What now for Andrew Little?

Andrew Little started his leadership of Labour last year obviously a bit rough around the edges but showing promise as leading a new approach by Labour, hopefully on the way to recovery after a disastrous election – actually after three poor election results.

But something seems to have happened to Little during the summer break. He appears to have been sucked into the party machine and spat out as a strategy leading puppet.

This looks similar to the destruction of David Shearer as a new style leader.

Like Shearer Little looks uncomfortable in his role.

The Chinese surname strategy has gone down badly on the left. There’s been comments like ‘if Little keeps digging it won’t be long before he comes out in China and he can check out the speculators for himself”.

It’s difficult to know if Little is having trouble fitting into the role of leading, or if he’s struggling with a party strategist imposed role.

Matthew Hooton claims the Chinese surname thing is a carefully planned strategy orchestrated by Matt McCarten, including Little’s reaction at yesterday’s press stand-up – see Little buckles under pressure as he and Twyford keep digging.

Whatever – Little looks like he is struggling with his role as Labour’s leader.

Following Phil Goff, David Shearer and David Cunliffe.

There’s more than a hint that Labour’s problem may not be several individuals. The party seems fundamentally flawed.

Can Little break the cycle and forge and actually lead the party? The signs aren’t looking great.

Turei versus Key on feeding kids in schools

There was a continuation of a running battle between Metiria Turei and John Key in Question Time today.

Later after a “feed the kids bill in her name (that she took over from as Hone Harawira) was defeated in Parliament by 59 votes to 61 at its first reading, @metiria tweeted:

John Key today turned his back on hungry kids.

A second bill on feeding kids at school is also being voted on. NZ Herald:

Meanwhile another food in schools bill in the name of Labour MP David Shearer is set to be defeated tonight at its first reading as well.

The bill allowed for free food in all primary and intermediate decile one to three schools that wanted.

However during his research on the bill, Mr Shearer came across several schools that changed his thinking including Yendarra School in Otara, and Owairaka District School, which took a community approach to food in schools.

“I have become convinced that free food solves nothing,” he has said.

“I now believe that each school community should be resourced to find and deliver its own long-term food solutions.”

He still wanted the bill sent to a select committee so it could be reworked.

It failed 60-60 despite Peter Dunne supporting it: Vote on that Members Bill (David Shearer’s Feed The Kids) was tied 60-60. Under Standing Order 153, a tied vote is lost.

This is not an issue of feeding hungry kids or not, it’s a matter of how much and how kids should be given food in schools. The Question Time exchange illustrates this.

[Sitting date: 18 March 2015. Volume:704;Page:5. Text is subject to correction.]

4. METIRIA TUREI (Co-Leader—Green) to the Prime Minister : Does he stand by his statement that the principals of decile 1 to 4 schools he has visited have told him “the number of children in those schools who actually require lunch is the odd one or two”?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes , because that is what principals have told me.

Metiria Turei : How can it be correct that only the odd one or two kids in low-decile schools require lunch when KidsCan says that, on average, 23 percent of the children in the schools it works with are in need of lunch every day?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : Well, I believe it to be true, and one of the issues I raised with the Minister of Education today was to ask her whether she, in her travels as the Minister of Education in the last 3½ years, had had the issue of lunch in schools raised with her. She told me that it has either never been raised or has been raised extremely infrequently.

Metiria Turei : Is the Prime Minister telling the House that the low-decile schools that he has visited do not have the same needs as other low-decile schools that KidsCan works with?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : What I am telling the member is that, firstly, the Government has been working with a number of private sector organisations to provide breakfast in schools, and about 800—791, I think—schools out of 2,500, approximately, have taken that up. Secondly, I think there will be some children who go to school without lunch, but I think that number is actually relatively small. In some cases it will be one or two; in some cases it will be a few more, but I do not think it is as widespread as the member is purporting it to be.

Metiria Turei : I seek leave to table a document from KidsCan showing that it is now feeding 15,000 students a week across 448 schools, an average of 33 children in each—

Mr SPEAKER : Order! The document is now being described. The date of the document would be useful.

Metiria Turei : The date of the document is 3 March 2015.

Mr SPEAKER : March 2015—is there any objection to that information being tabled? There is none. It can be tabled.

  • Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.

Metiria Turei : I seek leave to table a document prepared by my office on the schools that John Key visited from 2013 to 2014, showing that of the decile 1 schools and decile—

Mr SPEAKER : Order! No, I—[Interruption] Order! The member will resume her seat. This is an effective way of making a political statement. It does not have the purpose of informing the House. It will not be tabled.

Metiria Turei : Which of the decile 1 and 2 schools that John Key visited—Māngere Central, Waimate Main, Flaxmere, Huntly, Huntly College, Manaia View, Pt England—told him that only one or two of their kids needed feeding every day, when each of those schools have a lunch programme provided by either KidsCan or some other charity in their community?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : Well, by definition, I suppose, if they already have lunch provided, then actually they would not raise the fact that they need lunch, so that is rather self-defeating. Secondly, it may be lost on the member, but I have been the Prime Minister since the end of 2008. The question the member asked was for the 1 year from 2013. But in the interests of trying to get to the bottom of this debate, at 1.41 this afternoon I took the liberty of ringing the Minister of Education. I said: “Please ring for me three schools that are decile 1 or 2 and ask them how many kids have not come to school today with lunch.” That was done completely randomly and with no information. Here are the facts. Phillip Heeney of Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Te Waiu o Ngati Porou , Ruatōria, a decile 1 school—people are free to ring the school—

Metiria Turei : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER : Order! [Interruption ] Order! Every member has a right to raise a point of order. It will be heard in silence—[Interruption ] Order! The member will resume her seat. I repeat, because I was interrupted, that every member has a right to raise a point of order. This one will be heard in silence, but I sincerely hope that it is a valid point of order.

