Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Nats hurry to strip workers of rights

December 10, 2008

The Nats’ attack on workers’ rights is astounding for a number of reasons.

First, let’s get one thing straight. The proposed 90-day probation period may be intended to make it easier for small employers to take on staff, or it may be a sop to the small businesses who are a core part of National’s support base — or more likely both of these. But, it is also an attack on workers’ rights. No ifs, no buts, no maybes.

Second, its introduction is an abuse of our democratic process. Having listened to the Nats and their stooges dribble on over the last few years (occasionally with some reason) about corners being cut in terms of the legislative process, I expected at least a token attempt to do right by our democratic process. More fool me. The term “hypocrite” doesn’t do justice to the contemptuous, two-faced, double standards on display.

So, no opportunity to make submissions on these proposals. What’s that? I could have last year? But last year it was a private member’s bill with little chance of passing. Next year, I would definitely have made a submission. I’ve been disenfranchised.

The proposals themselves? Where’s the evidence of the nature of the problem? Oh, some of the Nats’ small business friends complain that they get stuck with dud employees and have to pay them off to get rid of them.  Are we sure that the problem isn’t partly the small business people, who, you know, usually haven’t got much idea or any training in how to be a good (in every sense) employer? How much effort or expertise have these “unfortunate” employers been putting into their recruitment processes for example?

Further, business people don’t have to engage expensive lawyers and pay out any employee who threatens a personal grievance. It’s bad practice and merely encourages more abuse. I have advised small employers myself to break the cycle of payouts, and it works, once everybody understands that you’re prepared to go to court.

As for the idea that these proposals will do anything whatsoever to enhance NZ’s economic prosperity, that’s just laughable. They’re based on the same notions as the Employment Contracts Act — adopt a Guatemalan-style labour market regime and get the Swiss economy — and are no more likely to succeed.

Mustn’t forget National’s new bosom buddies either. Tariana and co are going to strike a little trouble further down the road, regardless of how they respond to this (and that it’s not clear how they will speaks volumes). In the last (September) quarter(pdf), Maori unemployment was 9.3%, compared to 3.2% for Pakeha. And guess which group is employed in the workplaces where the employers are most likely to abuse these provisions?

Nope, this is policy based on easy and erroneous assumptions, the promises are empty, and its manner of introduction is contemptuous of democracy and the New Zealand people. Worse than I expected from National, and I wasn’t expecting a lot.

Note: See an earlier post for a more detailed discussion of the proposal.


Final election results: How did the prediction go?

November 22, 2008

The unofficial official results are out. (Hat-tip kiwiblog.) Votes, % of total votes and number of seats for the main parties are:

National Party 1,053,398 44.93 58
Labour Party 796,880 33.99 43
Green Party 157,613 6.72 9
ACT New Zealand 85,496 3.65 5
Mäori Party 55,980 2.39 5
Jim Anderton’s Progressive 21,241 0.91 1
United Future 20,497 0.87 1
New Zealand First Party 95,356 4.07 0

My 6 November prediction was:

“National 45%, Labour 36%, Greens 10%, ACT 2.5% (with Epsom), NZ First 2.5% (without Tauranga), Maori (3% with 7 seats), others 1% (with Ohariu and Wigram).”

So, I was 0.07% out for National, 2.01% out for Labour; a whopping 3.28% out for Greens; 1.15% out for ACT; 1.57% out for NZ First; and 0.61% but 2 seats out for the Maori Party. Also, picked Ohariu, Wigram and Tauranga correctly.

Not too bad, but not one of my best efforts. Should have picked that more Labour voters would stay home. But what went wrong with the Green vote?

Did more Labour voters stay home? We’ll see when the NZES analysis comes out. We know that 78.8% of registered voters went to the polls, a couple of per cent less than 2005. This sounds good but is not great for NZ. There has been declining participation for some time.

Guest post: Is the NZ left on the blogosphere too effete?

November 19, 2008

Often we get comments that are worthy of posts in their own right. I’m upgrading Tom Semmens’ comment on my post on Chris Trotter’s return to the blogosphere, because I agree with the point he’s making, and because it’s important and original. Enjoy!

The reaction to Trotter has been fascinating. The right has reacted hysterically — but given the general paranoid style of the right blogsphere that is hardly a surprise. What has really been interesting has been the left-wing reaction.

To my eyes the comfortably middle-class left-wing toffs of places like Public Address, and the intellectually lofty norightturn or feminist sites have reacted with marked hostility to Trotter’s cloth cap realpolitik. Trotter himself remarked on NatRad that he thought the blogosphere to be a largely irrelevant place to lives of real working class New Zealanders, and at first blush you would have to agree with him. It seems to me that the blogosphere consists of about 10% of the population – the Chardonnay socialists and the ACToid bully boys. However, Trotter in those comments missed the importance of who is on which side of the digital divide when it comes to influencing opinion makers.

