Bridges too far?

Did Simon Bridges got to far in seeking cost details on Northland bridges?

Mr Bridges’ office asked the NZ Transport Agency for information on the bridges and estimated costs of upgrading them prior to the byelection announcement that National would upgrade 10 one-way bridges.

Andrew Little thinks he did.

Labour’s leader Andrew Little said that was a clear breach of the rules for ministers’ use of public officials and Mr Bridges should be sacked.

John Key thinks he didn’t.

Mr Key said he did not believe it was a breach.

“My understanding is it’s quite okay to ask for information. You’re quite free to do that. The issue is whether you’ve got policy advice and Mr Bridges didn’t do that.”

The Cabinet Manual seems unclear.

The Cabinet Manual states that “any requests [ministers] make for advice or information from their officials is for the purposes of their portfolio responsibilities and not for party political purposes”.

Bridges would be responsible for fulfilling the bridges bribe so should be basing decisions on advice and information. Many policy decisions can be both part of Governance and for party political purposes – trying to get re-elected.

Anthony Robins at The Standard thinks it’s clear in Burn the Cabinet Manual:

Key won’t take any action over Simon Bridges’ clear breach (excellent work by Rob Salmond at Polity) of the Cabinet Manual. So, might as well burn the thing, at least for the remainder of this government’s term. Key has no intention of being held to account, or holding his ministers to account, by or for anything at all.

Did Helen Clark and Michael Cullen get advice and information before making their famous election rescuing Student Loan bribe? Was any Minister sacked as a result of that? I’m sure there are numerous examples of advice or information from officials being used for election (party political) purposes.

David Farrar at Kiwiblog calls it A beltway beltway issue.

I don’t believe that anything Simon Bridges did, is a breach of the Cabinet Manual. But regardless this is what you call a classic beltway issue. The number of people who get excited over this is miniscule. Mrs Jones in New Plymouth and Mr Smith in Hamilton want jobs, incomes, decent schools, good healthcare etc.

The sort of people who think this is great politics are the same sort who orgasm over who won question time in the House. I know, because I used to be one of them.

Ecch. But he may have a point, no matter how awfully he has put it.

In comments yesterday on Your NZ Alan Wilkinson commented:

This is b.s. If a Government makes a promise before a by-election it has to implement it and therefore it has to cost it responsibly and accurately.

Totally different to before a general election when it may not be reelected. No matter what the Cabinet manual says the Minister was making a promise in his ministerial capacity which he would have to implement and therefore fund.

Just to add the obvious corollary to this, in a by-election if the Cabinet Manual rule were to be applied it would mean the Government’s opponents in the by-election would be free to promise anything they wished and the Government’s candidate would be unable to promise anything new. Farcical nonsense. It shows exactly how incompetent or biased MSM journalism is that this is not pointed out and the opposition’s arguments rubbished.

There might turn out to be some sort of technical breach of the Cabinet Manual but Alan’s comments make sense to me.

Flipper at Kiwiblog:

The closest that anyone has comes to the true worth of “The Cabinet Manual”: is Helen Clark. She amended “it” to suit each circumstance…and to her benefit.

The reality is that the manual is just a collection of “thou shalt nots” (well if it suits the PM), and “:thou shalls”. It has no stranding in law because it is not backed (compiled pursuant to) by a statute. Many matters upon which it offers guidance may well (probably are) covered by Statute. At best the manual is a collection of Executive fiats.

Back to the instigator of the beat-up to far, Rob Salmond at Polity, who responded to Farrar’s post in The “beltway” response:

By “acted in a political way,” of course, he means “breached the rules of his office.” Also, good luck passing off the actual job of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, to hold the government to account for its actions, as “crying wah wah.”

I agree about Mrs Jones and Mr Smith, though. This is not an election defining issue. I’m guessing Labour’s 2017 election campaign won’t have much to do with this issue, in the same way National’s 2008 campaign didn’t say too much about Taito Philip Field.

