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State of the race #10: Councillors make the jump to the big house

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It’s been a week of local politicians deciding to, and deciding to not, make the jump into the national scene. Along with all that, there have been politicians appearing on university campuses, “racist, bigoted” leaflets and an appearance from Pepe the frog. It’s another week in the strange world of premature electioneering. 

Nats have new candidate in Wellington Central, Mana in question

Following Paul Foster-Bell’s surprise exit from politics last week, his challenger for the Wellington Central National Party nomination, Nicola Willis, has been elevated to the selection. Willis, a corporate high-flier and friend to former Prime Minister John Key, will square-off against Labour’s Grant Robertson, the Greens’ James Shaw, and a soon-to-be-announced candidate from New Zealand First. However in the far-north Wellington seat of Mana, the challenger to take on Labour’s Kris Faafoi is now in doubt. Rumoured candidate Nick Leggett, the former mayor for the area, announced Friday that he will not seek the National Party nomination, saying he intended to focus instead on family.

Leggett, who served as Porirua mayor from 2010 till 2016, attempted a run at the mayoralty of Wellington last year. He made the final round, but was beaten by Labour’s Justin Lester – 57% to 43%. During the campaign and after there was a bitter war of words between the candidate and Labour – his former party. In the weeks following his defeat Leggett confirmed his defection to the National Party, and rumours swelled about a Mana run. The current List MP based in the area, Hekia Parata, will resign at the election, leaving the National Party with no potential well-established candidate. The seat, previously one of the most marginal in the country, became a Labour stronghold at the last election – despite a dramatic swing away from the party nationwide.

Candidate interview leaves more questions than answers

David Lee, a Wellington City councillor as of 2010, has kicked up a fuss in Christchurch. The Green Party councillor for the Southern Ward sat down with Stuff.co.nz to talk about his out-of-place decision to stand in the seat of Ilam, held by Gerry Brownlee in the affluent western suburbs of Christchurch. Instead, Lee spent the duration of the interview praising the incumbent MP, Gerry Brownlee, and dishing the details on his previous associations with National. Lee said his politics could be described as “very blue” with a “green halo” and that his “mentor” was Brownlee, who has served the area since 1996. He also referred to his past work as a member of the Young National Party, and a campaign manager for a senior minister based in Auckland. However, it was his comment that his Christchurch campaign was a “sideline project” that caused some anger among locals.

Lee has deep roots within the electorate, having grown up there and still maintaining links through family. Whilst Lee is dismissive of his chances in 2017, he said this election was about increasing his name recognition to lay the foundations for a “hard out” tilt at the seat in 2020.

Brownlee faces serious challenge in Ilam

But there are more serious challengers eyeing up Ilam, and on Friday local Christchurch city councillor Raf Manji confirmed he’d be running as an Independent. If elected, he’d be the first successful independent since Winston Peters won the Tauranga by-election of 1993. However an independent has not won a seat in a general election since 1943. Whilst history is certainly against him, with New Zealand’s woeful record at electing independents, Manji and others insist there is appetite for change after over two decades of Brownlee. In fact, Manji is rubbing salt in it, saying he even has the support of most National Party sympathisers – a group he’ll need to win over if he’s to take out Brownlee’s 11,898 vote majority. The seat has never been held by another party, or even another member.

The resistance against Brownlee stems from widespread dissatisfaction with the minister’s response to the earthquakes, and the earthquake recovery process, which have dominated the last six years of his political career.

Manji is credited for being the city’s “money man”, working with the mayor and council on financial solutions for the authority which has been cash-strapped since the 2011 quake.

Labour has selected local pastor and housing advocate Anthony Rimell, who was beaten in the local elections by Manji. It isn’t entirely clear who Manji would hypothetically support in post-election deals, but the politician generally leans to the centre-left.

An (unscientific) online poll run by The Press of 3,100 people found Manji at 56%, Brownlee on 25%, Rimell on 11%, and David Lee of the Greens on 3%.

Politicians descend on O-Week

In the now annual tradition, politicians of all stripes descended on campuses in Auckland, Waikato, the Hawkes’ Bay, Palmerston North, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin. Wellington, being the hub of government, boasted the most politicians this year, with leaders of all the major parties coming along to rally support among younger voters. Winston Peters was the first to touch down at Kelburn’s campus, giving a speech to a packed lecture theatre. Not only did the 70 year old veteran politician draw hundreds of young people to hear him speak – he even got applause on multiple occasions throughout the night, particularly when he reminded those gathered of his party’s opposition to the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA).

However, Peters’ speech did not fly by without controversy. Upon leaving the lecture theatre, Peters was greeted by a young supporter holding a printed out ‘Pepe the frog’ meme, which Peters was photographed signing. The meme has become synonymous with white nationalism and other alt-right causes, although Peters said he wasn’t worried. The story reached as far as Buzzfeed in the United States, leaving some party members red-faced.

The Prime Minister’s visit ran smoothly on Thursday, although, notably, he did not attract nearly the same interest as his predecessor John Key. The New Zealand Herald reported there was “barely a selfie snapped” during the Prime Minister’s fly-in visit. Although there was a nice moment, when he was reunited with a student whom he had coached as a young boy.

Labour’s Andrew Little came later in the day, when students were out having their lunch – so time was already on his side. He was joined by the new deputy leader, Jacinda Ardern, in what was one of their very first outings as a combo. The junior political correspondent for Newshub, Lloyd Burr, asked students if they had heard of Andrew Little, expecting, presumably, the answer to be “no”. However, while almost all the students spoken to had heard of Andrew Little, fewer had heard of Jacinda Ardern. Although, it’s fair to say, Ardern seized on the opportunity of more selfies than the Prime Minister – something Little jokingly dubbed a “generational difference”.

Dunne goes to war on “bigots”

A flier backed by the anti-treaty 1Law4All Party has outraged Ohariu MP and United Future leader Peter Dunne. The flier, coupled with another that warns of the Chinese government’s takeover of New Zealand, attacks perceived Maori privileges. Dunne labelled both of the leaflets distributed “despicable, racist bigotry” and should be put in the bin. The 1Law4All Party will be announcing its leadership team soon, and is understood to be gearing up to fight the 2017 election. Don Brash and Colin Craig are among those being rumoured as possible supporters.
The Retirement List
National: Chester Borrows (Whanganui), Craig Foss (Tukituki), Paul Foster-Bell (List), Jo Goodhew (Rangitata), John Key (Helensville), Sam Lotu-Liga (Maungakiekie), Murray McCully (East Coast Bays), Jono Naylor (List), Hekia Parata (List), Linsday Tish (Waikato), Maurice Williamson (Pakuranga).

Labour: Clayton Cosgrove (List), David Cunliffe (New Lynn), Annette King (Rongotai).

Greens: Steffan Browning (List), Catherine Delahunty (List).

NZ First: Barbara Stewart (List)

The marginals:

Auckland Central (held by Nikki Kaye of National by a 600 vote majority versus Labour).
Hutt South (held by Trevor Mallard of Labour by a 709 vote majority versus National’s Chris Bishop. Virginia Andersen will be Labour’s candidate in 2017, replacing Mallard).
Ohariu (held by Peter Dunne of United Future by a 710 vote majority versus Labour).
Te Tai Tokerau (held by Kelvin Davis of Labour by a 743 vote majority versus the MANA Movement’s Hone Harawira).

