Three free years

With apologies to the Greens – that’s no policy costings unit, it’s a space station.

The four State of the Nation addresses held last week make an interesting analogy for their respective parties’ goals in 2016.

The Greens are going to demand respect as mature political actors and build themselves as credible, thoughtful and full of integrity.

John Key, whose SOTN kind of vanished without a trace last Wednesday, is carrying on the business-as-usual nothing-to-see-here approach.

Winston Peters held his SOTN in Orewa and I haven’t heard anything about it, probably because my ears don’t pick up the frequency of his dogwhistle.

Labour is … doing things differently.

Three years’ free post-school education for school leavers and people who haven’t accessed tertiary education is a pretty tremendous announcement. It wedges the door open for the next generation of students who won’t be saddled with as-horrific levels of debt before they even get to start their “real” careers.

And yeah, I say that as someone who still has years of loan-and-living-costs repayments ahead of me.

snape not mad

Education is too valuable to reduce to an individual’s job chances. It’s about far more than training people to be accountants and lawyers, even if the Minister responsible for it thinks so.

Education is a public good. We all benefit from lifting up each other’s knowledge and skills and abilities to think and adapt to different situations.

And from the reaction I’ve seen, most people get that. They understand that the 25-year social experiment with “user-pays” education is a total failure. They get that there is an alternative.

But let’s look at it in terms of the direction Labour is signalling for 2016 and heading into Election 2017. Make no mistake: free tertiary education is a leftward step. And it’s about time.

Even in the latter days of the Clark government, Young Labour types would argue that making it easier for students to go into personal, up-front debt to pay for their degree counted as “making tertiary education affordable”. That was the safe approach, which technically opened up opportunities for young people in education but accepted the fundamentally rightwing idea that education was an individual pursuit and that individuals should bear the financial burden, personally and up-front.

This policy is free tertiary education. There are conditions: it’s time-bound – for now. It doesn’t apply to people like me who have already got degrees – for now. It’s dependent on passing half your papers each year.

Still: it is free. Tertiary. Education. And that’s a lot more than I would have predicted, to be honest.

I have nits to pick – I’m a leftwing political blogger, after all – but this is a solid first move after a year of stocktaking and self-reflection by the party. It’s a pity that it will be overshadowed a little by the continued TPPA shenanigans, but if Labour builds on this across its portfolios – social development, healthcare, justice – it has the beginnings of a bold, compelling set of ideas to take into the 2017 election.

Labour in 2016 is not afraid to look to the left, change the conversation, and dare National to follow their lead.

It’s exactly what they’ve needed. Long may it continue.

Metiria Turei’s state of the nation

It’s state of the nation season, which as far as I can tell is a really recent development in NZ politics. It certainly doesn’t have a patch on the utterly theatrical production which takes place in the US every time this year.

The Greens were first off the block with Metiria Turei delivering the Green state of the nation yesterday. The full text of her speech is here, and the heart of it I think is this piece:

Imagine if the Government stopped seeing state homes, and the people who live in them as a burden, a problem better shifted out of sight so out of mind. Imagine if we had a Government instead that worked with the people that lived in those communities to design beautiful new homes and neighbourhoods that people actually want to live in. Michael Joseph Savage made that real once before. We see a future where all New Zealanders live in warm, dry affordable homes. Where children are no longer at risk of dying simply because of the home they live in.

The repeated nods to Michael Joseph Savage – especially right there in the very first English sentence – are always going to inspire a lefty like me.

What concerns me is the policy announcement which played the central role in the speech. I tweeted thus:

I want to like the idea of a policy costing unit. But we have to let go of the myth Treasury is an independent, non-ideological body. Look at the endless arguments about how we measure unemployment, poverty, economic growth. “Objective truth” doesn’t exist in politics.

I worry about the framing. Does this mean accepting that cost and “fiscal responsibility” are the most important measures of policy?

And ultimately does it matter? I know us pols nerds love our deep detailed analyses but do those ~average voters~ give a toss?

Or am I overthinking it? Is it a canny play to show the Greens are a party of integrity & thoughtfulness, as National would never go for it?

