New Zealand First

The definitive timeline of the Government's Russia fiasco

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As the Government of Jacinda Ardern heads into its third week of its foreign policy blunder regarding Russia, I thought I'd throw together what's hopefully a definitive timeline of how this has unfolded.

24 October 2017: The incoming Government releases it's coalition and confidence and supply agreements with New Zealand First and the Green Party respectively. Everyone is caught be surprise by a clause in the agreement with New Zealand First which binds the Government to "Work towards a Free Trade Agreement with the Russia-Belarus-Kazakhstan Customs Union and initiate Closer Commonwealth Economic Relations." It comes on the back of Winston Peters pursuing the issue with 20 questions in the House over nearly three years.

31 October 2017: The European Union's Ambassador Bernard Savage takes the unprecedented step of bluntly warning the New Zealand Government that pursuing a free trade deal with Russia will be viewed in a negative light by the European Union.

1 March 2018: Jacinda Ardern delivers her first speech on foreign policy to the New Zealand Institute of Foreign Affairs. In it, Ardern talks about as a small country New Zealand puts extra importance on the rules based international order, that New Zealand needs to strengthen our partnerships with out long-standing friends, and that:

We want an international reputation New Zealanders can be proud of.  And while we are navigating a level of global uncertainty not seen for several generations, I remain firmly optimistic about New Zealand’s place in the world.

Our global standing is high: when we speak, it is with credibility; when we act, it is with decency.

They're words that in the events that would start to unfold less than two weeks later now look like a bad joke.

10 March 2018: Winston Peters appears on Newshub Nation in a bizarre interview where he claims there is no evidence Russia was involved in shooting down MH17, or that Russia had tried to interfere in the US Presidential election. He also tried to equate trading with Australia and trading with Russia as equivalent moral issues.

12 March 2018: At her post-Cabinet press conference in Wellington, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern ties herself in knots in her attempts to defend her Foreign Minister. Questions are also raised about how often Foreign Minister Winston Peters might be meeting with Russian officials.

13 March 2018 (New Zealand time): British Prime Minister Theresa May speaks to the House of Commons about the Salisbury attack, unequivocally blaming Russia for launching the first chemical attack on European soil since World War II. Russia is given until midnight to respond and explain their actions. Britain's allies around the world issue statements all condemning the attack and joining Britain in blaming Russia.

13 March 2018: Winston Peters issues a statement which while condemning the attack and calling for an investigation, falls short of blaming Russia for it.

14 March 2018: Russia issues a sarcastic and dismissive response to the British ultimatum. In a rare move, UK High Commissioner Laura Clarke goes on RNZ to make the case that Russia was behind the Salisbury attack. In a message clearly directed at the New Zealand Government following their watered down statement the previous day, Clarke points out that Russia has repeatedly ignored the rules based international system and that New Zealand, more than most countries, relies on that system being respected.

15 March 2018: Pressure mounts on the New Zealand Government as academics, journalists, and political commentators criticise the Government's weak response. The Australian Labor Party's Penny Wong slammed New Zealand's response, as did former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott. The Australian issues a highly critical editorial, while the family of a MH17 victim joins the chorus of condemnation of Peters' earlier comments denying evidence of Russian involvement in the downing of the plane.

Later afternoon 16 March 2018: Following mounting pressure, Jacinda Ardern and Winston Peters issued a statement on joint letter head, but only using quotes attributed to the Prime Minister, which finally blames Russia for the Salisbury attack - a full three days after New Zealand's allies had already done this. After it's noted by media that none of the quotes in the statement are attributed to Winston Peters, the statement on the Beehive is edited. It's blamed on a mistake by staff.

17 and 18 March 2018: Jacinda Ardern, in her first appearance on Newshub Nation and Q&A for 2018 is drilled on the issue. Ardern takes the weird position that the Salisbury chemical attack "changes things", as if there hadn't been a pattern of growing Russian aggression since the Crimean invasion. Ardern is also out claiming that talks on the Russian FTA hadn't been restarted when its revealed that Russian officials, believed to be trade officials, had met with Winston Peters in Manila the previous year. Weirdly, Ardern begins to articulate the myth that all they were doing wasn't actually trying to pursue a free trade agreement with Russia, just a reduction in non-tariff barriers, even though all her comments up to that point had been about a free trade deal with Russia.

19 March 2018: Ardern is once again grilled in her post-Cabinet press conference. Again it's over why the Salisbury attack had changed whether the Russian FTA was a good idea. Oddly, Ardern claims that Winston Peters is the one who first said that the Salisbury attack changed things, that's despite the fact that the Russian FTA was still all go until Friday afternoon when Ardern was quoted in a story by Stuff's Tracy Watkins and Jo Moir that all efforts to restart talks had been halted. In all the other things that were unfolding that week, Ardern's comments at that press conference now seem at odds with both the events of Friday afternoon, and Ardern's own interviews over the weekend. It seems very likely that there was an effort underway to restart free trade talks with Russia, but it was shelved only after Ardern decided it was no longer viable for the Government to keep taking heat over Winston Peters' stance. And there's no evidence Peters ever said that Salisbury changed things with regards to the Russian FTA, the only report of it appears to be Ardern announcing it would be stopped.

20 March 2018: The House sits again and both Ardern and Peters are questioned over the Government's woeful response to Russia the previous week.

21 March 2018: Ardern is again forced to defend Winston Peters' alternative facts around there being no evidence of Russian involvement in downing MH17 or trying to interfere in the US election.

22 March 2018: Winston Peters, responding on behalf of the Prime Minister, is subjected to questions in the House about his comments on Russia.

27 March 2018: Ardern appears on RNZ. In response to questions about how 150 Russian diplomats have been expelled from 26 countries, as well as NATO, Ardern says that MFAT has advised her that there are no undeclared Russian intelligence officers operating out of the Russian embassy. Ardern refuses later to confirm to other media whether there are declared intelligence officers. The comments soon go global, with it being reported and mocked around the world that Jacinda Ardern doesn't think there are any Russian spies in New Zealand, or that New Zealand would expel Russian spies but can't find any. The exact wording of a couple of exchanges towards the end of it are very interesting. Interviewer Guyon Espiner explicitly asks twice about Russian spies, not just the distinction of undeclared intelligence officers.

Espiner: "We don't have spies, Russian spies, in New Zealand?"
Ardern: "I'm assured by MFAT, that after the checks they've done, we don't. But, again, important to say if we did, we would expel them."

and...

Espiner: "You happy with that? Do you believe that? There's no one gathering intelligence for Russia in New Zealand."
Ardern: "Well I can only rely on the advice I'm given."

Twice Guyon Espiner asked about spies, not just the diplomatic distinction of undeclared intelligence officers, and twice Ardern said there weren't any. She went on to elaborate that she wasn't surprised because we apparently wouldn't top the list for global intelligence services. Tell that to the French spies who bombed the Rainbow Warrior, or the Mossad spies caught travelling on forged passports...

It's also important to note that Ardern wasn't briefed by MFAT, it was actually the NZSIS, as was revealed by Winston Peters during question time the following day, and Ardern herself as she was caught on the microphone mentioning it.

28 March 2018: Local media picks up on the fact that overnight New Zealand has becoming an international laughing stock. Stories have run in high profile publications including Time, the Guardian, and Politico. Even Kremlin mouthpiece Russia Today mocked New Zealand's efforts.

In Question Time Foreign Minister Winston Peters is taken to task on New Zealand's lack of action in response to Salisbury. Not only that, but Winston Peters in talking about the NZSIS report given to him and the Prime Minister reveals that the NZSIS have advised him and the Prime Minister that there is Russian intelligence activity in New Zealand! A direct contradiction of what Ardern told Guyon Espiner on Morning Report.