The polls:
Latest poll (Unchanged)
Roy Morgan poll for Feb:
National 48.0%, Labour 26.0%, Greens 13.0%, NZ First 8.0%, Maori 2.0%, ACT 1.0%, MANA Movement 0.0% United Future 0.0%, Conservative 0.0%, Internet Party 0.0%,
(GOVERNMENT 50.0% OPPOSITION 47.0%).

Poll change: National +2.0, Labour -4.0, Greens +2.0, NZ First -3.0, Maori +1.0, ACT +0.0, United Future +0.0, Conservative +0.0, Internet Party +0.0, MANA Movement -1.0.

GOVERNMENT +2.0, OPPOSTION -3.0

Poll average: National 47.0%, Labour 28.0%, Greens 11.0%, NZ First 10.0%, Maori 1.3%, ACT 0.6%, MANA Movement 0.4%, Conservative 0.2%, United Future 0.1%.
(Greens -1.0, NZ First +1.0, ACT +0.1, MANA Movement +0.3, United Future +0.1)

Better Prime Minister poll: Bill English 31.0%, Winston Peters 8.0%, Andrew Little 7.0%, Jacinda Ardern 4.0%, John Key 2.0%, James Shaw 0.3%.

The leaders’ social media performance:
Facebook ‘likes’ as at Friday 4/03/2017

1) Bill English 75,380 (+526)
2) Winston Peters 
74,926 (+317)
3) Andrew Little 30,397 (+117)
4) Metiria Turei 14,096 (+69)
5) Te Ururoa Flavell 12,906 (+22)
(Marama Fox closes page)
6) James Shaw 7,831 (+9)
7) David Seymour 4,747 (+112)
8) Peter Dunne 1,579 (+41)
Twitter followers
1) Metiria Turei 22.2K (+0.1)
3) Bill English 16.4K (+0.2)
2) Winston Peters 14.3K (+0.1)
4) Andrew Little 12.6K (+0.1)
5) Peter Dunne 8.3K (+0.0)
6) James Shaw 6.7K (+0.1)
7) Te Uruora Flavell 5.4K (+0.0)
8) Marama Fox 3.9K (+0.0)
9) David Seymour 3.7K (+0.0)

  • Bennett Morgan, Capital HardTalk. 

Europe Dispatch – 10th March 2017

A weekly round-up of the biggest news from across the Old Continent

 

Britain – The House of Lords gave the government another setback in the passage of the ‘Brexit Bill’ to trigger Article 50, this time by supporting a Labour-led amendment to give parliament a final vote on the outcome of the Prime Minister’s exit negotiations, theoretically to have been worked out by 2019. The Prime Minister had previously assured parliament would be given a vote on the final deal, albeit a ‘take it or leave it’ vote, in which MPs could either support the deal or Britain would leave the EU with no arrangements intact, defaulting to WTO rules. Opposition lawmakers had decried the vote as offering no real choice, with crashing out on WTO rules likely to result in lasting economic damage. The amendment, passed by the Lords 366 to 268, would likely allow parliament to instruct the Prime Minister to return to the negotiating table if the deal is considered unsatisfactory. As with the amendment on the rights of EU nationals living in the UK, the future of this amendment is likely to be short, as the bill returns to the Commons where Theresa May enjoys a full majority. In the same sitting, the Lords also voted to reject an amendment putting any final deal to a second referendum, with continued EU membership an option on the ballot.

Sweden – The Scandinavian country’s government announced a return to military conscription, stating that in 2018 4,000 young Swedes will be called for military service, selected from a group of 13,000 conscripts and volunteers aged 18 or 19. The reason for the draft’s return, so quickly after its abolition in 2010, is largely due to concerns over Russian aggression and expansionism. Following the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in 2014, Sweden has grown increasingly concerned by the presence of Russian fighter jets extremely close to Sweden’s borders, intelligence reports that Russian diplomats posted in the country may be spies, and large military exercises on Russia’s western border. The move is hardly unprecedented in the region, either; nearby Lithuania reinstated its own conscription programme in 2015 for similar reasons. Lastly, the move is politically uncontroversial in Sweden, hence its election year roll-out in 2018 – a 2016 poll conducted for the Dagens Nyheter newspaper saw 72% support for the measure.

France – Centre-right presidential candidate François Fillon put to rest questions about the future of his candidacy this week, giving a defiant rally in which he vowed to continue his campaign for the presidency, and insinuating the investigation into the supposed ‘fake jobs’ given to his wife and children is politically motivated. Another former Republican Prime Minister Alain Juppé, who Fillon defeated in a primary battle late last year, announced he would not step in to take Fillon’s place, while saying the candidate was at ‘a dead end’. While Fillon has attracted some back to his campaign following last week’s defections, including the centrist UDI party re-instating their endorsement, Fillon continues to lag in the polls. He currently sits at third place with 20%, which would leave him eliminated in the first round of voting. The opinion polling out this week also shows for the first time centrist liberal Emmanuel Macron outpolling the National Front’s Marine Le Pen in the first round of voting.

Finland – Timo Soini, co-founder and leader of the Eurosceptic right-wing Finns Party has announced his plans to step down as party leader by June, a position he has held since 1997. Any hypothetical next leader of the party, currently the second largest in the Finnish parliament and a participant in the three-party coalition government, is widely expected to be further to the right than Soini, and less open to political compromise. The Helsinki Times has reported there is now speculation about the future of the three-party coalition, consisting of the Finns party, the centre-right National Coalition, and led by the moderate Centre Party. Despite this, Soini has called for the next leader to support the coalition and expressed a desire to stay in his post as Foreign Minister until the end of the parliamentary term in early 2019. The Finns Party won 17.7% of the vote in the 2015 election, but has lost support after many in its voter base grew dissatisfied with compromises made with other coalition parties, and now polls in high single digits.


Polls:
France (Harris): First round – Marine Le Pen (National Front) 25%, Emmanuel Macron (En Marche!) 26%, François Fillon (Republican) 20%, Benoît Hamon (Socialist) 13%, Jean-Luc Mélenchon (Unsubmissive France) 13%, others 4–4.5%.

Second round — Marine Le Pen (National Front) 35%, Emmanuel Macron (En Marche!) 65%.

Germany (INSA): CDU/CSU 30.5%, SPD 31.5%, Greens 6.5%, FDP 7.5%, Left 8.5%, AfD 11%, others 4.5%.

United Kingdom (ICM / The Guardian): Conservatives 44%, Labour 28%, UKIP 11%, Liberal Democrats 8%, SNP 4%, Greens 5%, others 1%.

Italy (EMG): Five Star Movement 29.1%, Democratic Party 27.6%, Forward Italy 11.8%, Northern League 13.3%, Italian Left 1.7%, Brothers of Italy 5.1%, New Centre-Right/Popular Area 2.5%, Democrats and Progressives 4%, others 4.9%.

Five things to read this week:

1. This Bloomberg View column contextualising the concerns surrounding Geert Wilders’ far-right Party for Freedom (PVV) and the upcoming Dutch general election.

2. This piece from The Economist, looking at what the two most prominent elected office-holders from Italy’s populist Five Star Movement tell us about the party at large.

3.  This dispatch from the New Statesman on the shadow Brexit cast over Northern Ireland’s Assembly elections this week.

4. This article from the New York Times on a European Parliament vote to end visa-free travel for American citizens.

5. Taking a break from the hectic pace of day-to-day news, The Guardian’s excellent series of historical analysis, ‘The 1930s Revisited’ explores the parallels between the decade of the Great Depression and today’s turbulent politics.

