Politics of appeasement

February 17, 2020

When you adopt the standards and the values of someone else … you surrender your own integrity. You become, to the extent of your surrender, less of a human being. – Eleanor Roosevelt

Wondering what Labour and the Green Party think about New Zealand First and its leader?  Are they staying true to their values and promises, or have they adopted the standards and values of New Zealand First and its leader Winston Peters?

Keep wondering because, as Henry Cooke writes,  their silence is deafening:

. . .  there’s a difference between leeway for jokes and leeway for seriously unbecoming behaviour. And the prime minister has slipped this week from the usual kind of space people give Winston to be Winston into plain supplicancy.

Jacinda Ardern is yet to say anything at all about the fact the Electoral Commission made absolutely clear on Monday that the way NZ First was treating donations to its foundations was wrong. . .

Instead of properly taking this on, Ardern has hidden, as politicians often do, behind the perceived inappropriateness of commenting while some process is still active.

Sometimes this waiting game is both useful and sensible – politicians shouldn’t talk too much about murder trials before they finish.

But in this case it makes no sense. . . .

. . .there are ways of commenting on things without alleging criminal conduct. It is the lifeblood of adversarial politics.

Following the Electoral Commission’s finding, Ardern would have been totally within her rights to say, at the very least, that she thought these donations should have been declared to the commission. She could have said she was disappointed that a coalition partner appeared not to have been as fulsome as it could have been with informing the authorities – all without alleging any kind of crime. . .

Later last week it wasn’t just the donations saga on which she wasn’t commenting.

This silence got even louder on Thursday when it became clear that NZ First had some kind of involvement in two covertly taken photographs of journalists reporting on the Foundation story, which found their way onto a right-wing blog. Peters told Magic Talk on Tuesday that “we took the photographs just to prove that’s the behaviour going on”, but later backtracked to say a supporter just happened to see the journalists and thought he or she should snap a photo.

Because of this shifting story, there is a muddle over exactly how involved NZ First and Peters are, a muddle that would best be sorted out by Ardern demanding a fuller explanation from Peters. Any level of involvement in this kind of tactic – clearly designed to intimidate journalists – is worth condemning, and you can bet that, if Ardern was in Opposition, she would manage it.

Instead she’s not commenting, saying it is a “matter for NZ First”, while her office notes that she speaks about ministerial decisions and comments, not about things said as party leader. 

The thing is, the Cabinet Manual does have a section about ministers upholding and being seen to uphold “the highest ethical standards” at all times, not just when doing ministerial business. Ardern has all the ammo she needs to give Peters a dressing-down over this, but instead she defers. Things don’t have to be illegal to be wrong.

And it’s not just Labour which is staying silent.

Worse, this rot of silence has also infected the Green Party, which, as a confidence and supply partner, has plenty of legitimate room to criticise such tactics. You don’t need to tear the Government up or demand that Peters is fired – you can just say what the journalists’ union said on Friday, that Peters needs to explain himself and apologise.

Instead the Greens just talk about how the law needs to be changed – which most people agree with, but isn’t the point. The topic at hand isn’t underhanded but lawful behaviour, it’s stuff that is potentially illegal – hence the police referral. The party should grow back its spine. . .

John Armstrong has a similar view:

Rarely has the current prime minister looked quite so feeble as was evident during yet another turbulent week for her pockmarked, patchwork Administration.

It was another week which witnessed Winston Peters at his frustrating, selfish, perfidious and domineering worst.

In a perfect world, it would have been a week which ended with him having been relieved of the title of Deputy Prime Minister, if only temporarily.

So damning was the verdict of the Electoral Commission on the propriety of the activities of the highly-secretive New Zealand First Foundation that any other minister finding themselves on the receiving end of such a judgement would have been stood down forthwith.

That verdict on its own is a damning indictment. Once it it became public that the commission’s findings had been passed to the Serious Fraud Office, Peters’ relinquishing of his status of Deputy Prime Minister ought to have been a mere formality, if only a temporary measure while the SFO determined whether everything was above board or whether prosecutions should follow its investigation.

Peters, however, has clearly concluded that he is somehow exempt from the rules covering the disclosure of the source of political donations.