The thing about so-called “beltway” issues is that they aren;t much good at election time in their own right, but if a number of similar issues emerge around a government then it forms a more general impression which does matter in elections. That was how National used Field. In National’s case, that general impression might be “arrogant” or “liars” or “duplicitous” or “corrupt.” They’re certainly handing out plenty of material…

So Salmond doesn’t seem to think think this is much of a big deal but is trying to chip away at National’s credibility.

Rob would help his own credibility on this if he didn’t try and compare what Simon Bridges did with what Taito Philip Field – Field was charged with “15 counts of bribery and 25 of attempting to pervert the course of justice”.

Field was jailed for six years on corruption charges, with the sentencing judge saying his offending threatened the foundation of democracy and justice.

Likening this to Bridges going too far seeking Ministerial information and advice looks like a beat-up too far.

A Little overshadowed in Parliament

Andrew Little has looked subdued and perhaps uncomfortable in Parliament this week. He is operating in the shadow of Winston Peters, who is at his best/worst at stirring up the House. This winds up John Key into full flight, and it’s not something that Little enjoys by the look of him yesterday.

Question Time was led by Peters, who again tested David Carter’s patience and was again threatened with ejection. NZ First colleague Ron Mark also joined the fray, fraying the patience of the Speaker.

Key revelled in the heated atmosphere, perhaps it is a release valve from his perpetual pressures as Prime Minister. It doesn’t look pretty at times.

After a patsy question it was Little’s turn to be ridiculed, and that happened at Key’s first opportunity. Not surprisingly Little didn’t seem to like it.

[Sitting date: 01 April 2015. Volume:704;Page:4. Text is subject to correction.]

3. ANDREW LITTLE (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister : Does he stand by his statement that “falling off a high horse in Northland can force ACC levies up”; if so, is that why the Government has set work and earners levies above the levels recommended by ACC?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): I say to the junior leader of the Opposition—

Mr SPEAKER : Order!

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : —yes and no.

Mr SPEAKER : Order! [Interruption] Order! It is that sort of start to the answer that does not help the order of this House.

But the point had been made – earlier in the week Little tried to talk up his status as ‘Leader of the Opposition’ but after handing over everything to Peters in Northland he is also being overshadowed substantially by Peters in Parliament.

The exchange ended with a a weakly asked question from Little, responded to very strongly by Key.

Little has a double challenge – trying to assert some sort of ascendancy over Peters, and if he manages that trying to go toe to toe with Key.

At least with Russel Norman bowing out of leadership last year’s dominant Opposition leader Little doesn’t have to compete there as well. For now.

But trying to better Peters and equal Key will be difficult, especially since rolling over to Peters in Northland. Parliament now has a three week recess (politicians get a long Easter), giving Little and his strategy team to think of a way of standing tall.

In Parliament yesterday he looked stooped.

The rest of Question 3 transcript:

Andrew Little : Is his concern about horses in Northland really about high horses, or well-run thoroughbreds?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : All I know is that in 2014, like in 2011 and 2008, we went off to the races and we won big time.

Andrew Little : Given that ACC itself has recommended against the $350 million overcharge, why is National forcing Kiwi businesses and workers to pay excess ACC levies that even ACC says it does not want or need?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : I would remind the member, firstly, that the ACC board often makes a range of recommendations. In 2010-11 the Government actually increased ACC levies by $1.137 billion less than what was recommended by ACC. Today, actually, I read an interesting quote that said the following: “The Employers’ levy remains the same at an average of 90 cents per $100 of payroll. Although ACC recommended a reduced levy rate of 85 cents, the government decided there was a need to give employers more stability in levy rates from year to year, as well as building up reserves.” That was from Lianne Dalziel, Labour’s ACC Minister in 2002-03.

Andrew Little : Moving on 13 years to this year, is it in the public interest, particularly the interests of levy payers, for ACC to take more in levies than it needs and more than it wants when its work and earners accounts are already overflowing; if so, how?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : I take it from the member that he is thinking that we should do as he says, not as Labour has done. That seems to be the subtext of his question. I go back to the point I made earlier. Over time the ACC board has made a series of recommendations. The Government adopts what it thinks is right. It is on track to do that. As you know, from 1 April—today—there have been further cuts. There will be more on 1 July, I think from memory. It is on track for about $1.5 billion worth of cuts in the last 12 to 18 months alone.