 

Also watch:

This episode of France 24’s French Connections programme, looking at the powers and perks of the office of President of France.

  • Taran Molloy, Capital Hardtalk

State of the race #9: Out with the older, in with the newer

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The week was dominated by the news of the resignation of a senior Labour MP, the rise of Jacinda Ardern, and Bill English’s controversial comments surrounding drugs. But it all started with the Mount Albert by-election, so let’s begin there:

Ardern romps home

The question was never if Ardern would win the Mount Albert by-election, but by what sort of margin. Some were surprised by the majority of Ardern’s win, as the machinery of the Labour Party proved too much in the get-out-the-vote stage for their political rivals. The absence of the National Party meant Labour was the only major political party standing.

Labour sources on the ground said many of those doorknocked supported Ms. Ardern, wouldn’t bother voting in the by-election, but would turn out for the general. The area has changed significantly since the seat was first won by the Labour Party’s Warren Freer in 1947. The seat has swapped state houses, large families and working class roots for leafy suburbs, SUVs, swimming pools and a vibrant Chinese population. But the seat has remained with Labour throughout the decades, formerly electing Helen Clark as its local MP.

The preliminary results declare Ardern as the winner with 10,000 votes, representing 77.0% of the total votes cast. As expected, the Greens’ Julie-Anne Genter has claimed second place in a campaign that was all about setting the scene for the party’s 2017 campaign. Genter claimed 1,489 votes, representing 11.4% of the votes cast.

The battle for third had been hotly contested between two new political forces, The Opportunities Party and The New Zealand People’s Party. Ultimately Geoff Simmons of TOP won 600 votes, representing 4.6% of the votes cast. The NZPP’s Vin Tomar won 191 votes; 1.4%.

The Socialist candidate Joe Carolan won 1.3%, and the Independent Penny Bright won 1.0% ahead of various other independents and candidates from Legalise Cannabis, the Human Rights Party, Not A Party, and Communist League.

The question for Labour and Ardern now becomes whether it can convert popularity for their candidate into party votes. The first poll since the by-election performed by Roy Morgan, often dismissed as ‘unreliable’ by some commentators particularly on the right, has found an increase in support for National and a dip for Labour.

The Greens performed best in the western parts of Eden, a suburb with a particularly high affluent population. Housing and transport are the major issues in the electorate, with the Greens mostly  emphasising the latter in its platform.

The interesting aftermath of Mount Albert

For an election victory that was predictable, what followed for the Labour Party certainly wasn’t. When asked if Ardern would be the next deputy leader of the party on the night of the by-election, leader Andrew Little declared, more than once, “there is no vacancy”. Labour’s deputy Annette King claimed the suggestions that Ardern should turf her out for the job were “ageist”.

However, on Wednesday Mrs. King confirmed not just her resignation from the deputy leadership, but from her health spokesperson position and parliament. King will join her senior Labour colleagues, Clayton Cosgrove (List) and David Cunliffe (New Lynn) in resigning at the election. King had already stood aside in favour of Wellington Deputy Mayor Paul Eagle in Rongotai after serving the area since 1993.

King insists that upon reflection she had decided herself to stand down, and had not been pushed. First entering parliament when David Lange swept to power in 1984, King first served as the MP for the Levin-based seat of Horrowhenua, until 1990. Being an MP under the Lange era, King has been criticised by some on the party’s left and by other left-wing observers as having never let go of some neoliberal positions. Stuff.co.nz was more favourable, describing King as “a political titan in her own right”.

In the Clark years, King served as Minister for Health (1999-2005), Minister for Police (2005-2008), Minister for Transport (2006-2008) and Minister for Justice (2007-2008).

On Wednesday, King confirmed she would nominate Jacinda Ardern to be the next deputy leader. With Andrew Little’s support too, Ardern’s rise to number two is all but confirmed. She will officially become the party’s deputy on Tuesday at the next caucus meeting, with Dunedin North MP David Clark expected to become the next spokesperson for health.

King assured the party that she was “only half way” through her career, and would never be far from the political scene. But, in national politics at least, nearly four decades of hard work ends on September 23.

Bill English slammed over drug comments

The Prime Minister, Bill English, has riled up some groups again, this time by suggesting young Kiwis couldn’t fill job vacancies because they were on drugs. But the Prime Minister’s claim was not backed up by data, according to statements by the New Zealand Drug Foundation. This prompted unions to label the Prime Minister’s position an example of “alternative facts”.

At the last count, unemployment in New Zealand grew to 5.4%. Around 0.1% of Kiwis applying for jobs had failed drug tests. The tests have been criticised by some, who point out cannabis remains in the system for up to six months. Even so, the Prime Minister didn’t entirely back down from his statement that was in support of the government overseeing a large increase in foreign workers, saying journalists should talk to businesses.

It’s not the first time English has been criticised by unions for comments made about New Zealand workers. Last year the then finance minister called some New Zealand men looking for work “pretty damned hopeless”.

Not everyone disagrees with the Prime Minister, however. Small business owner Mary Lambie, who owns a Subway store, says immigrants saved her business. Speaking to Three’s The AM Show, Lambie said “They [New Zealanders] were useless… particularly young Kiwi men. I’m talking, sort of, under 21. Unreliable, dishonest, lazy”.

The comments come as net migration hits new record highs. A report by the New Zealand Institute found the benefits of immigration were outweighing the costs, and weren’t contributing to problems surrounding housing as much as people believed.

But English’s ‘tell it like it is’ style has earned him few new enemies. With an impressive debut start to the preferred Prime Minister poll ratings, polling far ahead of Winston Peters and Andrew Little after just a few months in the job, English is unlikely to alter his approach.

Key’s replacement in Helensville confirmed

The race for Helensville is underway. Last week Hayley Holt of the Greens was the only confirmed candidate for the seat spanning from Cornwallis in the southeast to South Head in the northwest. National have confirmed former Navy officer Chris Penk to contest the seat. Penk ran against Labour’s Carmel Sepuloni in the newly formed West Auckland seat of Kelston in 2014, losing by a 28 point margin. However, the seat of Helensville is considered safe for the National Party, having never been won by Labour.

Labour have also chosen their Helensville candidate, Kurt Taogaga, a former City Vision candidate for council. Elsewhere, Labour picked Korean New Zealander Jin An to run against Deputy Prime Minister Paula Bennett in Upper Harbour and Charrie Chapman to stand against Baby of the House, Todd Barclay, in Clutha Southland.

Foster-Bell bows out

MP since 2013, Paul Foster-Bell of National has confirmed he will bow out of politics at the election. His exit clears the way for Nicola Willis to take the National Party nomination in Wellington Central, which is expected to give the incumbent, Grant Robertson, a bigger run for his money. Foster-Bell has had a tough political career with a diminishing National candidate vote over two elections. He failed to grasp the party’s Whangarei nomination in 2014 and has faced criticism over alleged bullying and large travel expenses.

More recently, Foster-Bell won praise for coming out as gay following controversial comments by Destiny Church leader Brian Tamaki that the Kaikoura earthquakes were caused by gay sex. The MP is part of a cross-party group in parliament advocating for gay rights that consists of members from Labour, the Greens, National, New Zealand First and ACT.


New: The Retirement List
National: Chester Borrows (Whanganui), Craig Foss (Tukituki), Paul Foster-Bell (List), Jo Goodhew (Rangitata), John Key (Helensville), Sam Lotu-Liga (Maungakiekie), Murray McCully (East Coast Bays), Jono Naylor (List), Hekia Parata (List), Linsday Tish (Waikato), Maurice Williamson (Pakuranga).

