Discipline not passion leads to success


Quote of the week from Joanne Black in The Listener:

“So here we are a mite over six months from the general election, and the idea of Hone Harawira, John Minto, Annette Sykes, Sue Bradford and Nandor Tanczos et al joining together in a political party induces the same warning bells that used to ring when a group of friends announced they were going to flat together. You could run a sweepstake on whether it would all fall apart once the meat-eaters were told they had to use a separate fridge, or over whether there should be a roster of whose turn it was to write the roster.

In this case, there might also be the potential for seeds of discord, with Minto having led a successful anti-racism group and Harawira being uncomfortable with the thought his kids might date Pakeha. There’s no shortage of passion among the names so far associated with the Mana Party, but it is discipline rather than passion that is the hallmark of the most successful political parties. . . “

Black did omit Matt McCarten from the list of party people and he does have a track record in getting start-up parties going. He was active in the early days of the Maori Party and played an important role in the campaigns which got co-leaders Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples into parliament under for the Maori Party.

However, one good strategist and organiser isn’t enough. Successful parties also need cohesion and unity of purpose.

The Mana Party looks a lot more like a collection of activists with individual platforms than a group of people united by shared vision and values.

Ag matters rank doesn’t


Federated Farmers has welcomed the appointment  of David Carter as Minister of Agriculture but  Feds’ president Don Nicolson is disappointed with his ranking.

“If I can voice one disappointment that is Mr Carter’s Cabinet rank of ten.  I would have hoped agriculture and Mr Carter deserved a much higher ranking to send the important signal that New Zealand needs to farm its way out of recession.”

As I posted earlier it’s not where a Minister is ranked but the job s/he does with the Minsitry which matters.

Although if Feds is worried about National’s understanding of the importance of agriculture they should be reassured that Deputy Prime Minister Bill English was a farmer and there are plenty of other farmers in the National caucus.

Contrast that with Labour which now has none and have given the role of agriculture spokesman to Jim Anderton.

Feds as befits an apolitical organisation was positive about Anderton, but I think he served farmers very poorly.

My view starts with a local example when he was responsible for regional development. The single most important area for development in North Otago is irrigation. Anderton was told this on several visits and asked to assist, he promised the earth and delivered nothing.

And what did he do for us when he was Minsiter of Agriculture?

He was good at making speeches which said nothing but that was about it.

He promised he’d get farm working dogs exempt from microchipping, and failed. The exemption was made, but only by accident when Green MP Nador Tanczos wouldn’t support the legislation.

Tenure review and  pastoral leses come under Conservation and Lands but impact directly on agriculture and while Anderton was Minister they became even more of a dog’s breakfast.

But worst of all he sat on his hands while agriculture was included in the Emmisions Trading Scheme.

He might have been ranked third in cabinet but that didn’t stop him doing a third rate job for agriculture.

Peters’ fiasco shows MMP flaws


Public law specialist Andy Nicholls says the Peters’ debacle shows a review of MMP is needed.

Winston Peters’ value to both Labour and National has become abundantly clear. Both parties are pulling their punches over the donations allegations for fear of alienating him as an ally or future ally.

MMP creates hostage situations. Remember Alamein Kopu and her pull over Jenny Shipley?

In this most recent row Sir Robert Jones has unexpectedly been firing most of the bullets at Peters. He probably summed up the view of many when he said, “I belong to a different era. I don’t like it now under MMP.”

John Key has said National will, if elected, hold a referendum into MMP. Key’s referendum will first ask voters: are you satisfied with MMP? If the majority says no, then a second referendum will be held pitting MMP against some other unspecified alternative.

But is this what we need? MMP was itself born out of a referendum, and voter frustration at the unbridled power of first-past-the-post governments. First Sir Robert Muldoon, then Sir Roger Douglas proved if you could control the Cabinet you could control the country.

But one wage freeze and an unadvertised rapid economic transformation later, voters realised they wanted their leaders on a tighter leash. They wanted them to have to work harder, and more consensually, to get their own way. Which is what MMP delivers with its minority or coalition governments, its requirements to consult and its generally slower pace of change.