Metiria Turei : That was not an answer to the question that I asked. I asked—

Mr SPEAKER : Order! The member will resume her seat. It is very much an answer to the question the member asked. She can shake her head, but it is me who has got to adjudicate on this. It was a very full answer; it was quite a lengthy question. The House will later on today devote a considerable amount of time to this issue, and I feel it is in the interests of the House that the Prime Minister be allowed to complete his answer.

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : As I said, at 1.41 p.m., with absolutely no knowledge, these are the facts. At Te Waiu o Ngati Porou school, Ruatoria, decile 1, how many children came to school today without lunch—answer, zero. Barbara Ala’Alatoa, Sylvia Park School, decile 2—one to two kids, maybe. Iain Taylor, Manurewa Intermediate—decile 1 school, roll of 711—maybe 12. Yes, there is an issue where some children come to school without lunch. That number of children is relatively low.

Metiria Turei : So why, then, did the Prime Minister refuse my invitation to visit Windley School this morning, where we fed with peanut butter and jam sandwiches, some 50 kids at lunchtime; where Windley School says it feeds some 50 every day, Kelvin Road School some 50 every day; Cosgrove Primary up to 40 kids every day; Hay Park around 12 kids lunch every day; and Kelston Girls’, which was recently on Campbell Live showing just how serious the problem is—why will he not come with me to visit those schools that do have a problem so that he can see it for himself?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : As I said to the member last week when she was trying to tell this House that 90 percent of children went to school without lunch, and had to then come back and apologise for being wrong, I am happy to go to a school of my choosing. Secondly, I note that the member, when she tweeted the picture, did so with an apron for the KickStart Breakfast programme that the Government is running. This is a Government that has provided 3.4 million breakfasts. This is a Government that is working with the private sector to help deliver that, from Fonterra through to Sanitarium. They are the same breakfast programmes where principals tell me—

Mr SPEAKER : Order! The answer now is long enough.

Metiria Turei : I seek leave to table a document from the Parliamentary Library showing that the GST on $1.29 is 19c not 2c.

Mr SPEAKER : Again, the purpose of tabling documents is to inform the proceedings of the House. Members know current GST rates. I am not about to put that leave.

Metiria Turei : Why does the Prime Minister continue to mock and downplay the seriousness of the problem, maintaining yet again that only the odd one or two kids need lunch at school when schools know he is wrong, KidsCan knows he is wrong, and more important, the kids who come to school hungry know he is wrong?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : The Government has been very focused on this issue for a long period of time. It is actually proud of its record. It has extended Fruit in Schools for a huge number of children. It provides breakfasts in schools alongside the private sector. This is an issue that, as I said to the member and I repeat again, I raise with pretty much every school I go to, and the same response is what I always get—about 15 percent of kids want to take up the breakfast programme, a very small number need lunch, and when they come to school without lunch the school provides them with lunch. It does so out of its breakfast programme for the odd lunch it provides. At the end of the day I think the member actually does a disservice to the fantastic parents and caregivers out there, the overwhelming bulk of whom actually do provide their kids with breakfast and lunch. They do a damn good job, and the member should stop telling them that they do not.

Metiria Turei : Given that the Prime Minister missed the opportunity this morning to talk with parents, charity workers, and the kids over a lunch programme, will he commit to visiting Windley School—and if not Windley School then to any school that KidsCan suggests he goes to visit—and making the peanut butter and jam sandwiches for the kids—

Mr SPEAKER : Order! [Interruption ] Order! The question is too long. The Prime Minister can answer the essence of the question.

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : I have been to numerous schools where KidsCan has been in operation. I have been to those schools with Julie on numerous occasions. This is actually the Government that gave KidsCan $500,000 more for raincoats, and $900,000 more to deal with headlice. We are providing extensive support. But I will say this. I went to one of the schools where every child was given a raincoat, and, yes, we fully supported that. The argument around that is that children do not have raincoats. So I actually asked about 20 of the kids: “Do you own a raincoat?” Every single child told me: “Yes.” So it is great they have got another one, and we support KidsCan and we are giving them money, and we think they are a great charity, and they are doing good work, but just because you give kids a raincoat does not mean they did not own one beforehand.

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.

More responses to the Prime Ministerial Statement on Iraq

Ministerial Statement – Deployment of troops to Iraq

Part 9 Gerry Brownlee

Part 10 Annette King

Part 11 Kennedy Graham

Part 12 Ron Mark

Part 13 Christopher Finlayson

Part 14 David Shearer

Part 15 Phil Goff

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Minister for Canterbury Earthquake Recovery):

I want to speak in support of the statement made to the House this afternoon by the Prime Minister. I want to acknowledge some of the contributions that have been made by party leaders as we have gone round the House, but also take issue with some of the points that have been made. Can I also, as Minister of Defence, thank those who have spoken in support of the individual soldiers who will be part of the contingent that deploys to Iraq.