Labour: Clayton Cosgrove (List), David Cunliffe (New Lynn), Annette King (Rongotai).

Greens: Steffan Browning (List), Catherine Delahunty (List).

The marginals:

Auckland Central (held by Nikki Kaye of National by a 600 vote majority versus Labour).
Hutt South (held by Trevor Mallard of Labour by a 709 vote majority versus National’s Chris Bishop. Virginia Andersen will be Labour’s candidate in 2017, replacing Mallard).
Ohariu (held by Peter Dunne of United Future by a 710 vote majority versus Labour).
Te Tai Tokerau (held by Kelvin Davis of Labour by a 743 vote majority versus the MANA Movement’s Hone Harawira).

The polls:
Latest poll (as of Friday, 24 Feb 2017)
Roy Morgan poll for Feb:
National 48.0%, Labour 26.0%, Greens 13.0%, NZ First 8.0%, Maori 2.0%, ACT 1.0%, MANA Movement 0.0% United Future 0.0%, Conservative 0.0%, Internet Party 0.0%,
(GOVERNMENT 50.0% OPPOSITION 47.0%).

Poll change: National +2.0, Labour -4.0, Greens +2.0, NZ First -3.0, Maori +1.0, ACT +0.0, United Future +0.0, Conservative +0.0, Internet Party +0.0, MANA Movement -1.0.

GOVERNMENT +2.0, OPPOSTION -3.0

Poll average: National 47.0%, Labour 28.0%, Greens 11.0%, NZ First 10.0%, Maori 1.3%, ACT 0.6%, MANA Movement 0.4%, Conservative 0.2%, United Future 0.1%.
(Greens -1.0, NZ First +1.0, ACT +0.1, MANA Movement +0.3, United Future +0.1)

Better Prime Minister poll: Bill English 31.0%, Winston Peters 8.0%, Andrew Little 7.0%, Jacinda Ardern 4.0%, John Key 2.0%, James Shaw 0.3%.

The leaders’ social media performance:
Facebook ‘likes’ as at Friday 4/03/2017

1) Bill English 74,854 (+887) – Overtakes Winston Peters
2) Winston Peters
74,609 (+344)
3) Andrew Little 30,280 (+205)
4) Metiria Turei 14,027 (+75)
5) Te Ururoa Flavell 12,884 (+83)
6) Marama Fox 8,069 (+51)
7) James Shaw 7,822 (+89)
8) David Seymour 4,635 (+21)
9) Peter Dunne 1,538 (+75)
Twitter followers
1) Metiria Turei 22.1K (+0.1)
3) Bill English 16.2K (+0.2)
2) Winston Peters 14.2K (+0.1)
4) Andrew Little 12.5K (+0.1)
5) Peter Dunne 8.3K (+0.1)
6) James Shaw 6.6K (+0.0)
7) Te Uruora Flavell 5.4K (+0.0)
8) Marama Fox 3.8K (+0.0)
9) David Seymour 3.7K (+0.1)

Europe Dispatch – 3rd March 2017

A weekly round-up of the biggest news from across the Old Continent

Britain – Two by-elections held this past week confirmed the power of Theresa May’s Conservative Party in post-referendum Britain, with both Labour and UKIP the largest losers. In Stoke-on-Trent Central, a West Midlands constituency held by the Labour Party since 1950, local councillor Gareth Snell held the seat for Labour with 37% of the vote at 38% turnout. The seat, characterised by poor economic prospects, political dissatisfaction, and a strong vote to leave the European Union, had been targeted for capture by UKIP. The party’s leader Paul Nuttall contested the seat, but finished in a disappointing second place following a campaign defined by a series of gaffes, and the revelation that a party website had falsely stated close personal friends of Nuttall had died in the 1989 Hillsborough disaster. A vote was held the same day in Copeland, a similarly working-class and pro-leave Cumbrian constituency held by the Labour Party since 1935. A seven-point swing to the Conservatives led to former Parish Councillor Trudy Harrison winning the seat with 44% of the vote, marking the first time the government has gained a seat in a by-election since 1982. The inability for the Labour Party to hold a traditional Labour seat against the government in a by-election has led to another round of speculation over the future of party leader Jeremy Corbyn.

The Prime Minister’s Brexit Bill experienced a setback in the House of Lords as peers voted by a majority of 102 to amend the document giving Theresa May power to trigger Article 50. The amendment, backed by Labour, the Liberal Democrats, and some Conservatives, seeks to guarantee the rights of EU citizens currently residing in the United Kingdom. Despite the large majority in the Lords backing the amendment, the government has not shifted from its position that the Bill should pass without any amendments; No. 10 expects the provision will be voted down when the Bill returns to the Commons, despite Conservative peers urging MPs to defy the party whip. In mid-February, Brexit Secretary David Davis predicted the Bill would likely ‘ping-pong’ between the two houses of Parliament for some time before passing.

The Father of the House, Sir Gerald Kaufman, has passed away aged 86, triggering a by-election in his constituency of Manchester Gorton. Kaufman first entered Parliament as the Labour MP for Manchester Ardwick in 1970, serving until it was redistricted to Manchester Gorton in 1983, which he had held ever since. He sat on the Labour frontbench as Shadow Home Secretary and Shadow Foreign Secretary under Neil Kinnock’s leadership, before gaining a reputation as a passionate and outspoken backbencher, particularly in his criticism of the Israeli government. Manchester Gorton is a safe Labour seat; Kaufman won 67% of the vote in the 2015 general election with the Green Party in second place, while the constituency voted strongly to remain in the European Union in the 2016 referendum.

France – The candidacy of former Prime Minister François Fillon looks more imperilled than ever before; the centre-right candidate is losing key supporters and campaign advisors following the news that Fillon has been placed under formal investigation regarding the fake jobs scandal. Fillon had previously pledged to drop out of the race if placed under investigation, but now pledges to fight on, accusing the judiciary of carrying out a politically-motivated attack on him at the behest of the incumbent Socialist government. Former agriculture minister and Republican primary candidate Bruno Le Maire resigned from the Fillon campaign, along with Fillon losing the endorsement of the centre-right Union of Democrats and Independents (UDI) political party. Amid this disarray, some French Republicans are attempting to gather the necessary signatures to field former Prime Minister Alain Juppé as a candidate before the March 17th deadline, though this process has been made more difficult by Fillon’s insistence he will stay in the race. Fillon is currently polling in third place behind the far-right Marine Le Pen and the centrist Emmanuel Macron, and would likely be eliminated in the first round of voting.

Slovenia – The Central European country of two million became the latest nation to legalise same-sex marriage, following fellow EU member states such as Spain, the Netherlands and Norway. The law, passed in early 2016 and taking effect this week, grants same-sex couples many of the same rights as heterosexuals, including recognition of marriage. Notably absent, however, is the right for same-sex couples to adopt children. In December 2015, Slovenian voters rejected a proposal to give same-sex couples full equal rights, including that of adoption, with 64% against in a referendum at 36% turnout

Italy – A group of left-wing rebels have quit the governing Democratic Party (PD) over anger at the leadership of former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, establishing the left-wing Progressive and Democrat Movement (DP). The party, made up of defectors from the centre-left Democratic Party and the Italian Left, is being led by Roberto Speranza, former head of the Democratic Party in parliament, and Tuscan President Enrico Rossi. The party is likely to support current Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni through the full parliamentary term ending in February 2018; Renzi has advocated for an early election this year, likely as a pathway to taking office as Prime Minister once again following his December resignation. The DP’s presence also holds the potential to fracture the left of centre vote at the ballot box, giving the anti-establishment and populist Five Star Movement an easier path to forming a government.

