Emotional politics at Labour’s 2017 Congress

I popped into Labour’s Congress yesterday to catch up with a few comrades who were down for the big event. Literally everyone was buzzing about a couple of the speeches which had been delivered earlier in the day, from Deputy Leader Jacinda Ardern and Finance spokesperson Grant Robertson.

Jacinda’s speech was livestreamed, and it’s well worth a look:

The full text is here. Some highlights:

Generation Y are the product of social breakdowns and two decades of rapid economic and global change. And what did that mean here in New Zealand? It meant that basically, they are the product of a time where WE, politics and politicians, told young people we didn’t owe them anything.

We sold their assets.

We told them their education wasn’t a public good anymore.

We traded on our environment while we polluted it for those who follow.

We stood by while home ownership amongst young people halved in a generation and is now the lowest it has been since 1951.

Generation Y have been the ones to watch inequality rise, they have been the ones to watch poverty rise, and they will be the ones who’ll see it compound even further as those who have become those who inherit.

This generation may not be having the same experiences as generations past, but just because they are different, doesn’t make them indifferent.

I was only 13 years old when my best friend’s brother took his own life. I had just started high school and was waiting for class to start when I heard the news. I can remember exactly where I was standing, just outside the science block.

Every single thing about it seemed unfair, and still does to this day. Even at my friend’s wedding just a few years ago, the sense of loss, of there being a missing member of that family, hung in the air.  He was just 15 years old when he died.

There should be no politics in addressing an issue like this, there should only be one thing- the value we place on new Zealanders of all walks of life having a sense of belonging, a sense of support, and a sense of hope. And none of that is more true than for our young people.

Grant also spoke very well. The text of his speech is here. He said:

When Andrew asked me to take on the Finance portfolio I was clear with him that I did not view the job as one that was just about spreadsheets and statistics, or share markets and currency movements.

Don’t get me wrong, those things matter.  But they don’t matter as much as people.

I still cannot get out of my head the story of TA, an eleven year old girl who was looked after by Te Puea Marae last year.  She was living in a van with her other six family members.  She was trying to do her homework by torch light.

Delegates, New Zealand is not at its best if there are children doing their homework by torchlight in a van.

Mr English and Mr Joyce, hear this- you cannot raise a family in a car.

Hearing so many of the Labour whānau rave about these speeches reminded me of last year, when I attended the Party conference up in Auckland, and the speech of the weekend was Justin Lester’s. He brought the entire room to tears talking about the benefit cuts of the nasty National government of the 1990s – not just materially, but psychologically. The son of a solo mother, he found himself adopting the beneficiary-bashing narrative of the day, and blamed his mum for not doing a good enough job. He cried. We cried.

This is what politics is missing. Genuine passion. Real stories of real people affected by politics. It can’t be any wonder that a lot of people don’t vote, and think politics isn’t relevant to them, when every discussion seems to be about costings and Budgets and abstract arguments about the role of government. But when we’re talking about young people being able to feel like they have a shot at a good life or families raising kids without enough money or workers getting a fair deal, it’s real. When our politicians show that they give a fuck about other people’s lives, in concrete and real terms, not as figures on a spreadsheet or projections in a Treasury forecast, it is immensely powerful. The right know this. That’s why they sneer at any hint of emotion in politics, and try to spin passion as a negative with their “Angry Andy” memes.

We should not be ashamed to be angry when young people are killing themselves and children are doing their homework by torchlight and mums and dads can’t even pay the rent when they’re working three different jobs. We should be proud of that anger, because it shows we care. Because it shows we don’t see politics as a fun game to play in between tobacco lobbying and seats on the board of Air New Zealand. Because people want to know we give a fuck. That’s when they’ll start to think that there are politicians worth voting for.

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The other war of the polls

The Dominion Post has been given access to two polls telling slightly different stories about the Wellington mayoral race:

Two polls conducted in the past week have revealed Wellington’s mayoral race to be a three-way dogfight between Justin Lester, Nick Leggett and Jo Coughlan – but both polls tell different tales of how the election may play out.

Methodology nerds, sharpen your pencils, I guess?

Lester’s poll targeted “likely voters” – people who voted in the past two elections and would likely do so again this year. The poll commissioned by Leggett’s team quizzed eligible voters.

Leggett’s poll was conducted by Curia, David Farrar’s outfit. I’d assume they deliberately left the net wide to deliver the result their client wanted – I’ve eyerolled at more than enough of the surveys they’ve done for Family First, with questions quite clearly worded to deliver the kinds of “sex is terrible, gay people are evil, bring back draconian morality laws” headlines Bob McCoskrie likes to put on his press releases.

