Thursday, April 28, 2005

Better check with the boss, Judith!

Frequent Howick and Pakuranga Times contributor, and New Zealands own Margaret Thatcher of the South Seas, Judith Collins is becoming a law unto herself.

After she recently made some fairly extreme comments about docking money going to sole-parent familes, she had to be pulled into line by Don Brash, who forced her to publicly tone down her sloganeering rhetoric.

I wonder what he will make about the statement she has released today about the Working for Families Pacakge. In it, she makes a number of nonsense claims about the package being the cause of "high" interest rates (funny how they were often higher while Brash was RB Govenor and National was in government huh?).

Presumably then, she would right this monstrous injustice by repealing Working for Families? Her bold comments further on in the statement would certainly suggest so. The only problem with that implication from National's Welfare spokesperson, is of course that Brash has publicly vacilated on the issue, suggested that a National government may well keep the current programme in place.

Of course the last National welfare spokesperson was sacked for not being on board with Party policy - we can only hope.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Paid Parental Leave Progress

I'm really pleased about the recent improvements made to the Paid Parental Leave scheme which will allow self-employed women to also receive assistance on the birth of a child.

PPL was legislated for, if memory serves me correctly, in 2000, and came into effect in 2002. It was in my view one of the most important initiatives to come out of the Labour/Alliance government of that time. The scheme was initially modest, providing 12 weeks of pay once a woman had been with an employer for 12 months. A subsequent review widened the scheme to provide 14 weeks after 6 months of employment, with the recent announcement allowing about an extra 8000 self employed women to receive assistance each year.

I think the progression of the scheme is a good example of the way this government approaches reform. While there were many understandable calls in the early days for a wider and more generous scheme, Labour's approach of putting in place a modest system, and then looking at progressively improving it as the situation allowed, has meant that PPL has been implemented pretty smoothly, with a minimum of fuss - slow and steady change is definitely the most durable. I understand that a review taking place next year will analyse the impact of PPL and consider further changes.

Incidentally, all of the employers I have talked to about PPL think that it is great - they keep good staff who would otherwise consider leaving on the birth of a child.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Anzac Day

I spent a wonderful Anzac Day with my grandfather in Rotorua. We attended an excellent service at the Town Hall, followed by lunch and a mug of hot, whiskey enhanced coffee at the local RSA. There was a strong contingent of old soldiers in attendance, and as with elsewhere around the country, a mighty turnout from younger people.

There has been alot of comment about the increased numbers attending on Anzac Day, and it is my view that this reflects a real desire among young people, not just to understand what has happened in our past, but to reflect on what it is to be a New Zealander, and more simply, a human being.

The decline of traditional religion, and the accompanying rise of ephemeral consumerism has in my view left young people in a funny sort of place. All of the messages we receive in our 24/7 society tell us to live for the moment and seek instant gratification, yet from our families and human relationships we know that there are far more important things. I think that for New Zealanders, the memory of servicepeople who fought for others in the name of great principles, is a valuable antidote to the modern sense of spiritual emptiness.

And yes, I do think it was appalling for Brash to make a snide political comment at the service he attended. On Anzac day politicians should sit there quietly, or at the most perform their ceremonial duties and give a solemn tribute to those who fell. End of story, no excuses.

Battle Commences!

Maurice and I have had our first real dig in the local media, on this occasion over National's Education policy.

A good clear indication of the fundamentally different choices on offer this year. Strong public institutions under Labour, or competitive business units under National. Education is always a huge issue in Pakuranga, so I am sure this will be the first of many stoushes.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Nats education policy would harm local schools

18th April

“The recent release of National’s education policy should be of serious concern to parents in Howick and Pakuranga”, says Pakuranga Labour candidate Michael Wood.

“The policy would allow schools to reach individual employment contacts with their teachers. At the moment under Labour all teachers are covered by the same contract and the same employment conditions. That’s fair”, continuous Wood.

“Under National’s policy, wealthy schools would be able to raise large amounts of extra money from parents and use that money to offer teachers higher salaries than those on offer at schools in low to middle income areas”.

“I believe that teachers make the difference in education. Great teachers inspire students and they also help other teachers be the best they can be. Under National, wealthy schools would be freed to pay for the very best, and the rest of our schools would lose out.”

“Of even deeper concern to local parents should be the comments in the leaked draft of Dr Brash’s education speech in which he suggested that National would divert more public resources to fund private schools, and a change to the decile funding formula. Under this policy, middle income schools in Pakuranga would lose funding”.