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Along with Security Analyst Paul Buchanan rubbishing Ardern's claimsformer KGB agent Boris Karpichkov also weighed in, pointing out that as part of the Five Eyes, New Zealand was a prime target for Russian spies.

Update - 29 March 2018: Ardern finally announces that the Government is looking at implementing travel bans, and step they evidently didn't look at until Wednesday following two days of mounting pressure and international media coverage her comments regarding Russian spies.

Labour has every chance to win Northcote by-election

With the resignation of National Party MP Jonathan Coleman triggering a by-election in the electorate of Northcote, I thought it'd be an interesting exercise to delve into the numbers. The objective is to try and understand a bit more about how Northcote has voted since its creation in 1996, and see whether there is anything from its history that could help determine what might happen this time around.

Northcote is generally considered to be one of New Zealand's three bellweather seat - the other two being Hamilton East and Hamilton West. As you can see from the above chart, that's generally true for Northcote other than 2005, where it voted by 2 percentage points more for National than it did for Labour in its party votes.

While National won Northcote on its creation in 1996, Labour took it in 1999 and held it in 2002. What was very interesting about 1999 was that the Alliance's Grant Gillon won 20.51% of the vote, and combined with votes for candidates from the other minor parties, had more votes than either National Ian Revell or Labour's Ann Hartley could manage. Since that high water mark in 1999 for the minor parties in Northcote, National and Labour have gobbled up the lion's share of the vote.

National took the seat again under resigning MP Jonathan Coleman and turned it into a National stronghold by taking the seat with outright majorities since 2008. At the high point Coleman's lead over the Labour candidates was 29 percentage points in 2011, though in 2017 that had been reduced to 17 percentage points.

Since 2005 on the party vote front, National has consistently over performed in Northcote relative to its performance across the rest of the country. Across 2008-2014 Northcote delivered the majority of its party votes for National. Unlike the candidate vote, on the party vote front the high point for minor parties in Northcote, much as it was the for the country more broadly, the 2002 election. National's recovery in 2005 was the first major hit to minor parties in Northcote, followed by Labour's recovery in 2017.

Interestingly, in Northcote in 2002 minor parties received a larger share of the party vote than either National (who hit their lowest ever result) or even Labour, a feat they repeated in 2014 at least in beating Labour. It's a powerful illustration of how when major parties fall on hard times their supporters flock to minor parties instead in the presumed hope that their particular interests will be better represented in opposition.

When broken down by party over the period, it's interesting to see how National's success saw it cannibalise support for New Zealand First and ACT in Northcote, while Labour's fall from its 2005 high and subsequent rise in 2017 saw the Greens benefit, and to some extent NZ First recover, until 2017 hit them both.

Taking a similar look at the candidate voting illustrates how much of a two horse race Northcote has been since 2002. Whatever Grant Gillon was doing in Northcote, he was doing it very well, because since then nobody has been able to crack double figures in challenging the National/Labour duopoly.

This leaves us with the question - what does this all mean for the Northcote by-election? I think this means that Labour is right in the game and has every chance to win Northcote off National. When Labour is performing strongly in the party vote stakes they can, and they do win Northcote.

How have I reached this conclusion? In Northcote National outperforms its New Zealand-wide party vote result by an average of 3.78 percentage points. On the flip side, Labour in Northcote underperforms by an average of -2.93 percentage points. Minor parties also underperform by an overage of 0.84 percentage points.

With that in mind, and using the latest 1News Colmar Brunton poll from February 2018 as a starting point - with Labour on 48 per cent, National on 43 per cent, and minor parties netting the remaining 9 per cent across the country - I've calculated that things staying broadly true to their historical patterns, that would translate in Northcote to National getting 46.78 per cent, Labour 45.07%, and minor parties 8.15% of the party vote.

Then, allowing for the pattern of how candidates in Northcote have gone relative to the party vote of their party in the electorate, (National overperforms by an average of 5.15 percentage points, Labour overperforms by 2.23 percentage points, and minor parties underperform by 7.43 percentage points), that would see the following results:

  1. National candidate: 51.93%
  2. Labour candidate: 47.35%
  3. Minor parties: 0.73%
    (due to rounding this does come out at 100.01% if you add those up)

That gives National a 4.58 percentage point advantage over Labour. If I use a slightly different measure - looking at the relative percentage difference rather than percentage points, it delivers a result still in favour of National, but with a 5.47 percentage point lead.

With that predicted 4.58 - 5.47 percentage point lead in favour of National, it's worth considering a few other factors that will come into play. Labour has an immensely popular leader and Prime Minister in Jacinda Ardern. Where Labour seemed to perform strongly in the 2017 election was the youth age groups, those aged 18-34. Incidentally Northcote experienced a 1.29 percentage point increase in the turnout of those voters in 2017. In terms of usually resident population, Northcote has a median age of 35, that's versus a median age of voters in the 2017 election of 48. Northcote sits within the youngest third of general electorates, and is in company with some relatively strong Labour voting seats. Advantage Labour in terms of age demographics.

Conversely, Northcote sits within the highest third of general electorates for median family income, and that places it in the company of some strongly voting National seats. So advantage National in that regard.

In terms of ethnic breakdown Northcote has below below NZ rates of people identifying as Pākehā (European), Māori, and Pacific Islanders, but it does have more than double the New Zealand rate of people identifying as being from from Asian backgrounds. How this will play out is hard to predict. Under John Key and, to a lesser extent Bill English, National was fairly confident that that Asian-New Zealanders were generally strong National supporters. This was reinforced by Labour playing several xenophobic race cards over the past few years, including the "Chinese sounding surnames" debacle, Andrew Little's attack on Indian and Chinese chefs, and the moves to ban foreign buyers - a policy that's been seen as promoting anti-Chinese sentiment which inevitably impacts Chinese-Kiwis. National should still have an advantage in this regard, but it's notoriously difficult to quantify.

Looking at religious affiliation (though admittedly this isn't a the strongest indicator of voting preferences in New Zealand largely due to Kiwis taking a relatively relaxed approach to religion, as is evidenced by having two openly non-religious Prime Ministers in recent memory, those being John Key and Helen Clark), Northcote has a slightly above average representation on non-religious people and slightly below average numbers of Christians vs New Zealand as a whole. I'll make the point again that this is a hard measure to use to predict voter patterns, especially as while National might generally be the party perceived as attracting Christian voters, Labour also has significant Christian support through its strong support in Pacific Island communities. This isn't so much of a factor in Northcote, but insofar that I'd argue that non-religious people are more likely to vote for Labour (even though I'm personally an exception to my own rule) I feel that potentially Labour might have a slight edge in this regard.

While I've written about Ardern and how she turned out the youth vote for Labour - largely at the expense of the Green Party it seemed at the time - National has a different problem. Simon Bridges, while having been a relatively high profile minister and hence having more of a public profile than most new leaders might have, is still new to the role. He doesn't have the same name recognition that John Key or Bill English had, and as such can't be counted on to bring out voters like Ardern will for Labour. That's not a criticism of Bridges, rather it's the simple reality that he's new to the job of being leader and outside of a general election campaign it's generally hard to get cut-through with voters as an opposition leader.

At the current stage of the electoral cycle, Labour does have an edge over National with regards to deploying their leader as a way to promote their candidate. I don't doubt that Simon Bridges will do as good of a job as any new leader for National could do, but it's important to acknowledge that he's also up against Jacinda Ardern who, along with being the Prime Minister, has already built a formidable media profile that's hard to match in such a short time.