Polls:
France (IFOP-Fiducial): First round – Marine Le Pen (National Front) 25.5%, Emmanuel Macron (En Marche!) 24%, François Fillon (Republican) 21%, Benoît Hamon (Socialist) 14%, Jean-Luc Mélenchon (Unsubmissive France) 11%, others 4.5%.

Second round – Marine Le Pen (National Front) 38%, Emmanuel Macron (En Marche!) 62%.

Germany (Civey): CDU/CSU 34.3%, SPD 31.4%, Left 8.1%, Greens 7.1%, FDP 6.4%, AfD 8.4%, others 4.3%.

United Kingdom (YouGov / The Times): Conservatives 42%, Labour 25%, UKIP 12%, Liberal Democrats 11%, Scottish National Party 6%, Greens 4%, others 1%.

Italy (EMG): Five Star Movement 28.4%, Democratic Party 28%, Forward Italy 12.2%, Northern League 13.3%, Italian Left 2.4%, Brothers of Italy 4.9%, New Centre-Right/Popular Area 2.7%, Democrats and Progressives 3.8%, others 4.3%.

Five things to read this week:

1. This column from The Economist’s ‘Bagehot’s Notebook’ blog, setting out the case for moving the UK’s capital city from London to Manchester.

2. This Financial Times feature on Turkey’s upcoming constitutional referendum, one of 2017’s most pivotal – yet overlooked – votes.

3. The European Commission has released a White Paper on the future of Europe following the UK’s departure, laying out five different possibilities for paths the EU can take now. So far, it has mostly raised eyebrows in the European press for the mooted possibility of replacing the Union with nothing more than the Single Market, though the whole White Paper, available here, is worth the read.

4. This Al Jazeera piece on French Muslims who are still unenthused by Emmanuel Macron’s candidacy for the Élysée Palace

5. An article from German public broadcaster Deutsche Welle, on how the growing popularity of the far-right Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ) is pushing the Alpine nation’s governing grand coalition further to the right.

 

Also watch:

This short video report from Reuters on the rising support for a new outsider candidate for President of France – Barack Obama.

 

  • Taran Molloy, Capital Hardtalk

 

State of the race #8: More electorate deals and Making Rivers Safe Again

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The first major televised opinion poll of the year provided mixed reading for both parties. While National had overall taken a sizable hit since the shock resignation of John Key, Bill English had a stellar start in the preferred Prime Minister ratings, easily besting Winston Peters and Andrew Little.

But, of course, it is the party vote share that counts. Off the latest poll, National doesn’t have enough to govern alone, or with loyal support partner ACT and United Future. Bill English’s National will need the support of the Maori Party. And, just this week, the Maori Party’s return to parliament became a bit more certain.

MANA-Maori sign electorate deal

An electorate deal between the left-wing MANA Movement and government support partner, the Maori Party, will shake things up in an election year already defined by deals. As suggested by Marama Fox’s Christmas duet with Te Ururoa Flavell, the Maori Party will stand aside in the seat of Te Tai Tokerau in favour of “uncle Hone” Harawira. In return, the MANA Movement will stand aside in the remaining six Maori seats, five of which the Maori Party hopes to gain back from the Labour Party who gained Tamaki Makarau and Te Tai Hauauru in 2014.

The deal is supposed to benefit co-leader Fox who lost to Labour’s Meka Whaitiri in 2014. In fact, Fox placed third behind MANA’s Maori Television star Te Hamua Nikora. However, Fox has gained reputation since then due to her prominent role in parliament, and could potentially generate a large swing in her favour. If she fails, it is likely Fox will be out of parliament.

In Flavell’s seat of Waiariki, it is hoped the 25.1% won by MANA’s Annette Sykes in 2014 will flow to the Maori Party. Flavell currently holds a 17.8% majority over Labour, who have selected former television star Tamati Coffey as their candidate. However, there is dissatisfaction with the Maori Party for signing with National in the electorate. Sykes held large anti-National credentials, and many voted for her as she was seen as the best chance to unseat Flavell.

In Te Tai Tonga, where Labour’s majority over the Maori Party was considered safe, the Green Party is now standing co-leader Metiria Turei, damaging Rino Tirikatene’s path back to parliament.

A big part of the deal comes down to Te Tai Tokerau, the Northland seat previously held by Harawira first as a Maori Party MP, then as MANA, was won by Labour’s Kelvin Davis in 2014. Davis holds a slim majority, but has gained significant credentials in his first term; even Harawira refused to say anything bad of the MP’s work when pressed on Three’s The AM Show. In fact, Harawira was clinical in saying the fight was not against Davis, but against Labour, National, ACT and New Zealand First who he believed had all conspired to oust him. Harawira’s image was tarnished in 2014 after signing a deal with the Internet Party and Kim Dotcom to form the ‘Internet MANA’ ticket. Harawira now says he entirely regrets siding with Dotcom.

Harawira has stressed the cosiness with the Maori Party will end the day before the election, and the parties will not necessarily support the same party if they have any say in negotiating the next government. The Maori Party appears tight in its confidence and supply with the National government, and Harawira refused to say in blanket terms that he’d completely rule out signing with National. However, Harawira initially left the Maori Party over their co-operation with National.

Make New Zealand’s Rivers Swimmable Again
On Thursday Bill English, Nathan Guy and Nick Smith stood beside a river to announce another National Party policy. The government will now commit to making sure all waterways are swimmable by 2040, a target being slammed as weak by the opposition. The government wants to work with farmers, environmental groups and Maori to meet the targets. Currently, Wellington has some of the safest waterways in the country – but even here 1 in 10 are deemed unsafe to enter.

Labour claims the policy is a “con job” that it is fast “falling apart”, claiming Nick Smith is simply altering what is deemed ‘swimmable’. According to Labour’s David Parker a river thought to be safe to enter under the new system would have a 1 in 20 chance in making a person sick. “Who would eat in a restaurant where one in twenty customers get sick? Apparently, Nick Smith would” Parker said in a press release.

The Green Party says it has a comprehensive policy on making rivers safe to swim in again. The party says it will safeguard rivers similar to how national parks are currently protected, set robust new standards for water quality and halt the construction of any new dams.

Currently it falls under the jurisdiction of regional councils to work with farmers to protect waterways, who have been accused as the primary polluter of rivers. The Taranaki Regional Council currently permits the fencing off of waterways in most areas, and financially assists farmers in fencing projects and the planting of bush along the water’s edge to stop run-off.

Yule to stand for National

Hastings mayor and chair of Local Government New Zealand, Lawrence Yule, has been confirmed to replace Craig Foss as National’s candidate for the southern Hawkes’ Bay seat of Tukituki. Yule has been mayor of the area during the water crisis that has seen dozens fall sick, and has been both praised and condemned for his response.

The incumbent MP Craig Foss, who has served the area since winning the seat off Labour’s Rick Barker in 2005, will retire at the election after twelve years in parliament. Yule will take on Anna Lorck, considered a rising star in the Labour Party, who managed to generate a swing towards her in 2014.

National holds a 6,490 vote majority over Labour in the electorate that incorporates the towns of Hastings and Havelock North, as well as a large portion of inland Hawkes Bay – dairy farming and wine country.

