Monday, January 31, 2005


The Guardian reports that Tory leader Michael Howard's populist attack on immigrants is failing to deliver any real political gains for his beleaguered Party.

Howard was attempting to gain some crucial momentum for the Tories at the beginning of a year which will see Britain head to the polls in about May, and Labour generally expected to win an historic third term in office. Despite a raft of Enoch Powell style pronouncements designed to whip up popular resentment against asylum seekers, the Tories remain a good seven points behind Labour (which amounts to an electoral drubbing under FPP).

In part, Howard is such an odious political figure that Britons are instinctively wary of any of his utterances, but on this occasion it also seems that they have consciously turned a deaf ear to his populist right-wing rantings. This would be significant, as the electoral logic in most western democracies in recent years has been that conservative parties can always pick up soft working and middle class support from social democratic parties by stoking up resentment against a minority group with perceived advantages. Maybe the Brits are finally seeing through the hollow, negative rhetoric?

Of course Brash's mutterings about welfare are in a similar vein - pick a vulnerable group, go for gold with the hyperbole and horror stories, and don't pay to much attention to the facts. The political effect here is not yet apparent, but maybe NZ voters are as fatigued by this kind of cheap stunt as their British counterparts.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Campaign comes together

It's been a good week on the campaign front, with a number of campaign activities coming together:

- Leafleting across a large swathe of the electorate continuing, and some good feedback from people who have received it.

- An evening spot on Chinese Radio talking about our campaign, and attempting to explain in easily translatable form, what "social democratic values" are.

- Our first foray into central Howick to hand out leaflets and engage in some meet and greet.

The wander around Howick went really well. You always get the odd bit of niggle at these sorts of things, but by and large people were perfectly polite and happy to look at a leaflet. People, even those who identify themseleves as conservative voters, are quite plainly happy to see a candidate actually doing a bit of old-fashioned ground work. I had a good friend, Arna with me which made the whole affair quite fun.

We nearly bumped in to BCIR campaigner and Independent candidate Steve Baron actually. My partner Julie and her Mother were having lunch in Howick earlier on in the day and were leafleted by Steve about half an hour before we began. I have to say that even though I find many of his ideas nutty and reactionary, it's a credit to him that he's prepared to front up to people face to face and run a proper campaign. If last time is anything to go by, he will be the only right-wing candidate to actually get off his backside and do some real face to face campaigning.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Great non-events of our time

I've been planning on posting about Brash's speech for a couple of days, but really, it just hasn't felt that consequential.

In fact, the only remotely interesting thing to have arisen from the speech was the degree of internal division within the Party over the leadership's increasingly hard turn to the extreme right. Katherine Rich's refusal to back Brash's speech is utterly astonishing. This isn't some politically naive, wet behind the ears backbencher we're talking about here. This is the number five ranked MP in the National caucus, who holds the very portfolio that her leader's comments concern. It would be like Annette King and the PM publicly scrapping over hospital funding. Make no mistake, Brash's approach of making policy on the hoof, over-riding party process, and apparently consultation with key colleagues, will damage National's internal cohesion.

And what of the speech itself - well, it was all predicatable, possibly with the exception of the appalling suggestion that young solo-mother's should be adopting out their newborn children. This from the a Party that claims it is concerned with 'family values'!

While I expect the prospect of a populist hardline welfare policy to attract some short-term support to the Nats, there is simply nothing for the whole thing to latch on to. Consider:

- more New Zealanders in work than ever before. Unemployment at 3.8% compared to 7% under National.
- Declining number on most benefits such as the DPB
- Successful and positive programmes like industry training and modern apprenticeships moving people into the workforce under Labour
- The introduction of tailored case management to move people into work under Labour
- The Working for Families package which will ensure that beneficiaries will always be financially better off if they move into work.

What is the huge problem that Brash is addressing, and how in any case is his approach essentially different from failed 1990s policies such as work for the dole that did not reduce welfare numbers?

I must also comment on the laughability of Brash attacking the poorest New Zealanders as ripping off the system. Next time he sits down for a sherry with some of his Business Roundtable mates from the major trading banks he may want to ask them how much tax their companies pay. Nine percent was a recent estimate.

Who's ripping off the system at the expense of ordinary kiwi's?

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Farewell to Bill Andersen

I attended a memorial service for prominent Trade Unionist Bill Andersen today. Prominent doesn't actually touch on Bill's contribution, he was one of the most significant figures in New Zealand's industrial history over the past fifty years.

