- As the year 2015 approaches its denouement, we reach the time of year where crackpots, nerds and self-proclaimed experts on the internet waste valuable cyberspace sharing their half-baked opinions with people who frankly have better things to do than give more than half a crap what they might have to say.
- I’d like to take this opportunity to add to this giant pile of self-indulgent political garbage.
- I have spent this year following politics extremely closely - in fact for most of this year I’ve managed to obtain for myself a front row seat to New Zealand’s largest circus, and have even been privy to information that most of the public can’t access, so I may or may not share one or two insights you might not get anywhere else.
- What I will do is briefly mention my thoughts on the major parties, plus who I’ve been most impressed with this year. Admittedly my opinions aren’t hugely different to those of most political commentators but here they are, displayed for all to see, regardless of whether or not you want to and there’s nothing you can do because society is much kinder to those who display their opinions in public than those who display other personal parts of themselves in public as I once found out when I was 18.
- Obviously I’m going to try to be as objective as possible, but given how opinionated I am, it’s probable that my biases will filter through.
- The Parties:
- National: National - and John Key in particular - have had a shocker of a year. While it’s perhaps not quite the annus horribilis that 2012 was, there is no doubt that third term-itis is setting in, and the air of invincibility around John Key has been punctured, leaving him to (slowly) float back down to earth, even if the polls don’t immediately show it.
- The loss of Northland completely destabilised the party - who haven’t lost anything since 2006 (excluding by-elections in safe Labour seats) - while Ponytail-gate, the Auckland housing crisis (and their lack of action on it), their u-turn on capital gains tax (which they campaigned so strongly against in 2014), the Serco fight club scandal, the Christmas Island detention centre issue, the joke of a flag referendum and the Prime Minister’s appalling “rapist” comments are all strong signs of the tide going out for National, and of a government that is usually very in touch with middle New Zealand starting to lose sight of reality. John Key’s usual habit of shrugging his shoulders and walking away isn’t likely to wash with the public much longer - people no longer find it cute.
- While National’s spin doctors do an excellent job of hiding it from the public, behind closed doors it is open warfare in the party - Judith Collins and her supporters have for a long time been trying to undermine the Steven Joyce faction (which currently dominates the party, with Joyce effectively John Key’s puppet master). The flag debate (and to a lesser extent the loss in Northland) have also reignited tensions between National’s urban liberal wing and its rural conservative wing - the latter detesting the fact that National are pandering too much to Auckland and Wellington and not enough to regional New Zealand, where its traditional base lies.
- National do however retain one strong advantage this year: They’re still in a much better shape than the Labour Party.
- Labour: There’s no nice way to put this: The New Zealand Labour Party are irrelevant. They are dinosaurs from a bygone era, they are dying, they are done and in about fifteen years time, if there is still a Labour Party, they will be a minor party akin the UK Liberal Party after the 1920s.
- Andrew Little has received a lot of praise by political commentators this year. He shouldn’t. He doesn’t deserve it. Yes he’s managed to keep the party’s eternally warring factions at bay and no he hasn’t made any major cock-ups. Or if he has they haven’t been reported, because like I say: Labour are irrelevant, no one is interested. He also isn’t David Cunliffe, and wins points from everyone for that, including myself.
- But bare minimum is not something that should ever be praised. It’s like the political media in this country have dropped their standards for Labour, because they’ve become the political equivalent of the “special class” at school. Yes, Andrew Little has managed to be bland enough to be acceptable to every faction of the Labour Party - but his blandness is never going to be acceptable to the people of New Zealand. (Besides - if New Zealanders want blandness, they know that National are and always will be the experts on that.)
- Labour’s first problem is that they have no policies - over the last two terms they’ve had less and less, and now are down to zero. The last time Labour campaigned without any policies was 1984 and we all know what happened then...
- Indeed, there remains a faultline in Labour between the left and the right - except that both sides are no longer supporting Labour. The liberal left are all voting for the Greens. The centrist working class votes are going to New Zealand First. Labour itself is now a rump of academics and political insiders who are only there because the Labour Party pay them to be there (incidentally, the party is also rumoured to be facing bankruptcy - and it probably doesn’t help that they are literally trying to buy members at universities by paying the membership fee of anyone who expresses an interest, regardless of whether or not said person wished to become a member of Labour.)
- It will take a lot more than a few petitions based on incorrect information and some “fiscal gender reassignment” to solve Labour’s deep problems - and I honestly suspect that this is a party in its death throes. And no - Jacinda Ardern will never be Prime Minister of New Zealand.
