Three more years

This election result is not the end of the world for me.

I don’t have kids. I don’t have to worry about whether their school will be closed, or privatised, whether they have shoes to wear or a lunch to take to school every morning. I don’t have to find the money for “voluntary donations” which are needed to cover the basic costs of their education, or desperately search for flexible work which fits around daycare, if I can even find daycare.

I don’t have any chronic illnesses. I don’t have to worry about fighting tooth and nail to access the support I need just to manage my condition. I don’t have to worry about being bullied into “seeking work” when it’s impossible for me, and the jobs aren’t there. I don’t have to wonder how I’m going to pay for all the prescriptions I need.

I have a well-paid job with a great employer. I don’t have to worry about being fired on a 90 day trial, paid less than a living wage, or having to argue just for the right to a rest break in the middle of my shift.

I don’t have trouble paying the bills. I don’t have to worry about the price of power now that our power companies are increasingly privatised and being run for profit over service.

I don’t work in a high-risk job. I don’t have to worry about dealing with ACC over workplace injuries while my negligent boss gets to fly away to his next role without any consequences.

I’m a homeowner. I don’t have to worry about living in a damp, drafty house which makes me sick, or trying to put together enough to buy my first home when the mortgage is going to take 50% of my take-home pay.

I’ve never been a victim of sexual or domestic violence. I don’t have to worry about whether the local refuge is going to be able to keep its doors open, or

I don’t live in Christchurch. I don’t have to worry about soaring rents, living in a tent in someone’s back yard, or waiting four years just to get a basic insurance claim settled.

I’m not a public servant, or a striking worker. I don’t have to worry about my name and personal information appearing online and in the media when a Cabinet Minister decides they don’t like what I have to say.

So I may not suffer much under three more years of National in government. Because I am incredibly lucky. To quote people who aren’t as lucky as me:

https://twitter.com/writehandedgirl/status/513283402464624640

The campaign for 2017 begins now, because we have to do better for everyone.

What kind of government would National lead?

The choice for NZ voters is becoming clearer in the last days of the 2014 election. The irony is that after John Key’s persistent scaremongering about the “five-headed monster” of the centre-left, the two most likely options we have are a three-headed coalition of natural allies versus a five-or-six headed hydra of extremists and sworn enemies.

David Cunliffe has signalled today that he only sees three parties around the Cabinet table in his government: Labour, the Greens, and NZ First. All three parties have a good number of policies set out, with obvious overlaps – there are clear differences of opinion, but coming to a mature compromise is a key part of how MMP is meant to work.

Meanwhile, John Key has been forced into opening the door to Colin Craig’s Conservative Party thanks to the abysmal polling of his preferred ally, ACT.

Colin Craig is talking a softer game as he sees his poll results edge closer and closer to the magical 5% threshold. But neither he nor Jamie Whyte are men built to compromise their passionately-held extremist beliefs. So what will each of them demand?

Is Colin going to get binding referenda? Or the abolition of parole? Or a curfew for the “most promiscuous” young women in the world?

Is Jamie going to get his wish of scrapping the RMA and OIO so overseas investors can buy up our land and poison our rivers, or abolishing all school zones except the one around Auckland Boys’ Grammar (and all building regulations except the ones that keep Epsom leafy)?

And how can any of this possibly be workable with middle-of-the-road Peter Dunne (if he wins Ōhāriu, and that’s not guaranteed), with “not crazy”-conservative Winston Peters (who can’t stand Whyte or Craig) and with the Māori Party (who may have a thing or two to say about ACT and Craig’s anti-Treaty ways)?

If NZ First and the Conservatives both get over 5%, it’s going to be impossible for National to get its long-dreamed-of governing-alone 50%. They’d have to pull together four or five coalition partners who hate each other, and their closest ideological friends are frankly bizarre.

As that becomes clearer it’s got to be a huge turn-off for the moderate voters who have bulked out National’s support for the past six years – and a Labour-Green-Winston coalition is looking rock-solid-stable in comparison.

Looking at the big policy picture

(This was originally posted at The Standard.)

Despite John Key’s key message du jour, the parties of the Opposition are talking policy. A (totally unscientific) look at party websites reveals Labour and the Greens have put out hundreds of pages of policy information – compared to National’s 26.

But a word count isn’t really proof of anything more than a party’s ability to get someone to churn out copy. And even having a lot of policies isn’t proof of a real plan to improve the lives of all New Zealanders. When all you give is a few scattered bullet points detailing short-term quick fixes

So what do Labour’s policy releases to date tell us about their plan?

The Best Start package including extended paid parental leave makes sure every newborn’s basic needs can be met. Upgrading schools and extending free GP visits carries them through childhood, indrier, warmer houses which their parents can afford to heat thanks to lower power prices. They’ll be able to afford to go to university, or get a secure apprenticeship if that’s what they want to do with their lives. And once they start work they’ll be paid a fair wage for their labour, their basic rights will be protected, they’ll be able to afford a home of their own if they want one, and in time they can get support and take the time to stay at home with their own babies if they have them.