The arrogance is breathtaking — especially from someone who has previously suffered the ignominy of being censured by his parliamentary colleagues. . . 

Given that track record, Peters is beyond being shamed.

He might be beyond being shamed, has that rubbed off on the other parties in government?

Just witness the outrageousness of the New Zealand First Foundation, the leaked records of which have revealed its purpose had been to accept donations in the tens of thousands of dollars from some of the country’s wealthiest individuals without having to disclose their names.

Ardern’s problem is that Peters is Deputy Prime Minister. She cannot wash her hands of him no matter how embarrassing his statements and actions might be for her or the wider Labour Party they might be. Neither can she sit blithely to one side and pretend that Peters’ very obvious agenda to undermine the Electoral Commission is not happening.

Ardern needs to read the Riot Act to Peters — and not just to remind him of his constitutional obligations.

Failure to do so makes her look weak. In dragging her down, he is dragging Labour down too.

She’s letting the party be dragged down lest Peters brings the whole government down, even though Simon Bridges’ announcement National own’t work with NZ First should it be in a position to do so after the next election leaves it, like the Greens, the choice of going with Labour or sitting or sitting on the cross benches.

He hasn’t got a lot of options. It would seem to be an opportune time to remind him of that. He is hardly in a position to pull down the Government.

That makes Ardern’s failure to talk tough appear even more pathetic. . . 

And not for the first time. remember Clare Cullen and Iain Lees-Galloway?

The bizarre chain of events which unfolded on Thursday only reinforced the case for Peters losing the title of Deputy Prime Minister.

The revelation that he was party to the covert photographing and filming of journalists whose investigations of the New Zealand First Foundation have uncovered much to embarrass him and his party is a clear breach of the provisions in the Cabinet Manual covering the conduct expected of ministers of the crown.

To quote that handbook: “At all times, ministers are expected to act lawfully and to behave in a way that upholds, and is seen to uphold, the highest ethical standards. This includes exercising a professional approach and good judgement in their interactions with the public and officials, and in all their communications, personal and professional”. . .

Andrea Vance has more to say about snooping on  journalists:

No doubt Peters’ supporters are enjoying the irony of publishing paparazzi-style photographs of the reporters digging dirt on their party

For reasons that are unfathomable to me, New Zealand tends to minimise Peters more outrageous behaviour. But he is no lovable rogue – and this is straight-up intimidation.

Protecting the identity of journalists’ sources is an essential part of media freedom.

The threat of surveillance is chilling. It can have an intimidating and traumatising effect. . .

We might be a troublesome and unlovable bunch, but good journalism and a free press is an essential part of a functioning democracy.  

This attack on Shand and Espiner’s privacy is an attack on the public’s right to know about who is secretly funding their Government partner. 

Both Labour and the Greens must acknowledge that and condemn it, if we are to believe their exhortations New Zealand politics should be transparent and fair.

Both Labour and the Greens are forced into silence or at best mealy-mouthed muttering over New Zealand Firsts and Peters because they daren’t face up to him lest he pulls the pin that blows up the government.

Ever since the coalition was formed they’ve pandered to him, exercising politics of appeasement, having to make material concessions, several of which have been contrary to their principles and values.

They’ve swallowed so many dead rats they must suffer from permanent indigestion.

One of MMP’s big weaknesses is that it allows the tail to wag the dog. Peters and his party aren’t just wagging the other two parties they have forced them to roll over and accept not just policies that are contrary to their principles and they’re now, by refusing to condemn it,  accepting behaviour that is too.

Many commentators have questioned the values and standards of NZ First and its leader. Labour and Greens are day by day being more tainted by association and exposing their own values and standards to questions too.


NZ First referred to police

February 10, 2020

The Electoral Commission has referred New Zealand First to the police:

The Electoral Commission has made enquiries into issues raised regarding the New Zealand First Party and the New Zealand First Foundation and their compliance with the requirements for donations and loans.

Based on the information available, we have formed the view that the New Zealand First Foundation has received donations which should have been treated as party donations for the New Zealand First Party. In the Commission’s view, the donations were not properly transmitted to the Party and not disclosed as required by the Electoral Act 1993.