- Labour has a lot of problems. It’ll take more than a Little to solve it.
- Greens: I promised not to be biased, so I’ll try to resist the temptation to write a vitriolic anti-Green Party rant.
- Actually, the Greens have had a steady and reasonable year and have managed to surprise me a few times by taking steps to almost completely shake off the loony hippy image they gained in the 2000s.
- I honestly did not expect James Shaw to become co-leader - but for their sake and ours, I’m glad he did. Losing Russel Norman was probably not easy for the Greens, and loathe as I am to admit it, Norman’s departure was a loss for New Zealand politics too despite my many disagreements with him. James Shaw could not have been a better choice to replace him, and continue his mission of “detoxifying” the Greens and turning them into a mainstream party.
- While the Greens have not led the opposition as much in this term as they did in the last two terms, they have remained principled and consistent - and pulled off an excellent coup, showing up Labour by working with the government on the (dreadful) Red Peak flag issue.
- “Steady as she goes” seems to be the current Green mantra, and for the most part it’s working. The real question - and this won’t be answered for some time yet - is whether Green support has peaked (2014 was a surprisingly low result for them) and whether or not James Shaw can hold the party together without it splitting into two separate left and centrist parties. If he can, and assuming support hasn’t peaked, then the Greens could be on the road to replacing Labour as the dominant left-wing political party in New Zealand.
- But even if they don’t, the Greens know that Labour cannot govern without them, and have good reason to remain confident.
- New Zealand First: Once again, I’m trying not to let my bias get in the way but the fact is that 2015 has been a great year for New Zealand First, no matter what way you look at it. I struggle to recall the last time that NZ First were in such a strong position - 2002? Maybe even not since 1996?
- Traditionally the party doesn’t do well in polls - many voters tend to be shy about supporting Winston Peters, and the party tends to do well among undecided voters - being arguably the party of the politically disaffected. It’s usual, therefore, for New Zealand First to do much better in elections than in the polls.
- The reason I bring this up is because right now, New Zealand First are doing very well in the polls - closing the gap with the Greens and usually hovering around 7-9%. Normally at this point in an election cycle, polls are far less kind so either Winston Peters’ win in Northland has made people feel less self concious about openly admitting their support, or else it means that support genuinely is growing rapidly - both being possibilities. In terms of party membership it has been reported that New Zealand First has overtaken the Greens as the fastest growing political party in New Zealand.
- New Zealand First have successfully used the Northland by-election and the flag referendum to win support from rural seats and conservatives fed up by National’s “trendy” pandering to liberals in Auckland - and seriously challenges National’s dominance in seats like East Coast, Bay of Plenty and Wairarapa. The continued decline of Labour has also played into NZ First’s hands - the blue collar vote is flocking to Winston in droves. The demise of Colin “Cheap Imitation” Craig is also likely to help NZ First in the future.
- The relationship between NZ First and the media remains as antagonistic as ever, however the party have truly led the opposition this year, being the loudest and strongest voice against the flag change referendum, the TPPA, the dodgy deals with Saudi businessmen and have surprised some by calling for NZ to increase its refugee quota (before Winston ruined that goodwill with his rather foolish “women and children only” comment).
- Tracey Martin’s Social Security (Clothing Allowances for Orphans and Unsupported Children) Amendment Bill was an example of a political success, while Fletcher Tabuteau’s Fighting Foreign Corporate Control Bill came within one vote of passing and represented another example of New Zealand First being the true “leaders of the opposition”.
- As always there were some silly remarks from Winston Peters, and Ron Mark’s assumption of the deputy leadership (which was, in my opinion, inevitable and the right thing to do) supposedly showed frictions within the party, but thankfully there is definitely no youth wing and therefore no reason to worry about any friends of mine who may or may not have found themselves in legal trouble this year.
- Maori Party: It’s been a mixed year for the Maori Party. Whanau Ora - the party’s flagship policy - has not been very successful, coming under increasing criticism from both the opposition and the auditor-general for spending most of its budget on administration.
- Te Ururoa Flavell seems to be really struggling as a minister, and as a party leader - he seems to lack the strength (dare I say it, mana) of Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples and has spent most of this term flailing (or should I say Flavelling?) to keep his ministry in order.
- On the other hand, Marama Fox has had an excellent first term so far, managing to hold the government to account from its own side of the chamber, campaigning extensively against the Australian government’s holding of New Zealand prisoners on Christmas Island among other things. She has also shown effectiveness in shielding Te Ururoa Flavell from some of the opposition attacks over Whanau Ora.
