Joe Hendren

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Election 2008: Labour now led by Goff and King

Phil Goff is now leader of the Labour Party, with Annette King acting as his deputy. Both are from the right wing side of the Labour party, and both were allies of Roger Douglas during the forth Labour Government.

It is likely that Labour will move to the right under this leadership team, despite being in opposition. Goff could argue Labour needs to attempt to reconnect with what he sees as the 'centre' in New Zealand politics. This may lead to situations where Key appears to be on the left of Goff on some policies - this cannot be good for the rejuvenation of the Labour party.

Interesting that Goff describes himself as a "loyal Labour party person" - does this explain why he supported the forth Labour Government when they were enacting Act policies? For many he will also be remembered as the Minister who first introduced student tertiary fees.

Its possible the new National/Act/Dunne Government will attempt to shore itself up by starting the age old debate over who is tougher on crime. Act leader Rodney Hide is pushing an expensive three strikes policy and likely Justice Minister Simon Power is known for beating the crime drum. Goff had a reputation as a more reactionary Justice Minister, and King just finished a stint as Minister of Police. I really hope this does not mean they join the right in the meaningless 'mine is tougher than yours' competition. Instead I hope Labour join the Greens and the Maori party to stand up for policies shown to cut crime rates and lessen the need to build more prisons. Rationality may not swing short term political support, but logic has a greater chance over the longer term.

I also fear a Goff/King Labour party would support reactionary amendments to the Suppression of Terrorism Act and similar legislation.

Helen Clark did a great thing by announcing her resignation on election night. While it may have shocked some supporters, Clark was likely to move on in the next three years anyway. She ensured she left the leadership of the Labour party under her own terms, and while making a gracious speech, she also took some of the focus off John Key on election night. She also allowed the parliamentary party to reorganise itself quickly, in order that it can better prepare to challenge the new Government on day one of the Parliamentary term. It also gives the Labour party more time to tweak the leadership before the next election if need be.

Outgoing deputy leader Michael Cullen is upbeat. "We've got the best and strongest intake we've had since 1984, it's a generation, the base for a very strong performance by us moving forward so our message is to the National Party, being a law and order party, is three years and you're out.". He also promised "I don't want to become one of those old men in the Muppet Show up the back." This is a shame - I always though the old men in the Muppets had some of the funniest lines!

While the leadership of Helen Clark was a strength of the Labour party for a number of years, her dominance of the caucus and the party also limited the opportunities for any successors or an organised succession plan. This created the situation where Goff only need to bide his time and he would become the front runner by default.

While Goff was an effective minister this does not necessarily provide the style and skills required to be an effective opposition leader. As a minister Goff often defended Government policies by talking in a monotone and giving his opponents or journalists few opportunities to interrupt - on some days he sounded like a Borg drone powered by the Energizer bunny. As a ministerial tactic this could be useful, but the role of opposition leader requires the ability to empathise and talk in a way the public can identify with. I am not sure Goff is there yet - but this may improve now he is out from under Clark's shadow.

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Sunday, November 09, 2008

Election 2008: Extreme Makeover Parliament Edition

A couple of days before Saturday the reality of the likely result started to sink in. Polls had looked poorly for some time, but in the final week I suspected the overall trend was a further swing towards National. Particularly after Mike Williams ineffective attempts to land mud on John Key.

Apparently this was Williams' personal crusade - yet just like the medieval variety it failed to find the relics and caused a great deal of collateral damage in the process.

On Friday a friend attempted to console me that the late polls may be going the other way, but my head was telling me otherwise.

The scale of the National party win is still a shock. John Key is in a strong position in Parliamentary terms, with a clear majority for confidence and supply from Act, United Future and possibly the Maori party. That said, there is no mandate for radical change. It is good to see Key recognise this with his reassuring noises about leading a centrist government, and ruling Roger Douglas out of cabinet. I have some lingering doubts here - I will return to this and the Roger issue in a later post.

While I feared the Labour vote would be hollowed out, I did expect the Greens to do better. I will return to this issue also.

Watching the so called roof top party that formed part of TV One's coverage, I was dismayed at some of the reasons given by some people for switching their vote to National. I can respect people who take a liking to a particular policy of a party, but 'time for a change' is meaningless. It demonstrates a sense of disengagement that regards politics as a mere commodity, as merely the faces they see on the TV each night. Extreme Makeover Parliament Edition.

Yet many of these same people will act with alarm if National attempts to restart a more radical right wing agenda. They will be dismayed when their kids are dismissed from their job without reason after 90 days. How long before the reality of change sinks in?

As they say on TV, move that bus!

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Coverage of election 2008

Rather than do my usual long rant on the aftermath of Election 2008, I will attempt to break down my impressions and expectations into a series of posts. These will include general impressions and an attempt to analyse the underlying issues. I will also look at the fortunes of each of the parties in turn, and the possible implications for their future.

I will also look at the prospects for rebuilding the left, and the relation of the left to the centre party known as Labour.


Tuesday, November 04, 2008

TV3 debate

I found the TV3 debate fairly dull. I agreed with one of the commentators, I believe it was Jane Clifton, who wondered if both leaders had been trained by their media minders to be just plain dull and avoid talking about policy.

Overall I would call it a minor points victory for Helen Clark, but the debate was so dull is unlikely to have much impact on the wider campaign. I think Clark did well given that the tenor, questions and underlying assumptions behind the debate were framed against her. Like Audrey Young, I think there were occasions where host John Campbell did not give Clark a fair go to respond.

That said, the weakness in Clark's performance tonight was the same issue that has plagued the 08 Labour campaign - being too negative. Campbell gave her plenty of opportunities to talk about new policy initiatives - yet she failed to mention the promise of a universal student allowance once. Clark fluffed the chance for a strong closing statement by closing on Key, although I think Key/Campbell cut her off again here too.

While some Labour activists hope the 'Mary' ad will turn things around - I doubt it. To my mind, Labour would gain more votes if they toned down the frequency of the negative ads and ran the CTU videos on TV instead!

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Proportional representation and right wing whinging

The Herald on Sunday editorial calling for the election to produce a 'clear mandate' is nothing more than right wing winging about the demise of first-past-the-post and the inability of their National party friends to gain the support of more than 50% of New Zealanders for their policies.

The Herald questions whether Labour would have a legitimate claim to power in the case where Labour gets less votes than National, but Labour forms a government with support from a number of smaller parties. They claim a government formed by Labour, Greens, Progressives and the Maori party would be running "counter to the plainly expressed view of the people"

This position is simply constitutionally illiterate, as NoRightTurn has pointed out. A government needs to demonstrate that it carries a majority in the House on confidence and supply. What matters is winning the numbers on a confidence vote - it does not matter how those numbers are made up.

Of course, National and their supporters do not actually believe the largest party in parliament has an automatic 'moral right' to be the government. As my friend Peter T pointed out on Friday night - if this was the case Don Brash should have conceded on election night 2005. Labour won a greater share of the party votes than National. While I think Brash made a mistake not acknowledging that Clark was in a better position to form a Government in 2005, he was still entitled to conduct discussions to find out whether a government led by him would enjoy the support of the house.

Now in the event National do win more party votes than Labour on Saturday, one can respond to Tories demands for an immediate concession with a simple question. Did Brash offer his immediate concession to Clark in the case where Don saw a slim chance of a National led Government? No? Well if thats the case, don't expect a concession from Helen either.

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