The Commission does not have the investigative powers to form a view about whether this failure to transmit and the non-disclosure means offences have been committed. These matters have therefore been referred to the New Zealand Police, which have the necessary powers to investigate the knowledge and intent of those involved in fundraising, donating, and reporting donations.

As these matters are now with the Police, the Electoral Commission will not be commenting further.

No doubt everyone in NZ First will refuse to comment further because the matter is with the police.

The rules on donations to political parties and candidates start here.

There’s further explanation here.

The responsibility for disclosure lies primarily with the party secretary, but will this case involve NZ First leader Winston Peters?

He has maintained that the Foundation and the party are separate.

The Electoral Commission obviously thinks otherwise.

Peters has also said the NZ Foundation was modeled on National’s but National treats donations to its Foundation as donations to the party and declares them as it’s required to do.

I was one of National’s regional chairs when the Foundation was established and this was made very clear to everyone in the party and all donors. This and the legal requirements for disclosure are spelled out on the Foundation website.

 


No electorate accommodations by Labour?

February 4, 2020

Simon Bridges has Ruled out any deal between National and New Zealand First after the election.

One of the risks from that is that Labour could pull back in an electorate to allow NZ First to win a seat and therefore not need to get 5% of the party vote to stay in parliament.

Labour leader Jacinda Ardern was asked on Breakfast yesterday if she’d rule out doing a sweetheart deal  with NZ First in Northland. She replied:

“. . . I’ve already said I didn’t do deals last time, I see no reason why I would . . .we’re pretty consistent as a Labour Party around representation in seats . . .”

The inference from that is that she would rule out an accommodation but it’s not a straight no to doing it.

In spite of all the huffing and puffing about National and Act’s accommodation in Epsom, Labour did send a very clear signal to its supporters to vote for Winston Peters rather than the Labour candidate in the Northland by-election.

If polling shows support for National and Labour is close and that NZ First is hovering under 5%, will she stick to the inference or suggest voters sacrifice the Labour candidate to help NZ First win a seat?

 


It’s about trust

February 2, 2020

National leader Simon Bridges has ruled out working with New Zealand First after this year’s election:

Bridges’ messaging is all about bundling New Zealand First, Labour and the Greens together saying: “a vote for NZ First is a vote for Labour and the Greens.”

It was three years ago even though around half the people who voted for NZ First wanted it to support National in government.

“I don’t believe we can work with NZ First and have a constructive trusting relationship,” Bridges says.

“When National was negotiating in good faith with NZ First after the last election, its leader was suing key National MPs and staff. I don’t trust NZ First and I don’t believe New Zealanders can either.”

It’s about trust and Peters can’t be trusted.

This makes NZ First dependent on gaining at least 5% of the vote on September 19 unless it wins a seat.

That’s very unlikely unless Labour throws it a lifeline by campaigning for the party vote in a seat it holds.

That would be rank hypocrisy from both parties which have vehemently criticised for National holding back to help Act in Epsom.

But hypocrisy is not unusual in a politician who can’t be trusted.


Chance for a change?

January 29, 2020

One of John Key’s legacies is announcing the election date early in the year.

He did it, Bill English followed his good example and now Jacinda Ardern has done it too.

This year’s election will be on Saturday September 19th, which is the anniversary of New Zealand women gaining the vote.

Will that give the party with a woman leader an advantage?

Who knows? People vote for and against parties and people for a variety of reasons, many of which have little if anything to do with whether or not it will result in good governance.

If history is a guide, the advantage lies with Labour. We haven’t had a one-term government since MMP was introduced, and the last one under FPP was in 1975.

But history also tells us that this is the first time since MMP was introduced that the party with the most votes is in opposition. It also tells us that it is rare for that party to be polling at similar levels of support it got in the last election and more often than not, polling higher than the party leading the government.

So is National in with a chance to win?

Yes but it won’t be easy and it will depend not only on it at least maintaining its support, it will also depends on what happens to the other parties.

New Zealand First has been hovering below 5% in recent polls. If it doesn’t improve on that, it would be out of parliament, unless it wins a seat.