Lorck signalled she wants to fight the election on local issues, such as water, which was hugely successful for her neighbouring candidate Stuart Nash in 2014.

If successful, Yule says he would remain as Mayor until June next year as part of his commitment to locals to resolve the district’s water issues. He told the newspaper Hawkes’ Bay Today that he was “humbled by the support” he had received from the local National Party.

Meanwhile Labour has confirmed its Auckland Central candidate as Helen White, and their Illam candidate as local pastor Anthony Rimell.

Holt confirmed as Helensville candidate

Star recruit for the Green Party, broadcaster and sportswoman Hayley Holt, has been confirmed as the party’s Helensville candidate. The seat is currently held by former Prime Minister John Key who will retire at the election. The Greens placed second in Helensville in 2014 thanks to the work of sitting MP Kennedy Graham, who increased the Green vote significantly. Helensville also saw one of the largest swings against National – partly down to boundary changes which shifted the strong Green area of Piha Beach into the electorate.

The seat was marginal in 2002, when John Key won it by a margin of just over one thousand votes. Originally from the wealthy Auckland suburb of Epsom, Holt is a co-host on Prime Television’s The Crowd Goes Wild and Back Benches. She is also a professional snowboarder, a ballroom dancer, model, radio host and boxer.

So far Holt is the only candidate to declare her hand in the electorate.

New Zealand’s child poverty rate comes under scrutiny again

A new report by Amnesty has highlighted New Zealand’s child poverty rate. The report finds nearly one in three New Zealand children are in poverty. Dr Innes Asher of the University of Auckland said the government had done very little to fix it, despite John Key’s assurances after his victory in 2014 that child poverty would become a major issue for the government in this term.

However, the 2015 budget gave low-income families an extra $25 per week – the biggest increase in low-income payments in 30 years. Additional to that, the government has made numerous moves to increase the minimum wage.

Despite efforts, New Zealand’s poverty rate among children continues to grow. Also highlighted in the report was the country’s high level of “sexual violence against women and girls”, a “significant number of children suffering physical and psychological abuse and neglect”, a lack of progress on improvements to the Bill of Rights, a massively disproportionate number of Maori in prisons and the consideration of a formal extradition treaty with China (a state practicing capital punishment which Amnesty opposes).

The marginals:
Auckland Central (held by Nikki Kaye of National by a 600 vote majority versus Labour).
Hutt South (held by Trevor Mallard of Labour by a 709 vote majority versus National’s Chris Bishop. Virginia Andersen will be Labour’s candidate in 2017, replacing Mallard).
Ohariu (held by Peter Dunne of United Future by a 710 vote majority versus Labour).
Te Tai Tokerau (held by Kelvin Davis of Labour by a 743 vote majority versus the MANA Movement’s Hone Harawira).

The polls:
Latest poll (as of Friday, 24 Feb 2017)
Colmar Brunton poll for Jan/Feb:
National 46.0%, Labour 30.0%, Greens 11.0%, NZ First 11.0%, Maori 1.0%, ACT 1.0%, MANA Movement 1.0% United Future 0.0%, Conservative 0.0%, Internet Party 0.0%,
(GOVERNMENT 48.0% OPPOSITION 52.0%).

Poll change: National +0.0, Labour +3.0, Greens -1.5, NZ First +2.0, Maori -1.0, ACT +0.5, United Future -0.5, Conservative -0.5, Internet Party +0.0, MANA Movement +1.0

GOVERNMENT -1.0, OPPOSTION +3.5

Poll average: National 47.0%, Labour 28.0%, Greens 11.0%, NZ First 10.0%, Maori 1.3%, ACT 0.6%, MANA Movement 0.4%, Conservative 0.2%, United Future 0.1%.
(Greens -1.0, NZ First +1.0, ACT +0.1, MANA Movement +0.3, United Future +0.1)

Better Prime Minister poll: Bill English 31.0%, Winston Peters 8.0%, Andrew Little 7.0%, Jacinda Ardern 4.0%, John Key 2.0%.

The leaders’ social media performance:
Facebook ‘likes’ as at Thursday 2/02/2017
1) Winston Peters 74,265 (+550)
2) Bill English 73,967 (+619)
3) Andrew Little 30,075 (+93)
4) Metiria Turei 13,952 (+115)
5) Te Ururoa Flavell 12,801 (+35)
6) Marama Fox 8,018 (+26)
7) James Shaw 7,733 (+15)
8) David Seymour 4,614 (+130)
9) Peter Dunne 1,463 (+1,463)
Twitter followers
1) Metiria Turei 22.0K (+0.1)
3) Bill English 16.0K (+0.3)
2) Winston Peters 14.1K (+0.0)
4) Andrew Little 12.4K (+0.1)
5) Peter Dunne 8.2K (+0.0)
6) James Shaw 6.6K (+0.0)
7) Te Uruora Flavell 5.4K (+0.0)
8) Marama Fox 3.8K (+0.0)
9) David Seymour 3.6K (+0.0)

– Bennett Morgan, Capital HardTalk.

Europe Dispatch — 24th February 2017

A weekly round-up of the biggest news from across the Old Continent.

 

Britain – The House of Commons debated this week on the merits of the state visit offered to President Trump days after his inauguration. Two petitions, one with 1.8 million signatures calling for the invitation to be rescinded, and one with 310,000 signatures supporting the visit were both debated, as is the rule for any petition that gathers more than 100,000. The move was purely symbolic, as the government has made clear they have no intention of changing their position; though opposition lawmakers were given the ability to vent their frustrations. Labour MP Paul Flynn denounced the president as possessing a ‘ceaseless incontinence of free speech’ and responded to a question from Green Party co-leader Caroline Lucas by decrying Trump’s ‘cavernous depths of scientific ignorance’ on the issue. Alex Salmond, former First Minister of Scotland and current SNP MP accused the Prime Minister of ‘fawning subservience’. In the past 50 years, only two US presidents have been afforded a state visit: George W. Bush in 2003, and Barack Obama in 2016, where he made a high-profile intervention in the then-ongoing EU referendum campaign.

Two by-elections are being held in England today, following the resignation of Labour MPs Jamie Reed and Tristram Hunt in Copeland and Stoke-on-Trent Central, respectively. Both are expected to be pitched battles in seats the Labour Party has held since the 1950s. At time of writing the polls have just closed, but no results have been announced. A full write-up will be available on the Capital Hardtalk website when these results are known.

France – It’s been a week of intense campaigning for both Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen that saw both candidates on high-profile events outside of France, courting the votes of expat communities. Macron started the week by taking a hit in the polls after making controversial comments during a television interview in Algiers, the Algerian capital. The North African nation won its independence from France in 1962 following an intensely bloody and asymmetric seven-year war. Macron condemned France’s colonial history in Algeria, calling it a ‘crime against humanity’. This marks some of the strongest language against France’s actions in Algeria said by a French politician; the emotional resonance the conflict has today among ordinary Frenchmen has led to little appetite for open dialogue. Centre-right candidate François Fillon, who had previously described France’s colonial history as the nation ‘sharing its culture’, accused Macron of ‘stabbing France in the back’ with these remarks. Macron earned better media coverage later that week, speaking to more than 3,500 Frenchmen at a rally in London, before engaging in a private meeting with Prime Minister May at 10 Downing Street.