Lester’s poll could be equally flawe. But the ultimate conclusion – that it’s all going to come down to second and third preferences – means things are running as intended. That’s what I like about a preferential voting system. You don’t always get your perfect choice for candidate, but the collective, together, get the choice that pleases the most people overall.

Phil Goff probably wouldn’t be looking so secure of the Auckland mayoralty if Aucklanders weren’t burdened with good old First Past the Post – and because I’m a democrat, I have to say I think that would be a good thing, even though with the current field it would probably mean the Right would triumph with their stable of terrible, incoherent candidates.

If there’s a weakness in the current lineup of Wellington likelies, it’s that the odds seem stacked against outsiders. Practically everyone running for mayor is either currently on council or has been. The front-runners are the current Deputy Mayor, who has a major party behind him; a sitting Councillor, who unofficially has an even bigger political party behind her; and the Mayor of a neighbouring city, with a warchest big enough to have his face plastered onto every available surface in the CBD (though apparently not enough to get humble hoardings out to the northern suburbs?)

I long for a Chlöe Swarbrick kind of run – and in Wellington she’d have a much better shot. Maybe in 2019 …

Voting papers get delivered shortly. If you want to support some local campaigns that could make a real difference, might I suggest signing up to Our Democracy at together.org.nz?

Wellington mayoral candidates on The Nation

I dragged myself out of bed at the ungodly hour of 9am* to get the coffee on before The Nation this morning. If you missed this very revealing look at the six (current) mayoral candidates for Wellington City, fortunately @nkean has immortalised the tweetstorm that ensued for posterity. Check out the Storify post here.

*Parents with small children or school kids with sporting fixtures, form an orderly queue to hurl tomatoes at me.

What is going on NOW with the local-government Right?

Richard Harman has the goods on the latest outbreak of weirdness from the local-government right – and this time it’s Wellington’s turn.

Finance Minister Bill English has made a rare intervention in Wellington local body politics backing his sister in law for Mayor.

It’s a definite shift from this email to National Party supporters earlier this month. I pity the poor comms person who had to calculate the precise width of the line between “the National Party doesn’t get involved in local politics” and “give Jo Coughlan all your money”.

It’s not going to please Nicola Young, who has an equally fine Tory pedigree. But the real victim could be Nick Leggett:

He is also said to have the support of some property developers, in particular, Chris Parkin, a hotel developer and former Councillor.

This has given him a big campaign funding chest which has seen him direct mail Wellington ratepayers and erect large billboards round the city.

But POLITIK understands there is now pressure on the Chamber [of Commerce] to move its support to Ms Coughlan, particularly now that Mr English has publicly endorsed her.

Chris Parkin, who is “in particular” supporting Leggett, is (or at least was in 2010) an ACT party supporter who believes “the market delivers better than any other system”. The Wellington Chamber of Commerce once threatened legal action over a Council decision to pay security staff a living wage. Because (to quote Wellington City Council’s own chief executive) there’s no “tangible benefit” in ensuring the people who you trust to watch and protect your staff, buildings and public events are happy, well-fed and able to provide for their kids.

That’s a set who may well see more profit backing a fresh-faced candidate anointed by a Cabinet Minister rather than a city-hopping Labourite.

On the other hand, Leggett’s name is already up in lights (or at least on buildings) and Young has good name recognition from the last election (if not her actions since). Neither is likely to say “oh well, Jo’s turn this time”.

Besides, this isn’t Auckland, where the right are hopelessly splitting their vote and only strengthening Phil Goff’s appearance of being divinely anointed the future Mayor. In Wellington, anyone could be in with a chance depending on how the preferences fall.

The danger is being the first to drop out in the run-off – and with three well-funded rightwing candidates against two fairly-united leftwing candidates in a city dominated by Labour MPs and Green party votes, the numbers are against them from the start.

It’s easy to crow that the right don’t have their act together, but the real problem is this: the right isn’t a hivemind. It’s just that they’ve given every appearance of it in recent years, largely due to John Key’s control of the political narrative and the National Party’s envelopment of every free vote at the blue end of the spectrum.

At a local government level, the 2010 Auckland mayoral election was a simple case of Brown vs. Banks. 2013 was Brown vs. Palino. There were other candidates, certainly other right-wing candidates, but they were immaterial. In Wellington, Kerry Prendergast dominated the first three elections held under the instant runoff system, before losing to Wade-Brown in 2013.