I appreciate that, although the political sentiment may not lead to support, the individual support for those soldiers is very much appreciated. I thought the analysis of what the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)— Daesh, as it should more correctly be known—is, given by the Leader of the Opposition, was quite correct. I thought he did, in fact, sum up exactly what the problem is. This is a mercurial enemy, a Stateless enemy, an evil enemy that knows no bounds for where it would perpetrate its evil. It is arguable that it does not even find its moral authority inside the Koran, and there will be tens of millions of Muslims who agree with that. It is worth noting too that, although we get moved by the high-profile beheadings and other atrocities committed upon their high-profile hostages, there are thousands of Muslims who are receiving exactly the same treatment from this evil outfit. If there is a theme that has come through even from those who are opposed to this action, it is that the solution to the problems that we currently see and the threats that the world faces from this particular evil have to come from the Muslim world. I am encouraged that when we met Dr al-Jaafari, the Foreign Minister of Iraq, he stressed that point with us. In recent weeks I have met the Foreign Ministers and defence Ministers from a number of other countries in that part of the world and they have similarly have expressed that view. That, I think, is one of the most significant differences between this and any other interventions in that part of the world. We certainly respect that desire from those countries to lead the fight against this particular evil. When it comes to the suggestion that we should somehow be concentrating our efforts entirely on improving civil society in a country like Iraq it denies the fact that that is a country pinned down by the evil that it faces every day—a country that has not got a capacity to reach out to someone who is opposed to them and somehow come to a point where you could shake hands and move on. They are facing an evil. As Andrew Little so clearly pointed out, Daesh wants to set up a medieval-type arrangement across borders that have been respected for centuries. The only way forward is, firstly, to be able to tackle that particular evil, Daesh, with military action. Iraqis are prepared to do that, but they have said to us very clearly that where they can get help to assist with training their very large military force—some 40,000 soldiers—then they would accept that willingly. I note that every one of the civil interventions that have been raised as prospects this afternoon by the Labour and Green parties occurs outside the so-called wire: beyond a military camp, beyond a boundary that can be protected, just out there in the ether offering good advice to people about the best way to run things. Well, that lies completely counter to everything that Winston Peters had to offer and that Peter Dunne had to offer. There are times when evil simply has to be put down and this is one of those occasions. The suggestion was that we can contribute more if we help a country like Iraq diversify its economic base, particularly in agriculture. But when you have a country where its most fertile regions are beset by daily improvised explosive devise tragedies, kidnappings, and other just general lawlessness, then it will not matter how many field advisers with clipboards and UN hats we put in the field, there will be no change. There has to at some point be a Government that is supported to take control of its country and we observe that the arrangements that were in place from a Government perspective between those at the beginning of 2014 to now are quite different.

Reaching out across the sectarian differences and factions in that country is something that we should be supporting. This contribution from New Zealand is very well considered. The ridiculous suggestion from the Green Party that this was somehow a deal cooked up in another country and imposed upon us is just that—completely ridiculous. We did not make any commitment at any point, anywhere, until the Iraqi Foreign Minister sat in front of us and said: “We want your help.” No one should be surprised, though, by the reaction from the Labour Party and the Green Party. On the one hand they will stand up and they will say: “We should be supporting a United Nations resolution here, and if the United Nations is not telling us to go there, we should not be there.” Well, they are the two parties that defeated motions in this House to support United Nations Security Council motions in 1998 and then again in 2003. They want to have it both ways. On the one hand they say: “We will support the United Nations motions.”, but when it comes right to it, no, they do not do it. And what is worse, going back to 2003, and all this business about: “We have got to go to the House and get a mandate.”—well, where was the mandate for the intervention of 2003? Where was the House mandate for the 63 engineers who were sent to Iraq as part of the reconstruction in a war? There are some things about this whole involvement that give everybody cause for concern, but if anybody sits in this House and thinks that there is no threat on a daily basis to New Zealanders, they are seriously deluded. I will ask one question that I think everyone should reflect on: if we were to have New Zealanders or a New Zealander somewhere in the world grabbed by this outfit, put into the hostage block, and paraded in front of us, where would we go for help? Would we simply say: “Well look, don’t pick on us because we’re just civil advisers. We are just here to help with the agriculture.”? They will not make that decision, and New Zealanders are at risk just as much as anyone else in the world.

I think it speaks volumes for the decline of the Fairfax newspaper that, apparently, no one on the other side of the House read in this morning’s paper of the threats posed to New Zealand. This is not something that we can just walk away from—not something that we can turn a blind eye to—and, I am sorry, but simply saying that there are other ways of doing it does not face the reality of daily life in Iraq for a people who are doing their best to overcome the evil of Daesh.

Hon Member: What difference are they going to make?

People over there can say: “What difference does it make?”, yet I know that in other circumstances they will come in here and talk about how one person can make a difference, in all number of other cases. Well, what we are doing here is simply sticking our hand up and saying: “We want to get rid of this. We do not see it as being legitimate.” It is not about saying that there is a divide between the Western World and the Muslim world because, as I said before, the Muslim world is suffering from these people as much as anybody else is, if not significantly more. Our troops will go into this mission with the appropriate protections. We have said that we will make sure of that. They will make a contribution to the security of not only the future of the Iraqi Government, which is legitimately in place, but also to New Zealanders, who travel so much around the world, and we are making a statement about what we are prepared to tolerate on our own shores. This is not a huge intervention; it is a modest intervention. Our people have the expertise to make a difference, and we are very pleased to be supporting them in this endeavour.

Hon ANNETTE KING (Deputy Leader—Labour):

This is probably one of the most important debates that this House could have. Sending New Zealanders to war is a decision that should not be made lightly, and it should be seen to be made with broad political support. On 18 March 2003 the then Prime Minister Helen Clark initiated a debate on Iraq. President Bush had just issued his final ultimatum.