The other thing that should count in Labour's favour is that in a by-election minor parties typically either don't run candidates, or struggle to get any cut through. In Northcote's case, minor party candidates have particularly struggled since the highs of Grant Gillon. In 2008 and 2014 New Zealand First didn't run a candidate in Northcote at all, and neither did the Green Party in 2005. If I were Labour, I'd of already started negotiations with New Zealand First and the Green Party to not run candidates in the Northcote by-election, and I'd offer policy concessions in return. Bumping the Government's working majority up a vote would be worth it.

If Labour were feeling especially devious, they could look at running one of their sitting List MPs in the seat, and pulling off the same trick that Winston Peters did to National in Northland in 2015, allowing Labour to bring in a replacement MP off the list if they won.

That being said, I think Labour's best chance of winning would sit with picking someone who already has proven electoral experience in the area. 2014 Northcote candidate, and sitting Auckland Councillor Richard Hills springs to mind as perhaps Labour's best chance. Hills topped the Kaipātiki Local Board results in the 2016 election, but as he placed second to Chris Darby for the North Shore Ward, was elected as an Auckland Councillor instead. Funnily enough, old Grant Gillion of 1999 fame in Northcote missed out to Hills by 128 votes.

Having already run in the seat in 2014, and subsequently becoming a Councillor for North Shore, I think places Hills in a strong position to help Labour take the seat from National. He also captures much of what the rejuvenated face of Labour looks like, and from what I can tell is a bloody hard working local councillor and all round nice guy. While some might criticise him if he stood for Northcote, having only become a councillor in late 2016, I'd argue that situations like this are just the nature of politics. It's probably a once in a lifetime chance to be able to represent your community at the national level, let alone potentially as a Government MP, and the subsequent by-election on North Shore is simply the cost of democracy, and it's a cost that I don't think anyone can reasonably object to paying. I don't think any reasonable person could criticise Hills for doing this.

Which leaves us with National and who they might run. Newshub's Lloyd Burr has already cheekily suggested that Air New Zealand CEO Christopher Luxon wants to enter politics with the National Party. Luxon is based on the North Shore, though I don't know if he falls within Northcote's boundaries (not that this is necessarily a barrier for someone to become an MP). Luxon also has a significant amount of name recognition through his largely successful time at Air New Zealand. That alone could well be important in helping National fight off what should be a very strong challenge from Labour.

National's other options include trying run their own List MP in the seat - with Paul Goldsmith and Melissa Lee being two possibilities if they relocated from their existing bases in Epsom and Mt Albert respectively - which would mean they could bring in another person off the List as well! Alternatively National might have a stellar local candidate in the wings who we haven't seen just yet.

It's often said that by-elections are Christmas come early for beltway watchers, and the Northcote by-election is shaping up to be just that.

Government's tough two weeks unlikely to hit poll numbers

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It's safe to say that the past two weeks have been the most difficult that Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and the Labour-led Government have faced.

Between the sexual assaults at a Young Labour summer camp, the entire Russia fiasco, Ron Mark melting down over defence force flights, Jenny Salesa's Ministerial spending, criticism that not enough was being down to help the Nelson and Tasman regions in their recovery from Cyclone Gita, the Green Party ambushing Labour by announcing they were gifting questions to National, and Shane Jones repeatedly shoving his foot in his mouth over Air New Zealand, there's a lot that's been going wrong lately.

The public relations triumph that was Ardern's Waitangi visit must seem like an age ago, while the successful Pacific Mission has completely vanished from view.

Despite all that, when the next round of political polling is released I don't expect to see any significant change from what we saw in February. I'd expect to see Labour in the mid to high 40s, National in the mid to low 40s, and the Greens and New Zealand First struggling to reach 5 per cent.

The main reason for this is that Ardern hasn't been personally responsible for many of the issues that have played out and, where she has, they've mostly been on things that I don't think are necessarily going to sway voters. That, combined with her personal popularity, will mean that while Ardern has burnt some political capital fighting fires, she still has a deep well of support to call on.

The Labour Party's seemingly terrible handling of the sexual assaults at the Waihi camp will reflect badly on Labour's General Secretary Andrew Kirton, but as Ardern was only briefly at the camp delivering a speech, and had nothing to do with its organisation or the events in question, I doubt any voters will hold her responsible for it. A test may come further down the line when Labour's own internal investigation is complete if it finds significant failings on the part of the party organisation and Ardern doesn't demand that someone takes personal responsibility, but that's hard to preempt given there's a lot of water to go under the bridge.

The Russia fiasco - Winston Peters' alternative facts on Russian interference with the US election and Russian involvement in the downing of MH17, the bizarre focus of Peters on a Russian free trade deal, and the ham-fisted attempt by the Government to first condemn the Salisbury attack without blaming Russia, then several days later finally managing to step into line with our allies and blame Russia, as well as Ardern's bungled attempts to spin away that foreign policy disaster - while a bad look generally for Ardern and Peters, isn't the type of issue that will sway votes, even if it has lead to some questioning within the beltway of Ardern's own judgement and Peters' motives.

What has been interesting is that the Russia saga played out over 11 days. If a day is a long time in politics, then 11 days is an eternity for an issue like this to run its initial course. There's possibly more to come in this space, which could start to erode voter confidence in the Government's foreign policy and security credentials.

Ron Mark's defence force flights and Jenny Salesa's ministerial spending are similarly both minor issues. In the bigger scheme of things both are relatively minor issues. While Mark hasn't handled the pressure being questioned about the flights put him under particularly well, Ardern did the requisite telling off of Salesa and unless it becomes a pattern of overspend, the matter will rest there.

One thing that will nag at Labour's recovery of support in the regions, at least in the top of the South Island, has been the Government's sluggish response to Cyclone Gita in Nelson and Tasman. It took nearly three weeks after Cyclone Gita hit New Zealand for the Government to announce any meaningful assistance for businesses cut off by the storm. And unlike the flooding in Edgecumbe, which prompted a Prime Ministerial visit from Bill English to see first hand what had unfolded, the residents of Takaka and the surrounding areas still haven't seen or heard from Ardern.

Not that anyone is suggesting a Prime Minister visiting is somehow going to magically undo the damage done by a given disaster, but it usually serves as both a way to boost morale in the affected communities, as well as to highlight the ongoing importance of the recovery to Government agencies to ensure they keep their efforts up.

The Green Party surprising everyone by gifting questions in Question Time to National has been an interesting issue to follow the reaction to. While it feeds the Opposition's narrative that not all is well and cozy on the Government benches, any consequential reaction to it seems to be more directed at the Green Party over it, both supportive of the move and in opposition to it. While headlines of the Greens doing a deal with National aren't helpful to Labour, it seems unlikely this will translate into the polls either.

Finally, there was Shane Jones' attack on Air New Zealand. It kicked off on Friday and didn't end until Ardern finally hauled Jones back into line during Question Time on Wednesday. Jones' comments caused some concern in both the beltway and business community, as did Ardern's initial backing of Jones. Outside of the beltway, Jones' comments will have played well.

Towards the end of the past two weeks Ardern was getting visibly frustrated with both media questioning and Opposition attacks. In part this will stem from this being the first time her Government has been hauled over the coals for a significant length of time. But no doubt a lot of her annoyance will come from the fact that most of the problems she's been having to deal with aren't ones that she's been responsible for, barring her poor handling of the Russia issue.

The rough patch is set to continue too. With the Select Committee submissions soon to be heard on the Electoral Integrity Amendment Bill, there will be a stream of negative headlines about the Government pushing that Bill through, as well as the Green Party's support for it. There's also lingering questions around Winston Peters' infatuation with Putin's Russia.

It shouldn't escape anyone's notice that New Zealand First, who are struggling badly in polls, have been the source of three of the issues that have dogged the Government in the past two weeks. Shane Jones' comments are perhaps the most interesting in this regard, as they point towards New Zealand First taking a much more vocal stand on issues that might not always sit well with the responsibilities and requirements of occupying the Government benches.