Andrew Little : Given his failure to end his ACC rip-off this year, will he now commit to cutting next year’s ACC levies by at least $350 million in the coming Budget; if not, why on earth not?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : What the Government will do is get a further set of recommendations, as is required by law, from the ACC board and consider those in context. But I would make a couple of points, and that is that if one looks at ACC and the factors that drive its levy recommendations, one sees that there are a number of moving factors in there, including the discount rate. So the member just better be a little bit careful what he wishes for, because the ACC board may well come out with a recommendation he does not like.

Andrew Little : Why did he fail to tell New Zealanders that most of his ACC reductions were just reversing his Government’s earlier levy hikes, put in place because of Nick Smith’s creative and fake crisis as the smokescreen for privatisation? Why does he not reverse those? Tell the truth.

Mr SPEAKER : Order!

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : It is true that this Government put up ACC levies when we first came into office. [Interruption] Interestingly enough, the member says “unnecessarily”. The recommendation from the board, which, by the way, he wants us to adopt this year, was to put them up by $1.3 billion, and the reason the board wanted them to go up by so much was that Labour left ACC unfunded and broke. What a disgrace from the Labour Opposition. What a disgrace.

Winston Peters apologises, pledges to work constructively

A very sober looking Winston Peters made several apologies last night and pledged to work constructively, first for the people of Northland who voted for him, second for the good of Parliament and of the country, and third to restore his credibility as a politician (Winston third).

Press Release
Winston Peters (NZ First Party)
31 March 2015

First I want to apologise to the people of Northland for using them as a means of carrying out political utu. I pledge to put their interests first and to work hard and diligently for the betterment of Northland.

Second I apologise the the Speaker David Carter for acting like a petulant child in Parliament and disrespecting the Chair and the House. I am sorry I acted like as bad a winner as Brad Haddin.

Third I apologise to John Key for calling him ‘a spolt brat’ and ‘lad’. I was the one who acted like a childish brat. I respect Key as the Prime Minister and work with him as best I can in a constructive manner for the benefit of Northland and the country.

Fourth I apologise to Andrew Little, who I ran all over after he threw Willow-Jean Prime under my campaign bus. He clapped me as loudly as anyone in the Labour caucus when I first rose in Parliament after my win. I thank him for what he’s done for me and humbly recognise him as the rightful Leader of the Opposition. I will go and talk to him about what I can do for Labour as soon as he summons me.

Now the euphoria of my grand triumph has worn off a bit I pledge to put the interests of the Northland electorate first and foremost, as I promised in the campaign.

I also pledge to start respecting the sanctity of Parliament and authority of the Speaker and act in accordance with positive and constructive politics.

And only my third priority I am determined to restore my dignity and credibility to the highest level it was at over the last forty years of my career.

A senior journalist, who wishes to remain anonymous, remarked “I’m shattered. If Winston reforms and becomes sensible, co-operative and constructive I’ll never get any headlines off him. Which politician will we laud over and promote now?”

Peters – kingmaker or King Cranky?

I had a brief hope that his win in Northland would give Winston Peters a new challenge in his old stomping ground, where he could work out his swan song for the good of his own people.

But it doesn’t appear that his focus was on one electorate. His reaction over the last couple of days is a confusion of king-maker and King.

He seems to think an electorate win in Northland means he can now call all the shots in Wellington.

And he seems to despise Johnny-come-lately Key holding the reins of power…

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters says Prime Minister John Key is “acting like a spoilt brat” by saying he doubted Mr Peters would work constructively with National.

“I’m not going to have Mr Key roaring when his toys have been taken out of the cot, as they were last Saturday, making these sort of protestations. What you’re getting now is protestations of innocence and good faith which don’t exist. The National Party has not come to us.”

…along with anyone who might compete as king-maker.

Mr Peters’ win has meant National can no longer rely on only Act to pass legislation, giving increased influence to United Future’s Peter Dunne and the Maori Party.