I really gotta finish reading [Anat Shenker-Osorio’s] “Don’t Buy It” and then review it for y’all. One of her key points when she was out here talking to the CTU is that “evidence” is incredibly useless in shifting political debates.

So that’s where my scepticism about a policy costings unit arises: I don’t see one more “independent” voice making a difference. We have all the evidence we could ask for about National’s economic mismanagement, over decades. But we still have a National government. People *just believe* National are better governers. They *just believe* Labour are useless, the Greens are hippies, & Winston is sensible. We cannot shake those beliefs by yelling “but have you looked at our spreadsheets???” at people.

We CAN provide counter-beliefs. And that’s why the Greens are going “look at our sensible, rational, fiscally-responsible approach.” It ain’t costed, it ain’t detailed, but every headline is going to say: the Greens care about independent cost-checking. That’s the win.

It’s hard to get into all this detail on Twitter, but we have a real problem in the progressive movement. We know our beliefs are objective and correct, and we’re convinced (just like everyone on the right) that we’ve formed these beliefs on the basis of evidence and rational consideration. Logically, presenting the evidence to other people will bring them to our side.

Unfortunately this is rubbish. Yet we insist on hammering people over the head with facts and evidence and write them off as “sleepy hobbits” or similar when they don’t react well to being lectured.

What this means – even if you could get half-a-dozen economists in a room who could actually agree on a simple numerical breakdown of policy cost, even if money were the only thing that matters in policy – is that a central policy costings unit would have zero real effect on political debate. And as long as we’re bringing “my facts are the best facts” to a “my leader is the coolest leader you’d have a beer with” fight, we’re going to lose.

Key’s state of the nation is today. I don’t expect much.

Andrew Little’s is on Sunday. What’s in it? Ideas I’ve heard (on Twitter/comments at The Standard) include a definitive statement about the TPPA, or a centrepiece policy for 2017 to inspire the troops. But I’ve no inkling myself!

I’m sure I’ll have a lot more to say once all is revealed.

Labour’s reshuffle announced today

Andrew Little is set to announce a new Shadow Cabinet today  -I know, I know, the phrase Shadow Cabinet is so #ukpol but it’s also too cool not to use:

Tracy Watkins has some reckons:

Some big movers are tipped in Labour leader Andrew Little’s first big reshuffle.

“We’ve got to think not only about the portfolio allocations, we’ve got to think about chief whip and junior whip in a new government, and positions outside Cabinet, positions available for potential coalition partners.

The reshuffle is an important positioning move for Labour as the year rolls to a close. While the party’s poll ratings are up on the election result, Labour continues to trail National by a large margin.

Little said next year would be about “knuckling down” and refining policies that were “definitive enough and bold enough” to give voters the “measure of who we are in 2017”.

The long and short of it – according to Watkins – is:

  • King to remain deputy but gain an “understudy” in health, with her eyes on a diplomatic posting early in the term
  • Ardern and Davis to get some good meaty roles – no surprise given their respective profiles and some damn fine campaign work on Serco and Christmas Island
  • Twyford vs Shearer for trade – which could influence Labour’s position on the TPP
  • Good things for Sue Moroney who’s done great work on paid parental leave
  • Possible bad news for Mahuta and Cunliffe
  • Nothing for Goff for obvious mayoralty-related reasons

Little also confirmed this is the “last reshuffle” he’s planning before the election and

I have no inside information on the new rankings myself but if this is going to be the team to take us into 2017 – including some indication of what portfolios might be up for grabs for the Greens (and/or NZ First) – I’m looking forward to it being an exciting one.

UPDATE: Radio Live are Periscoping the announcement.

New rankings and portfolios are now up on the Labour website. Scoop has a PDF of the caucus rankings here.