Diplomatic negotiations had failed, and to correct Mr Brownlee, Labour had supported the UN resolutions of 2003, including Resolution 1441. Helen Clark said at that time: “Our position on this crisis has at all times been based on our strong support for multilateralism, the rule of law, and upholding the authority of the Security Council.” We refused to join the “coalition of the willing” and we took a principled decision. It had integrity, and it was understood by our international friends. We were independent and we did not hide behind the club. On that same date in that same debate, Bill English, the then Leader of the Opposition, stood and his opening words were: “The National Party will be supporting the coalition of the willing.” National was wrong with that decision then, and it is wrong now. The intervention in Iraq, the National Party said at that time, was in the interests of global peace. That did not come to pass, Mr English. It said that the threat posed to the world would be removed if we went to Iraq. That did not come to pass. What we saw was over 10 years of fighting, training Iraqi soldiers, the spending of $25 billion of US money, and we did not remove the threat to the world. On 18 March 2003 the Labour Government allowed a vote in support for the position we had taken. National and ACT voted against the Labour Government. They voted against it and they voted in support of the “coalition of the willing”. John Key was part of that vote and he has never resiled from that position. In fact, he said that we missing in action in Iraq. Labour, New Zealand First, the Greens, United Future, and Progressive voted against sending troops to Iraq. So I say to the Prime Minister today: put the vote to the Parliament. Let Parliament decide. Show fortitude and ask the people’s representatives. All the parties are represented here—allow us to tell you what we think about the decision to send 143 personnel to Iraq. Show leadership, show courage, show statesmanship, and show moral leadership here in this Parliament. I would say that, once again, the vote would be from National and the one little lonely vote from ACT, who props ups this Government. Then I ask this: did the Prime Minister and his Cabinet allow his own caucus to vote on whether they should send troops to Iraq? The answer is no. Do you know when their caucus found out about this decision? After the Australians and after Baghdad—they found out at their caucus this morning. They were told this morning. Like cannon fodder, they just go along with the decision. The Labour Party is in favour of being a good international citizen. We have a track record. We have a highly regarded reputation on the international scene, built up over many years. In fact, it was that track record internationally and our reputation that got us on to the Security Council. We were seen to have independent thinking—it won us the support because our pitch was “peace and security” and we pitched it to the small nations. I say to the Government, and to Nick Smith who constantly interjects: what are we going to do differently now? What are we going to do differently under this Government, with what it is proposing? We are not doing anything different from what we promised the people who voted for us for the Security Council. In fact, we are going down the same old line the National Party has always gone down. John Key said that this is paying the price of being part of the club. Is that a good enough reason to commit our troops to Iraq, dressed up as trainers to train Iraqi soldiers that we have been trying to train for 10 years with no results?

Is it good enough to follow the lead of others and not have our own response? No, it is not. To set out other alternatives—where are the other alternatives? Do you know that the total contribution in humanitarian aid to Iraq is $13.5 million? That is less than we were going to spend on Skycity , or hosting America’s Cup—less than that, and that is what our humanitarian aid has been to Iraq. John Key gave New Zealanders a personal assurance during the election campaign that we would not be involved in sending troops to Iraq. That is 8 months ago, and, I have to say, 8 months ago we knew of the evil of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) . We knew what it was doing, how it was spreading its tentacles around the world. John Key made that promise to New Zealanders back then, 8 months ago. Over the months we have had the dance of the seven veils by the Prime Minister, as he slowly exposed what his real thinking is, softening us up, priming New Zealanders to send troops to Iraq. He said that he has been open with New Zealanders. If that is open with New Zealanders, I do not know what openness is. I believe we have been taken as fools by the Prime Minister. I believe Andrew Little when he said that this decision was made a long time ago. It would have been made at the little side-meetings the Prime Minister has with his club in the so-called coalition. It would have been made as they had little chats after the golf. It would have been made in different places, where we did not know what was going on but the nods and the winks were taking place. I think the announcement today has raised more questions than answers. The Prime Minister said that we are sending force protection for our troops. Who is the force protection? Where do they come from? How are they going to protect our troops? How many of them are there going to be? He said that the SAS are going to be going for only a short time. What is a “short time” for the SAS to go? They are going to go when there are high-profile visits, I suppose, of people parading around Iraq and Baghdad . He said that they are going to be behind the wire. Where is the wire? Where does the wire sit? How do we know if they are behind the wire? He then said it is going to be a 9-month deployment, then a review, and then a 2-year commitment. And then he went on to say, in the other breath, that New Zealand has got to be there for a long time. What are we going to be doing? Are we there for 9 months with a review, 2 years, 10 years? We did not get that answer. We believe that we ought to be part of rebuilding Iraq. We ought to be part of ensuring the things that we can do best. What does New Zealand do best? It is not sending 143 personnel to Iraq.

It is the things that we have strengths in. We do have strengths in rebuilding. We do have strengths in humanitarian aid. Why are we not sending humanitarian aid to Jordan where all the refugees are flooding and they are having to feed and house them? Why are we not providing that support? Why are we not providing support in terms of medical personnel for those who are wounded and hurt and need hospital assistance? Why are we not involved in rebuilding that country in the way that we have done in many other countries? But what do we get from this Government? We get that it is making a major contribution to its friends by sending 143 personnel to Iraq. We do not believe it is justified. We do not believe the case has been put. We do not believe that we will make an impact, but we could if we looked at other alternatives. The Government has been blind to other alternatives. It has not put the case.

Dr KENNEDY GRAHAM (Green):

Today the Prime Minister has let this country down. He has prevaricated for 5 months, softening up the public, during which he has said various things to different people.

