour and the Greens – must be driven from the Treasury Benches as quickly as possible. And Winston Peters, that conservative turncoat and traitor, must be cast into the ninth circle of political hell – and his worthless party with him.

William Butler Yeats, the Irish poet, saw it all happening nearly a century ago, in the fretful aftermath of the First World War. “The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity”, he wrote in his most famous poem, The Second Coming.

The final lines of that poem can still send a chill down the spine:

… but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?


This essay was jointly posted on Bowalley Road and The Daily Blog of  Thursday, 15 February 2018.

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Taking Stock: Is the Government Doing Enough to End the Housing Crisis?

A Fading Dream: “The past 25 years have seen the gradual demise of the so-called Kiwi Dream – a place where home ownership and the economic independence which this offers, was within reach of most working families. Home ownership rates have fallen to a 60-year low and could fall further. These falls have been alongside rapid house price inflation in many parts of New Zealand and, with this, deteriorating affordability. We are quickly becoming a society divided by the ownership of housing and its related wealth and recent housing and tax policy settings appear to have exacerbated this division.” - Stocktake of New Zealand's Housing, 12 February 2018.

THE FULL MAGNITUDE of the housing crisis confronting the new government stands revealed in its Stocktake of New Zealand’s Housing. Released this morning, the document paints a far worse picture of the situation than even the parties now in government presented to voters from the opposition benches.

In the words of the three authors of the stocktake, Alan Johnson of the Salvation Army, Otago Public Health Professor Philippa Howden-Chapman and economist Shamubeel Eaqub:

“The past 25 years have seen the gradual demise of the so-called Kiwi Dream – a place where home ownership and the economic independence which this offers, was within reach of most working families. Home ownership rates have fallen to a 60-year low and could fall further. These falls have been alongside rapid house price inflation in many parts of New Zealand and, with this, deteriorating affordability. We are quickly becoming a society divided by the ownership of housing and its related wealth and recent housing and tax policy settings appear to have exacerbated this division.”

The policies advanced by the Labour-NZF-Green government in response to New Zealand’s housing crisis – most particularly Labour’s KiwiBuild initiative – no longer impress informed observers as either bold or comprehensive enough to bring about a speedy resolution of the crisis. On the contrary, they seem doomed to fail: there being neither the material, nor the human, resources required to make them succeed.

One has only to look back at the first great wave of state-initiated and funded house construction to appreciate the full scale of the difficulties confronting the new government.

Between 1936 and 1949 the first Labour government was responsible for the construction of 30,000 state houses. In other words, over a period of 13 years, the Department of Housing Construction and its private sector contractors were able to build fewer than a third of the number of dwellings which the present government has promised to build in ten!

What’s more, those 30,000 state houses were built at a time when the New Zealand economy was awash with unemployed labour and underutilised resources impatient to be set to work. Labour’s state housing programme was the New Zealand equivalent of US President Franklin Roosevelt’s “New Deal”: a massive public works programme designed to both enhance the nation’s quality of life and provide steady and well-paid employment for its people.

One of the ways the First Labour Government accomplished these goals was by mandating the use of local materials in state house construction. This decision gave an immediate and massive boost to all those businesses ancillary to the construction industry. To help the private sector keep pace with the state-induced demand, the Department of Housing Construction established two publicly-owned factories dedicated to producing the standardised joinery used in state house interiors.

The present government’s chief promoter of the CPTPP, David Parker, might pause to consider that such a policy of buying and using only Kiwi-made and sourced materials is expressly forbidden in practically all of the free-trade agreements New Zealand has signed since 1984 – including the CPTPP.

The state housing programme of 1936-1949 involved an unprecedented mobilisation of New Zealand’s human and material resources to construct a total of 30,000 dwellings. Even allowing for the fact that New Zealand’s population has more than doubled in size, how likely is it that Labour’s Phil Twyford is going to out-build Jack Lee’s Department of Housing Construction by a factor of 3 – in just 10 years?

Is it even remotely feasible that: from a tight labour market already suffering serious skill shortages; and from a construction sector already running at full-tilt; this government will be able to elicit an average of 10,000 additional houses per year?

