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.

Does the National Party really not understand how unions work?

This article in the Herald gave me a giggle today. It refers to a cash payment being made to Parliamentary Services staff who are part of their workplace collective employment agreement. Similar cash payments have been denounced by National in the past – when it happened under Labour – and are being denounced by Don Brash now – because it’s happening under National.

The line that’s being run is that this is “bizarre”. That it makes no sense to “incentivise” people to belong to the union. That National have decided, mysteriously, of their own free will, to just randomly “give” more money to union members than to non-union members of staff.

Does Don Brash – and John Weekes of the Herald – actually not understand that this is exactly how union membership works? You get together as a group to bargain collectively with your employer. This means you have more power to get a better deal. And sometimes, this deal involves cash payments – usually because employers, including Parliamentary Services, don’t want to agree to an actual, or sizeable, payrise. (The Parliamentary Services agreement hasn’t included a payrise in six years!)

And yes. It is truly, completely fair that non-union members of staff don’t get the same payment. They’re not part of the union. They don’t take part in the same negotiations as the union members. They don’t have the same leverage as a collective group does.

That’s pretty much the basic, founding principle of unionism. Strength in numbers. Power against the powerful.

Of course, the reason for the outrage is simple: the right do not want word to get out that being a union member works. They’ve put a lot of effort into dividing workers from each other, making us look at our co-workers as enemies, as competition. We’re meant to believe that if we keep to ourselves and work one-on-one with the boss, we’ll get the best deal.

And you know, that probably does work for some people – people who are already in highly-paid, highly-specialised roles. For security guards, cleaners, receptionists? Not so much.

This story is the proof. By joining forces and working together, the union members at Parliamentary Services have got a better deal. And it terrifies people like Don Brash.

Thoughts about synthetic cannabis

I left this comment at this post on The Standard. The original Herald article which I refer to is here.

This doesn’t cover every aspect of the synthetic cannabis issue, but I think the particular issue I touched on is an important one, especially thinking about how we discuss social issues: whose voices are heard, and what assumptions are made.

I must admit to being a bit concerned at the paternalistic tone of some of the reporting on synthetic highs, specifically around people who have serious mental health issues like schizophrenia. I would prefer to hear from those people themselves. I appreciate it can be difficult for people whose relatives have issues like this, but I think there are a lot of risks involved: as you’ve said in your post, Shane, you appreciated Una Macnaughton’s bravery in telling ‘her personal story’.

To be honest, it isn’t her personal story. It’s her son’s (and he’s 21, not ‘a boy’.) He’s clearly going through an incredibly tough time. Maybe synthetic cannabis is the one thing which helps him control his symptoms. Maybe natural cannabis would be even better. But in the kind of summary we get from that Herald article, there’s no nuance, just a basic ‘bought Kronic, got schizophrenia, is crazy and dangerous, ergo ban synthetic cannabis’ narrative.

There’s certainly no statement from a qualified psychiatrist to establish that the Kronic gave himschizophrenia (and there are studies which show no link between cannabis causing schizophrenia). But that’s the obvious implication, and I don’t think this issue needs scaremongering. Untested substances with damaging side effects should be regulated. It’s common sense.

I also think there have to be other factors in play which explain why people are ‘queuing’ up to get synthetic cannabis. There aren’t jobs, there aren’t opportunities to get ahead, our government is grinding people down to benefit the wealthy and eroding our ideas of community and solidarity. Making synthetic cannabis the focus of our outrage is a lot easier than addressing those things – but it won’t address the underlying issues, and people will just find other risky ways to escape.

Domestic violence is a work issue

We can now put a dollar figure – a conservative, probably-underestimated figure – on the cost of domestic violence to New Zealand business.

That’s due to a report commissed by the Public Service Association, released yesterday in conjunction with a Member’s Bill from Green MP Jan Logie which will change our law to protect victims of domestic violence at work, and support their employers to help them out.

And incidentally, it could save businesses $368 million per year.

It’s often hard to explain to people why they should care about ‘other people’s problems’. Even on the left, issues like domestic violence or marriage equality can get filed away under ‘women’s issues’ or ‘gay issues’. In a political discussion dominated by right-wing ideas about individuals and ‘bad choices’, it’s even easier for horrific issues like domestic violence to get swept aside.

Even though one in three women will experience domestic violence, we treat it as a private personal issue. It’s about the woman – or man – who’s being victimized. Their circumstances, their ‘choices’, their individual struggle to get out of a terrible situation.

So as clinical as it may seem, it’s important to have this kind of hard evidence to show people. If for no other reason, you should care about addressing intimate partner violence because it does affect you. It affects our communities and our workplaces. It has a provable, financial cost to business – and at the same time, the workplace can be one of the best supports a person has to get out of an abusive situation.

We know this kind of intervention and support works. We can see it working in Australia, where although they don’t have legislation, the union movement have fought hard to get domestic violence clauses into collective agreements covering over 700,000 workers.

The great thing is that Jan Logie’s bill is a win for everyone. It’s a win for victims of domestic violence who get support and security in a tough time. It’s a win for businesses who get healthier, happier, more productive workers (and the warm fuzzy feelings of having done something good and noble in the world). And it’s a win for all of us. Because we get to say we live in a country which does the right thing for people in awful situations. And we get to remember that no person is an island. We all stand together, and we’re so much better for it than if we stand apart.

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.