He has cheapened New Zealand by commercialising the issue of war and peace, pricing the item in terms of club membership. He has flouted our constitutional integrity, advising the world of the decision before advising the people of the country he purports to represent. He has displayed contempt of Parliament by refusing to allow a debate to be held before the decision or a non-binding vote on the question of war and peace. That compares with the United Kingdom, the source of our constitutional heritage, which called Parliament back under urgency not long ago to debate the use of force in Syria. In that case the Government respected a parliamentary majority not to send forces, even though that parliamentary view was non-binding. The military personnel will be sent to Iraq to do four things: to train the army, to protect the trainers, possibly act as spotters, and gather intelligence. As the Prime Minister’s list of things to do in Iraq has lengthened, it has become disingenuous to harp on about staying behind the wire. The wire has become a mockery—a hollow symbol of false reassurance. The wire will become something you step around as you exit the compound. It is an insult to the intelligence of the public. Nothing is more certain or at least inevitable than that Kiwi soldiers and the SAS will be moving around the Iraq countryside in due course. How could it be otherwise? How could New Zealand stay behind the wire, when other nations are not? We would look craven. The Prime Minister just advised that the SAS could be deployed for force protection and high-profile visits. How will they do that from behind the wire? The wire has become a conscious deception. It implies that the critical consideration is individual safety. It deliberately misses the point. In a conflict zone there is always personal risk. Safety issues are critically important, but they are an operational responsibility. The criterion for decision is not personal safety. It is the legality and the wisdom of the decision to deploy or not to deploy. It is not personal safety and the wire. It is an insult to send military people, in whatever capacity, in the garb of diplomats. Because the Government cannot determine the status and role of our troops in a 21st century conflict zone, it will give them diplomatic passports. How stunningly irresponsible. The Prime Minister’s notion of 21st century diplomacy is to send soldiers to train to kill. For 300 years the profession of diplomacy has been exclusively civilian—to negotiate and dialogue; reach consensus for passive settlement. It is the antithesis of violence. The job of soldiers is to fight and, if necessary, to kill. Military attaches in embassies have diplomatic passports because they operate as diplomats, not soldiers. Australia has done the same. It has already garbed its soldiers as diplomats. So it is clearly the hallmark of the lawbreakers’ club. Mr Abbott and Mr Key are betraying the history of centuries of international law and politics. The reasons given for sending the troops are threefold. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has emerged as a threat to the world, including New Zealand. It engages in unprecedented brutality. It proclaims a universal caliphate that threatens the national sovereignty of all countries. These reasons are valid for discussion, but they are contestable. They are not a sufficient argument for New Zealand to engage in Iraq militarily. ISIL is a threat to international peace, but not to our immediate national security. The situation requires New Zealand to make an input into the Security Council, but not necessarily to send troops. ISIL engages in brutality of a kind not seen in Europe since the Catholic Inquisition. But Saudi Arabia does the same. The challenge of ISIL requires economic and financial sanctions, including of member States supporting it. It then requires arrest and prosecution in The Hague of its leaders.

It does not require aerial bombing. With the passage of time, you can get to individuals without pulverising the countryside. The proclamation of a universal caliphate is as meaningful as the accreditation of the Holy See to the United Nations. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) is a threat to peace, but its ideological excesses are the subject of dialogue not mutual killing. In Iraq, today’s problem is the child of yesterday’s mistake. ISIL is the current errant sibling of Al-Qaeda. Its rise is the direct result of the chaos that derived from the illegal invasion in 2003 by the law breakers club—the United States, Britain, and Australia. That disastrous decision by the club to proceed with the UN if possible, but without it if necessary, is the direct result of a strategic miscalculation to regard 9/11 as a matter of international security rather than international criminality. The invasion of Afghanistan to root out terrorism, to drain the swamp, has set the international community on a wrong course ever since. We are still paying the price today—morally, politically, legally. The decision to send troops is an illustration of how intelligent individuals can do collectively dumb things. I call on the Prime Minister to table a written paper by his Attorney-General, laying out the legal case for sending troops to Iraq with the bilateral request. We can then debate the legality of the decision and then its political wisdom. Just a few hours ago a news item reported Professor Stephen Hawking as saying that the one human failing he would most like to correct is aggression. It may have had survival advantage in caveman days, he said, but now it threatens to destroy us all. I remind the Prime Minister that before long, perhaps in 2017, aggression will be an individual leadership crime in international law. Cabinet members will be held accountable in our domestic courts and before the international criminal court. It is a salutary indication that future leaders, whether National or Labour or the Greens, will be taking these decisions with more seriousness and less impunity than they did in this one today.

RON MARK (NZ First):

In rising to take this call on behalf of New Zealand First, I want to start by talking about some people who have not even gained one mention from the Government to this point, and they are the defence force personnel who will be deploying, the defence force personnel who will lay their lives on the line to do what this Government has told them they must do. Let us be very clear, our defence force personnel will be just like typical Kiwis—soldiers, air force personnel, and sailors—the likes of whom we have come to know, love, and honour. They will be chomping at the bit to get to grips with this mission. That is their nature. That is the way we are. If either I or Darroch Ball were back in uniform again, I would say, without a doubt, should we have been asked to do this mission, that it would have been an emphatic “Yes, sir, when do we go?”. But it is not their job to determine whether or not this deployment is appropriate. That is the job of this Government. Ideally, it should have been the job of this Parliament. Ideally, this Government would have gone out of its way to consult with all political parties to get as wide a level of consensus behind our defence force personnel as was possible, so that might they deploy, and in the worst case not come home, they would know that the job and the duty that they performed had had the support of the majority of this House. This Government has instead chosen to embark on a misinformation campaign, a spin campaign, the like of which I cannot recall in this country’s history. Prior to the election it was politically inconvenient to have the question put; there was an assurance we were not going into combat.