Because, just to be clear, that total of 30,000 state houses constructed between 1936 and 1949 was over-and-above the normal total of dwellings commissioned and constructed by and for private companies and individuals. It is not yet clear whether Twyford’s promise of 100,000 “affordable homes” between 2017 and 2027 is on-top-of, or included-in, the output of private house construction.

It is important to remind ourselves at this point that Twyford’s “affordable” KiwiBuild homes are expected to sell for between $500,000 and $600,000 – a price completely beyond the reach of the tens-of-thousands of New Zealanders who possess neither a home of their own, nor a secure tenancy in somebody else’s.

For these: the working-poor on rock-bottom wages; Kiwis struggling to survive on a benefit; and, increasingly, for pensioners without a freehold home of their own; the Labour-NZF-Green government is promising to build just 1,000 state houses a year.

With the findings from the Stocktake of New Zealand’s Housing in their hands. With their heads chock-full of data showing how desperate New Zealand’s housing situation has become, Mr Twyford and his colleagues are proposing to build 1,307 fewer state houses than Jack Lee and the First Labour Government managed to build in a little country laid flat by the greatest depression in human history – eighty years ago.


This essay was posted simultaneously on Bowalley Road and The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 13 February 2018.

No Matter Whether You’re Red Or Blue – You Must Keep Paddling In Your Own Canoe.

Each To Their Own: More than any other party, NZ First has good reason for seeking legislative protection against “waka jumping”. It was, after all, NZ First that, in August 1998, was forced to watch eight members of its caucus jump out of their own party’s waka to become either solo kayakers or de facto paddlers in National’s.

SHOULD MEMBERS OF PARLIAMENT be permitted to jump from their own party’s waka into the waka of another political party? The question is more than rhetorical because under the provisions of the Election (Integrity) Amendment Bill, currently before Parliament’s Justice Select Committee, political defection by parliamentarians will render them liable to expulsion from the House of Representatives.

Introduced last December by Justice Minister, Andrew Little, in fulfilment of the coalition agreement between Labour and NZ First, the Bill is being strenuously opposed by the National Party and Act. The Greens, having supported the legislation’s introduction, are now entertaining some pretty outspoken second thoughts.

Why the fuss? Who could seriously oppose the idea of penalising politicians who head off to war in the coat of one army only to turn it when the heat of battle grows too hot?

Many New Zealanders would endorse the argument of the bill’s NZ First promoters: If you don’t like what your party is doing, then quit. It is, quite simply, unethical to upset the balance of the House of Representatives by giving another political party, or parties, votes that they did not win.

More than any other party, NZ First has good reason for seeking legislative protection against “waka jumping”. It was, after all, NZ First that, in August 1998, was forced to watch eight members of its caucus jump out of their own party’s waka to become either solo kayakers or de facto paddlers in National’s.

That spectacular act of political mendacity was glossed-over at the time and has remained largely unexamined ever since. National’s supporters were too busy celebrating their escape from the clutches of their erstwhile colleague, Winston Peters. While Labour voters were prepared to write-off the whole episode as but the first instalment in the political retribution NZ First had well-and-truly merited by leaving Helen Clark standing at the altar.

The unacknowledged truth of the matter, however, was that the nature and general policy direction of a New Zealand government had been fundamentally changed without the fuss-and-bother of a general election. The last occasion upon which such a change-of-government-by-political-defection had been accomplished was the destruction of Thomas Mackenzie’s Liberal Government by the Reform Party leader, William Massey, in 1912.

But, if it suited both National and Labour to turn a blind eye to this blatant assault upon New Zealand’s constitutional norms, it was never forgotten by Winston Peters and NZ First. Nor, indeed, by the late Jim Anderton, who had, similarly, been required to sit back and watch as the renegade Alliance MP, Alamein Kopu, took tea with Jenny Shipley and cast her vote with the National Party.

National and Act’s “principled” opposition to the Election (Integrity) Amendment Bill should, therefore, be taken with a grain of salt.

The Opposition’s objection to the legislation, if the speeches of its MPs can be taken seriously, is because Members of the House of Representatives are there to carry out the wishes of their constituents – not the orders of backroom party chieftains.

If that was ever true, then it was only in the era before the establishment of coherent and tightly disciplined political parties. Since the advent of party politics (which in New Zealand dates from around 1890) candidates have taken their parliamentary seats not on the strength of their character and ability, but courtesy of the political colours they stand under, and the support those colours attract.