Marine Le Pen, of the far-right National Front, has also taken to overseas campaigning, spending two days courting the votes of French nationals in Lebanon. The visit included a meeting with President Michel Aoun, the Middle East’s only Christian head of state, and Sunni Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, though the largest press coverage came from her cancelled meeting with Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Latif Derian, the country’s highest Sunni religious figure. The cancellation stemmed from Le Pen’s refusal to wear a headscarf during the meeting, though the Grand Mufti’s office has released a statement claiming Le Pen’s aides had been informed in advance she would need to wear one. Le Pen, an anti-immigrant candidate who has faced repeated claims of Islamophobia, has continually supported a ban on headscarves in all public places in France.

Another fake jobs scandal in French politics this week, this time moving from the centre-right to the far-right. French police searched the National Front headquarters in following allegations of misuse of European Union funds. Le Pen, a Member of the European Parliament, allegedly paid her bodyguard more than €41,000 in 2011 and her Paris-based assistant slightly under €300,000 from 2010 to 2016 by claiming they were EU parliamentary assistants. To qualify as a parliamentary assistant, one must be physically working at a European Parliament office in either Brussels, Strasbourg, or Luxembourg. Le Pen has refused to pay the €340,000 being demanded by OLAF, the European anti-fraud office, and has claimed the investigation is politically motivated.

Good news for Macron’s candidacy late in the week, following the announcement that the 39-year old liberal political upstart had forged an alliance with veteran centrist candidate François Bayrou. Bayrou, 65, a three-time presidential candidate and leader of the centrist Democratic Movement (MoDem) announced in a press conference that he would not stand for president this year and instead work to have Macron elected. Bayrou described his decision as a ‘sacrifice’, but stated he believed the risks present in this election were too high, a pointed jab at the electoral prospects of Marine Le Pen. Following his greatest electoral performance in the first round of the 2007 election, in which he won 18.57% of the vote, Bayrou won 9.13% in the first round of the 2012 election. His endorsement makes it more likely that Macron will make it through to the all-important second round run-off, after a week that saw his polling lead over centre-right François Fillon tighten significantly.

Ireland –Enda Kenny, the Taoiseach (Prime Minister) of Ireland has announced that he will address questions surrounding his leadership once he returns from the traditional St Patrick’s Day visit to the United States. The announcement put to rest rumours that he would face a motion of no confidence, following criticism of the government’s handling of accusations that a police whistle-blower had his reputation attacked for revealing corruption in the police’s driving licence penalty system. Kenny had already announced previously he would not lead his Fine Gael party through another general election, though MPs from his party held fears that the police whistle-blower scandal could have led to an unpopular Kenny facing an early election. Kenny, 65, was first elected to the Dáil (National Assembly) in 1975, and was elected Taoiseach in 2011. He is so far the only Fine Gael leader to win re-election as Taoiseach in Irish history.

Italy – A major schism in Italy’s governing Democratic Party is spilling out into the open, following the resignation of party leader Matteo Renzi to launch a fresh leadership contest. Renzi, who served as Prime Minister until December 2016 when he resigned following a referendum loss, faces challengers from the party’s left, who argue the party has abandoned its traditional leftist and working class roots. Renzi called the contest following concerns that left-wing MPs and senators were considering creating a splinter party, which would likely fracture the left-wing vote in the coming general election. Renzi, who has said accused his challengers of inadvertently helping the populist Five Star Movement, will face a challenge from Michele Emiliano, the populist left-wing president of the Apulia region.

Polls:
France (Ifop-Fiducial): First round — Marine Le Pen (National Front) 26.5%, Emmanuel Macron (En Marche!) 22.5%, François Fillon (Republican) 20.5%, Benoît Hamon (Socialist) 13.5%, Jean-Luc Mélenchon (Unsubmissive France) 11%, others 6%.

Second round — Marine Le Pen (National Front) 39%, Emmanuel Macron (En Marche!) 61%.

Germany (INSA / YouGov) CDU/CSU 31.5%, SPD 30%, Left 9.5%, Greens 6.5%, FDP 5.5%, AfD 11%, others 6%.

United Kingdom (ICM / The Guardian) Conservatives 44%, Labour 26%, UKIP 13%, Libereal Democrats 8%, SNP 4%, Greens 4%, others 1%.

Italy (EMG) Democratic Party 29.8%, Five Star Movement 28.7%, Forward Italy 12.1%, Northern League 13.2%, Italian Left 3%, Brothers of Italy 4.5%, Popular Area 3%, others 7%.

Five things to read this week:

1. This piece from the BBC’s chief correspondent Gavin Hewitt, looking ahead to the year’s elections in the Netherlands, France, and Germany.

2. This profile from Politico Europe of Julia Reda, the only MEP representing the German Pirate Party.

3. This column from The Guardian, arguing that Spain’s sleeplessness problem stems from the country’s placement in the wrong time zone.

4. This dispatch from Foreign Policy’s Julie Smith on the façade of status quo at this year’s Munich Security Conference, and annual meeting of world leaders and diplomats.

5. An article in The Atlantic this week on the effect of Marine Le Pen’s politics in Francophone Quebec.

 

Also watch:
This ten minute video from The Guardian’s ‘Anywhere but Westminster’ documentary series, meeting with the people of Stoke-on-Trent before today’s by-election.

 

  • Taran Molloy, Capital Hardtalk

State of the race #7: Dunne deal to seal Ohariu

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The last week has been, quite unlike the last, largely absent of notable election news. The Port Hills fires have hit pause on campaigning overall, with the government being tested over its response to a serious disaster.

Whilst the Prime Minister’s response appears to be measured and pragmatic, attention in Christchurch has been shifted to minister and local Ilam MP Gerry Brownlee. On Friday RadioLIVE host Alison Mau wrote an opinion piece for Newshub strongly criticising Brownlee. Mau had been hosting her radio program from Christchurch during the fires.

Mau wrote that on Thursday Brownlee had “upset” the mayors of Christchurch and Selwyn, the two territorial authorities dealing with the blaze, by criticising the councils for not putting in place a declaration of emergency earlier. By the time Mau interviewed Brownlee following his bout of criticism, the minister said he wouldn’t comment on the issue, saying it would take focus away from the hard work of local firefighters.

However, by Friday the minister was back to making his criticisms, this time issuing statements. Ironically, despite not wanting to talk about the issue the day before out of concern for civil defense workers, Brownlee angered the same people on Friday. Christchurch Civil Defense controller John Mackie was reportedly stunned by Brownlee’s statements, telling media the minister was achieving nothing.

Mau concluded in her article that after a disaster week Brownlee needed “a wet flannel and a lie down”.

Local MP has Twitter hijacked – by own family

Meanwhile the National MP Nuk Korako has been forced to apologise after several tweets were sent from his account, allegedly written by the MP’s son and nephew. The account tweeted to Labour member and former Illam candidate James Macbeth Dann “why are you breathing???” after Dann tweeted poking fun at an earlier tweet by Korako.

Dann later hit back, tweeting “’My son had my iphone’ is the new ‘tired and emotional’”.

After arguing with Dann and several other users, the young culprit wrote “really, I had better put Dads phone back as had my fun now. No wonder he never responds to you dicks”.

Korako the elder has taken full responsibility for the incident.

Korako, who is touted as well-performing local MP with strong connections to the area, has been re-selected for the National Party to run against Labour’s Ruth Dyson. Dyson has been the local MP for the area under various electorate names since 1993, with a brief stint as a List MP from 1996 to 1999.