- Marama Fox does however appear to be dragging the Maori Party slightly further toward the political left, and it remains to be seen whether or not this will affect the future viability of the relationship between National and the Maori Party.
- United Future: Remember them? Sorry, I mean “him”. You’d have to go back at least a decade to find a time when United Future consisted of anyone other than Peter Dunne - and with its support less than that of the Legalise Cannabis Party, one wonders whether Peter Dunne is the party’s sole supporter. (Polls currently have them at 0%).
- While I don’t intend to speculate on what possible Psychoactive Substances the voters of Ohariu were on when they decided to re-elect Mr. Dunne, 2015 has allowed him to ditch any pretence of representing anyone other than himself - in fact Winston Peters’ win in Northland probably benefited Peter Dunne more than anyone else.
- Since that by-election, Dunne (who after election night admitted he would not be able to gain many concessions from National) has proceeded to stop RMA reform in its tracks, and has frequently been the difference between private members bills passing or failing - and he is relishing it.
- The problem with Peter Dunne and whatever is left of United Future is that no one knows what he (I won’t pretend it’s a “they”) stands for - they no longer have any principles. United Future used to be, basically, a Christian Democratic party - the party for mainstream, middle class, centrist, church-going New Zealand.
- Since then it has warped into something unrecognisable - some sort of weird, liberal, slightly-right-of-centre “party” that deserves the title of “National Lite” more than any other. The party that once railed against gay marriage and tried to legislate for marriage to be defined as “one man, one woman” went on in 2013 to see its sole MP vote for gay marriage. Regardless of your thoughts on gay marriage, surely this shows that Peter Dunne does not represent United Future’s voters, or its principles, or anyone other than Peter Dunne.
- Dunne has no principles, but now wields a lot of power. 2015 has allowed him to go completely rogue.
- ACT: Technically ACT is another one-man band, but I’ll be less scathing of them than United Future simply because they have changed the one man in the band at every election for the last three, suggesting that if it’s not a band it’s at least a troupe of solo performers.
- And, I must say, it’s been quite a performance this year from David Seymour. No one expected much of him, other than a vague hope that he wouldn’t be convicted of anything, call for the legalisation of incest, steal the identity of a dead baby or commit any sort of fraud the way his predecessors did.
- He well and truly surpassed those low expectations, taking ACT back to its classical liberal/libertarian roots and away from its slide into ultra-conservatism. He has also successfully differentiated ACT from National - standing against the government on issues such as the Harmful Digital Communications Bill, as well as boldly supporting euthanasia legislation. Also drinking during the World Cup - suddenly ACT looks to be in touch with ordinary New Zealanders, rather than simply a party for the ultra-rich/reactionary nutjobs/ivory tower Ayn Rand types.
- While I don’t foresee ACT bringing in more than one MP any time soon, David Seymour could well be the man to detoxify the ACT Party, and unlike John Banks might even last more than one term in Epsom, provided he doesn’t bite National’s feeding hand too many times.
- My Top 5 politicians of 2015:
- 5. James Shaw [Greens]: As I said above, James Shaw is the right man to succeed Russel Norman and continue detoxifying the Greens. Despite being a first term MP, he has been a strong voice for the causes he believes in - climate change being the main one - and has frequently outshined his co-leader, Metiria Turei. While he’s no Winston Peters, he’s certainly done a far better job holding the Prime Minister to account than Andrew Little has.
- 4. Bill English [National]: The man who led National to its worst ever defeat in 2002 is now a man respected by all on the political spectrum. There’s no two ways about it - he’s a damn good finance minister. The unexpected budget surplus was one of his better moments this year, and while I’d argue that the government’s decision to raise the benefit for families was dishonest, considering that they were the ones to cut it in the first place, as a political move it was a masterstroke, and just as he did in 2014, in 2015 he absolutely stumped the Labour Party with a sharp turn to the left that they were not prepared for.
- 3. Kelvin Davis [Labour]: I said it last year, and I’ll say it again this year: Assuming Winston Peters doesn’t do some sort of power-sharing deal and become Prime Minister, then my money is on Kelvin Davis to become New Zealand’s first Maori Prime Minister. While the rest of the Labour Party have been focussed on attacking each other, Davis has landed two very damaging blows to the government: First on the SERCO scandal and then again with the detainees on Christmas Island. While I remain sceptical that Labour will ever govern again, or that Davis would be accepted as leader of the Labour Party, he is (along with Stuart Nash) among the only members of Labour’s caucus that seriously looks to me like Prime Minister material.