All this in the most beautiful country in the world with a strong economy built on skills and value-added manufacturing, low unemployment and low government debt.

The Greens want to help our poorest children by investing in health, education and supporting families directly in the early weeks of a child’s life. They’ll boost early childhood education, healthcare, give kids rivers they can swim in, and rebuild our economy through green investment, digital manufacturing, and upgrading our infrastructure and transport to meet the demands of our changing world. And yes, they’ve done the numbers too.

It makes a total mockery of John Key’s claims that the Opposition are focusing on dirty politics and avoiding the policy debate. Labour and the Greens are presenting smart, practical, but ambitious ideas which build a picture of a better, more prosperous, more caring New Zealand.

It certainly isn’t the left that’s running away from debating policies. Maybe the leader of a party deeply implicated in dragging our political discourse into the mud of tabloid attack politics should consider the beam in his own eye first.

The bottomless Labour-Green divide

Mea culpa. It’s a bit of a Buzzfeed-style clickbait headline, but it’s also a political meme which I really wish we could put out to pasture.

It seems like every time Labour (or the Greens) announce a policy the first question (after “what does John Key think about this?”) is “But the Greens (or Labour) have a different policy to the one you just announced! How can you possibly work together in government?

Anything even vaguely associated with Internet-MANA gets it even worse.

It’s not a question you often see posed to National, and it’s tempting to make this a moan about media bias. But the simple facts are National isn’t in the same position as Labour or the Greens. The most extremist party on their side – Colin Craig’s Conservative Party – are very unlikely to get into Parliament unless there’s some fundamental[ist] shift in the polls which means National throws them a Hail Mary seat.

The two parties guaranteed to support National – ACT and United Future – have good steady records of rolling over and voting for whatever National tells them too.

And Winston, well. He doesn’t agree with anyone on anything if he can help it, but also has form for signing up to whichever side gives him a prestigious title and a single big policy which he can point to as a major concession (the Gold card being the canonical example.)

So let’s put aside the idea of media bias and consider ourselves lucky that on the left we have three genuine options to vote for, four if you want to ignore the Māori Party’s stated priority of doing what it takes to get “a seat at the table” and think they’ll get more than one seat.

The problem for the left is that, especially with the aforementioned total-lack-of-real-disagreement on the right, disagreement is being treated as antagonism*, and reconciling those disagreements is being treated as a problem for MMP.

Having parties with different views forming a government is not a weakness of MMP. It is the strength of MMP.

The whole point of proportional representation is that each party has exactly as much power as the voters of New Zealand have given it. Instead of a winner-takes-all system where a party can do whatever it likes on the back of only 35% support, enough parties have to find common ground that you could reasonably assume the outcome is the best possible representation of the will of the people.

So it makes no sense at all for this constant pearl-clutching over the Greens and Labour having different policies. If they had identical policies they wouldn’t exist as two separate political parties. It makes no sense at all to keep demanding bottom lines and non-negotiables because we simply don’t know how the chips are going to fall. Where will Labour’s party vote end up? Will the Greens build on 12% or stay steady? How will Winston or IMP do?

It’s easy to be cynical and wonder if the constant highlighting of Labour/Green/IMP differences is part of a narrative to pre-judge any leftwing coalition as unstable and risky. But I think a lot of people are still stuck in a First Past the Post mode of thinking, where we have two major parties, they rule the roost, and the “minor” parties are mere annoyances who will fall in line with National or Labour as appropriate.

But the left’s diversity is a strength. We have more ideas to consider, more viewpoints in the mix, and our votes don’t just get a leftwing government elected, they determine what that leftwing government looks like – a strong Labour with several support options; a strong Green presence at the table; an IMP spoiler; even, if you want to take a risk on Winston’s whims and the randoms he’ll bring in with him, a New Zealand First to pull to the centre.

Labour and the Greens having different policies before an election is a good thing. After the election, when we’ve had our say, they can work out where there’s room to move and what mix of policies they can/want to implement.

It’s not like they’re going to sit back and say “Nup, not going to negotiate with you, going to give the Tories confidence and supply instead.”

… I mean, I can only hope!

 

*There is also actual antagonism between Labour and Green and IMP folk, no denying.

The Nation’s leaders’ debate

This morning in New Zealand politics can best be summed up with one fantastic image.

Image swiped and cropped from @petergraczer

TALK TO THE HAND, COLIN.

I dragged myself out of bed at the ungodly hour of 9am to tune in to the first leaders’ debate of the election season – and it’s mostly Colin Craig’s fault. Had he not taken legal action to force the producers to give him a speaking slot I might honestly have missed that it was even on!

For that, and for trying to talk over Metiria Turei, resulting in the photo above, you have my grudging thanks, Colin.

In the true spirit of 21st century pseudo-journalism, here are my thoughts (and some others’) as they were tweeted in real time.

(Sale to overseas buyers, obviously.)

(It’s a great line, but also a deliberately-engineered political meme.)

https://twitter.com/_surlymermaid_/status/497864959565385729

(Full credit to @petergraczer for the fantastic pic of Metiria’s take-no-crap attitude.)