“Labour is committed to ensuring a high quality, publicly owned education system that works for all people – not just the very wealthy. National’s policy shows that their focus is on turning our schools into competitive business units, not on providing a sound education for all children”, concludes Wood.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Lazy and Shallow

Span has written about the failure of the Maori Party (MP) to as yet produce any proper body of policy. In fact, it's worse than that, Tariana Taria has gone on record as saying that the MP doesn't actually have any intention of producing key policy platforms to take to the electorate as Labour has with our 'credit card' promises over the past two campaigns.

She brilliantly explained this away by saying something like "well the tuis in the forest don't need to have election promises". True as that may be, I haven't come across many Tui's lately who are running for public office and want to be paud $100 000 per year to put in place policies that effect the lives of four million people.

This explanation is plainly arrant nonsense and is in my view simply a cover for the fact that the MP is having difficult job putting together a comprehensive and meaningful policy platform given the diversity of interests represented within the Party. Well unfortunately, that's politics - all parties have to contend with internal differences, and I believe that the public deserve clear indications as to what a Party they elect to government may do.

For all my recent criticisms of National's recently announced policy, they are at least being open and honest about the havoc they would wreck!

The Maori Party owes its supporters more.

UK Election Progress

Recent poll results (Labour-Conservative-Lib Dems):

Sunday Telegraph-ICM 40-30-22
Independent on Sunday-Communicate Research 40-34
Sunday Times-YouGov 36-35-23, pulling back from Friady's lead of five in the Daily Telegraph. Highest score for Lib Dems so far.
Mail On Sunday-British Polling Index, in the whole sample, Labour ahead by three, in the 'certain to vote' sample Conservatives ahead 36-35.
An average Labour lead of five across the 'whole sample' range.

News of the World-ICM Marginals
Labour-Conservative marginals 42-36. Labour lead, LDs on 18, suggesting a loss of eight seats to the Conservatives. Swing to Cons 1.65
Lib Dem-Conservative marginals 40-37. Conservatives lead, Lab on 19, suggesting a loss of nine seats to the Conservatives. A high Lab figure for these seats, swing to Cons 1.45.

ICM polls - which leaders are having a good (+) campaign
Kennedy +48
Brown +40
Howard +18
Blair -14

-14??? And I thought Brash was having a rough campaign!

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Blitz day!

We have just completed an excellent weekend of campaigning in Pakuranga.

After blanket leafleting the Gossamer Drive area yesterday, a group of activists hit the ground today to blitz the area with doorknocking, a stall at the local shops, and our first flash of signage this campaign.

We hoed through around 200 houses, and received a very good response. The area is a good one for Labour (we won the Party vote reasonably comfortably at the local booth in 2002, and I think that Maurice and I were about even stevens), and there is a high proportion of young familes.

In particular, we drew peoples attention to the fact that their local schools (Elm Park Primary, Riverhills Primary, Pakuranga Intermediate, and Edgewater College) would be exactly the kind of schools which would suffer under National's policies. These are all good local schools which provide a sound compulsory education. Notwithstanding that, National would allow richer schools nearby to pay their teachers more, resulting in good teachers moving away from the local schools.

I maintain that face to face contact through door-knocking is one of the best methods of campaigning, and we will be conducting weekend blitzes on other parts of the electorate in the coming months (we'll be repeating the refreshing beer at the London Shed afterwards too).

Thanks to everyone who helped out!

Friday, April 15, 2005


When the polls are looking good, politicians highlight them as much as possible, and when they're not, they tend to resort to the "there's only one poll that counts" cliche. Both views are nonsense. The polls do tell us a lot, but only when trends over time are analysed.

TV3's recent TNS poll is an interesting one, and spells bad news for the opposition. While nothing incredibely dramatic emerges in the Party vote figures (Labour down 1 to 45% and the Nats down 4 to 34%), this months result does confirm a medium-term trend which has seen Labour support steady over the past half year, while Nationals is inching down towards 30%.

Importantly, the TNS poll also tracks Party leader support, and this I believe is very telling. The number of people rating the PM as performing well in her role has stayed steady at around 60% right through this term (with those saying she is not performing well also stable at around 20%). Brash's figures on the otherhand are in terminal decline. His overall performance rating has declined over every poll since Orewa from 58% down to 30%, while those saying the reverse have increased from 22% to 47% over the same period.

The most recent measure of Brash's support amongst National Party voters shows a serious decline, suggesting that this general lack of confidence may be causing even the core vote to look around for 'less bad' options. It will be interesting to see if this figure becomes a trend over the next few months.

I highlight the trends that relate to leadership performance because confidence, or lack of confidence in a leader has always been essential to political success in New Zealand, and this is even more so given the Presidential-style election campaigns that are now waged. Even through tough patches for Labour, Helen Clark's credibility with the electorate has remained high and I suspect that leadership will be one of the decisive advatntages for Labour through the campaign this year.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

A Big Lead Balloon

National's just announced Education policy speaks volumes about that Party's inability to move on from the failed policies of the 1990s.