This crucial role played by political parties has been further entrenched and strengthened by the introduction of Mixed Member Proportional Representation.

That being the case, becoming a political turncoat is not simply an act of personal moral inadequacy, but of constitutional vandalism. New Zealanders elect parties to govern them – not individuals. Members of Parliament who repudiate their party spit in the face of the whole ethos of representative government.

“Oh, but what about the individual member’s conscience!”, cry the waka-jumping legislation’s opponents. “Is that to be sacrificed to faceless party bureaucrats?”

The only answer to that is: “Of course not!” But, that does not mean that members of parliament are free to do as they please. If an MP no longer finds it possible, in good conscience, to support his or her party, then the only ethical course of action is to resign.

That is precisely what Winston Peters did in 1993 (and what Jim Anderton should have done in 1989). By resigning, Peters gave the electors of Tauranga the opportunity to reject or endorse his refusal to toe National’s party line. Would that his colleagues, four years later, had demonstrated a similar respect for the basic tenets of representative democracy.

There really is no need for the Greens to further equivocate on this matter. The only politicians opposing the Election (Integrity) Amendment Bill are those who have no qualms about rorting our representative democracy.


This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 13 February 2018.

Saturday, 10 February 2018

Hypothetical Questions.

Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes?  (Who Will Guard The Guardians Themselves?) All knowledge is power: and the acquisition, by your enemies, of knowledge you’d rather they did not possess, and of whose unauthorised transfer you remain entirely ignorant, could – hypothetically – give them a great deal of power indeed.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP and his White House staff are convinced America’s “Deep State” is out to get them. They’re probably right.

Regardless of their ideological leanings, a persistent base-note of paranoia thrums through the heads of most politicians. In the case of the Trump Administration, however, that drumbeat is growing faster and louder with every passing day. Making it stop is fast becoming a POTUS obsession.

It’s easy to imagine how vulnerable a political leader must feel when it becomes clear that the individuals and institutions charged with protecting the integrity of the state are, simultaneously, being encouraged to gather information about the private life of the head-of-state. Knowing that was happening could easily drive a person onto Twitter in the early hours of the morning!

If New Zealand even has a “Deep State”, then it is unlikely to be a very big or a very scary one. Our population is simply too small for big secrets. Always, there’s someone who knows someone, who heard it from someone who was/is directly involved. The fear of being exposed publicly is almost always enough to prevent those institutions best equipped to undertake covert surveillance of New Zealand’s political leaders – the SIS, the GCSB, the NZDF and the Police – from even considering such a risky mission.

But, what if the surveillance and the reporting-back was being undertaken unofficially? What if a group of renegade state operatives, motivated out of ideological conviction – or baser considerations – decided to act independently, outside the chain-of-command? What if, having seen their superiors escape any kind of meaningful official reprimand for engaging in unethical conduct, they decided to embark on a little free-lance politicking of their own?

Suppose, to illustrate these hypothetical questions, we imagine a small, democratic nation governed by a young, socialist, prime-minister. Like her immediate predecessors, this young prime minister is protected by a group of specially-trained and armed bodyguards.

These bodyguards are, naturally, sworn to keep secret everything they see and hear pertaining to the public and private life of the politician under their protection. Because, of course, anyone spending so much time in such close proximity to another person is bound to witness all kinds of behaviour; overhear all manner of exchanges; which, if wrenched from their context and passed on to an interested third party, could give rise to the most acute political and personal embarrassment.

Now, let us further suppose that a number of this young prime minister’s bodyguards, being strong supporters of the conservative political party which she and her left-wing allies have only recently supplanted, decided to “help” her conservative opponents by feeding them detailed information of a private, personal and politically highly-sensitive nature.

Obviously, our hypothetical prime minister’s hypothetical opponents could not use this information publicly without betraying its source. Nevertheless, the intelligence in their possession would likely prove to be of enormous benefit to them, both strategically and tactically. All knowledge is power: and the acquisition, by your enemies, of knowledge you’d rather they did not possess, and of whose unauthorised transfer you remain entirely ignorant, could – hypothetically – give them a great deal of power indeed.

Not that anything as dangerous as the scenario sketched-out above could possibly unfold in corruption-free New Zealand. Our happy South Pacific democracy is simply too small for really big secrets, and our public servants too big-hearted to pass on its small and private ones to unauthorised persons.