The good news for Labour is that with Easter fast approaching, and beyond that the beginning of pre-Budget announcements, the Government does have an opportunity to start setting the news agenda rather than reacting to it.

Greens betray principles for Winston, don't even get a t-shirt

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The opening two days of the Parliamentary sitting year have been a disappointment. First the Green Party turned their backs on nearly two decades of principled opposition to waka jumping laws to vote the Electoral Integrity Amendment Bill through its first reading.

Then, last night, Chlöe Swarbrick's Members' bill on medicinal cannabis saw a similar situation grip several Labour and National Party MPs who, despite having previously indicated they'd take a principled position to support the bill, didn't support it when the vote was called.

In National's case, as a whole the National Party has historically been opposed, or very reluctant, to liberalise laws around cannabis. From that perspective, at least, the eventual result of every National Party MP voting against the bill was largely consistent with the party's previous positions on the issue. The disappointing thing was that National's Hutt South MP had initially indicated he would vote for the bill, only to reverse his position around lunchtime on Wednesday. Auckland Central MP Nikki Kaye had also been expected to vote for the legislation, but ended up opposing it.

In the Green Party's case though, their decision to vote for the Electoral Integrity Amendment Bill has been nearly universally condemned.

Former Green Party MP Sue Bradford summed things up pretty well:

At the heart of the issue for many people is that the Green Party have traded in their principled opposition to any waka jumping legislation essentially to keep New Zealand First leader Winston Peters happy. In return, they received absolutely nothing from either New Zealand First with regards to supporting Swarbrick's bill through to Select Committee. Even Labour didn't have all of its MPs vote for her bill either.

Had the Green Party thought about the situation, they could have had a win/win outcome. As was demonstrated with the failure of an attempt to pass similar waka jumping legislation in the 2005-2008 Parliament, which didn't end the Labour/NZ First coalition then, the Green Party should have been negotiating across the House to get Swarbrick's bill over the line.

Knowing that killing off the waka jumping legislation wouldn't end the government, the Greens would have been well served to stick to their principles, do a deal with National to oppose the Electoral Integrity Amendment Bill in exchange for National either allowing its MPs a proper conscience vote, or National voting Swarbrick's bill through to Select Committee.

In that scenario, the Green Party would have been celebrated for honouring their principles, won plaudits for demonstrating an ability to work across the House if needed that would strengthen their negotiating position with the government, kept Swarbrick's bill alive longer.

That latter part is important, because as a minor party in Government, it's important to find ways to differentiate your party brand from the major party you're working with. Medicinal cannabis, especially the more liberal view that Swarbrick's bill was pushing for, would have been an ideal platform for the Greens to demonstrate that independence of brand. While they'll still get some benefit from the Government's bill lesser bill, there's a sense among Green Party members that they've gotten the short end of the stick from their partner parties.

On the flip side of such a deal - it would have been National that would have taken the heat from its supporters for working with the Greens and breaking with their previous opposition, a situation that would have also been useful for the Green Party (and the Government).

I'd also add that as someone who wants to see the National Party take a more pragmatic and less ideological view to medicinal cannabis, and possibly even recreational cannabis use, I'd be happy to see National take a bit of internal strife to advance an issue that's eventually going to move forward anyway.

The other option for the Greens would have been to tell Labour and New Zealand First that their support for the Electoral Integrity Amendment Bill was dependent on support for Swarbrick's bill getting to at least Select Committee. While this would have still had the Greens being slammed for turning their backs on their principles, at least they would have walked out of this week with something to cheer about.

As former NZ First and National Party MP Tau Henare put it:

Instead, James Shaw and the Green Party have sold out their principles to appease Winston Peters ego-driven inability to work constructively with his own caucus, and they didn't even the t-shirt.

If, like me, you're concerned about the Electoral Integrity Amendment Bill, I'd encourage you to head over to Change.org and sign a petition I'm running, which is calling on the Green Party to stand up for what they believe in and withdraw their support for the bill. If you need it, here's a shareable link: https://www.change.org/p/green-party-of-aotearoa-new-zealand-green-party-to-withdraw-their-support-for-the-electoral-integrity-amendment-bill

One billion trees of embarrassment

In October 2017 Shane Jones' distinctive Shakespearean voice could be heard booming throughout the land as he crowed triumphantly about his 1 billion trees in the Billion Trees Planting Programme. Less than three months later, not a single tree has been planted and the government is on track to come up 90% short of their target of doubling the rate of planting over 10 years.

The issue isn't so much that there isn't enough land available for Forestry Minister Shane Jones to plant these trees on. Rather it's that neither New Zealand First or Labour bothered to ask the public service during the coalition negotiation process whether it was in fact possible.

The "Billion Trees Planting Programme" has been a bit of a disaster right from the get go. The ambiguously worded coalition agreement between Labour and NZ First had everyone thinking that 100 million new trees would be planted each year by the government. Within days, and after realising they'd massively over promised what they were going to do, the government had to walk back the 1 billion trees figure. They hastily tried to explain that what they really meant all along was that they wanted to double the rate of existing planting across both the forestry and conversation sectors. It was now going to be 500 million additional trees on top of the 500 million trees those sectors were already expected to plant over the next decade.

That was still a big, ambitious goal, but it was half of what the coalition agreement had led everyone to believe was going to happen.

Now it looks like the government is going to struggle to even make 10% of that revised target over that decade. It's hardly surprising, with the government believed to have costed the programme at $2 billion over the 10 years, the economic of it look a little tight.

With the Billion Trees Planting Programme expected to need an additional 500,000 hectares, and forestry land selling in December 2017 for an average of $7,713 per hectare, the value of the land alone for those 500 million trees is around $3.8 billion, well over double the $2 billion figure being floated around. That's also before we take a conservative 2005 figure of each hectare of forestry planted in radiata pine costing around $1500 by its first prune - we're looking at a total cost of $4.6 billion.

Thankfully, the reality is that the government isn't likely to have to shell out $4.6 billion. Instead they're more likely to try and subsidise existing land owners, whether it's forest owners, farmers, DOC, or Iwi. Taking that figure of $1500 per hectare of radiata pine, with the $2 billion the government could effectively offer a subsidy of around $4 per tree, effectively meeting half of the value of the land - providing it's only land suitable for forestry that we're talking about.

That all starts to fall apart if there's not enough spare forestry land available. More broadly around the primary sector, the average land sell price per hectare was $29,000. At a shade under four times the price of forestry land, the cost of the Billion Trees Planting Programme is going to rapidly spiral out of control or, much more likely, the Billion Trees Planting Programme is going to fall flat on its face with landowners unwilling to convert more productive land to tree plantings given the increasing opportunity cost involved. I also doubt the inclusion of agriculture into the ETS will be enough to mitigate this.

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Previewing 2018: New Zealand First

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New Zealand First should have one priority in 2018 - launch their new website. It's hugely embarrassing for Winston Peters that three months into the new government, the coalition's junior partner still doesn't have a website.

It's almost as if NZ First's website's issues as symptomatic of the problems facing the party so far this year. Already Forestry Minister Shane Jones has been forced to confess that the party didn't due any research into their 1 billion tree policy, with it turning out that there's only enough available land current for around 5 million additional trees to be planted each year. One of NZ First's big signature wins of the coalition agreement and they're going to struggle to deliver even 5% of what they promised.

Likewise Deputy Prime Minister is also coming under pressure with regards to NZ First's changing position on the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement. Despite having a new name - the Comprehensive Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership - and a few minor changes to the text, it's largely the same deal that NZ First has adamantly opposed for some time. Even Foreign Minister David Parker has conceded on RNZ's Morning Report that, for a trade agreement made up of thousands of pages, the changes amount to only a "few pages".