When the Labour Party looks at reasons for its defeat this year, the role of Limbaugh-like right-wing attack sites in setting the agenda of the debate has to addressed. It seems any cursory reading of the musing of political editors and op-ed writers in our major daily papers would indicate that they are no longer just interviewing their typewriters – they have web browsers and they often are regurgitating right-wing attack talking points. The use of Cameron Slater and David Farrar’s sites to launder sexual smears and whispering campaigns into the mass media is now documented. David Farrar has managed to use his blog as a launching point to pass himself off as an independent commentator in the wider media, and if the web stats are to be believed the sleazy Slater has one of the most read blogs in the land.

The general online “left-wing” response to all this has been tardy, and a lot of the leftists frankly come across as a lot of intellectually elitist pussies. A good example would be the over-intellectualising tosh served up by Deborah over at “in a strange land” that saw her end up voting for the Maori Party. Another would be the flaccid and half-hearted political energy this time round of Russell Brown over at Public Address.

The left — that is, the left that rolls up its sleeves and gets involved with real workers at trade union and party activist levels — has to develop a far more vigorous and street fighting response online to set the agenda of opinion makers, and that is why I think pseudo-left’s general nose holding reaction to Trotter’s aggressive and thematically cohesive writing is symptomatic of how and why the right came to dominate the op-ed agenda on the internet and onto the mass media.

[Note: the heading is mine.]

Welcome back, Trotter

November 17, 2008

Chris Trotter started blogging just a couple of months ago, and, predictably, was an overnight sensation.

The winning way with words, the sometimes deeply insightful, sometimes downright provocative, commentary won him legions of fans and enemies and a big slice of the blogging action in our corner of cyberspace. Some of his posts, such as the review of the ill-fated City Vision administartion in Auckland City, were sublime.

Then, after the election, he swore off blogging.

Now he’s back! Here. The new blog is named after the North Otago road that leads to the farm where he spent much of his childhood. (Homepaddock seems to be familiar with the area.) In keeping with the arcadian theme, the blog is intended as “an outlet for his more ruminative and eligaic impulses.” Reflective, in a word.

Welcome back, Chris. I look forward to being variously entertained, challenged, enlightened, inspired and appalled.


November 11, 2008

With Phil Goff’s accession to the leadership, Labour looks set to provide National with serious competition. Phil is easily one of the brightest and hardest working politicians in the country, a very effective debater and highly credible alternative prime minister. As the Herald put it in an otherwise muddled (downright stupid in places) editorial:

“Mr Goff has many of the attributes of Helen Clark: wide ministerial experience, a good command of all issues, instinctive common sense and a sure political touch. And he is a more forceful public speaker than she is.”

Yes, that political astuteness. Way back in the spring of 1981, I went out canvassing with Phil in Mt Roskill, where he was standing for the first time. It would be fair to say that some of the good burghers we met held very traditional views and were sceptical of the progressive ideas that the Labour Party had acquired. Goff disarmed them with simple, persausive reasoning that spoke to their values and concerns, reflecting his own background in South Auckland.

I’d be surprised if these voters didn’t comprise a large part of the “Labour-plus” group that National managed to prise away from Labour at this election. Or who stayed home. National can’t afford to take these people for granted now.

More recently, I went with a couple of very eminent professors to lobby Phil on university salary funding. He had taken the trouble to get a briefing on the subject from Wellington, and impressed my colleagues with his incisive but gentle and respectful questioning of our assumptions. Deeply impressed them.

A few years ago Phil’s more “centrist” position would have ruled him out of contention for the leadership. It took a long time for some of us to forgive him for his involvement with the neo-liberal reforms in the 1980s. His hard line on law and order probably causes some disquiet in the ranks even now.

However, much of the damage caused by the neo-liberal revolution has been repaired, and priorities have shifted. Further, as Steve Pierson points out, the Labour Party policy-making process is not as subject to the leader’s whim as is National’s, and Phil’s influence over the Party’s policy will be limited.

With people’s focus on economic security, he looks right for the times. Capable and competent, sharp as a tack.

I certainly don’t buy the dopey stuff in today’s Herald editorial about the need for someone “fresher, younger.” Phil’s only in his mid-fifties! No, this cult of the youth stuff the Herald is retailing is about setting up a destabilising narrative that will sell more newspapers. It’s up to Phil to prove them wrong.

I think that he has what it takes.

Update: Perfect. After just one day as leader, Phil Goff comes out with a measured admission that the way that the EFA was introduced and some of its provisions were not “as good as it could have been.” He said he will work with other parties to review the Act. Many of those NZers who stayed home or switched to National will see this as reasonable, constructive and just what they’re looking for in a leader. And he’s caught National on the hop.

Clever. Very, very clever.

Neil Stockley’s more detailed take here.

[Disclaimer: For some years I counted myself a friend of Phil’s. But that came to an end in the fractious late 1980s. Sadly.]

Some mandate

November 10, 2008

The kiwiblogright seem to think that Saturday’s election represents a great victory. Sorry to spoil the party, but here’s what happened last week…

First off, we saw the end of the Reagan era in the right’s ideological heartland. On “Face the Nation” this morning, leading conservative commentator David Brooks sees the US conservative movement with “no leaders,” in a “world of pain,” and “lacking a coherent belief system.” Very soon, the most powerful man in the world will be a redistributing “socialist.”