Referendums are very blunt instruments and support for MMP in the 1993 one came at least in part from people voting against politicians rather than for a change in the voting system.

Plus, of course, for anyone younger than 32, two-tick voting is voting. So why would we ditch it? Because MMP has flaws which undermine the legitimacy of our parliamentary system.

Nicolls gives examples such as the ability for MPs like Gordon Copeland to abandon their parties, switch allegience and still be an MP; or those like Rick Barker who lose a seat but still get back into parliament – and even cabinet – on a party list. Although this also allows MPs to enter parliament when standing in an unwinnable seat, as Katherine Rich has in Dunedin North.

If that is justified by the sanctity of the party list, then what about Mike Ward and Catherine Delahunty? Both Greens and both higher placed on the list than Russel Norman, yet both pushed inelegantly aside when Nandor Tanczos’s early retirement offered the co-leader the chance to get to Parliament in time for some pre-campaign publicity.

All these inconsistencies create unfairness, though not so much as the threshold rule itself.

Under MMP a party must win 5 per cent of the party vote or an electorate seat. A win in an electorate, where the party scores lower than 5 per cent, still gets a proportionate top-up. So Rodney Hide’s win in Epsom gave Act two MPs even though the party won only 1.5 per cent of the party vote.

By comparison, in 1996, the Christian Coalition won 4.33 per cent of the party vote, a hair’s breadth from the magic threshold. But it failed to win in any electorate – so bad luck, no MPs.

There are two issues. Firstly, is the 5 per cent threshold too high? The commission that recommended MMP preferred 4 per cent, but the two major parties argued for a higher threshold. Those fears have proved unfounded. In fact, as much as MMP has delivered a more diverse Parliament, only one new party (Act) has broken in since the switch to MMP. The others have all been created around a sitting member.

But is the electorate threshold too low? In Germany, a party must win three electorates before qualifying for list seats. Adopting a three-electorates or 5 per cent criterion at the 2005 election would have seen five parties able to get in list MPs.

United Future and Act would have been restricted to Peter Dunne and Rodney Hide. As Jim Anderton couldn’t bring in a list MP under current arrangements, the Progressives would have been unaffected. Since none of those three parties attracted more than 2.6 per cent of the party vote, is that an unfair result?

And then there is the Maori vote. Last election, the Maori Party won 2.12 per cent of the party vote and four electorates, hence it has four MPs. This coming election it may win more electorates even though polling indicates its party vote will be no higher.

Since the number of Maori seats grows in accordance with the number on the Maori roll, it is entirely possible that over time this disparity between the number of MPs elected and the party’s proportion of the party vote will grow. That will mean a larger and larger over-hang and the leading party will need to garner not 61 votes to govern, but 63, 64, 65. Is this what we want?

These are all valid issues in need of debate. But they do not fit the yes-no format of a referendum. Nor do they provide evidence that MMP itself is beyond repair.

What they point to is the need for a considered review of the electoral system. Learning the lessons of the Electoral Finance Act, this should be conducted in a non-partisan way with a clearly stated purpose of seeking greater fairness.

In the spirit of fairness, perhaps such a review should also look at the Prime Minister’s prerogative to set the election date. Or the length of the political term; four years might be more productive.

The problem is that these changes require MPs to vote against their own interest. History tells us MPs don’t do that. Which is why a simplistic question in a referendum is so appealing. It looks as if something substantive is being done, even if it isn’t.

But concerns about MMP’s peculiarities are genuine and a more considered review would be more constructive.

I agree a considered review if not instead of, at least before, a referendum would serve us better than the blunt instrument of for or against vote in isolation.

Is Turei taking over from Tanczos?


Nandor Tanczos was the Green face for decriminalising marijuana. Does this story  mean Metiria Turei has taken over his mantle?

Three students were arrested yesterday when Dunedin police swooped on a pro-marijuana stall on the University of Otago campus…

Green MP Metiria Turei, who was on campus and arrived at the scene towards the end of the incident, said the police response was over the top…

Ms Turei criticised police priorities.

