National’s problem – more ‘glass ceiling’ than ‘complacency’


How to deal with a glass ceiling?

How to deal with a glass ceiling?

I agree with John Key and Steven Joyce on a couple of points they stressed to the party faithful gathered in Wellington for their recent election year conference.

Yes, as John Key argued, this election will be closer than many people realise.

And, yes, National should be worried given that, as Steven Joyce made clear, National’s polling this time around is no better – and possibly worse – than it was this far out from the 2011 election.

It’s worth remembering that in 2011 National gained a record 47.3% of valid votes cast, the Labour Party had its worst MMP result (27.1%) and yet, despite pre-election predictions, the National-led government that formed could only scrape together a bare majority.

But, despite agreeing with Key and Joyce’s prognosis for National’s chances in the upcoming election, I disagree over their diagnosis of the causes of their worrisome predicament.


Glass ceilings can be deceptive.

You can see through them, and beyond, to an enticing realm of future possibilities. Yet, try as you might to get to that realm something unseen and unacknowledged keeps stopping you.

The experience is like banging your head against a brick wall that you can’t see.

In that situation, it’s tempting to think that lack of progress is to do with something you have control over rather than a structural limitation.

I think National and its supporters are in just this situation.

And they think that in 2011 (and potentially this year) the barrier to further electoral progress was (and is) supporter complacency – a barrier that sounds like it could be shattered, with enough effort.

There’s quite a few reasons, though, why I think a ‘war on complacency’ is unlikely to be National’s saviour.

Then again, talk of it may well be.

Continue reading

Posted in Democracy, New Zealand Politics, Political Psychology | 2 Comments

The real story in the Fairfax polls

There’s an aspect of the political polls that I suspect many people are unaware of.

As percentage support for each party is reported, most people probably assume that more people are supporting the parties that show an increase in percent support and fewer people are supporting those that show a decrease.

It’s not quite that straightforward.

As ‘swordfish’ has emphasised in some posts on the blog ‘Sub-Zero Politics‘ (in-between amazing photos of Norway and the Faroe Islands), if you ignore the undecideds you can get a very misleading picture of the state of the political mind of the electorate.

Looking back over the last two years of Fairfax/Ipsos polling with due consideration given to the undecided voters there’s some interesting insights to be had into that mind.

Those insights also raise questions about how poll results are being reported and why they’re being reported in the way they are. Continue reading

Posted in Democracy, Labour, New Zealand Politics, Political Polls | Tagged , , , | 23 Comments

Christchurch and the election

[As an experiment, I'm testing the use of an 'abstract' for my posts. Those who don't want to grind through the long version but would like to know if it might be worth the grind can have an overview of what the post is all about. I've called it 'In Essence'.]

In Essence:

One of the interesting questions waiting to be answered on 20 September this year is how Christchurch voters will respond to the government’s efforts over the last three years in the earthquake recovery process. A significant feature of the 2011 election was the collapse of the Labour Party vote. When the voting patterns of that election – and the 2005 and 2008 elections – are examined in detail it’s clear that a significant number of previous Labour voters simply stayed home, right across the city from east to west.

Since 2011, the government and its institutions (e.g., CERA, EQC, CCDU) have come under immense criticism; red-zoning decisions, including over bare land sections, have led to court case losses for the government and huge stress for individuals and families; insurance payouts have ground out slowly and ground people down in the process; the central city ‘blueprint’ has been fraught in its implementation, increasingly unpopular, has scared off some investors and has been interminably delayed; the cost-sharing agreement reached with the previous council – and which includes significant costs for highly controversial ‘anchor projects’  in the central city such as the stadium and convention centre – has strapped Christchurch people into a financial strait-jacket; there have been accusations of mismanagement of asbestos during the demolition and repair process; rents have headed skywards and there’s been repeated flooding.

But some people have benefited: those who have bought cheap rentals and benefited from the hyper-inflated rental market; businesses and workers involved in the repair and demolition process and, now, the rebuild; some major central city landowners who have effectively had their sunk capital in the city centre bailed out by the imposition of the Central City Recovery Plan. To state the obvious, what’s happening in Christchurch is complex.

But it’s hardly a brave prediction to suggest that, electorally, the National Party reached its high water mark in Christchurch at the 2011 election – the only question is how much, and how fast, the tide has changed since then.