He was there during the 1951 Waterfront lockout, at the epic 1980 Kinleith strike, and went to war with Muldoon, climaxing with his support for Ngati Whatua during the Bastion Point occupation in the mid 1980s.

I have had the privilege of spending a small amount of time with Bill over recent years and quite aside from being impressed by his incredible achievements, I was always in awe of his simple humility and kindness. Despite his reputation and mana he would happily sit and chat with anyone, no matter how great or small. It was Bill who came to the rescue of Young Labour's Clarion Rd tour (see early January post) by lending us the National Distribution Union bus.

Bill was one of the most politically principled people I have ever met. As a dedicated communist and trade unionist, his views tended to the radical end of the political spectrum. Nonetheless, he had a developed enough view of the world to be able to work with other groups with quite different political outlooks to achieve common objectives. For that political inclusiveness, Bill was a well-liked figure, and all too rare.

One funny story that I heard the day he passed away was that during contenscious award negotiations during the early eighties, some cheeky Air NZ bookings staff seated Bill and arch-enemy Muldoon next to each other on a flight from Auckland to Wellington. Bill looked at Muldoon and said "If you agree to what I said yesterday, I'll agree to say nothing for the rest of the flight".

Bill was a man with an absolute dedication to building a fairer society, and improving the lot of ordinary working people. I wish that I could have had more time to talk with him about his incredible life.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

A Potential Constituent!

Eeh gads, someone has noticed the campaign.

Yes, the 0800 number was activated for the first time today. An elderly bloke who has been fruitlessly battling council to get his flooding driveway fixed received my leaflet over the weekend, and having pursued all other options, was desperate enough to give me a call!

So the first act as local candidate will be helping to sort out a drainage problem.

I actually find dealing with these sorts of things quite rewarding - it's often basic ground level problems like this that have the biggest effect on people, so I'm very happy to help in any small way I can. My digital camera and I have an appointment with the leaky driveway this Saturday.

Some balding bloke gave a speech tonight as well. Will have to have a look at that soon...

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Meaningless but Fun

How old are you?

I get 33. My youth is slipping away from me faster than I thought...

Campaign Underway

Residents on Pakuranga Rd between the Shopping Centre and Lloyd Elsmore Park yesterday became the first victims of our campaign to keep Pakuranga voting Labour.

Our team of leafletters has been militaristically mobilised and began a significant distribution across the electorate. Leafletting yesterday evening was about as pleasant as it gets and it was a nice way to formally get our campaign underway.

Although it's pretty early in the year, my feeling is that it's always beneficial to make the early running and establish our campaign in people's minds as the one that is actually out there getting active.

If last time is anything to go by we won't have much competition in that department. While out leafletting in central Howick in the dying days of the 2002 campaign I came across a bloke doing the same for Maurice. We had a pleasant chat and I asked him how long he'd been involved with the Nats. "Oh no, I'm not political at all, I'm just from the local Scout group and we get paid to do this". Amazing - in what was not long ago the second safest National seat in the country, the local organisation wasn't even up to delivering it's own leaflets!

The real flesh pressing stuff on the main street of Howick begins next weekend...

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Oh for Free to Air

Only a brief comment today, and that is to mourn the loss of free to air coverage of major sporting events.

Today of course is the first One dayer between the Black Caps and a Rest of the World team made up of a number of also rans, and a number of brilliant players. A daft mate of mine and I had planned to go down to Hamilton to watch it, until we checked yesterday and realised it was in Christchurch. We're not that dedicated.

Anyway, I have always said that the one thing that might ever might make me vote New Zealand First if I ever had a frontal lobotomy and was only able to focus on one thing at a time, would be their policy to bring all major sporting events back to free-to-air television.

Not entirely sure of the practicalities of this, but I just think it would be grand to watch the game today.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Local Rag & Local Govt

A key part of the political landscape out in the eastern reaches of empire is the local paper, the Howick & Pakuranga Times. It is in my opinion, one of the best local papers in the Auckland region, and has won many awards along these lines.