“This was a phenomenal waste of police time. It is shocking behaviour for police just at a time when confidence in police is at an all-time low.”

While she had only arrived on the scene in “the last few minutes”, she said Gray’s treatment by police was “serious manhandling”.

“It looks very much like they are picking off young men who are running a political campaign.”

Another witness said the officers had not appeared heavy-handed in their treatment of those being arrested.

Grey Greens might be better than red Greens


Chris Trotter’s column in The Independent (which I’ve been unable to find on-line) addresses the greying of the Greens.


Nine years ago, when Rod Donald and his “Magnificent Seven” cantered up the steps of Parliament like a herd of eager, old-order destroying centaurs, their public image was one of youthful exuberance, reckless idealism and what might almost be called political gaiety. It was a mirage. Even then, most of the Green Party caucus were well into their 40s and 50s. Their most youthful member, Nandor Tanczos, was 33.


Nine years on, the youngest member of the Green caucus (and likely to remain so) is the 38 year-old Metiria Turei. Robbed of the ever-youthful personality of the late rod Donald the Greens have taken on a distinctly middle-aged appearance. … The average of the top 12 placeholders on the party list is a bracing (and very baby-boomerish) 52 years.


…I had foolishly assumed the Greens would be offering the electorate a party list chock full of candidates under 40: people whose best years were still in front of them and whose political lives would be dominated by climate change and peak oil, not Vietnam and the Springbok tour.


Setting aside the ageist comment that at an average 52 their best years are behind them, it is interesting Trotter should define the Green MPs and candidates, not by environmental issues by social ones.  And that is water-melon factor (green on the outside, red in the middle) which explains why the Greens have failed to gain much traction.


Had they been moderate on social and economic issues they would be the one party in the middle of the political spectrum which actually stood for something; and their ability to coalesce with either Labour or National would have ensured they achieved at least some of it.


Instead they are in the perpetual wilderness to the left of Labour so in spite of the cosy photo-ops of Helen Clark and Jeanette Fitzsimmons before the 2005 elections the Greens were left out of coalition talks at the behest of NZ First and United. The few achievements they are remembered for are not environmental but social – like the smacking ban, or socialist – buy NZ made. And while achieving little or nothing of note environmentally they have continued to support, or at least abstain on confidence and supply, a Labour-led Government which has overseen the worst deforestation in decades and an alarming increase in carbon emissions.


…Another 7% result would, however, be enough to bring ninth-ranked Kennedy Graham into parliament. A highly experienced and successful diplomat, lawyer and academic, Graham will bring an aura of upper-middle-class respectability to the Greens.


“It’s fair to say that, at 62, Graham (who is Sir Douglas Graham’s younger brother) is unlikely to attract a very big chunk of the youth vote.


But he might attract some of the middle-aged and older people who have the time and money to worry about saving the world.


Respectability would appear to be the watchword these days in the Green party…Departing from the parliamentary scene is of course …Nandor Tanczos.


He takes with him much of the party’s heart and spirit: that indefinable quality that distinguishes the Green ideology from mere environmentalism…What he was prepared to do was lead the fight to end the Green’s unhealthy passive-aggressive relationship with the Labour Party.


It was time he told me to reinvent the old Green slogan: “Not of the Left, not of the right but in front” with renewed meaning.


Fearing this could lead the party to enter into a coalition with the National party, the econ-socialist wing of the Greens organised hard and successfully to ensure the ex-pat Australian political scientist (Russell) Norman defeated Tanczos in the race for the party’s co-leadership.


…In 2008 however, it is the words of Virginia Horrock, No 19 on the Green Party list, that resonate most disturbingly. “I want to persuade my generation to face up to what has happened to the earth under our watch, I am keen to encourage grandparents/baby boomers to make the earth their final gift to the next generations. Green voters are predominantly over 55, like me, so I feel I can appeal to them as people with the same concerns.”


Noble sentiments, Virginia, but revolutions are not made by people who are “predominantly over 55”.


No, but they are more likely to vote and appealing to them with sound environmental policy without scaring them with a radical social and economic agenda would give them a powerful position in the centre, where the power of MMP politics lies.

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