Greens and Labour learn the art of the deal

It has its roots in the now infamous ‘Teapot tapes’ of 2011, when John Key and ACT candidate for Epsom John Banks discussed an electorate deal to secure the seat for ACT. The deal has existed since then, with John Key endorsing David Seymour, now ACT leader, for the Epsom seat in 2014 when John Banks stood aside. But National has never withdrawn a candidate from the seat, instead keeping a candidate to secure the party vote – and its worked. At the 2014 poll David Seymour won 43.0% of the candidate vote and National won 63.4% of the party vote.

On the weekend Labour selected former Police Association head Greg O’Connor to be its candidate for the north Wellington seat of Ohariu. At the last election the Labour candidate, Virginia Andersen, won 34.6% to Peter Dunne’s 36.5%. Meanwhile the Green candidate, Tane Woodley, won 7.4%. It is a popular belief that if Woodley were to stand aside in that election, his votes would have helped to get the Labour candidate across the line, defeating Dunne who is a crucial support partner for the government.

If Dunne were to lose his seat, it is likely that the National Party would need to increase its party vote support. Either that, or the Maori Party would need to pick up an extra seat currently held by Labour.

Labour has been criticised by media and National for being hypocritical after criticising electorate deals for years. Most particularly criticism has been directed towards Labour leader Andrew Little, who in 2011 attacked the National-ACT alliance in New Plymouth after they struck a deal in the electorate; ACT stood aside there in what was then the most marginal seat in the country, helping incumbent Jonathan Young to an easy victory over Little.

But both Little and Greens co-leader James Shaw have insisted there is “no deal”. They are maintaining the decision by the Greens to not stand in Ohariu was made independently by the Green Party leadership as part of the party’s desire to change the government.

There had been some uncertainty over the Greens standing down in Ohariu following Labour’s decision to stand in Nelson, where the Greens had hoped to run unchallenged on the left. Labour has selected Rachel Boyack to run against the Greens and National’s Nick Smith.

Peter Dunne has had a far better term than his last, and this is expected to boost his performance. Whether it will be enough to see off O’Connor remains to be seen. O’Connor’s campaign, with the backing of far larger party machinery, has already kicked off.

Greens star misses out on Central spot

There has been some level of shock after Green Party star and former Auckland mayoral candidate Chloe Swarbrick was beaten in a selection battle. Swarbrick had hoped to win the Green Party’s Auckland Central candidacy but was beaten by former candidate and MP Denise Roche. Roche won 7.6% of the candidate vote in 2014, although the Greens hold a massive stake in the party vote – 22.1% – higher than Labour’s.

With Ardern now standing in Mount Albert, Labour will now have to select a new candidate. Lawyer Helen White and educator Shanan Halbert are contesting a selection for the party. The winner will take on Roche and Nikki Kaye, the incumbent National MP.

It is unclear if Swarbrick will contest selection for any other seat, but Epsom and Maungakiekie have both been suggested as suitable seats.

Voting begins in Mount Albert

Following the #WarForMountAlbert multi-party debate hosted by local radio station 95b FM, advance voting is surging. The debate hosted Labour’s Jacinda Ardern, the Greens’ Julie-Anne Genter and the new “radical centre” Opportunities Party candidate, economist Geoff Simmons. Advance voting statistics show that early voting is well up on the 2014 election, a result which was unexpected after the National Party decided not to contest the electorate.

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Little continues national tour as Dunedin suffers job losses

Labour’s leader has continued his nationwide tour, visiting rural centres and cities alike to discuss the future of jobs. Little was in Gisborne on Thursday with Labour’s East Coast candidate Kiri Allan, discussing bringing jobs and businesses back to the struggling region. However, it is Dunedin that has witnessed the latest series of job losses, following what has so far been a sluggish year for the city – it recently fell behind the Bay of Plenty city of Tauranga as New Zealand’s 6th largest city. And, if you count Napier-Hastings as one entity, Dunedin is now 7th.

Not assisting that is the closure of Dunedin’s iconic Cadbury chocolate factory, a huge local employer. Dunedin South MP Clare Curran, who worked in the factory in her younger years, said the announcement was “shocking news”. Mayor Dave Cull agreed the closure was devastating. Cadbury’s, who were in talks with union organisers on Friday, said it was a financial decision – 2/3 of the products produced at the Dunedin site are shipped to Australia, and shifting the factory across the Tasman would eliminate the cost of shipping. Thousands of Kiwis have already voiced outrage, saying they will boycott Cadbury’s products and instead buy Porirua-produced Whittaker’s.

All this will leave Dunedin voters asking which parties will provide future economic security. The National Party will approach the election on the grounds they have ensured economic stability, which statistics will back up as a truth. But that growth has largely been a result of Auckland’s surging growth and the construction boom in Christchurch. Labour and New Zealand First will both approach the election on rural dissatisfaction as regional growth lags.

Little was well-received in Dunedin the other week, launching a policy proposal to bring digital jobs to the city in front of a crowd of 400. The Otago Daily Times reported “Business and civic leaders were unanimous in their praise for Labour’s ambitious plans to create a multimillion-dollar centre of digital excellence in Dunedin”.

So, where regional jobs are concerned, it’s now the government’s turn to play catch-up.

The marginals:
Auckland Central (held by Nikki Kaye of National by a 600 vote majority versus Labour).
Hutt South (held by Trevor Mallard of Labour by a 709 vote majority versus National’s Chris Bishop. Virginia Andersen will be Labour’s candidate in 2017, replacing Mallard).
Ohariu (held by Peter Dunne of United Future by a 710 vote majority versus Labour).
Te Tai Tokerau (held by Kelvin Davis of Labour by a 743 vote majority versus the MANA Movement’s Hone Harawira).

The polls:
Latest poll (as of Friday, 17 Feb 2017) (No change)
Roy Morgan poll for November/December 
National 46.0%, Labour 27.0%, Greens 12.5%, NZ First 9.0%, Maori 2.0%, ACT 0.5%, United Future 0.5%, Conservative 0.5%, Internet Party 0.0%, MANA Movement 0.0%
(GOVERNMENT 49.0% OPPOSITION 48.5%).

Poll change: National +1.0, Labour -1.5, Greens -2.0, NZ First +1.5, Maori +1.0, ACT +0.0, United Future +0.5, Conservative +0.0, Internet Party -0.5, MANA Movement +0.0.

GOVERNMENT +3.0, OPPOSTION -3.0

Poll average: National 47%, Labour 28%, Greens 12%, NZ First 9%, Maori 1.3%, ACT 0.5%, Conservative 0.2%, MANA Movement 0.1%, United Future 0.0%.
(Greens +1)

The leaders’ social media performance:
Facebook ‘likes’ as at Thursday 2/02/2017
1) Winston Peters 73,715 (+973)
2) Bill English 73,348 (+2,301)
3) Andrew Little 29,982 (+138)
4) Metiria Turei 13,837 (+141)
5) Te Ururoa Flavell 12,766 (+26)
6) Marama Fox 7,992 (+10)
7) James Shaw 7,718 (+27)
8) David Seymour 4,484 (+111)
Twitter followers
1) Metiria Turei 21.9K                   (+0.1)
3) Bill English 15.7K                       (+0.5)
2) Winston Peters 14.1K               (+0.1)
4) Andrew Little 12.3K                  (+0.0)
5) Peter Dunne 8.2K                      (-0.1)
6) James Shaw 6.6K                       (+0.1)
7) Te Uruora Flavell 5.4K              (+0.0)
8) Marama Fox 3.8K                      (+0.1)
9) David Seymour 3.6K                 (+0.0)

– Bennett Morgan, Capital HardTalk.