It is crucial to the political fortunes of any candidate in Pakuranga because:

a) it covers the whole electorate, with smaller circulation in Clevedon and Manukau East, meaning that the political focus is on the politics in Pakuranga.

b) it's the only local paper to really cover politics. The other local, the Eastern Courier (inl) stays aloof from election matters, or at least any to do with Labour.

c) the Times is the focal point for civil society/political debate in the electorate, in a way that I have not observed anywhere else. The Letters page overflows with partisan debate, and any local issue must gain ceverage in the Times to develop any real legs.

d) it has a good, stable team of journo's who know the area and the local politics. Unlike many larger rivals, this smallish local paper actually devotes time to looking into stories and talking to the relevant people.

That's not to say that I always agree with the Times editorial viewpoint or priorities, but by and large the coverage is balanced, and for a local paper, an admiral amount of energy is put into real political stories as opposed to the never ending stream of mindless pieces about Mrs Miggins' sock stealing cat that many locals seem to rely on.

The local govt story referred to above has to do with bouquet given to the Botany Downs Community Board in the Times for undertaking a number of community initiatives. That particular board is run by the local right wing mob called People's Choice, but on this particular occasion the bouquet is indeed deserved - the Board has closed down a dangerous underpass, and helped liase between the community and local police.

That's good stuff and credit where credit's due. The thing that hasn't been picked up is that most of the right-wing board members campaigned on the tiresome old clique about local govt only being about "roads, rats, and rubbish", and on the basis of that, running a populist campaign to attack existing council policies that went beyond this, and heaven forbid, tried to make the city a more dynamic, harmonious, and interesting place to live. Such policies were lambasted by People's Choice as wasteful, and a number of there candidates even called for the abolition of Community Boards. You know the drill - Council should be sticking to "core business".

Yet what the People's Choice members of Botany Board have discovered, is that building a cohesive community is more complex that a set of cliches, and that the powers given to local government to make decisions at a local level (routinely criticised by the right as wasteful and breaucratic) can actually be used to good effect. Good on them for recognising this and working for their community!

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

The Poor old ALP

Mark Latham's resignation as Australian Labour Party leader today wasn't really surprising. After a post-ascention honeymoon a few months out from last year's federal election, the ALP collapsed in the week leading up to polling day and allowed Howard in for what promises to be an appalling fourth term.

The bets seem to be on Kim Beazley to take over, which is a little surprising given:

a) He has already lost twice against Howard and can arguably be blamed for allowing the Conservatives to manage the terms of political discourse in Australia.

b) The ALP have three years until the next election, and hence time to blood a younger leader such as shadow defence spokesperson Kevin Rudd or Julia Gillard, shadow Health spokesperson.

I came across both at the ALP COnference in Sydney last year, and was extremely impressed by Gillard, who showed an extremely firm grasp of policy, solid political principles, and the crucial ability to make a pragmatic call. She was one of the people charged by the Party with putting together the ALP's election year policy on refugees, probably the most emotionally charged issue within the ALP. It was a no-win situation for her, as any policy she could realistically get accepted by the Party would alienate her own left faction.

Yet with real courage and nerve, she crafted and put in place a policy that largely took the issue off the agenda during the election, and had Labour been re-elected, would have brought about a far more humane system for dealing with refugees.

If not this time, I'm sure we'll see her become the first ALP woman leader at some stage (well over a decade after NZ!!).

And whoever it is, good luck to them. Australia needs a change of direction as badly as New Zealand did in 1999.

More on the referenda craze

A friend of mine, Michael Wallmansberger has written a really good piece on the dangers of referenda on 'moral issues' such as Civil Unions.

I couldn't put it any better myself, so please read

Sunday, January 16, 2005

The Sham Confirmed

The announcement the other day that the US has formally wrapped up the search for WMD in Iraq with nothing found, is predictable and galling.

It's galling because we all knew that no such weapons would be found. The UN team found no evidence last year, and no other credible existence existed. This was a manufactured war, and I believe that the men who so earnestly mouthed the words abouth the peril of WMD knew exactly what they were doing.

Meanwhile, around 1500 "coalition" troops have been killed, and probably around 30 000 Iraqi civilians. That they have died for such a lie is sickening. New Zealanders can be proud that our government refused to engage in this brutish folly.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Union of Fathers Hypocrisy

The tacit support given by the Union of Fathers for Stephen Jelicich (the bloke on the run with his baby) in today's Herald, exposes the utter hypocrisy of the group.

While UoF undoubtedly provides valuable advice and advocacy for Father's caught up in the difficult and emotional world of family breakup, their political agenda is simply brutish and chauvanistic. Their tiresome line that the Family Court process has become captured by feminists and political correctness detracts from any genuinely sensible suggestions they may have to make the process fairer and more transperant.