In NZ, the right-wing bloc got 49.17% on election night. Some majority. Okay, I’ll be generous, 50.06% if you count Dunne. But that could reduce with specials. The left bloc got 45.34% (including Winnie on the left), 4.72% less than the right bloc. A 2.5% swing would see a change of government in three years.

The 43 or 44 strong Labour caucus includes at least 13 capable new members, and Goff will be a formidable leader. It will provide serious oppostion. (Don’t believe me? Listen to Richard Prebble agreeing with Mark Goshe about this.) Forty-three or four seats is a useful base — look at the come-back National staged in 2005 with a whole lot less.

And remember, the National Party might have won, but its ideology didn’t. It spent 9 years out of power because it took so long to wake up to how deeply unpopular neo-liberal ideas are in NZ, and then got into power after frantically working to convince NZers that it would only tamper a little bit — promise, hand on heart –with much of what Labour’s done over those 9 years.

Perhaps, we should let the kiwiblogright relish the victory while they can. it may be a very long time before they get another to celebrate.

Day after analysis

November 9, 2008

The victor takes the stage and eloquently frames the  historic moment for the cheering masses. He understands the grave economic and other perils facing the nation, and the need to tackle the problems collaboratively, and extends a bipartisan hand to his beaten opponents.

The sad thing for NZ is that, bar the odd kiwiblogright fanatic who has strayed this way, no-one reading this would mistake it for NZ last night. Our new prime minister’s delusions notwithstanding, the difference between this week’s two victors is measured in light-years, and is captured in the contrast between the election night speeches.

NZ’s new leader has demonstrated little grasp of the economic situation confronting the country, or of what leadership entails. He sleepwalked his way to power, winning an election notable for the lack of excitement and charisma on display. The small parties provided the interest. Otherwise, it was a tawdry, uninspiring affair.

His party’s win was not a triumph of policy. National has spent the last couple of years frantically trying to convince people it would not undo much of what has been achieved over the past nine years. The party won, but its ideology lost. (Although not completely. Labour’s third-way social democracy has been a corporatist compromise with neo-liberalism rather than a repudiation of it.)

Nor was it that the “men couldn’t cope with the idea of being led by an intelligent, idealistic, free-spirited woman … voted [her] out of office” as Chris Trotter argues. Certainly Clark has benefitted from the devotion of a generation of women (and some of their daughters) who were socialised in the 1960s and 1970s. There may be an element of male chauvinism, but if it were simply about that, how to account for three election wins in a row (albeit against weak opponents)?

If anything, the electorate succumbed to Helen-fatigue, or was repulsed by the arrogance with which initiatives such as the anti-smacking and electoral finance bills were imposed rather than sold, and economic policy rolled out. Clark’s not the only culprit there, but her own superiority complex did not equip her to rein in such behaviour by others. NZ voters will put up with a lot if they perceive competence and decisiveness (rightly or, as in the case of Muldoon, not), but inevitably there is a corrosive effect.

For the meantime though, John Key has the helm, and he will need our goodwill and support if he — and we — are to manage the issues that beset the world. He has a great deal to learn. I sincerely hope that he is up to the challenge.

NZ election prediction

November 6, 2008

Back to our own little election, which looks a whole lot less dramatic and low stakes than yesterday’s. Monday’s debate summed it up. Scrappy, but with few real sparks. Both determined to get their key talking points across above all else. No clear winner, unless you count John Campbell.

I’m picking National 45%, Labour 36%, Greens 10%, ACT 2.5% (with Epsom), NZ First 2.5% (without Tauranga), Maori (3% with 7 seats), others 1% (with Ohariu and Wigram). In other words, the Maori Party gets to decide.

I’ve become a little more gung-ho about the Greens chances since they made their preparedness to work with Labour in some sort of arrangement clear. Talking to people I know I get the feeling there’s even more of a swell in Green’s support now that it’s clear that Labour can’t govern without them and that the Greens are willing. But this is at the expense of Labour’s vote, which otherwise would be close to where it was in 2005.

These predicted results look not dissimilar to the latest One News/Colmar Brunton poll, but are much what I’ve been predicting for weeks. It’s interesting that the most consistently National-leaning poll is coming into line.

Election predictions

November 5, 2008

First, the USA…

Well, the Redskins lost their last home match before the election, stauchly Republican Dixville Notch is Obama’s in a landslide (15–6), and Obama’s national polling margin at RCP is 7.6%. It’s done and dusted. The US election has been over since the second debate, if not the first. But it’s still an exciting race…

Will it be an ordinary win or an enormous tectonic shift in the make-up of the American electorate? The polls show Obama winning an outright majoity of the popular vote, something Clinton couldn’t achieve, and around 350 electoral votes.

To claim a real national mandate, Obama and the Democrats must change the map, turning two or three Rocky Mountain states blue, a few Southern states too, and add some more Midwestern states. The polls show North Carolina, Missouri and Indiana at the margin. I’m hoping that Obama’s huge advantage on the ground, the record turn-out, and the cell-phone factor will push them over

Video of the week

November 3, 2008

An American friend sent this. I laughed so much I cried. Shame the Labour Party here didn’t do this.