Winston Peters' flip flopping isn't surprising, it's politically expediency on his part in order to not cause tension for Labour. The problem is, much of NZ First's support stems from a small group of conservative voters who want a far more protectionist trade policy for New Zealand. One of Winston Peters' biggest challenges this year, especially as the CPTPP goes through Parliament, will be to not haemorrhage too much support as a result of his changing position on the CPTPP.

Other pitfalls lurk ahead for New Zealand First too. The eventual launch of the $1 billion a year Provincial Growth (Regional Development) Fund is going to see Shane Jones come under immense scrutiny. He's already demonstrated a fairly slack approach to the fund, having gloated that he'd been approached by numerous political figures about projects in their regions late last year, which turned out to only be two people when I OIAed it.

Jones has already hinted that the fund will also largely be an exercise in pork barrelling, singling out Northland and the Wairarapa as likely recipient regions, without either of those regions having approached him with ideas. That's not to say that those regions don't need investment, but rather given NZ FIrst's representation in those regions, I'm wagering that Shane Jones is going to get caught out badly on this.

The controversial Electoral Integrity Amendment Bill - the Waka Jumping legislation specified in NZ First's coalition agreement with Labour - likely won't hurt NZ First much, but it will stoke internal pressure within the Green Party, who have historically been strongly opposed to such legislation.

The party will also need to find a way to manage several competing personalities in its caucus. While Ron Mark may currently be deputy leader, it's no secret that Shane Jones fancies that role for himself, with a view to eventually succeeding Winston Peters as leader of the party. Shane Jones will also have the benefit of the Provincial Growth (Regional Development) Fund to build his profile with over the year, while Ron Mark won't get the same opportunities with Defence. There's also the question of where people like Tracey Martin and Clayton Mitchell fit in, with Martin having previously been deputy leader, and Mitchell looking for more rewards for his fundraising abilities for the party.

The End of Life Choice Bill and associated referendum, as well as that for legalising marijuana, will also require NZ First's MPs to navigate potentially controversial waters for its supporters.

The biggest risk to NZ First's year will be during June and July while Winston Peters is acting Prime Minister while Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has her first child. If anything goes wrong during this time (and there's no reason to suspect it will, as during the post-Budget period it'll be Finance Minister Grant Robertson doing most of the heavy lifting for the government) it'll be Winston Peters and NZ First's credibility that takes a hit, not Jacinda Ardern or Labour.

Peters should manage those six weeks well. He's been acting Prime Minister before. But with that expectation that he'll do well, it does create a risk that should it not be all plain sailing, it'll further hurt his party's prospects for 2020.

Andrew Little borrows from North Korea's playbook

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Just as the Democratic People's Republic of Korea is neither democratic, or for the people, so it is the same with Andrew Little's Electoral Integrity Amendment Bill. The Waka Jumping Bill isn't anything to do with the electoral system, or its integrity, rather it's an undemocratic move to abolish one of the key checks on the power of political parties and their leaders.

I suppose the use of the word "integrity" in the title could have been placed there ironically by Little. As the reality is that his bill does undermine the integrity of our Parliamentary system, effectively muzzling the ability of MPs to oppose their parties on issues other than conscious votes.

In the past, most famously with Marilyn Waring, an MP could cross the floor to oppose a policy of their party that they fundamentally disagreed with. They were able to do so safely in the knowledge that doing so wouldn't immediately cost them their seat in Parliament, meaning that their action wouldn't simply be a delaying action until their party was able to replace them. It was on this basis that Marilyn Waring famously informed Robert Muldoon in 1984 that she would cross the floor on the issue of a nuclear free New Zealand, a move that helped push Muldoon into calling the 1984 snap election.

Should Andrew Little's bill come to pass, that type of moment, where an MP has the ability to defy their party on an issue they feel strongly about, will become a thing of the past. If Little's bill had been law in 1984, it's foreseeable that Muldoon and the National Party could have just sacked Waring from Parliament, ensured a pliable replacement was picked in the by-election, and passed the legislation anyway.

Because that's what's fundamentally at stake here. As things stand, there's a balance of power between Parliamentary parties and their MPs. Parties obviously have a range of policies they want to enact should they get into government, they also usually have a broad range of MPs who usually agree with most of those policies, but possibly not all of them.

The ability of an individual MP to vote against their party acts as a counterweight to the bulk of the party simply steamrolling through whatever they want. MPs are only able to act as that counterweight if they're able to remain in Parliament having defied the wishes of their party.

Andrew Little's bill would kill off that ability quite spectacularly.

The "concessions" Little has included in the bill, such as requiring two thirds of a caucus to agree to get rid of the dissenting member, are not concessions at all. Marilyn Waring would have struggled to get two thirds of her colleagues to support her in 1984, and as a result, would have seen her tossed out of Parliament by Muldoon and replaced.

The reality is that Little's bill is kowtowing to Winston Peters. Rather than acting in a collaborative and cooperative manner with his MPs, Peters is hellbent on carrying on in exactly the same way that caused the 1998 split in New Zealand First. Peters' inflexible stance on policy, erratic behaviour, and propensity to play his cards so close to his chest that his caucus and staff don't know what he's planning to do until he actually does it, has frequently put him and his MPs at odds with each other.

As I pointed out earlier, in other parties the check against this type of behaviour from the leader or leadership group, is the threat that should those decisions be ones that an MP couldn't support, then they would be able to cross the floor, and remain in Parliament. That nuclear option for an MP to resort to if their back is against the wall, however drastic it may be, is a fundamental check on political parties.

Andrew Little, Labour, and the Green Party (should they support the passage of this bill), are doing New Zealand's Parliament and democracy a massive disservice by eroding one of the few check on power that we have.

 

Party vote performance in each age bracket

The most competitive market for votes in New Zealand is for those aged between 45-49, with National, Labour, the Greens, and the Māori Party all receiving, on average, similar shares of the party vote in electorates with above average shares of people in this age range.

Spurred on by my other recent work looking at voter turnout by age segments and how representative that made electorates, and how those age segments were more, or less likely to vote (indicatively at least), I thought I'd take the plunge and look at each party individually across all the Electoral Commission's age brackets that they collect data on, to see if it revealed any other insights.

What it's revealed is that while National and NZ First, and Labour, the Greens and the Māori Party might be poles apart in terms of their popularity with voters aged 18-34, such a big gap in voter preference based on age doesn't appear to manifest itself beyond 35 years old, starting to converge from its largest difference at 30-34-years-old, bar for the Green Party, Māori Party, and NZ First.

As I said in the introduction, it's interesting how at the 45-49 mark, National, Labour, the Greens and the Māori Party all converge, with all getting more or less similar party votes from electorates with an above average representation from this age bracket as they did on average across all the General Electorates. Though I'd caution here that as this analysis excludes the Māori Electorates (due to their big youth skew and low deviation among the seven electorates), that the Māori Party figures here should be taken with a grain of salt.

Also keep in mind that as you read through the following graphs, they do have different scales on the Y axis, so movements may be more pronounced in these than they are on the top comparitive graph.

National's worst performing age group appears to be the 30-34 bracket, though it under-performed on average in electorates with above average shares of voters under 44 to varying degrees, with it being weighted towards those electorates with above average shares of those aged 34 and under being the least likely to vote National. National also has the second most narrow deviation range in this analysis, with only The Opportunities Party doing better.  National's support is weighted towards those aged 45 and over, and peaks at those aged 65-69. In part, this larger likely support from older voters, who both enrol and vote at higher rates and in greater numbers than other age groups, no doubt contributed significantly to National's end result of 44.4%

As you'll see later, with NZ First doing so well with voters aged 55 and over, National can, in the short term at least, reinforce their vote by targeting NZ First's supporters. Longer term however, National will need to find a way to both preserve their strength in covers aged 50 and over, as well as doing a better job of appealing to younger demographics too.