- 2. Winston Peters [New Zealand First]: If you thought for a second that at age 70 New Zealand’s most notorious politician was past his prime, you were in for a shock this year. Winston (the only NZ politician who you can refer to by his first name - try saying “John” or “Andrew” and no one knows who you’re on about) delivered National its first defeat since 2006, and by quite a margin too in the Northland by-election. And while once he was reviled for his firebrand style attack politics in the 90s, the Winston Peters of 2015 has been described as “the coolest 70 year old in the country”, winning support from people who in the past had been his sworn enemies. He’s also spent most of 2015 second to John Key as preferred Prime Minister - frequently outpolling Andrew Little on that front and begging the question: Could “Prime Minister Winston Peters” really become a reality? He’s done the impossible before, and several times over. Rule One of NZ politics: Never, ever underestimate Winston Peters.
- 1. David Seymour [ACT]: I’m agreeing with a lot of commentators here, but seriously, you can’t overstate just how well David Seymour has done this year. It’s been a long time - certainly not in my recollection - that the words “ACT Party” and “reasonable” have ever appeared in the same sentence, but thanks to David Seymour I did it just then. Most of what I have to say on the subject I’ve already said, above, but given how much of a terrible state the ACT Party was in, and how much a complete unknown and outsider David Seymour was when he assumed leadership of the party last year, the fact that David Seymour has achieved anything at all would have been considered remarkable, let alone what he has managed this year. We all know he has a ministerial post coming his way. Frankly, he deserves it.
- International politics:
- Given how New Zealand is such a gigantic and important country, it’s often easy to forget about the rest of the world and the things that have happened beyond our south pacific isles. I’ll do a brief top 5 of the international politicians I’ve been most impressed by this year.
- 5. Malcolm Turnbull [Australia]: His government’s handling of detainees on Christmas Island is deplorable, some of the worst human rights abuses I’ve heard of in a long time. On the bright side, Malcolm Turnbull isn’t Tony Abbott, and wins a large number of points just for that.
- 4. Bernie Sanders [USA]: I’d never heard of him until this year, and while I’m not a fan of anyone who describes themselves as a “democratic socialist” - especially when said person clearly doesn’t know what socialism is, or understand anything about the Danish model he’s so eager to venerate. Nevertheless, there’s a lot I like about Sanders, and he’s giving Hilary Clinton a run for her money (and has even reportedly gained more campaign donations than any other candidate). In an age where the United States is basically a corporate oligarchy, anyone offering to seriously change a very broken system is welcome as far as I’m concerned.
- 3. David Cameron [UK]: Until fairly recently, I was a very passionate supporter of David Cameron; a self-proclaimed ‘Cameronite’ although recently where British politics are concerned I’ve begun to lean more towards UKIP. So far his second term hasn’t gone very well (oink, oink) but he makes the list because I don’t know who else to credit for the Tory victory this year. We were all expecting another hung Parliament, or god forbid Ed Miliband in Downing Street. When the Conservatives won a majority, it went beyond my wildest expectations and I spent the next week frequently pinching myself.
- 2. Justin Trudeau [Canada]: The only thing I knew about Justin Trudeau prior to this year was that, according to most of my Canadian friends who I asked about Canadian politics, he was a “lightweight” with “no hope in hell of winning”. And he does look like a 17 year old head boy, I have to say. But I was not at all expecting him to win - I had thought the Canadian Liberal Party were on their way out, and that Canadians wouldn’t vote for what was (in my humble opinion) a rather ridiculous platform. While I knew Stephen Harper was toast, my money had been on the NDP to win. Boy was I wrong.
- 1. Donald Trump [USA]: Trump-bashing has become a pastime for the media, but I think they may soon have to practice saying “President Trump”. When Winston Peters was described as “the Donald Trump of New Zealand” I quipped, “Because he’s probably going to win the next election?” - as far as I’m concerned, Trump will win the Republican nomination. He’s the first Republican in a long time to understand and win support from blue collar America - and to appear to be winning serious support on the east coast. Yes he’s made a few off-colour remarks, but his ratio of sensible to stupid is far better than any other Republican I can think of. He’ll have to tone it down if he wants to win the White House, but for now I would say 2016 is going to be Donald Trump versus either Corporate Puppet Clinton or Crazy Socialist Sanders.
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