During the election campaign there were more such assurances and in December we had the Minister of Defence denying that troops were undergoing training. Well, look at the facts as revealed here today. When New Zealand First said that there 130 to 140 personnel training and preparing to go, the Minister denied it. Today, we are told that 130 personnel are likely to go. When we said that the deployment was likely to occur and that decisions would be made in February or at the start of March, guess what? It is late February, and we are heading to March. When we said that there are troops going from the second and first battalion, from one battalion from Queen Alexandra’s Mounted Rifles, the Minister scoffed, made light of it and joked. What do we now know? The second and first battalion, one battalion and the Mounted Rifles are going. It begs the question: who knows more about defence than the Minister of Defence—clearly, everybody. And he made jokes about it. This is the Minister of Defence whose biggest whine and bitch was that he could not understand the acronyms and that the Defence Force really needed to stop using them because he could not understand. We need to think about these personnel and privates who are earning, what, $44,000 a year—$44,000 a year. There are second lieutenants who are likely to be platoon commanders—what are they on, $50,000 to $60,000 a year? We need to think about the large numbers of troops coming back from Afghanistan and other deployments who will be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, and the trials and the rigours that they have gone through to try and get assistance and help. Think about that now, Government, Prime Minister, Minister of Defence, and Minister of Veterans’ Affairs, because one thing that I know from my past military experience—and Darroch Ball knows—is that as an army officer you certainly do not think about it when help is being asked for them. Think about what they are being paid and what they are being asked to do. Let us not give any more of this illusionary rhetoric and gloss about the safety of the mission. What do we know about Taji? We know that it was the centre and hub of death squad killings by al-Qaeda and that it still seems to be that way. We know that there is a mix of Shi’a and Sunni there and if that mix exists in the training base, there will be inherent risks of green on blue. We know that they are poorly paid in the Iraqi defence force and therefore—and Mark Mitchell knows this—they are open and subject to threats, bribery, and all of those other things that occur inside of corrupt organisations where you have the very wealthy and the very poor and disempowered. We know that these people, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), are very well trained, and we know that they study the responses of forces to ambushes and to other interdictions. We know that they go back to study the tactics and prepare for the next time, so that they know precisely what the drills of the battalion or of our soldiers might have been and that they know how to counter it. They know about secondary ambushes where they seek to make the biggest strike. We know that this mission is high risk. There is no behind the wire when you have defence force personnel who will take a bribe, who might find that their family has been threatened, and just leave the gate open, or shoot the guard to allow an entry to happen. All the rhetoric, all the chest-thumping, and all of the carry-on actually does our defence force personnel a disservice. They will go loyally where they are sent. They deserve to know that the majority of this House supports them and to know that this Government has done everything it can not to politick around the fringes, not to minimise the risk to the polls, not to avoid having to answer the horrible question at the most awkward of times. They deserve to know that our Government would have actually spent time with other political parties, gone through the issues and risks, and worked to garner wide consensus and support, and that did not happen. That saddens me greatly. We need to know about the training and activities that these people, our defence force personnel, are going to be involved in. We have heard a lot, but we have heard nothing. Are we training raw recruits? Are we training Iraqi special forces personnel? Are we training their officer cadets? Are we training them to be leaders? Are we training them not to be corrupt? Are we training them to look after their personnel? And precisely who is training us in how to train them—because we have not been there. Well, not quite. Actually, there have been a hell of a lot of New Zealanders in Iraq for the last 13 years.

Some of them are back home now. Some come and go; they go to other countries all over the world. In fact, if you look at what the Prime Minister has talked about today, you could have given this work to a contractor to do, a contractor that has the sanction of the club members, because those club members have many such companies engaged in this precise work, and we as a nation might well have chosen to focus instead on humanitarian aid like sending a Defence Force field hospital. Oops, sorry, I think we sold that, did we not? Yes, we probably sold that. Maybe, actually, if we had maintained the promise that the National Party gave to re-establish our air combat capability we might have been able to send that, but, oops, there goes another promise made by Simon Power and Don Brash, supported by half the people who sit in the front benches of this Government. Oops, just forgot that one. So we do not have those options, but while we are thinking about these personnel who are about to leave, let us think about the position that we put them in over Christmas, where they could not tell their mum and not tell their dad and not tell their grandparents or their uncles and aunties “Yes, I am going to Iraq.” They could not confide in the detail. Just think about that. Just think about the effect on those young people and those families. I know families who have spoken to me, under my guarantee that I would not mention their names, obviously. Families are, naturally, worried, as they should be. Our young men and women are ready to go and do the Government’s job, as we knew they would be, but I want this House to think carefully about the way it has treated Defence Force personnel. Look at what is happening in Linton. We are selling off defence houses that soldiers and their families live in, and throwing these very same soldiers from 1st Battalion and Queen Alexandra’s Mounted Rifles out into the free-market forces: “Oh, go fend for yourself. This country loves you so much we’re going to send you to Iraq and give you a medal, and, by the way, we’re taking your house off you and you’re going to be subject to some landlord ripping you off for rents that we know you can’t afford because you’re being paid only $44,000 a year. Don’t worry; we love you. We’re going to give you an operational deployment.” Well, now is the time—now is the time—for this Government to think seriously about some of the things that are happening inside the Defence Force, some of the things that it is not doing to support our Defence Force personnel. Do not sit there, beat your chests, and tell me how wonderful you are as a Government because you are taking on these nasty, brutal ISIS people, because the truth of the matter is that your focus as a Government should be on looking after our Defence Force personnel whom you are about to deploy into Iraq to do your job.

Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON (Attorney-General):

I was disappointed in that snarky and, frankly, underwhelming contribution from Mr Mark. He is capable of better, and I think that on this important day the House deserves better because today the Prime Minister has announced that New Zealand military personnel will fulfil a non-combat, behind-the-wire mission to train Iraqi security services so that they are better prepared to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), or, as Mr Brownlee calls them, Daesh, in their region. The Government has very, very carefully considered options to expand the New Zealand contribution to the coalition beyond the humanitarian assistance that we are already providing. Today’s announcement is in line with a fine New Zealand tradition of providing this sort of support where we can. As the Prime Minister has said, we have an obligation to support stability. We have an obligation to support the international rule of law. And it is exactly the same obligation that Helen Clark relied on when she sent 70 engineers to Iraq. It is, quite frankly, lazy thinking to believe that New Zealand sits in some kind of benign environment due to its distance to the Middle East. We do not. In a practical respect, of course, there are hundreds and thousands of New Zealanders who risk being directly affected by terrorism, but, more than this, New Zealand is a global citizen. We are not insulated from events in the rest of the world. I was interested to hear Mr Flavell talk about the three most peaceful nations on Earth: Denmark, Norway, and this country. Well, look at what has just happened in Denmark.