This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 1 February 2018.

Friday, 9 February 2018

Hard Choices: Genter’s Candidacy Lights-Up The Greens’ Internal Divisions.

The Pragmatist Most Likely To Succeed: The historical pattern of Green leadership elections is clear. Asked to choose between a candidate associated (at least in the public mind) with radical and/or controversial political causes; and a candidate unburdened by an excess of electorally-negative baggage; the Greens have consistently opted for the latter over the former. In the face of historical precedent, therefore, the smart money would be on Julie Anne Genter – not Marama Davidson.

JULIE ANNE GENTER’s entry into the Greens’ co-leadership race presents Green Party members with a hard choice. Either, they will opt for sentiment and symbolism, and elect Marama Davidson. Or, by electing Genter, signal their determination to prioritise cool-headed pragmatism and substantive policy achievement.

Some commentators have already decided that the Greens’ “activist base” will vote in overwhelmingly numbers for Metiria Turei’s “natural successor”. As both a Maori nationalist and a fervent fighter for social justice, Davidson openly celebrates the sort of street-level agitation that the “Baby Boomer” Greens look back on with pride, and which some Green “Millennials” regard as the only “authentic” way of doing Green politics.

The assumption here is that these “activists” constitute a clear majority of the Green Party’s membership. A swift review of Green leadership elections, however, raises serious doubts as to whether the party membership really is as radical as many New Zealanders believe it to be.

Following the tragic death of Rod Donald in 2005, Green Party members were presented with a choice between Nandor Tanczos and Russel Norman. They chose Norman. A few years later the choice was between Sue Bradford and Metiria Turei. They chose Turei. The last contest was between Kevin Hague and James Shaw. They chose Shaw.

The historical pattern here is clear. Asked to choose between a candidate associated (at least in the public mind) with radical and/or controversial political causes; and a candidate unburdened by an excess of electorally-negative baggage; the Greens have consistently opted for the latter over the former.

In the face of these historical precedents, the smart money would be on Genter – not Davidson.

That historical preference for a safe (or, at least, safer) pair of hands is likely to be accentuated this time around by the traumatic experiences of the 2017 General Election campaign.

Just how likely is it that a majority of the Green Party membership stands ready to embrace a candidate who proudly aligns herself with the radical policies of Metiria the Martyr? Do they really want to witness their female co-leader engaging in ideological fisticuffs with the leaders of the Labour Party and NZ First? Are constant headlines highlighting the policy differences between the coalition partners and their activist sidekicks more, or less, likely to see the Greens lift their share of the Party Vote in 2020?

The political trajectory of the Green Party over the past ten years has been towards precisely the cool-headed pragmatism and substantive policy achievement that Genter, more than any other member of the Green Caucus (with the possible exception of Shaw himself) has come to represent.

At her announcement on Parliament’s forecourt, she told the assembled journalists that she wanted to help the Greens develop a “clear, bold and distinct vision for 2020”.

Decoded, her message is all about presenting voters with the sharpest possible contrast between the Greens’ and the coalition parties’ election manifestos. Genter is betting that the Green Party truly is, as she told waiting journalists, “the future of politics”, and that if the Greens’ vision of a sustainable New Zealand is presented in a way that doesn’t frighten the electorate, then the Greens position in the House can be improved dramatically.

That is a goal which can only be achieved, argues Genter, if her party “manages the risks”. Which is the closest thing to a “dog whistle” anyone is ever likely to hear in the mouth of a Green candidate. The message, aimed at what Genter clearly believes to be the “moderate” Green majority, could not, however be simpler – or more brutal: The last thing we need now, after waiting 20 years for a place in government, is another Metiria!

It’s a dog-whistle to which a great many Green Party ears will prick-up and listen.

Assuming the fight remains a straight-forward contest between Davidson’s symbolism and Genter’s pragmatism, the pragmatist will, almost certainly, join Shaw at the top of her party’s greasy pole.

The entry of a third candidate – most likely the Conservation Minister, Eugenie Sage – would, however, signal an effort by the Greens’ “old hands” to blunt the increasingly sharp edges of the Green Party’s internal differences.