However, Mr Peters said he had no intention of letting those parties flex their muscle. “I’ve made it very clear that we didn’t slog it out up north to have them in any way think they are going to be the beneficiaries of it. No way will Peter Dunne, the Act Party or Maori Party be allowed to behave in this way.”

NZ Herald

He’s going to somehow make Key work with him (by abusing him) and exclude the three parties with a proven willingness to work constructively with National?

Key isn’t going to roll over for Peters like Little did – talking about that, Labour seeks closer relationship with NZ First:

Little told Radio New Zealand’s Morning Report on Tuesday that it had been weeks since he had met with Peters, but he intended to do so this week.

“As leader of the Opposition, it’s my job to forge as best a relationship as possible with all the parties,” he said.

“I’ve been working with the Greens and will work more closely with NZ First now the by-election is out of the way.”

Little got sucked in and spat out by Peters in Northland, and his response was to roll over thinking it would somehow benefit Labour. Peters will barely waste time sneering at that naivety.

He seems to think he’s not just Leader of the Opposition but also the newly anointed King (Cranky).

Of a very childish variety. His performance in Parliament today was farcical from his first word, which was “Boo!”

Key understands Peters far better than Little. Just after the by-election: Winston won’t play ball: Key

“For the most part, if we are in favour of something, he is opposed,” Mr Key said from Melbourne last night.

“We’re always more than happy to talk to him and we’ve tried in the past and we’re certainly happy to try in the future.”

But Mr Key was not hopeful.

He said Mr Peters had made a lot of commitments to the people of Northland during the by-election campaign.

“He has told them he is going to change their lives, so what I am telling him is that if he is really genuine about that, that it won’t happen through rhetoric, it will happen through action.

“If he wants to be part of that, then we are happy to work with him, but history tells you that that is not his strong suit.”

It’s not just history tells you that. Today in Parliament:

I’m not sure that’s the sort of message Northland meant. Peters acts like he’s too big for Parliament let alone one wee electorate in the far north.

It looks like just a game to him, and if today is any indication of his approach to his new responsibilities then he doesn’t want anyone else with the ball – except for a compliant media lobbing lollipop microphones in his direction.

Northland may have been sucked in as much as Little and Labour. How soon voters’ remorse?

Gutless Government and Parliament avoiding euthanasia issue

Stuff reports that Politicians shy away from ‘risky’ euthanasia issue.

It’s more than being shy of a controversial issue. Parties and politicians are gutlessly avoiding addressing a serious issue that literally impacts on people’s lives and their right to choose when and how the may end their own lives.

It’s not an easy issue to debate but that isn’t a reasonable excuse for shying away from dealing with it.

Politicians are lagging a long way behind public opinion on euthanasia but refuse to debate the issue because of the political risk, says a Green Party MP.

…the Government and Labour were steering well clear of any policy around the legalisation of euthanasia, but Green Party MP Kevin Hague said their position came down to the issue being too controversial and divisive.

Greens don’t seem to be doling much about it either. Nor any of the other parties.

This has come to attention again because…

A prominent Wellington lawyer is looking to set a legal precedent by asking the High Court to allow her to die on her own terms.

Lecretia Seales, 41, a public law specialist, is dying of an inoperable brain tumour and is petitioning to uphold her right to die at the time of her choosing.

It’s a real shame someone who is dying and has little chance of any legal assistance in time is left having trying to promote debate.

The chances of the Government addressing it were greater if an organisation, such as the Law Commission, led public consultation on euthanasia, [Hague] said.

“That would kind of relieve some of the political risk that I know governments are scared of.”

Not just governments. All of Parliament is scared of dealing with important issues. Gutless. But not always.

Former New Zealand First MP Peter Brown, who watched his wife die of cancer, drafted a Death with Dignity Bill in 2003.

It was voted down by 60 votes to 57.

That was a close vote, twelve years ago.

Former Labour MP Maryan Street proposed and championed the End-of-Life Choice Bill, which was taken over by her Labour colleague, Iain Lees-Galloway, the MP for Palmerston North, when Street failed to return to Parliament.