Just a few days ago Norway’s police security service advised that a terrorist attack is likely in the coming year. Who is immune? No one. As the Prime Minister has said, we cannot stand idly by while these extremists throw people off buildings because of their sexuality, burn people alive, rape and torture women, behead civilians, and turn children into killers. As a distinguished commentator said recently it is no mere collection of psychopaths and adventure seekers; it is a group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. It is simply not good enough for people like Kennedy Graham to say it is not our problem—of course it is our problem. The world has seen groups like Daesh emerge before, though not at the same speed and to the same extent, at least not in recent history. But there are too many examples from history for us not to have learnt that when others stand by and do nothing we pay the consequences later on. All of us have watched in horror at the rise of this death cult. It follows a perverted interpretation of Islam that labels anyone who disagrees with them as an infidel and inflicts extreme terror and violence on others. Just this afternoon we have seen videos of Kurdish fighters being paraded in cages throughout streets. It is extremely well funded, extremely well organised, and highly skilled at recruitment. It has been labelled the best-resourced terror organisation in recent history. It obtains its money through extortion, oil fields, looting, and smuggling. It has an active bureaucracy. It is attempting to function like a State. As of today Daesh controls territory in Iraq, Syria, and eastern Libya, an area similar in size to New Zealand. There are 8 million Iraqis and Syrians living in areas controlled by Daesh. Its self-declared goal is to form an Islamic State; to establish itself as a caliphate with absolute authority and power. We are all too acutely aware of the terror and the brutality that Daesh is inflicting on the people of Syria and Iraq. I remind Mrs King of the suffering of her constituents in the Assyrian community in Miramar as they learn what is happening to their relatives in Mosul. There is no argument that the actions of Daesh are to be condemned, but condemnation, I say to Mrs King, is easy; the question of action is a more difficult one. A range of opinions has been expressed in the House today about how New Zealand could contribute. What the Prime Minister has announced is very strong and sensible. Currently, 62 countries are part of an international coalition against Daesh. New Zealand will bring significant expertise to the training of Iraqi soldiers. Our reputation for this sort of work is very good, and with reason. We have heard the concern raised today that standing up to Daesh through a training mission increases the risk to New Zealand. But, quite frankly, it is naïve to think that the status quo guarantees our safety. We are—and rightly so—concerned about our safety. It is not an isolated threat. We are well aware—all of us in this House—about the attacks on Ottawa, Copenhagen, Paris, and Sydney. All of them were either directly or indirectly linked to or inspired by Daesh. There is no guarantee that New Zealand will stay off this list. It is not a matter of being alarmist; it is a matter of facing reality. The fight against this evil organisation will not be a straightforward one. It will be difficult and it will be dangerous.

But today’s announcement gets the required level of intervention right. Deploying a non-combat training mission to Iraq will help promote stability in the region, it will degrade Daesh’s strength, and will reduce the threat that it poses internationally. I say this to Kennedy Graham about his suggestion as to how we could help: quite frankly it is foolish; it would expose New Zealanders to a far greater risk of injury or death than what is being proposed now. Let me in closing remind the House of the well-known words of that fine, young, brave supermarket employee when giving his reasons for hiding Jewish customers during the recent terrorist attack on Paris. He said: “It’s not a question of Jews, or Christians, or Muslims. We’re all in the same boat and we have to help each other to get out of this crisis.” Exactly.

DAVID SHEARER (Labour—Mt Albert):

The decision made today has meant that our troops will be going to Iraq, and I do not think there will be anyone in the Labour Party who does not wish them well, and hope and pray that they come back safely. In 2003 New Zealand was under extreme pressure, like today, to send troops to Iraq. We had the courage to say no. I do not believe there is a New Zealander around today who does not believe that that was the right decision to make. The National Party wanted to go. Here we are, 12 years later, and it is in Government and it is sending our troops into an infinitely more complex situation to do an even less exact and understood role in Iraq. This decision is one that we will regret. It was a decision that was made months ago by John Key when he was talking to his allies. It was a decision that we already knew about, if not just because we knew that the military had been training for all of that time. Since then we have had a huge number of justifications of why this is necessary, and some of those have been rehearsed out again today. Going to war is one of the most difficult decisions a Government can make. The acid test is, if there are going to be casualties, we can honestly look those families and the country in the eye and say that their lives were not lost in vain.

Our forces will be going to Iraq to make no appreciable difference to the situation there. Any assessment—and I know as well as anybody else—knows that is the case. So the only reason I can see for us being there is to be part of the club, as it is called. For me, that does not stack up as a sufficient and adequate reason. There is a time to stand by our allies but we should make that decision independently on the basis of the difference we can make and how effective we can be. Sending our people into harm’s way to be part of a club is not sufficient for that sacrifice. “It is about doing something.” this Government says. Doing something even if it is stupid—that is what it is all about. Our troops will not enter under any conventional status of forces agreement, under which we have always sent our forces away in the past. We will be carrying diplomatic passports. It is a shonky deal—a ruse—to get around the fact that the Iraqi Government is so divided that it would be unlikely to agree to a status of forces agreement. That gives you some idea of how universally appreciated our presence will be in Iraq. The troops they will be training are likely to be heavily infiltrated by radicals. We have just heard today that on Camp Taji itself there will only be 16—one six—specialised trainers available on that base. So you can imagine that after $25 billion of US investment, hundreds of US lives lost, and 10 years—10 years—of training, this is what we will contribute and we believe that risk is appropriate. And what will they seek to achieve? Well, hopefully a better equipped army. But we know that the Iraqis can shoot straight; that is not the issue. The problem is with the officers who have been withdrawn and plucked out of the Iraqi army and replaced by relatives and friends of those in power—the corruption; the militias who are now more in control than conventional forces. And how are we going to fix that? Quite simply, we are not. We have never been afraid to go into a conflict, but Iraq is a situation where we cannot make a difference, yet we subject our troops and New Zealanders in this country to increased risk from engagement. This will be a decision we regret.