The risk, however, is that the membership might fail to take the hint, and that the moderate vote would be split between Sage and Genter – allowing Davidson to come through the middle. Should that occur, the Minister for Women, and the Associate Minister for Transport and for Health will simply have to put her head down and wait for better weather.


This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 9 February 2018.

Bonny Prince Billy.

Leader In Waiting? If this government falters, then the Opposition Leader will be perfectly placed to become the nation’s “Jacobite” leader-in-exile: the only legitimate inheritor of the 2017 General Election; the King-Over-The-Water; Bonny Prince Billy.

Will ye no come back again?
Will ye no come back again?
Better lo’ed ye canna be;
Will ye no come back again?

Jacobite Lament


THAT, FIVE MONTHS AFTER the 2017 election, 44.5 percent of New Zealanders remain loyal to the National Party is astonishing. Political defeat almost always foreshadows political desertion – usually on a large scale. Finding oneself on the losing side of any conflict is never a happy experience. The temptation to treat harshly the people who put you there can be very strong.

And yet National’s support remains precisely where it stood on election night. Conservative New Zealand is yet to be convinced that the government of Jacinda Ardern is worthy of so much as a second glance – let alone a second thought.

The reason for the Right’s steadfast opposition to the new regime is very simple: they do not believe it to be a legitimate government. No matter how many times the constitutional lawyers and political scientists insist that the present arrangement is perfectly legitimate: that a ‘coalition of the losers’ has always been one of the potential outcomes of any MMP election; the Right refuses to accept their arguments.

As adherents to New Zealand’s informal constitution, they cannot reconcile National’s stunning election-night plurality with its subsequent exclusion from government. How is it possible that a political party securing 44.5 percent of the popular vote – 7.6 percentage points ahead of its nearest rival – is denied power? How can it be ethical for a party receiving fewer than 7 percent of the votes cast, to set aside the clear preference of nearly half the electorate?

In the eyes of a worryingly large number of voters, the politicians currently seated on the Treasury Benches cannot be considered a legitimate government; and their leader, Jacinda Ardern, cannot be considered a legitimate prime minister.

The corollary to this denial is equally troubling. If Jacinda Ardern, the leader of the party which won the second-highest tally of votes, is not the legitimate prime minister; then the proper bearer of that title can only be the leader of the party which received the most votes: Bill English.

It is possible that Bill English’s colleagues are unaware of the power of this sentiment. As Members of Parliament, they know that the only votes that count in the formation of a government are the votes cast on the floor of the House of Representatives; and that the brutal truth of the present situation is – National doesn’t have enough.

Unlike so many of those who voted for them, they are moving on. The big question exercising their minds: Who should replace Bill – and when?

In this regard, they are, arguably, a little premature.

Jacinda’s stardust continues to dazzle us – her performance at Waitangi being just the latest demonstration of its brilliance – but, beneath the sparkling surface of this coalition government, powerful contradictions are at work. The Labour-NZF-Green government is determined to lift New Zealanders into paradise, but it lacks the funds required to pay for their new accommodation. Even worse, it is refusing to do what’s necessary to raise them.

By Budget Day – 17 May – it will have become demoralizingly clear to Jacinda’s Cabinet that her Finance Minister, Grant Robertson, is about to make liars of them all. By then, he’ll have made it clear that their generous promises of redress and renewal simply cannot be adequately funded. That’s when the deepening fissures in this ramshackle political construction will suddenly and dramatically widen; and the government’s most loosely-fastened adornments will begin falling-off.

That will be National’s Jacobite Moment.

For those who know their Scottish history, the Jacobites were the followers of the descendants of the deposed Stuart king, James II, whom they hailed as the only legitimate rulers of Great Britain.

If this government falters, then the Opposition Leader will be perfectly placed to become the nation’s “Jacobite” leader-in-exile: the only legitimate inheritor of the 2017 General Election; the King-Over-The-Water; Bonny Prince Billy.

The National Party’s best strategy is, therefore, to make no move against Bill English until it becomes clear whether or not Jacinda Ardern possesses the political skill to both deliver on Labour’s promises and adhere to her Government’s self-imposed “Budget Responsibility Rules”

If she doesn’t, then the 44.5 percent can start serenading their Bonny Prince Billy:

“Will ye no come back again?”


This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 9 February 2018.