But…

However, Labour leader Andrew Little told him to drop it as the party had more pressing issues to attend to.

Yesterday, Little said the party’s priorities were unchanged but it wasn’t up to opposition parties and if public opinion was strong, it was for the Government to respond.

So what are opposition parties for. To put priority on their own self interest and ignore important public issues?  Gutless.

During the election campaign in New Plymouth last year, Little said he heard from a prominent doctor who claimed medical professionals made the decision to increase medication where necessary and in the appropriate situations.

“If we take that at face value, doctors are saying they manage the situation regardless.”

However, Little said that didn’t provide a solution to the gap in the law.

The law serves the rights of dying people – and doctors – very poorly. But Little has chosen to avoid any responsibility for trying to act for those constituents.

Deputy Prime Minister Bill English said he had a personal interest in Seales’ progress in the High Court but legalising euthanasia was a “notoriously divisive issue” and wasn’t a priority for the Government.

The suffering of dying people and the denial of their rights to choose for themselves is ‘not a priority’ for a gutless Government.

While Hague said his Green colleagues would like to see a debate, the party hadn’t reached an agreement on a euthanasia policy.

“We haven’t worked out how to create a regime that doesn’t have the risk of being abused.”

Another example of Greens talking the talk but not being prepared to walk the walk. They claim to be principled but that looks selective and self-interested.

By avoiding dealing with the issue, by making excuses, by refusing to even discuss possible options for dealing with people suffering as they die, New Zealand’s Parliament, it’s MPs and all the parties are being not just weak. They’re gutless.

I wonder if there are any doctors who would be prepared to assist Lecretia Seales and openly defy the law, and expose the inaction of Parliament?

What does Labour have to do from here?

Since their election failure Labour under Andrew Little’s leadership have recovered in the polls a bit but have a long way to go to be able to compete head to head with National without being seen as a Labour+Green or Labour+NZ First package

Last year they were seen as needing to be a Labour+Green+NZ First+Internet Mana package which wasn’t popular with voters.

Rolling over to Winston Peters as soon as he stepped up in Northland and (unless the voters revolt) coming a distant third in the by-election won’t help their recovery.

Colin James in his weekly column yesterday:

Labour’s course over the past 50 years has been down off a big vote based on unions and the working class to a party with no solid voting base and an unconvincing policy pitch. A distant third in the Northland by-election on Saturday week won’t help.

Commonsense suggests a searching, brutal rethink.

That in effect will be former Deputy Prime Minister Michael Cullen’s message to a Christchurch Labour meeting on Thursday. Otherwise, he will warn, Labour might wither into minor-party status — not a place in which to celebrate the party’s centenary in 2018.

That is the context for Andrew Little’s drive to reconnect with middle New Zealand and wage workers in the suburbs and provinces and Robertson’s reapplication of century-old principles (as the “party of work and of the workers”) to modern realities in which work and workers aren’t what they used to be.

Little, from some accounts, is prompting some “selfies”. His down-to-earth manner connects much better than did his two predecessors’ personalities. That doesn’t put him in Key’s league but it holds some promise of repair.

And there is a wisp of poll evidence: from a 24 per cent average in November to 30 per cent in February.

That is a minimum of 8 points short of where Labour needs to be to form a credible, stable government in 2017 (Helen Clark got 38 per cent in her first win in 1999). But the trend (so far) has been up.

What does Labour have to do from here?

Good question. What should Labour do from here to become a major party player again? Or is that status history?

Little less worried about GCSB

Andrew Little sas he is “more assured about the activities of the GCSB” but continues to sound a little critical in an awkward situation where he now gets secret briefings he can’t talk about.

Audrey Young at NZ Herald reports Little a bit less worried about GCSB activities:

Labour leader Andrew Little says he is more assured about the activities of the GCSB than he was a week ago, but he said Prime Minister John Key and the minister responsible for the spy agencies, Chris Finlayson, had a duty to explain to the public what was and wasn’t happening.

Mr Little was critical last week of suggestions that the GCSB, the Government Communications Security Bureau, was undertaking mass collection of communications in the Pacific to pass on to the United States’ National Security Agency, claims based on documents taken by Edward Snowden from the NSA.