In spite of its vehement criticism of National’s accommodation with Act in Epsom, NZ First might welcome something similar in a seat with Labour that, if it won, would mean it wouldn’t have to get 5%.

Then there’s the Maori Party. A strong candidate could take a seat from Labour and, in spite of National inviting it into government when it didn’t need to, it might go left rather than right.

Nothing is certain, but In spite of Ardern’s vow to lead a positive campaign, she will find it’s very hard to defend the government’s record when so much of its achievements have fallen far short of its rhetoric.


Just say no

January 27, 2020

If National had ruled out a deal with New Zealand First three years ago, would the latter have got less than five per cent of the vote and the former still be leading the government?

We’ll never know.

But we do know that around half the people who voted for NZ First hoped the party would go with National and that a lot of them are still very unhappy Winston Peters chose Labour and the Green Party instead.

We also know that while Peters was supposedly negotiating in good faith he was also working on legal action against National’s deputy Paula Bennett and then-minister Ann Tolley.

That tells us, once again, that Peters can’t be trusted.

Simon Bridges has said he will announce well before the election whether or not National will rule out New Zealand First.

I hope he does say no to them which will make it quite clear to voters that a vote for that party is a vote for a Labour-led government.

There are risks.

In spite of their many criticisms of National not trying to win Epsom so that Act will get into parliament, Labour and New Zealand First could come to a similar arrangement in another seat in an attempt to secure an electorate for a New Zealand First candidate. If that worked, NZ First would not need to secure five percent of the vote to stay in parliament.

New Zealand First could get back, with or without an electorate,  and National could have too few seats to form a government without it and so be back in opposition.

But there are bigger risks in not ruling out New Zealand First.

It would send the message to voters that New Zealand First might go with National, even though the chances of that are very, very remote.

It would enable Peters to pretend he’ll listen to voters even though last time more opted for National than Labour.

It would give Peters the power he’s had too many times before to play the bigger parties off against each other and extract too high a price for putting them into government.

The worst day in government is supposed to be better than the best in opposition. But if the choice is government with Peters, I’d opt for opposition.

Tracy Martin says this year feels like the beginning of the end for Peters:

. . .So is it time to write Peters off?  Peters has cleverly played up his part as Labour’s handbrake, just as he once pitched himself as a bulwark against National’s extremes.  It’s how he has survived so long in politics – even after the “baubles of office'” fiasco, or Owen Glenn donations scandal.

But you can only play one side against the other for so long and it feels like Peters has played one too many hands.

So is the extraordinary Peters era coming to an end? He is our most familiar face on television; as recognisable as the theme tune to Coronation Street, as well worn as a pair of old slippers.

 But even soap operas eventually have their day.

National ruling out NZ First would make the end of the Peters soap opera much more likely.

Please, National,  just say no.


If the Greens weren’t so red

January 22, 2020

Another delivery failure from the government:

No progress has been made on advancing the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary over the past two years despite specific Government promises in their coalition agreements to do so, Nelson MP Nick Smith says.

“Written Parliamentary Question to Ministers reveal the Government has all but given up on advancing the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary. There has been no Cabinet papers and little work by Ministers or officials on the sanctuary. There has been no meetings, no correspondence, and no official papers in more than six months.

“There is now no realistic prospect of the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary being put in place during this term of Parliament, despite specific promises in the Confidence and Supply agreement with the Green Party to do so.

“Far from helping to create the new Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary, the Government has blocked attempts to progress it. They have put my original Government Bill to create the sanctuary at the bottom of the work schedule and repeatedly blocked my Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary Members Bill from being introduced.

“This important sanctuary would protect an area of ocean twice the land area of New Zealand and hundreds of threatened marine species. The Kermadec Sanctuary now joins a long list of policies this Government has failed to deliver on.”

The government hasn’t delivered on this coalition agreement promise which is Greens’ core policy because that party hasn’t the bargaining power of NZ First which is beholden to the fishing industry.

If the Greens weren’t so red they might have contemplated a coalition with National and had no argument about creating the sanctuary.

But the party is deeply red and the environment is the loser because of that.

 


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