It’s perfectly natural that multiple rightwing candidates would run for mayor of a big city, and each will attract different supporters and present different policies. It just runs counter to our whole experience of the past decade. It feels weird. Far less so when two candidates run from the left: we’re quite used to Labour and the Greens having to coexist.

It only looks worse if three months out from election day the right’s candidates are scrapping over big-name endorsements and poaching each other’s funders.

One lesson people often take from National’s electoral success is that voters are far more interested in stability and competence than in ideology or policy. It’s not the only factor, but it’s an important one – one reflected in the successful delivery of the Labour/Greens MoU and the subsequent poll bump both parties received. It’s even more important at the local level where people are far less engaged in the detail.

And right now, neither stability nor confidence is shining through for the Wellington blues.

What is going on with the local-government Right?

Something really, really weird is going on in the right, and I’m not talking about John Key, who has politically driven a political referendum process about our national identity for several years now and has suddenly decided to pretend otherwise because his polling isn’t looking nearly as good as he claims.

Nope, I’m talking about the upcoming local body elections in Auckland, where we now have three avowed right-of-centre mayoral candidates – four, if you want to make a cruel joke about Phil Goff, which the NBR certainly did.

Poor Mark Thomas was first out of the gate, only to be hamstrung by compatriot Cameron Brewer, who famously responded

“in the absence of a big name, good on Mark for being prepared to articulate the concerns and aspirations of the centre-right”

Victoria Crone seemed like the perfect choice for that “big name” – polished, professional, common-sense, good business background in an iconic Kiwi business (even if they did buy advertising on That Blog). Then she opened her mouth and everyone, even Josie Pagani, quickly realised she’s brilliant at vague aspirational mission-statements, and rubbish at actual policies.

And now – and I’m still not entirely sure this isn’t a hoax – John Palino, the man most famous for running with the Dirty Politics crowd who exposed Len Brown’s extramarital affair and horrifically exploited the woman involved, Bevan Chuang, has decided he wants to go again. But he also wants to make it clear he’s moved past that whole thing, and has proven it by hiring Simon Lusk as his campaign manager, getting Cameron Slater to organise his media contacts, having Carrick Graham at his campaign launch and raising the Len Brown story at literally the first opportunity.

Tim Murphy’s recap of Palino’s campaign launch is very good reading, albeit in a “too outlandish to be a Yes Minister script” way.

So that’s the National Party’s line up for the Auckland mayoralty. Whiskey. Tango. Foxtrot.

There’s no strategic benefit here. Auckland uses First Past the Post to elect its mayor, and with Phil Goff comfortably occupying the not-too-left-but-still-Labour-enough space, the right proper cannot afford to split its vote.

So what’s going on? Is this the National Party civil war, which we all assume is happening but has been judiciously kept under wraps, finally coming to light?

Or did no one actually think “let’s find a candidate we can all get behind”?

Or did they do that, then realise there were no good options – literally no one who combined talent, credibility, and charisma?

Have they all decided that it’s better to let Goff win than let any of their internal rivals near the levers of power? And we’re back to the National Party civil war theory.

Things seem a bit more sedate in Wellington, where so far we have two centre/left mayoral candidates in Celia Wade-Brown and Justin Lester – vote-splitting isn’t an issue because Wellington uses STV – and one rightwing candidate in Nicola Young, who’s been steadfastly playing the role of “reasonable, friendly Tory” – trying to hook up a deputy mayoral deal with Labour’s Paul Eagle and pulling weird stunts about the Kate Sheppard traffic lights.

But look at the bizarre antics in Auckland, and you might think (cross your fingers) that finally the right, up and down NZ, are getting sick and tired of pretending to get along for the sake of power and itsy-bitsy incremental rightward progress. Finally, they can be the ones having a messy power scrap in public.

The test is this: will the Wellington right unite behind Nicola Young’s nice-and-reasonable facade to try to knock down the big pool of Wade-Brown/Lester preferences? Or is someone else going to throw their hat in the ring? It’s STV, after all. It wouldn’t be splitting the vote. You might even argue it would help the right to get more profile.

There are rumours flying about this councillor or that business leader stepping up to the plate – there are always rumours. It’s Wellington, we get bored easily. But as someone who likes seeing a bit of a ruckus happening on the other side of the fence, I can only say: oh please, please let’s have our own Tory scrap.