“From the public session I take a greater level of assurance than I had perhaps a week ago,” Mr Little told the Herald.

But…

…he said questions remained “and I still maintain that it is for political masters of those agencies to be accountable to the public about what is and isn’t happening”.

They are accountable, via him and other MPs on the committee and via the independent Inspector General.

He was speaking after the acting head of the GCSB, Una Jagose, and the director of the SIS, Rebecca Kitteridge, appeared before the Intelligence and Security Committee on which Mr Little sits.

See GCSB – less intelligence now (Una Jagose told the committee ” today we collect less intelligence than we did seven years ago” and “What we do is lawful and authorised and necessary and proportionate and all of it…subject to independent oversight”.

A bit bizarrely Little has been told more in a secret briefing but can’t talk about it – but keeps saying that the Government ministers should talk more openly about it all.

After the public sessions, the directors and MPs on the committee headed for a secure room in the Beehive where classified material could be discussed.

Little,,,

…said later he could not discuss what was discussed in the closed session.

So Little is less worried about the GCSB activities than he was a week ago, he thinks Ministers should reveal more but he can’t reveal what he has been told in secret.

He seems to be trying to sound like he’s holding to account while conceding things aren’t as bad as he has previously thought and said.

GCSB – less intelligence now

The new (acting) GCSB head Una Jagose claimed they gather less intelligence than seven years ago, not more.

“As I understand it, today we collect less intelligence than we did seven years ago…there hasn’t been any radical shift upwards as has been suggested in the media.”

Stuff reports in GCSB spies ‘collecting less intelligence’

And Jagose tried to respond to questions on mass collection of data asked in just the second time the GCSB has appeared in public before the Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee.

Much of the committee was dominated by whether the security agencies are undertaking indiscriminate collection of emails, telephone calls and social media messages.

Labour’s Andrew Little tried to get to the bottom of whether the agency carries out mass surveillance or collection, and what is meant by “full-take collection”, as referenced in the Snowden documents.

“It is very difficult to answer the question about what does it mean because it means different things to different people,” Jagose said.

“The connotation that I get from those phrases is some indiscriminate, for no purpose, not necessary collection of information for collection’s sake and we do not do that.

“What we do is lawful and authorised and necessary and proportionate and all of it…subject to independent oversight and you don’t have to take that from me. The public can take that from the systems that are to test that.”

On “full-take”, Jagose opted not to answer directly, citing a “tension” between the bureau’s need for secrecy and the public demand for transparency.

“I will not discuss matters that are or are not operational, details of the bureau, because that is not safe to do so… it is very difficult to say ‘yes we do some things, we don’t do some things.’ That is exactly the sorts of things that people who don’t have our interests at heart – and I don’t mean New Zealanders when I say that – people that are acting against New Zealand’s interests will find that information useful so we keep it close.

“But we don’t keep it from the Inspector General, the Commissioner [of Warrants], this committee.”

Jagose, and Security Intelligence Service director Rebecca Kitteridge, spent time detailing the oversight mechanisms both agencies are subject to.  Jagose says all collection of information by her agency must be done under a warrant.

“The very collection of information is authorised… so it’s not that we collect information and then seek authorisation for particular target issues. Everything we collect is authorised… the speculation in the public is that there is this wild collection of information for no purpose and then we have a look at it. In fact, collection is done for a purpose, and authorised.”

That’s certainly not what some of the more suspicious (or paranoid) anti-spy activists think. Some claim everything is collected and everything is stored by the USA forever.

David Shearer asked if it applied to all foreign intelligence surveillance.

“If we have a foreign intelligence target that we want to intercept, or otherwise access their communications, yes that is warranted,” she said. Inadvertently collected material from New Zealanders is destroyed, she said.

Little and Shearer also wanted details about how information was shared with countries in the Five Eyes intelligence alliance, which includes the US, Britain, Canada and Australia.

“We share training, we share resources but we don’t collect information for them. We collect the information for New Zealand and New Zealand purposes,” Jagose said. “Our Five Eyes partners also need to show why they need to see information, show it that it is lawful that they can look at that information.”