The reality of family breakups and custody issues that reach the stage of a Family Court hearing, is that they are disputes of the most bitter kind, unable to be resolved through other, less confrontational means. The Court must ultimately make a decision in the child's best interests, and the result of this will always be that one party is aggrieved. For a range of reasons, most notably work patterns, histories of domestic violence, and a desire to reduce disruption in the child's life, the majority of such decisions do result in custody being awarded to the Mother. This in no way represents an inherent bias in favour of Mothers as Uof will simplistically contend.

In the Jelicich case, the Court, on the basis of the evidence before it has made a decision that the best interests of the child are served by custody with the Mother. If the Father disagrees with that assessment, there are legal mechanisms open to review the decision. Instead, the Father has chosen to subvert the due legal process, kidnap the child, disrupt it's life by moving from hideout to hideout, and use his friends and family to conduct a smear campaign against the Mother, who is currently overseas.

This is brutish, law of the jungle stuff: "I want this, so I will take it. Stuff the law and anyone else". UoF's decision to tacitly condone this behaviour by refusing to condemn it, and continuing to offer public sympathy to the Father, shows that they have no interest in either working through proper, civilised legal mechanisms, or the interests of the forgotten figure in the whole affair - the child.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Strange Dedication

A strange bloke called Steve Baron lives out in East Auckland, a strange and fanatically dedicated bloke. Steve's obsession is the idea of Binding Citizens Initiated Referenda, and on the back of that he has just announced himself as an independent candidate in Pakuranga.

He has been admirably banging on about BCIR for a number of years, and his recent efforts include putting out a book about them, and going on an ansolute rampage at the time of the 2004 local body elections, and putting up small BCIR signs on every single candidate's hoardings. This was funny as firstly, I doubt that any of the candidates running for the Botany Community Board were remotely interested in BCIR, and secondly, the anecdotal evidence was that hardly any punters understood what the bloody hell "BCIR" referred to.

Anyway, he has announced his candidacy in the local paper and it's all pretty predictable - nasty right wing jabs about Maori, beneficiaries, the homosexual community, abortion, and those kniveing recipients of our foreign aid.

Interestingly enough his commitment to holding referenda extends only to conscience votes. Surely if he was truely dedicated to the idea of direct democracy, BCIR would extend to major decisions about tax, asset sales, public spending, and the like - issues that in fact have a far bigger bearing on our economy, society, and people's lives. What an odd co-incidence that Steve's unpopular free-market-right views conveniently fit into his ideal political world in such a way as not to require putting to "the people".

Good luck to him I say. His platform is as poorly thought through as they come, but he is obviously quite earnest, and he'll only suck votes off other rivals on the right.

The Whole Truth

I don't mind having a good debate with a political opponent, but am increasingly frustrated by the practice of those of the populist right who insist on presenting information that is inaccurate or misleading as if it is undisputable fact.

We've had it with Brash's claim that the government was providing Maori and Maori only with'tangihanga leave' in the new Holidays Act (it simply doesn't exist in the Act), we've seen it with vague wording from correspondents of the right suggesting that the sameAct increases the amount that has to be paid to an employee on a public holiday by 250% (ignoring the fact that a compensatory day in lieu has been in place for decades), and now the man with the incredible shrinking poll rating, Mr Rodney Hide, is running with the hoary old chestnut about the Employment Court running amok and granting ridiculous awards to lazy workers.

In this case however, Mr Hide has run into a problem - someone has checked up on the facts. Dog Biting Men has discovered that in the case referred to by Hide, in which a teenage employee received a $10 000 compensation payment, the employer didn't bother to show up to the Employment Authority Hearing! Nor did they file a brief of evidence.

Seems to me that the old right wing mantra about responsibilities going hand in hand with rights is appropriate here. You have a right to have your side heard - but the responsibility to put the case is yours.

This union organiser can also confirm that money does not flow like a river whenever NZ employees take personal grievances. The average payout is around $4000, and that of course takes into account the fact that generally, it is only the severest cases which actually procees through the system. Most people who are treated poorly, bullied out of a job, or harrassed at work, simply don't have the knowledge or emotional energy to take PGs.