Labour's graph in many ways is the mirror image of National's, albeit slightly more pronounced in its over and under-performance in the age brackets. The 30-34 age bracket is again interesting, as not only was this where National was most likely to perform worst, it's also where Labour performed best. Where National's deviation was relatively narrow, Labour's is much more pronounced, though it ranks in the middle of the six parties we're looking at in this. While Labour's support amongst youth voters is very strong, to offset the advantage that National gets from older voters, they would need much higher enrolment and turnout rates than they got even this election.

In news that will shock no one, New Zealand First's support overwhelmingly comes from those aged 55 and over, but especially those aged 60 and over. Because of this, NZ First has the largest deviation of any of the six parties in this analysis. NZ First and Winston Peters focus heavily on courting this demographic, so it's no surprise that they rely so heavily on support from them. It also begs the question that once NZ First loses its trump card for reaching them - Winston Peters himself - how are they going to manage going forward, as nobody else in the party seems able to capture that audience in the same way that Winston Peters does.

The Green Party have the second biggest deviation for their support after NZ First, and they're very much the opposite story to them too. Massive support across voters aged 39 and under, but this plummets to their average for those 40-44, before briefly rebounding for those aged 45-49, and not recovering beyond those aged 55 and over. Where the Green Party has an opportunity is to stop that leaching of support between people aged 35 years old and 44 years old, though in doing so they're likely to take voters from Labour.

As I wrote earlier, it's important to take these figures for the Māori Party with a grain of salt. This analysis is based off General Electorate votes, and with the Māori Party support coming from the Māori Electorates, which are much more heavily skewed towards younger voters than the General Electorates are, isn't representative of what's going on. That being said, given the skew in Māori Electorates towards younger voters, it probably suggests that this graph might be even more weighted to young voters. If there is one thing the Māori Party could take from this, and my earlier work, is that there's an opportunity with a big cohort of young Māori voters for them to win over between now and 2020.

The Opportunities Party is a bit of an interesting one in that because their vote was so heavily centralised around the Wellington region, it's likely the main influence on how this graph looks. TOP has done well with those aged between 18-29, and to a lesser extend those aged 30-34, and worst with those aged 40-49. National and TOP's support seems to switch at around age 39/40, while they bisect the rest of the parties between 49 and 54. Again, it's hard to read too much into these figures for TOP other than the fact that their deviation was the smallest among all parties.


As I said in looking at the possible influence of age on party voting preferences, it's very tempting to claim that these graphs show the likelihood of different age brackets voting for different parties - e.g. those aged 18-24 are 8% less likely to vote for National than the average New Zealander, and they're 11% more likely to vote for Labour. I think this data hints at that possibility, but without exit polling - which is illegal in New Zealand - it's impossible to know this for sure.

Where I think this data is very useful is using it to frame your thinking about where the parties position themselves in terms of their core support, and where they see the main battlegrounds are in terms of competing for votes from other parties. From around 30-years-old - where most of the parties graph lines start their journey towards converging on their national average - to the 50-54 bracket - where after that they diverge again, demonstrates I think that for the most part, the parties see voters within that 20 year age group - 30-years-old to 54-years-old - as the swing voters they need to target.

NZ First is the only really noticeable exception to this rule, but that's largely because Winston Peters has progressively clawed out those on NZ Super as his target voter base.

If you think generally about people in that 30 to 54 age range (and I'm talking very generally here) they're buying houses, getting married, having kids, they're likely to hit their career peak around between 40 to 49 (there's some US data around this, and sadly it has women's pay peaking at 40, and men's 49, highlighting again the gender pay gap). Retirement, while we're being constantly reminded about saving for it, is still a long way off, and the more immediate concerns are paying the mortgage or rent, affording school, doctors visits, dealing with health issues that become more and more likely to crop up, having a job, getting pay rises and getting ahead in life, and so on. Most have either finished up their travelling plans, or are about to, and are probably focused more on things like family or careers.

If you keep all this in mind, it starts to give you a bit of a picture of how and why political parties position themselves the way they do. In many respects they have to ensure their base votes for them, but they also have to reach out to that big segment of 30-to-54-year-olds to win their votes too.

NZ First's most and least valuable electorates

Even more so than the National Party, New Zealand First relied on a handful of seats to deliver the bulk of their party vote this election.

In terms of New Zealand First's most valuable electorates, there's nothing particularly surprising here. Whangarei benefited from Shane Jones' high profile candidacy, while Winston Peters himself helped New Zealand First slightly grow its share of the party vote in Northland. Tauranga, Bay of Plenty, and Coromandel probably benefit from higher than average numbers of voters aged over 65, and for the first two probably a bit of legacy support for when that was Winston Peters' voter base. Waiarapa also has an above average grey voter base, but also features New Zealand First's deputy leader, Ron Mark. While Rodney has their former deputy leader and relatively high profile MP Tracey Martin as their candidate, which are also likely to be factors.

Of note, New Zealand First only managed to grow their share of the party vote in three other electorates - Clutha-Southland, West Coast-Tasman, and Tukituki.

Of those three other electorates where New Zealand First grew their share of the party vote, none of them ran New Zealand First candidates back in 2014, so there's possibly a lesson there about ensuring you run candidates in as many electorates as possible to maximise your exposure.

The other area where New Zealand First's most valuable electorates echoes National's top electorates is that they're all high turnout electorates, and actually average a slightly higher turnout than National did.

As for New Zealand First's least valuable electorates, nothing here particularly stands out either. It doesn't surprise me that the more cosmopolitan parts of New Zealand are also the least likely to vote for New Zealand First. No guesses for why that might be either.

Electorate strength for New Zealand First clearly depends on both the popularity of Winston Peters, but also the ability of high profile candidates to turn out older voters in support of the party. This strength is also their greatest weakness. The party's existence seems to largely depend on Winston Peters own fortunes, and if they're down, then the party is out, so closely are the two brands aligned.

As to what opportunities that presents for New Zealand First at the electorate level? It's a hard one. If we assume that Winston Peters is going to contest the 2020 election (and it's entirely possible he might), then New Zealand First needs to identify electorates that share characteristics with their 10 most valuable and maximise their party votes there too. Some possibilities include Kaikoura, Ōtaki, Waitaki and Rangitata. These electorates also represent an opportunity for New Zealand First to transform itself from a platform for Winston Peters into a party representing rural New Zealand, a niche exploited relatively well by the Nationals in Australia.

Bill and Winston almost owe Colin Craig a beer... almost

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When they're sitting down for coalition negotiations over the coming days, Bill English and Winston Peters should raise a glass in honour of Colin Craig, the man who saved both their parties this election.

Well, I'm exaggerating a bit there. But an analysis comparing preliminary results from both the 2014 and 2017 elections suggests a correlation between electorates where the Conservatives won a high share of the party vote and the electorates in 2017 which comparatively contributed more to the final overall party vote totals of National and New Zealand First this election.

The idea is simple. In 2014 approximately 95,000 New Zealanders voted for the Conservative Party led by Colin Craig. In the preliminary results on 20 September 2014, that figure was 86,616. In 2017's preliminary results that figure had dropped to just 5,318. On election night there were some 81,298 voters who had left the HMNZS Colin Craig in those three years, and I wanted to find them.

There were a few assumptions that were easy to make. I thought it was pretty unlikely many of them would have switched their votes to Labour, the Greens, or even The Opportunities Party given TOP's liberal stance on marijuana.

The issues that motivated voters to cast their ballots for the Conservatives were predominantly social issues that they had a conservative take on. That meant there were only three likely parties for those votes to go to.