Labour’s media release:

Labour line-up to take the 2017 election
Opposition Leader Andrew Little has today announced a strong and talented shadow Cabinet to take Labour into the 2017 election.
“Labour had an impressive intake of fresh faces after last year’s election and newest MPs have now had a year to show what they’re made of.
“This reshuffle rewards hard work and continues my drive to renew our Caucus line up.
“Kelvin Davis moves up after he shone the spotlight on Serco scandals and the treatment of detainees in Australia. He will now take on Māori Development.
“Megan Woods joins the front bench in recognition of the important work she is leading in Canterbury and on climate change.
“Newer faces Jenny Salesa and Peeni Henare move into the Shadow Cabinet, along with Meka Whaitiri who takes on local government.
“High profile MP Jacinda Ardern moves up along with Phil Twyford who adds Auckland Issues to his bow.
Stuart Nash moves into the Shadow Cabinet and picks up Police. Her tireless campaigning on paid parental leave sees Sue Moroney promoted.
“Today’s reshuffle is a strong mix of new talent and experience – and builds a solid team to win in 2017,” Andrew Little says.

A glitch in the Matrix


I’m sure there are rational explanations for the hilarious similarities between John Key (or at least, his office) stating that there is “no factual basis” to his allegations that the Snowden documents are fabricated, and a Republican senator called John Kyl excusing his allegations against Planned Parenthood by saying it “was not intended to be a factual statement” – explanations which don’t involve all human life being a computer simulation occupying our brains while robots leech our neural activity for a power source.

But that’s not nearly as much fun.

As the late, lamented Terry Pratchett wrote in The Truth,

‘A lie can run round the world before the truth has got its boots on.’

Some politicians have always dealt to people or organisations they don’t like by smearing them. It’s even easier in our ridiculously fast-paced media and online environment, where the damage is done almost immediately, and any retraction or fact-checking is left trying to catch up.

But the tide seems to be changing on Key. Whether it’s journalists (and bloggers) buying into the narrative of third-term arrogance and unconsciously reinforcing it, or whether the disastrous start to the year – Sabin’s resignation, the Northland by-election, Amanda Bailey, the unnamed Cabinet Minister with a brother facing sexual abuse charges – really is just that disastrous, Key’s shine isn’t as shiny as it once was.

Just look at how painstakingly the media are transcribing him now:

“Well, I hope not. I mean we live in a global world where you know all sorts of stories do actually go round the world in varying form. I mean I didn’t pick up any single newspaper in any country I was in and saw it. So, the fact that something goes round the internet is quite standard these days.”

Paraphrasing cannot save you now, John.

And journalists like Tova O’Brien are getting a lot less forgiving when Key brushes them off with non-answers, as in this report on the Cabinet Minister’s brother. It’s probably only a matter of time before someone goes full Ed-Miliband-on-striking-teachers on him. (Hope I didn’t blow your election chances, Ed.)

It’s hard for anyone to look credible when all their weasel words and nervous smirks are just being put out there, unfiltered. Even the clearest speaker can look like a numpty in such circumstances, and John Key – whether by nature or design – has never been the clearest speaker.

But is this the beginning of the end? Is the “honeymoon” finally over? God only knows, but I’m of a similar mind to @LewSOS. The end never comes swiftly. The polls never shift 10 points overnight on the basis of one story (or four). But he isn’t getting those free passes any more.

lew on key(Original tweets start here.)

Key admits he’s using our troops as vote-bait

Yesterday in the House, John Key admitted that it’s “no” coincidence that our deployment to Iraq is scheduled to end at the perfect moment – right before the 2017 election.

Andrew Little : Why has he declared that the deployment to Iraq will end, whether or not its objectives are completed, about 6 months before the next election? Is that just a coincidence?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : No.

The whole video is worth watching but the supplementary in question begins at 2:23:


As jaded as his opponents might be at this stage about Key’s utter political cynicism, game-playing and complete lack of real regard for our armed forces, this is shocking. Our troops should not be sent in to a chaotic situation where their lives are at risk, put in the situation of upskilling war criminals, and then pulled home – those who aren’t killed or maimed in the process – so John Key can get some sweet Churchillian photo ops on the tarmac.

Rob Salmond also has some thoughts about Key’s uncharacteristically calm demeanour during Question Time over at Polity.