When they do, the payouts aren't that big either. I recall dealing with an appalling case of employer neglect, which left a single parent of 3 crippled with severe OOS down one side of their body, and unable realistically to work for years.The company's response was to bully and isolate this person, and eventually try to dismiss them. The payout in that case was similar to that received by Rodney's surly fish n' chip shop employee.

The person I refer to was a "working kiwi trying to get ahead", but somehow I doubt Rodney will be championing their cause.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

The Good Fight

Our earnest little campaign in Pakuranga commences this month.

After 2 good campaigns in 1999 and 2002, we have made some real gains, and at that last election (for the first time) we received the largest share of the Party vote. Our goal this time is to build on that, and make further inroads into Maurice Williamsons 4500 vote personal majority.

The last campaign was a funny one, with Maurice (at the time extremely grumpy with his leader BillEnglish) campaigning purely for the candidate vote, and ACT throwing real resources into the electorate in an attempt to really push the Party vote (it is their 4th highest polling seat). In the middle of this melee our dedicated crew was the only one to run a genuine 'two tick' campaign, and actually get stuck into the hard work of door knocking, holding stalls at the local shops, and that sort of old fashioned nuts and bolts campaigning.

People responded, and Pakuranga actually backed Labour, and put me as a Labour candidate as close as we've ever got to the incumbent.

We have the resources, people, and most importantly time (it was a short campaign in 2002) to expand on that effort this time, and with all of this there should be some real gains to be made. We'll be running an escalating campaign that will begin this month, and steadily build in terms of range of activities and intensity.

The leafletting and meeting & greeting starts next week!

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Walking the Walk

Young Labour's Clarion Rd Tour which saw a changing group of ten or so activists moving through from Auckland to the Bluff, ended today. Travelling in the venerable National Distribution Union bus 'Fort Knox', we hit several towns a day helping out with community projects and asking young people to sign a giant banner stating their vision for the future.


The tour was a fantastic success as it actually got a group of dedicated activists out there walking the walk, instead of just talking it. Whether it was engaging with young people on the street in Mt Maunganui, helping restore native bush, or collecting for Tsunami victims in Invercargill, the tour saw us as political activists engaging with real people and communities - something we don't do enough of.

Roll on Clarion 2005-6.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Take a Break

I am heartily sick of the whinging ballyhoo from those on the right who object to folk who work on statutory holidays receiving penal rates, and justifying the surcharging practiced by some bars and cafes. See DPF's post and associated comments for an example.

It's a prime example of the complete disconjunction between the amoral market fetishism of the right, and the values of ordinary working New Zealanders. Wheras the National Party of yore would have understood the importance of social institutions like family, religous and cultural traditions, the collective experience of heading to the beach/bach wherever on our public holidays, this bunch simply see the disincentives to trade that penal rates are, as impediments to the operation of perfect market signals.

They just don't get it. Our society is made up of people, not just price signals.

Also, I wonder when retailers will begin charging a surcharge on days when a staff member is sick, and they are required to pay them sick pay, and pay a casual to come in? They won't??? Maybe that means that meeting the needs of your staff is an ordinary part of doing business that you factor into your operations...

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Bertrand Bargolias Revealed

A ponderous and at times self indulgent half hour search for a blog header has led me to a name of power, prestige, and probably some obscurity.

In fact, you don't get much more obscure than a passing character on one of McPhail & Gadsby's mid to late 80s sketch shows. In a strangely funny send up, the opening of 60 Minutes was parodied, and a brown suited, beige shirted fellow with a superb 80s moustache looks up dramatically and says "I'm Bertrand Bargolias", just as the brown suited, beige shirted, and until recently mustachioed Cameron Bennett would. It was a wonderfully delicate piece of absurdity, and probably the high point of satire on New Zealand television over the past twenty five years.

The purpose of this blog is to provide an outlet for the thoughts, frustrations, libelous rantings, and eternally optimistic outlook of someone (me) who finds themselves living in a strange world in which they are the Labour candidate for Pakuranga. I did the job three years ago and found that a sense of humour was one of the biggest pre-requisites for the job - hence the reference to Mr Bargolias.

Another Bertrand also figures prominently in my thoughts, shaping significantly my outlook on life and political beliefs, the great Twentieth Century thinker Bertrand Russell. I won't burble for too long about him, but this quote from the beginning of his autobiography sums the man up admirably, and is I think a good prescription for someone involved in the odd and difficult New Zealand political scene:

"Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind."

NB - funny point, the spellchecker doesn't recognise the word "blog".