Given ACT got so few votes, it was clear they hadn't all rushed there. Plus ACT under David Seymour emphasises a more libertarian ideology than say the ACT of John Banks or Richard Prebble which had a healthy does of social conservatism mixed in with its Rogernomics bent.

That left only National and New Zealand First as the two contenders for those votes. National under John Key was a fairly socially liberal party, but Bill English, as a Catholic, does have a socially conservative streak in him. Likewise New Zealand First and in particular Winston Peters, have always appealed to the protectionist, anti-outsider, harking back to the good-old-days mentality that is commonly associated with voters of a conservative nature. And, if overseas experience teaches us anything, those of a conservative nature aren't shy about voting, so I didn't expect them to stay away in large numbers.

What I wanted to see specifically though was whether this translated into my previous examination of the changing party vote share in each electorate between the two elections. Maybe I'd missed something. Could National's stronger than expected (and Labour's weaker than expected) results in Auckland be explained purely off Conservative voters bulking up the ranks of National and New Zealand First.

The answers surprised me. As you might imagine, there seems to be a pretty clear correlation that generally shows that in electorates where the Conservatives did well in 2014, then those electorates managed to contribute more to the overall party vote totals of National and New Zealand First than they did in 2014.

And bare in mind that this is off preliminary results from 2014 and 2017, so I'm trying to compare apples with apples as much is possible across two elections.

In case you can't expand the above image, the light blue line is the share of the party vote that the Conservatives received in each electorate in 2014. The dark blue and grey lines is the percentage change of how those electorates contributed to National and New Zealand First's overall party vote in 2017 compared to 2014. If the lines jut out to the right it means that electorate has contributed a greater share to the party's overall party vote than it did in 2014. If it's to the left, it contributed less overall. Where I'd earlier just looked at individual electorates in isolation, this allows us to compare electorates within the context of the overall party vote. So I'll dig more into this later.

As you can see in the above image (if you need a bigger version feel free to contact me) where the Conservatives got over 4.47% of the party vote in an electorate in 2014 (that's Waitaki in the above) there appears to have been enough support transferred to National and New Zealand First in 2017 to shore up their support.

As New Zealand First needed fewer of those Conservative votes in each electorate to prop up their party vote numbers, I have to wonder if there was a bit of a churn cycle going on as National sought to replace the support it was losing to Labour. This cycle would see Conservative voters largely going to New Zealand First and some to National, but New Zealand First shedding voters towards National, especially in the large rural or provincial city electorates where National made a big push during the campaign.

Where the Conservatives got 4.47% they generally don't seem to have had enough votes to protect National or New Zealand First. Notable at the bottom of the list are Wellington Central, Auckland Central, and Mt Albert, all places that were in the top 10 locations that Labour grew its party vote relative to 2014.

Where things start to get interesting too is that this highlights the importance of National's performance in West and South Auckland outside of just collecting former Conservative and New Zealand First voters. Looking at the top 10 electorates where National grew it's share of the party vote relative to 2014, only Botany and Pakuranga sit above that tipping point where the number of Conservative voters was high enough to protect National and New Zealand First.

What's also worth noting about all of those electorates is that they have some of the worst voter turnout rates - if not the worst - in the country. It means that not only did National manage to capitalise on Labour's weaknesses with ethnic communities and potentially the mortgage belt in Auckland, but also Labour simply was not able to turn out voters with nearly all of those electorates down in total votes in the 2017 preliminary results compared to 2014 (only Botany and Te Atatu recorded more preliminary votes) which seems incredible when you consider that there should be more people living in those electorates relative to 2014!

There's a few outliers in the data. New Zealand First's Clutha-Southland performance for one, which I suspect is driven by other, more recent events in that electorate, while Northland and Whangarei were likely driven by the presence of Winston Peters and Shane Jones respectively.

That's enough for now! Will churn through some more insights from this dataset soon hopefully. And obviously I'll try to re-run this analysis to to compare the final results from 2014 with the final results from 2017.

You won't believe what happened in South Auckland!

Two things appear to have gone badly wrong for New Zealand's centre-left bloc this election. We know the youthquake hasn't happened, but the other appears to be that Labour's traditional South Auckland strongholds have failed them badly. Not only did those electorates deliver well below Labour's average gain across the country, but National was actually able to increase their share of the party vote there too!

Before you read any further you should note that these are based off the preliminary count, and don't include the 385,000 special and overseas votes yet to be counted. I'll try to another recalculation of these statistics once we have the final declared result, as I imagine there could be some shifting around in these rankings.

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Of the 71 electorate seats, National managed to increase its share of the party vote compared to 2014 in 12 of them. All 12 of those seats were Auckland seats too. As you can see from the above, where National has done surprising well across both South and West Auckland. In a campaign where issues like housing affordability, inequality, and health were meant to be top of mind for voters, and Labour touted their solutions to these problems, that they not only failed to gain traction in South and West Auckland, but allowed National to grow its share of the party vote there, is what stopped them from winning last night.

Where National lost most ground is interesting too, with National being most punished in the urban centres and a few provincial cities too. There could be a couple of things going on here. The first, I suspect, is the Jacinda effect showing up with young, urban voters in the big centres going Labour's way. Mt Albert will definitely be the Jacinda effect at play given it's now her home turf, and Christchurch Central and the Port Hills could be to do with simmering issues over Christchurch's earthquake recovery.

Interestingly, despite having lost badly in Mt Roskill in last year's by-election, National has performed well there. Which makes you wonder if they fielded a better candidate there whether they might have a better chance of winning the seat in the future.

I've including National's performance in the Māori seats here for consistency with the following graphics, but the reality is that National doesn't collect many votes in these seats and is usually outpolled easily by New Zealand First.

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If I were Labour the first thing I'd be doing on Monday is sacking whoever was in charge of campaigning in Auckland, and probably Phil Twyford - Labour's overall campaign manager - too. While Labour grew its share of the party vote in all electorates, its failure in Auckland is little short of a disaster for them. To win an election in New Zealand you effectively have to win in Auckland, and South and West Auckland should have been areas Labour did better in.

There's probably a few reasons why Labour failed in Auckland. The large Chinese and Indian ethnic communities would likely have voted National following Labour's various anti-immigration debacles over the past three years. It's notable that Jacinda Ardern, when presented with a chance to back away from these policies, hasn't done so, and Labour has paid the price.

I'd also wager that Bill English's Catholic faith and his wife Mary's Samoan heritage has played a role here too. It would have allowed many Pacific Island communities across Auckland to identify with him more than Labour, and comes off the back of National having made a real push to these communities over the past two elections.

The real stars for Labour though were the Māori electorates, which were not only the top five best performing, but took out seven of the top 11 spots. While Willie Jackson did nominally fill the role of Māori campaign chair, I'd wager that most of this growth had little to do with him, and more to do with a backlash against the Māori Party, Kelvin Davis' elevation to the deputy leadership, and Jacinda Ardern eating the Green's party vote across the country.

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Beltway sorts should have a nice chuckle that New Zealand First grew it's share of the party vote the most in Clutha-Southland. Other than that there's not much for Winston Peters to get excitged about here. Him being the MP for Northland clearly helped there, as did the selection and focus on Shane Jones in Whangarei. Other than that, it's pretty grim reading. Losing 2.78% points in Tauranga and Bay of Plenty is bad news given that this used to be Winston's stronghold.

They also didn't fare particularly well across the country in general, growing their share of the party vote in only five electorates and getting badly hammered in the Māori electorates which were their six worse performing overall.

With all this in mind, it's clear that once Winston Peters is gone, New Zealand First is gone. Winston and his party are utterly incapable of succession planning, and there's clearly nobody in the caucus who would remotely be able to pick up the mantle once Winston is gone.