It is pure right-wing theoretical nonsense and will cost them any chance of gaining traction with any of the key education sector groups, or the public at large.

The central plank of the policy is a phalanx of measures designed to force a competitive model on schools that no one is asking for. On offer is compulsory bulk-funding, site agreements for teachers, and bizarrely, the proposal that elite schools could launch 'take over' bids for other schools.

The bulk funding proposal is simply amazing. The vast majority of schools rejected bulk funding during the 1990s, despite the fact that the government of the day offered the bribe of extra funding for those who accepted it. Bulk funding provides schools with a disincentive to employee experienced staff, and leaves the school budget incredibely vulnerable to subsequent cuts in government funding.

The policy is designed to smash the teachers collective agreement by allowing schools to negotiate site agreements - the result of this of course is different pay and conditions for teachers across the country. That means rich schools gain the ability to pay more than poorer schools, creating staffing difficulties for those schools where good teachers are needed the most.

Overall, teachers would suffer. Pay and conditions for the profession have only progressed in recent years because the government has recognised the right of teachers to negotiate nationally. Without the clout of national bargaining, small groups of teachers on individual sites would have little ability to establish the fair terms and conditions needed to make the profession attractive. Brash tackily criticises the teachers who have fought for a fair deal as "cloth cap unionists" - I say good on them for ensuring that their important profession is recognised.

Then there's the compulsory testing for seven year olds. Those who fail will be given vouchers which may only be spent on remedial classes in the private sector. The last time I checked, it was the job of government to ensure that public education is delivering, not to subsidise private businesses out to make a buck. New Zealand has an internationally recognised remedial reading programme which would be severaly undermined by the diversion of public funding into the private sector.

And here's the best of all - Brash promises to cut wasteful 'bureaucracy' in the Ministry of Education. My understanding is that the vast majority of non-teaching staff employed by the MoE since 1999 are working on delivering special education programmes to children with learning difficulties. That's the problem with drifting into fuzzy sounding populism, the fact that you're actually talking about real people tends to get overlooked.

It's no wonder that the School Trustee's Association, the Principals Federation, the NZEI, and the PPTA have all condemned these recent announcements. I find it interesting that it is Brash, rather than the Education spokesperson Bill English who is fronting this. I smell more internal dissension as the Leader attempts to wrest control of policy and drag it as far to the extreme right as possible. Watch this space!

Monday, April 11, 2005

Back in Blighty

The British election is shaping up to be a doozy. Blair has called it for May 5th, and until a few weeks ago, the result seemed such a forgone conclusion (a Labour walkover) that most commentators were picking a new record-low turnout.

Aggressive Tory tactics, notably a vicious attack on ethnic minorities and assylum seekers, have given Michael Howards Party a timely boost, and narrowed Labours lead to only a few points in most of the major polls. Additionally, the continued good fortunes of the Liberal Democrats, who hold support in most polls of around 20%, threatens Labour in a number of middle class consituencies.

In recent elections Labour and Lib Dem supporters have voted tactically to keep out the local Tory, but that coalition of support seems to be unwinding under the pressure of Blairs unpopularity and the legacy of the Iraq war. As such, there is a real threat that strong Lib-Dem challenges will let Tory candidates in through the middle.

Still, no one seriously picks the Tories to win. The FPP system is weighted against them and they would probably need to beat Labour by 8-10 percentage points to actually win a majority in the House. More interestingly though are these possibilites:

- a reduced Labour majority increasing the possibility of a leadership change
- a hung parliament requiring Labour and the Lib Dems to work together, possibly with the Lib Dems requiring reform of the electoral system as the price of their support.

A good precursor to our own campaign!

(Thanks to PH for the constant updates on the state of play).

Sunday, April 10, 2005

They got the vote in 1893 - move on!

I had an excellent afternoon of canvassing in central Howick today, covering a good fifty houses, and by and large receiving very good feedback. I absolutely stand by face to face canvassing as one of the most effective campaigning techniques - you simly can't beat one to one personal contact for communicating a message.

Interestingly, I only received one oblique comment about the Tamihere affair over the course of the afternoon, and that was from a pensioner who said that she was absolutely sick and tired of personalities dominating political discussion, and simply wanted to hear about the issues that actually effect people (a definite Labour voter to boot :-) ).

Anyway, I encountered a quite unusual phenomonen not once, but twice during the afternoon. I speak of a certain kind of gruff, middle aged man who simply cannot deal with the fact that in this country we actually allow women to attain positions of power. The conversations with these people tend to be reasonably short and unpleasant, and generally devolve into ramblings about a 'takeover', interlaced with a few choice expletives.

