Food for thought on Shane Jones’ retirement

As a Pākehā feminist I don’t think I have a lot that’s new to add to the discussion around Shane Jones. My feelings on the topic are pretty predictable.

But fortunately there’s a big ol’ world of Kiwi bloggers out there who bring different – and importantly, Māori – perspectives to the table.Perspectives that don’t tend to get a lot of play in the mainstream discourse.

Morgan Godfery (@MorganGodfery) has posted a political obituary for Shane Jones at Maui Street:

I disagreed with much of what he said, sure, but I recognised a commanding Maori leader.

Here was a man – and I’m deliberately using gendered language, but more on that later – who understood the Maori experience and the Maori condition: our idiosyncrasies, language, literature, history, philosophies, spiritualism and our politics.

And that’s what set Jones apart. In that respect, he was above the Maori leaders of his generation.

He goes on to talk about Jones’ strengths and weaknesses, especially in the context of specifically-Māori political history and aspirations. He asks,

… I’m mourning what he represented and what appears to be, for now, a loss of meaning in Maori politics. Who carries the tohu of the likes of Carroll now? Is that political line broken? After all, Parekura has gone. Tariana is leaving. But who is coming through?

Marama Davidson (@MaramaDavidson) happily responds in a post at the Daily Blog about the prospects of new Māori political leadership:

Jones’ announcement brings us to the end of Parliament time for five high profile Māori politicians over the past year. On 29 April it will be one year since the passing of Parekura Horomia, Labour MP for Ikaroa-Rawhiti. Last year Māori Party co-leaders Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples signalled they would retire from Parliament after the 2014 elections. Two weeks ago Tau Henare National MP also declared he will be stepping down come September.

Whatever our political colours this combined exit represents nearly 70 years of Māori Parliamentary experience. There is no denying that they are political icons in the Māori world. Some commentators have noted their departure as an alarming exodus. I think it is merely a reminder for us all to support more Māori to step up.

There’s certainly a gap to fill – from this Pākehā’s perspective, Shane Jones has always been, possibly unfortunately at times, the face of the Labour Party on all things Māori. (The way our media treat Māori or any other minority group as a monolith is another huge topic to think about.) Who’s going to be the media go-to now? (If Kelvin Davis is going to carry on in this vein I definitely want to hear more from him!)

If you’ve seen any other good writing on the topic, drop a link in the comments!

Russel & Metiria – or Winston?

Yesterday Rob Salmond commented on Labour’s two likeliest options for coalition partners after the 2014 election, and had some interesting things to say about New Zealand First and the Greens.

But I must beg to differ on the suggested advantages of offering a plum deal to Winston and expecting Russel and Metiria to play along for the sake of a leftwing government at all costs.

Of course Labour shouldn’t rule out working with Winston, because the cardinal rule of NZ politics is “Never underestimate the power of Winston”. And he’s proven himself quite capable of backing good social policies, as long as they’re populist and have Winston’s name all over them.

But he’s also a man who has happily settled for completely empty titles in the past – the role of Treasurer, or Minister-of-Foreign-Affairs-outside Cabinet, must be the definition of ‘baubles of power’.

Then we have the Greens, who have steadily increased their share of the vote, and who have become increasingly pragmatic about the abilities of a mid-sized party in an MMP Parliament to get things done.

Interestingly, published around the same time as Rob’s post was this from Chris Trotter in the Press, on the challenge faced by the Green Party:

Only the Greens have grasped the need to turn the mechanisms of the market to new, environmentally sustainable and socially integrative purposes.

That being the case, we should not be surprised at the constant and increasingly aggressive misrepresentation of the Greens’ political project.

I don’t think Rob was wilfully misrepresenting the Greens in his post – but he has shown a bit of a tendency to assume that everything they do is a calculated power play. In the post linked above, he states

I think this realization underscores Metiria Turei’s weekend musing about co-Deputy Prime Ministers, which I imagine she knows is simply not going to fly in 2014. Now that she has floated the idea, it gives the Greens another thing to “very reluctantly give away” in the negotiations.

In an earlier post at Polity, he asserts that it was the Greens who leaked details of their offer for a pre-election deal – something I’ve not seen proven anywhere. (Personally, I think it’s just as likely that a certain freshly-departed, strongly anti-Green, Labour MP could have done it to further wedge the parties apart.)