So enjoy Winston's theatrics while they last.

There was no good news for the Green Party across the country, only terrible news, bad news, and not quite as bad news. The really damning stuff is how poorly the Greens did in Wellington Central where, in 2014, they got the second highest share of the party vote. It appears that the Greens urban liberal base have deserted the party in droves to go with Labour.

Rather than a youthquake, we've had a youth exodus from the Greens to Labour.

Where the Green Party can take heart I think is their performance across South and East Auckland where they stemmed the bleeding, in part helped by Labour's seeming inability to run a successful campaign north of the Bombays. I have a fleeting suspicion that some of their relative success here will also be down to Chlöe Swarbrick, who's likely converted much of the support and subsequent media coverage she received in her 2016 Auckland mayoralty run into support for the Greens.

Hopefully the Greens realise what a huge asset Chlöe is for their future, as they'll need her to turn things around at the next election.

In terms of the Māori seats the Greens have been hit by the swing to Labour in them, though not to the extent that New Zealand First was hit.

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The final thing I wanted to throw in here was looking at the biggest swings around the country. To measure this I took the combined shifts in Labour and the Greens share of party votes, and looked at the gap to what National had lost (and vice-versa for any swings to the right).

Only four seats recorded a net swing to the right - again all in South and West Auckland! I suspect that on special votes Manurewa might drop off this list those as 0.11% points would be well within the 0.3% point drop I've predicted for National's party vote share from advance voting to final results. Even if Manurewa drops out, this still represents a massive failure for Labour in Auckland, and it's an issue they have to sort out if they're to beat National.

As per the other results, the seats where Labour did well and National did poorly largely figure here. The Māori electorates would have had larger net swings that I've recorded above due to my not including the Māori Party in these calculations.

What's crucial to remember though is while 67 electorates have experienced a net shift to the left, Labour and the Greens are still 4.3% points short of National, meaning that you can't necessarily claim a mood for change exists within the country, as more people voted for the status quo than for the alternative centre-left bloc. I don't think you can justify lumping New Zealand First's party vote in with a mood for change, as it's more just a "mood to be listened to" by those who vote for him.

Why Winston Peters will choose Labour over National

Used under a CC-BY-SA-3.0 licence

With polls showing Winston Peters (well New Zealand First, but let's be honest, Winston calls all the shots) will hold the balance of power after the election, trying to predict which way he'll jump has become a national sport for political commentators. I've been thinking a lot about this question over the past week, and I've come to conclusion that Winston Peters will pick Labour as a coalition partner, supported by the Greens in a confidence and supply agreement, over National.

Back in 1996 pundits guessed Peters would go with Labour, rather than National, as that was where much of his support from the Māori seats had come from. Instead Peters surprised everyone and opted to support National's third term. This decision would almost prove disastrous for New Zealand First, as in 1998 the party split in two and in 1999 it's party vote collapsed to 4.26% (having hit 13.35% in 1996), only being saved by Winston Peters winning Tauranga by a extremely narrow margin of 63 votes.

Again in 2005 Winston Peters surprised people by going with Labour over National or sitting on the cross-benches bartering with whoever formed the minority government. National was considered a likely fit largely because many thought New Zealand First's policy platform was relatively similar to that promoted by then National Party leader Don Brash. The cross-benches approach was also one Winston Peters himself had promoted in a speech in the lead-up to the election, saying he wasn't interested in the baubles of office.

However once again in 2008 New Zealand First's support collapses after the party was caught up in two scandals during Helen Clark's Labour government's third term. Having polled at 5.7% in 2005 and Winston Peters narrowly losing Tauranga, in 2008 they fell to 4.07% and Peters was trounced with National's Simon Bridges winning twice as many votes as him in Tauranga.

This is the crux of why I think Winston Peters will, if he holds the balance of power, pick Labour over National. Twice he's supported a third term government and both times it's nearly spelled the end of New Zealand First. At 72, Peters will know that he's eventually going to have to hand over the reigns of the party to a successor, and he'll want that person to enjoy electoral success as one last middle fingered salute to all the nay-sayers (like me) who say that New Zealand First is a personality party based solely around him.

Having twice been nearly annihilated at the ballot box by supporting third term governments and getting caught up in a mood for change, Peters will be eager to avoid that happening again by and so won't support a fourth term National-led government.

Instead, much like in 1996 where it was suggested by Michael Laws that Peters was always going to support National and used the threat of going with Labour as a way to get more policy and ministerial concessions out of National, Peters will use that same threat as a way to get concessions out of Labour. He'll also doubly know that a first term Labour-led government is less likely to do damage to the long term electoral prospects of New Zealand First following his eventual departure, as first term governments generally play it relatively safe with the policies they implement.

The real trick for National is, if it finds itself in this position after the election, to ensure that the price that Peters extracts from Labour is such that it undermines the credibility of both Winston Peters, Jacinda Ardern, and the Labour Party.

Top photo credit: European Union Centres Network 2008, used under a CC-BY-SA-3.0 licence: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:WinstonPetersEuropa.jpg

Labour and Jacinda surge in the polls

What an incredible two weeks in politics it's been! Andrew Little gone as Labour leader, Meteria Turei resigning as Green co-leader, and now polls from Newshub and a leaked UMR poll that show Labour has surged in the polls, and Jacinda Ardern has rocketed right up to be level pegging with Bill English in the preferred Prime Minister stakes.

Obviously Jacinda Ardern has been not just a circuit breaker, but a game-changer for Labour. Her ascension has hit the Greens at the same time that Meteria Turei's leadership was being called into question, and appears to have been a double blow that has caused the Green Party to shed support. At the same time, on the surface of it, it looks like New Zealand First has lost support to Labour too, with National only down 0.8 points in the Newshub poll.

At first glance I, along with many others, assumed that it was Jacinda Ardern taking votes off the Greens and New Zealand First. But the more I've thought about it, I'm not entirely sure that's the case. I can see why Jacinda would reclaim support from the Greens where she'd get back some of the former Labour supporters that Andrew Little had lost to them, but I'm still not quite sure why as much of New Zealand First's support would go her way as initially appears to be the case.

What I've since released is that there's another possibility, that it might be more likely that there's been a significant number of undecided voters in these polls who have come off the fence in support of Jacinda. My understanding is that these polls usually just report on decided voters, leaving undecideds out of the final numbers presented (though I'm not 100 per cent sure this is the case). What might be motivating the movement of these undecideds is that they perceive Jacinda as having the ability to not just to be a very capable leader, but also to transform Labour into a party they can support. They identify with her values, her identity, and her brand, in a way that they just couldn't with Andrew Little. 

I've arrived at this conclusion mainly because I can see there being two logical places for Jacinda to get already committed voters from - the Greens and National. The Green voters she'd get back are the disenfranchised Labour supporters who didn't rate Andrew Little, the National voters she'd win are those in the centre ground who turned out to vote for Helen Clark in 1999, 2002, and to a lesser extent in 2005, and who I think Jacinda has a very strong appeal to.

Given that National and Bill English's support hasn't budged much in either of the polls I linked to in the first paragraph, I think New Zealand First might be leaking its support to National. What I think is happening here is that conservatives who have gravitated to Winston Peters over the past year and returning "home" to National in the face of Labour's recovery. Jacinda, meanwhile is broadening Labour's support both at the expense of the Greens and National's centre-block, and bringing in those undecideds I already mentioned, so National's loss of support to Labour is masked to some extent by gaining back voters from New Zealand First.

At this stage it's all instinctual guesswork on my part, but I've asked Newshub's Political Editor Patrick Gower if he can shed any light on the matter, as Newshub's polling data bank doesn't reveal what the undecideds were in each poll. We'll wait to see if more details come out in the coming days.