While I respect the varied views of residents in Pakuranga, and have many pleasant conversations with National supporters, I seriously wonder how these people deal with the world when they have such deep-seated and irrational prejudices.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

NZ Gypsies Look Out!

Molesworth and Featherston reports that the Nats are "well advanced" with plans to being an Australian Liberal strategist out to help their campaign get off the ground.

This concerns me as all of the available evidence suggests that the Liberals have perfected the type of divide and rule tactics that see voiceless minority groups ruthlessly targetted for expedient political advantage. Former Liberal director Lynton Crosby's influence on the British Conservative campaign in recent times has been notable. The Tories have very effectively played the race card, targetting groups such as assylum seekers and Gypsies with some effect beginning to show in the polls.

Tampa anyone?

While I have great faith in New Zealand voters, and believe that most people here see through this kind gutter politics, it concerns me that the indications from National at this early stage are that they are prepared to lower themselves, and the tone of the campaign to such a degree in their pursuit of power.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Interesting Race #1

Keith Ng has written an amusing account of Mark Blumsky's campaign launch in Wellington Central. This electorate promises to be one a number of hard fought, interesting constituency seat battles this year.

A good friend of mine, Jordan Carter is the incumbent Marian Hobbs' campaign manager, while the man to whom blogging is oxygen, David Farrar is managing Blumsky's challenge. I'm sure that the campaign will be fought as hard in cyber space as it will be on the ground. From my observations of previous camapigns in Welly Central, politics gets taken more seriously in this electorate than anywhere else in the country. I guess the compact, focussed nature of the city lends itself to this, not to mention the obvious fact that a large population of parliamentary workers and assorted politicos call the electorate home.

On the raw political facts I find it difficult to see Blumsky winning. The electorate last voted a right-wing candidate in in 1996 (Prebble for ACT), and that happened in an election in which Labour polled 28%. The electorate is cosmopolitan, liberal, and filled with public service workers who are probably less than thrilled by John Keys master plan to gut the state sector. Additionally, Marian is from my observations well respected within the electorate - she's a hard working, likeable person who is also pretty good on the campaign stump.

Undoubtedly Blumsky is also a good campaigner, and he'll know the nooks and crannies of the electorate from his time as Mayor. I suspect however that it will take more than that and a campaign logo consisting of his stylised eye-brows (truly bizarre) to win the race.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

National - slow learners

Today's Herald shows that after four consecutive elections of decline for National, they still haven't quite grasped the fact that the NZ public don't buy their populist garbage about tax-cuts being some kind of economic panacea.

The Herald polling shows a significant majority of New Zealanders saying that they would prefer investment in Health and Education over tax cuts, with a small but notable minority saying the surplus should be invested in the Super Fund (which already happens). Overall, the "pro-tax cutters" only came in at 35%.

It is clear to me that the shallow arguments in favour of sweeping tax cuts have had their day. People want to see investment in social and economic infrastructure, and understand that none of that comes for free. Good schools, housing, hospitals and transport add far more to the average working family's quality of life than the pathetically small amounts of money that National's 1990s tax cuts provided.

Whatsmore, people are smarter than National gives them credit for. Michael Cullen recently called for National to produce a fully costed alternative budget showing how it would afford:

- tax cuts
- the 'matched' or increased spending on health and education that they vaguely talk about
- massively increased spending on prisons, the military, and police as per various National Party policy pronouncements.
- maintenance of Super fund contributions
- maintenance or increased investment in infrastructure development.

They haven't, and I suspect they won't because it simply doesn't stack up. National fails in the task of being a credible opposition, let alone an alternative government.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Labour gets ready

I haven't blogged over the past few days as I have been at the Labour Party congress in Wellington. The congress only occurs in election years, and differs from non-election year conferences in that the focus is almost exclusively on getting ready for the campaign.

The congress this year was extremely well organised, had a good attendance, and an overwhelmingly positive feeling. Candidates went away well resourced and upbeat having spent the weekend soaking up a lot of information and sharing information with each other.

The PM's keynote speech was really good, and she again made reference to moves to assist families save for the costs of housing and retirement - this is a real interest of mine and I look forward to the full policy which I guess will be announced in the Budget. Cullen's speech was as usual hilarious, particularly the description of the leader of the Opposition as a "crosss between Mr Magoo and Dr Strangelove".

Those sorts of comments aside, the good thing about the weeekend was the overwhelmingly positive tone of the congress. Candidates were told that our main job is to communicate the positive achievements of the government and to focus on the optimism and pride that currently pervades the country. With all the economic and social indicators in such good shape that's something that is understandable. This pride in the achievements of New Zealanders was nicely underscored by a really good line up of live New Zealand music including Nathan Haine's jazz band.

All in all a very good weekend with a couple of late nights at various night spots thrown in for good measure.