Yet Jim Anderton was Deputy PM with 10 Alliance MPs following the 1999 election. And as Rob himself has pointed out, pre-election deals aren’t unheard of.

I’m seeing a tendency to assume that New Zealand First, while hazardous to handle, can be domesticated; whereas the Greens are inherently untrustworthy. If we take it back to Trotter’s column, it makes sense: the Greens, however many votes they get or however many diplomatic overtures they make, will always be the outside party because of their fundamentally different approach to politics and society.

But I see two problems with this strategy.

Not enough voters on the left are this pragmatic. There are those who would happily accept a Labour/NZ First alliance – who would prefer it to a Labour/Green coalition. But there are also those who do not trust Winston, will never trust Winston, and would rather stay at home on election day than suffer the notion of Winston or any of his erratic mini-me MPs sitting at the Cabinet table.

And the Greens won’t be willing to get stiffed for the sake of placating Winston’s ego. They’re a principled party, and while it could definitely lose them some of their softer Labour converts, their base wouldn’t punish them harshly for sitting on the cross-benches, voting confidence and supply on a case-by-case basis, if the alternative is playing second fiddle to a party with half the number of seats.

David Cunliffe has stuck with the line, ‘we’re not ruling anything out until the voters have had their say.’ It’s the best way to operate in MMP. But it’s natural to think about what a Labour-led government will look like after the election. And I think the Greens deserve to be taken a bit more seriously.

Who is the Internet Party’s secret MP?

Maybe this is one of those open political secrets – if you’re in the know, you already know, and it seems obvious. If you’re not, it’s a total mystery.

Just who is the MP Kim Dotcom has ready and waiting to jump waka in 2014?

I’ve got no idea, but I approach these things like logic puzzles. Surely there are some basic assumptions which can narrow down the likely options.

First, the MP should be a current electorate MP. It’s only sensible. They’ve already got profile and support. Interestingly, this instantly rules out all of the Greens or NZ First, who (respectively) have the tech savvy and wilful randomness to be plausible options.

Further, we know (at least) 13 electorate MPs aren’t running in 2014: Auchinvole, Banks, Hayes, Heatley, Hutchison, C King, R Robertson, Roy, Ryall, Sharples, Tremain, Turia, Wilkinson. And Bill English is only running on the list.

Maurice Williamson and Clare Curran have both ruled out being the one.

So that’s 54 left. I rule out Hone Harawira, because it would be silly to be talking about some kind of alliance with the IP if there were also a secret plan to switch parties in the works. I can’t see Flavell or Dunne doing it either.

So we’re down to 51, all from Labour or National. Do we rule out all Cabinet Ministers, or people high on the Labour list? Party leaders and deputies, certainly. Then I think we have to get down to basics: who has sufficient personal cred to make it on their own.

So take out anyone whose electorate party vote was higher than or within 10% of their personal vote. We can see where their voters’ loyalties lie.

That eliminates everyone from National except for Nick Smith (the party vote in Nelson is 87% of his personal vote, so … close enough, really) and Paula Bennett, who barely scraped past Labour’s Carmel Sepuloni and is expected to contest the new Upper Harbour seat – unless the polls get so bad National have no other choice than to offer it to Colin Craig.

So that leaves us with Labour MPs. Specifically:

Nanaia Mahuta (party vote 84% of personal vote); Phil Twyford (party vote 75%); Trevor Mallard (party vote 74%); Chris Hipkins (party vote 66%); Phil Goff (party vote 78%); Annette King (party vote 69%); Damien O’Connor (party vote 58%); David Clark (party vote 78%); Ruth Dyson (party vote 58%); Kris Faafoi (party vote 79%); Iain Lees-Galloway (party vote 68%); Megan Woods (party vote 70%).

That does tell a story. But it’s not a story about Kim Dotcom, or even any of those MPs specifically: it’s a story about the 2011 election, which was abysmal for the Labour Party. Eight of those electorates went to National in the party vote.

I can’t see National-leaning voters going to the Internet Party in huge numbers (more than I think others expect, but not that much.) So we’re down to:

  • Nanaia Mahuta
  • Phil Goff
  • Annette King
  • David Clark

Nanaia, Phil and Annette all have stonkingly big majorities and a huge amount of personal mana, it’s true. But do we see the Internet Party going into Parliament through a Māori seat? Do we see either of the most senior, longest-serving Labour veterans making such a radical move?