Kitteridge…

…says she takes into consideration factors such as a country’s human rights record when deciding whether to share information.

“There is quite careful consideration given in each case.”

These explanations didn’t satisfy Andrew Little who says that more clarity is required from the Ministers involved.

Little confirms premature white flag

Andrew Little has just been interviewed on Firstline. He repeated his stance of all but urging voters to vote for Winston Peters.

He also admitted that after two early polls Labour decided their candidate had no chance of winning the by-election.

So they have chosen a distant third rather than a creditable third. Or second. Or first.

The way Northland has developed in a week and a half anything could happen.

Like voters could decide that Peters is too risky and is little more than a cynical opportunist grandstanding. It’s quite feasible his initial poll bubble could burst.

National are also very vulnerable. Their bridge bribe risks repelling voters. Their candidate Mark Osborne has been far from impressive. And they still could face a Sabin time bomb.

And Labour had a very credible candidate with previous Northland election experience, Willow-Jean Prime.

But Little rushed in and waved the white flag without even trying.

At the very least he should have waited a week or two to see how things went. He could have held back the “wink-wink-Winston” wank and at least had a go at getting some traction for Labour.

Prime could have easily contrasted with and showed up Winston’s age and ego.

She looks far better to me than Osborne.

And with the National versus Winston circus Labour could have looked like a serious and decent contender.

But Little rushed in with a white flag. His decision and the advice given to him looks suspect and could blow up in his face.

That looks like a very poor premature play to me, especially in the first election under Little’s leadership.

Democracy weeps as cynicism swamps Northland by-election

The Northland by-election began sort of normally. Labour’s candidate from the last election, Willow-Jean Prime, put up her hand to stand again soon after the by-election was announced. She and Labour then launched a normal looking campaign.

But then a week later King Cynical confirmed he would also stand, claiming Northland had been “forgotten”. Winston Peters hadn’t stood for a northern electorate since the 1970’s – before Prime was born and NZ First hadn’t stood a candidate for about a decade.

Some of the media jumped on the Winston bandwagon, becoming his willing orchestra “because Winston is fun” – and generates headlines. The free publicity given to one candidate is far more cynical than journalistic.

Next to join the cynical politics was Labour leader Andrew Little. He has all but strongly endorsed Peters, even repeating Winston’s main ‘send a message” message many times. And he has effectively dumped Prime under Winston’s bus.

Not to be outdone John Key and National have knocked things off the cynicism scale.

John Armstrong writes in National crosses into the cynical side of politics.

Brazen, shameless, cynical and more than a little desperate – yesterday’s contribution from National to the Northland byelection campaign was about as subtle as the concrete blocks which will go into the construction of the replacements for no less than 10 existing single-lane bridges in the electorate. Now we know why the Transport Minister goes under the name of Bridges.

The announcement heralded the return of pork-barrel politics – not so much with bells on as an orchestra at top volume, and with a lot more pork and precious little barrel.

Pork-barrelling has become less furtive under John Key’s prime ministership. The Future Investment Fund – which holds the billions of dollars from the sale of shares in the big state-owned electricity generators and Air New Zealand – has long been attacked by National’s opponents as the ultimate “slush fund” which the governing party uses to fund capital spending on major infrastructure items, such as new schools and hospitals.

Yesterday’s announcement is classic pork-barrelling. It indicates three things: that National is seriously worried that Winston Peters may well carry off what initially was seen as an unlikely victory; that such a victory will have serious implications for National’s legislative programme; and that National has few scruples about how it halts Peters’ momentum.

Prime has been muzzled, and Little may feel chastened with a strong negative reaction to him undoing his “cut the crap” persona by shitting on his own candidate while trying to maintain two contradictory messages.

But expect Winston to rise to the challenge and go toe to toe with National on cynical.

Big Time Wrestling has more credibility than the Northland campaign.

It’s a pity there’s no candidate standing for “Pox on All Parties” to really send a message to the campaigners on cynicism overload.

Meanwhile democracy weeps.

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