Looking more broadly, there’s also the other as yet unanswered question; a question that, if it was possible to answer, would shed light on the nature and values of New Zealand society: To what extent will the government’s performance in Christchurch since the earthquakes affect what New Zealanders outside of Christchurch and Canterbury do in the privacy of the polling booth? And, the really provocative and revealing corollary: To what extent should it affect how people outside of Christchurch vote?

The way it was

The year 2011 began in Canterbury with the major, debilitating February earthquake. It was a year in which the government established the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA). It was the year after commissioners had replaced elected representatives in Environment Canterbury (ECAN).

In 2011 and less than nine months after the February earthquake the voters in Christchurch – and beyond – seemed happy enough, collectively, to return the government.

But what about this time? Continue reading

Posted in Earthquakes, Education, Labour, New Zealand Politics, Political Polls, Political Psychology | Tagged , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Selling rope

There’s an anecdote, probably apocryphal, that in the early 1920s Lenin claimed that capitalism would provide the rope to hang itself.

When some wag (reputedly Grigori Zinoviev, a close associate) responded by asking ‘Where will we get the rope?’ – at a time when industrial production was struggling to recover from the civil war and Western-led invasion of the Soviet Union – Lenin was famously said to reply: “The capitalists will sell us the rope with which to hang them.

Apocryphal or not, it may provide some insight into what thinking lies behind the bewildering – to many – decision by the Mana Party to organise its electoral efforts alongside the Internet Party. Continue reading

Posted in Democracy, Labour, Maori, Media, New Zealand Politics, Political Psychology, Poverty | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Wafer-thin socialism in nouvelle cuisine budget

Perhaps a drizzle of red with that?

Perhaps a drizzle of red with that?

It was obviously a budget for political foodies.

As pointed out by Christ Trotter, Liam Dann predicted (or advised Bill English to deliver) a ‘cheese and toast‘ budget – comfort food, Kiwi-style.

Gordon Campbell, by contrast, hitched his analysis to a more exotic – and far less comforting – food allusion: He termed it the ‘let them eat crumbs‘ budget.

It was perhaps predictable that food metaphors would be used to describe Bill English’s sixth budget – after all, the phrase ‘wafer-thin’ has been used to reference it’s promised surplus for well over a year now (hereherehere, here, here, here, …). Continue reading

Posted in Democracy, Earthquakes, New Zealand Politics, Political Psychology | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Six impossible things before breakfast

Slaying the Jabberwocky

Slaying the Jabberwocky

“I’m just one hundred and one, five months and a day.”
“I can’t believe that!” said Alice.
“Can’t you?” the Queen said in a pitying tone. “Try again: draw a long breath, and shut your eyes.”
Alice laughed. “There’s no use trying,” she said: “one can’t believe impossible things.”
“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.

Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There

It can be exhausting trying to keep up with all of the impossible claims we’re meant to believe as part of following the commentary on current political events.

In retrospect, the commentary and explanations for Shane Jones’ declared departure from politics at this point in time – including his own explanations – provide a very good example of just such an avalanche of claims, most of which shouldn’t be able to co-exist in a remotely sensible world.

But, like Lewis Caroll’s possible satire of the emerging mathematics of his day (Alice in Wonderland), perhaps it’s all just being done for our entertainment and as a satire about the state of commentary on New Zealand politics?

So, like Alice getting in her practice at believing impossible things, let’s start counting … Continue reading

Posted in Labour, Media, New Zealand Politics | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

‘What they see is what they get’

What you see is what you get ...

What they see is what they get …

Part of it is, I think, is, I suspect … I’m a pretty laid back, sort of down-to-earth hopefully approachable guy, and, … and, I think kind of again, what they see is what they get and they like that element of, I’m a regular kiwi bloke.

John Key, Morning Report, Friday, 28 February, 2014

So said John Key in an attempt to explain his apparent popularity with the populace. Nevertheless, it’s hard to imagine a less revealing self-assessment – or a more revealing one, when seen a’right.

Given that there is an election to be held on 20 September this year – and that all agree that John Key’s personal popularity will be crucial in that election – perhaps it’s time to start seeing John Key so that we’ll know just what we are really getting. Continue reading

Posted in New Zealand Politics, Political Psychology | Tagged , , , , | 19 Comments

Foxes, hens, the ‘hard left’ and the myth of the ‘time warp’.