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The idea of Paula Bennett defecting to the Internet Party sounds positively credible in comparison. At least she could use the Coatesville mansion as a campaign base.

The disappointing conclusion to this thought experiment is that if Kim Dotcom does have a current MP lined up to front his campaign, it’s someone with a vastly inflated sense of their own political popularity or the wisdom of such a move.

It’s fitting, but it just reinforces the idea that the Internet Party is a sideshow. And after six years of National shredding our country to bits, we deserve a better election year debate than that.

The politics of nastiness

Is this election year going to be the most vicious in recent history?

There’s always a bit of argy-bargy in politics, and sometimes it’s personal.  Despite the best of intentions, it’s impossible for people’s families and backgrounds to never be part of the conversation, because often they themselves bring it up – whether it’s John Key growing up in a state house or David Cunliffe being the son of a country minister, Holly Walker talking about her own experiences of motherhood, Darien Fenton speaking publicly about her past struggle with addiction, the personal story is everywhere in politics.  And sometimes this means it gets turned into a weapon by the other side (whichever side you’re on.)

But there’s surely a line between personal attacks which can maybe be excused by the political argument behind them, and, well, just plain calling someone an idiot, or a “sensitive wee sausage”.

And I don’t know why the National Party have decided to cross that line, multiple times, in the past week.  I really don’t know why John Key would cross it today after the Mean-Girls-style attack on Metiria Turei backfired, getting her pride of place on Campbell Live having a nice chat about how normal and inoffensive she is.

The first assumption is desperation.  Are National seeing bad internal polling?  Have they run out of policy ideas?

The second is more Machiavellian.  Is there some cunning long game in play?  Is it the political equivalent of a Guy Ritchie film where all the seemingly random threads will tie together in an astounding knockdown conclusion?

I honestly don’t know.  So let’s hash it out in the comments!

It’s past time for fair employment laws

After David Cunliffe’s state of the nation speech at the end of January, the spotlight was, appropriately, on the big policy announcement he made: the Best Start package for Kiwi kids.  (It wasn’t the friendliest spotlight, unfortunately.)

But there was a sentence at the end which hasn’t had a lot of pickup, and which could – I hope – point at a truly revolutionary policy on the horizon.

David said:

There will be opportunities in all our regions and decent work based on fair employment laws.

Fair employment laws.  We haven’t had a lot of that lately.  The ability of workers to organise and to bargain collectively – the best way in the world to raise wages and conditions – was shattered by the Employment Contracts Act, and while Labour’s Employment Relations Act repaired some of the damage, you can still see the effects today.

We’ve got a society where you have to be hush-hush about what you get paid because your co-workers are competition, not colleagues.

We’ve got a society where there’s a myth around individual agreements – they give you the chance to negotiate the best contract for you!  Maybe that works for the senior managers, or for people with really specialised skills, but for your average clerical worker or shop hand?  Here’s the agreement, take it or leave it – and oh yes, you’re on a 90-day trial.

And we’ve got a society where people don’t know their rights at work – or don’t have the power to stand up for those rights – and certainly don’t have the resources to hold bad employers to account.

National have introduced 90-day trials, youth rates, and now they have a bill going through the House which will take away the right to rest breaks, protection for vulnerable workers,  and weaken your ability to challenge unfair dismissals.

And let’s not forget Jami-Lee Ross’ private members bill – which was supported by National and Act at the first reading, but fortunately failed – which would have allowed employers to lock out workers and bring in temporary labour.  Effectively, starving the workers out until they accept whatever deal the employer deigned to offer.

National’s unfair employment laws benefit a few at the top – the bosses who are happy to turn a profit by grinding their workers down.  But that’s no basis for a happy, healthy society, and a strong, growing economy.

I think the argument’s simple enough: when people are earning enough to meet their needs, when they feel respected, when they’re getting ahead under their own steam, we all benefit.  Individuals benefit from less stressful lives.  Employers benefit from having a more productive team at work.  Our families and communities benefit.

A Labour-Green coalition in 2014 can build a completely new framework for industrial relations in New Zealand.  A framework where everyone gets treated with real fairness and dignity, and which recognises that there’s a basic power imbalance between workers and employers, especially in the hard financial times when unemployment is high.

And I can’t wait to hear more about how they’re going to make that happen.