Scaring the hens? Or, maybe, just scaring the foxes?

Scaring the hens? Or, maybe, just scaring the foxes?

It’s easy to feel a bit giddy – even queasy – after reading and hearing the reaction of politicians and commentators to the appointment of Matt McCarten as David Cunliffe’s Chief of Staff.

John Armstrong has invited a picture of complete chaos within Labour by likening the appointment to “a case of inviting the fox into the henhouse“. Feather’s flying, hen’s frantically squawking, wings flapping in wide-eyed panic – and nothing but dead chooks to look forward to!

There’s even been a tempting invitation from Colin Espiner to the weird and wonderful  ‘Rocky Horror Picture Show’ dance floor – ‘Just a jump to the left …’.

Apart from breathless, synchronised dancing, that giddy queasiness is largely because, for some time now, political commentators have assumed that the fabled ‘Left’ land of politics is accessible only by ‘lurching’, ‘veering’, ‘swerving’, ‘jumping’ or performing some other equally risky or chaotic manoeuvre.

Fascinating choice of words.

All are near-synonyms and the inference they invite is obvious.

If a political party were a car these words all suggest that some lunatic or drunk person has just pushed the driver out of the way,  grabbed hold of the wheel and given it a massive spin leaving the car heading – inexplicably to onlookers – in the wrong direction.

Yes, the lurching rhetoric just screams ‘Look! Completely out of control!

Which I guess is the intention.

No ‘mainstream’ political party or person is presumed capable, anymore, of determinedly and steadfastly progressing to, and arriving at, the left. Today, heading leftward only seems explicable in terms of its inexplicableness. Some desperate and, almost by definition, irrational motive must be at work.

It wasn’t always the case … but that’s just an allusion to a galaxy far, far away and, by now, way down the collective memory hole.

Or is it? Continue reading

Posted in Democracy, Labour, New Zealand Politics, Political Polls, Political Psychology, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Adam Smith on the appeal of the iPhone


A useful gadget?


… Less than you might think …

“How many people ruin themselves by laying out money on trinkets of frivolous utility? What pleases these lovers of toys is not so much the utility, as the aptness of the machines which are fitted to promote it.”

(Part IV, Chapter 1, ‘Theory of Moral Sentiments‘)

There’s a lot of talk about innovation, inventiveness, new technologies and the like today. There’s precious little discussion, however, of why they appeal.

Asking that question ends up telling us a lot about our modern society.

It might be an article of faith, from an economic perspective, that innovation leads to prosperity via the ‘convenience’, or utility, it provides. What appeals to people, it is assumed, is the extra utility provided by the innovation.

It is also then often argued that one of the precious attributes of our modern world and economy is the vast range of added utility it generates for individuals through the innovative impulse that drives competitive markets. Individuals then get to pick and choose the particular utilities in which they wish to indulge.

Oddly, Adam Smith – the great 18th century scion and progenitor of free market thinking – thought this kind of justification for the appeal of ‘conveniences’ missed the mark.

For Smith, the additional utility rarely justifies the sacrifices needed to obtain it. It might be a bit of a shock for the economically educated but, for Smith, ‘value-added’ is – at the individual level – generally outweighed by ‘value-lost’.

I’m inclined to agree.

Continue reading

Posted in Economics, Free Market, Freedom, Human Nature, Human Wellbeing, Philosophy, Political Psychology, Poverty, Welfare | 9 Comments

Flagging interest in ‘folly’ of vexillology

Changing our brand?

Changing our brand?

John Key seems like an unlikely vexillologist – or should that be vexillographer?.

That aside, what was John Key ‘flagging’ when he proposed a referendum on New Zealand’s national flag to coincide with this year’s election – without having already let his Cabinet colleagues in on the brainwave?

I think I know: He flagged his tried and true campaign strategy – ‘No politics please, we’re Kiwis’.

Of course, for Key this was an extremely political play and one that carefully moves the formica-thin veneer that today passes for the media’s substantive political reporting right, slap onto the centre of his home turf – in more ways than it might first appear. Continue reading

Posted in Democracy, National Identity, New Zealand Politics, Political Psychology | Tagged , , , , , , | 10 Comments