Hon PHIL GOFF (Labour—Mt Roskill):

There is no decision more serious for a Government to make than to commit its personnel to a war conflict zone where some may not return. Yet this decision is being made in the House today without a vote—without a vote because there is no majority in this House to support the deployment of troops to Iraq. In fact, if there was a conscience vote on the National side, there would be a minority in this House in favour of deployment, because that decision in the National caucus was not a unanimous one. Just 8 short months ago—8 short months ago—John Key issued this statement. It is headed: “No New Zealand Forces to Iraq”—“No New Zealand Forces to Iraq”. He said there would be no boots on the ground, not even in an advisory capacity. He said that New Zealand did not take these actions without a United Nations sanction. Every one of those comments made before the election represents a broken promise. The reason that we are going to Iraq is because after the election, when a little bit of pressure was put on by the Australians, the British, and the Americans, John Key courageously said: “I will deploy, but don’t tell New Zealanders. I need a length of time to soften them up. I need distance from this promise here, before the election, that we would not be doing it.” There is no doubt that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is a brutal and a barbaric organisation, but, in that sense, it is not that much different from the regime in Syria of President al-Assad, who has slaughtered 100,000 of its people. It is not much different from the Shi’a and the Sunni militias who have committed crimes against humanity and committed war crimes. The one difference is this: ISIS sets outs out deliberately to publicise its actions to shock and to lure the United States and its friends deeper into committing military forces, and the Government needs to think about why it might be doing that and what the consequences might be. You see, this Government has not thought through the consequences of its actions. It did not when John Key and Bill English supported committing New Zealand troops to Iraq in 2003. They said we should be there, and any analysis of why ISIS has thrived—has thrived in Iraq—relates to the National Party’s support for an invasion, which failed in its objectives and actually made the situation much worse than it was. We are doing the wrong thing today for the wrong reason. It is for the wrong reason because we are doing it—as Mr Key said in one of his more honest moments—because we are part of the club. It is not like he told the press at yesterday’s press conference that this was the club of 62. Read the Key statement; it was nominated members of the club. It said who they were: the Western nations. And we are doing the wrong thing because when you put people’s lives at risk there must be achievable objectives. There must be achievable objectives otherwise the sacrifice that you might indulge in is going to be futile. And we know this. We know that of the 143 people we are putting in harm’s way, just 16 will be there to train—just 16 of 143. We know that in the last 10 years the Americans have put thousands and thousands of trainers into the Iraqi army.

They have spent $25 billion in arming and equipping that army to no effect. We know it will not succeed because that army is deeply corrupt, it is highly sectarian, it is incompetent, and it has no morale. There is no way that New Zealand can do for the Iraqi Army what it cannot and will not do for itself. We do not support sending the troops, but our thoughts and prayers will be with them for a safe return home.

Stepping up in the Labour boat

Andrew Little – obviously he has to step up big time. He’s put himself forward as leader, he has been chosen, and he has a massive job to do.

Labour caucus – while Little has to work on uniting his Caucus all the MPs need to unite behind Little and contribute to recovering and rebuilding.

Past leaders – Phil Goff, David Shearer and David Cunliffe have all had a go and failed. It is their duty to help Little succeed.

Grant Robertson – he ran a very close race and will be bitterly disappointed. He needs to take some time to get over it, then do his utmost to help Little and Labour succeed. He isn’t leading the party but he can and should take a significant role in leading the Caucus support of Little.

David Parker – has indicated he doesn’t want to be deputy and doesn’t want to be Minister of Finance. He may be disappointed and he may be hurting, but this is very disappointing. Parker thought he was good enough and committed enough to be Labour leader, so he must be big enough and committed enough to be a strong senior member of Little’s caucus. He go in on the Labour list for another three year stint, like all the other MPs he owes it to Labour to do his utmost repair the damage and rebuild.

Nanaia Mahuta – has been criticised for being low profile and insignificant in her EIGHTEEN YEARS as an MP for Labour. She felt she could take on the huge challenge of being party leader. She must step up and repay her party.

Andrew Little has taken on a huge challenge. His success will be partly up to him, and it will just as much be up to all other 31 Labour MPs in Parliament, as well as the Labour Party.

If they all don’t out in the effort and work together they will live down to National’s expectations (this was a multi-party dig but it could be applied to Labour’s past performance on their own):

LabourRowboatOr this will be the Labour boat:

LabourRowboatEmpty

Can a shitty Shearer stay?

David Shearer obviously still feels very hard done by and blames David Cunliffe for his difficulties as leader and his subsequent demise.

Is there room for both of them in the Labour caucus? Shearer says Cunliffe should resign.

After Shearer announced he wouldn’t contest the Labour leadership – I don’t think he was ever a serious contender considering his negative attitude to the job – he seemed to take every media opportunity he could get to lash out at Cunliffe and Labour.

I think this was ill-considered and destabilising at a time that Labour has to start to look like it can work together positively.

Shearer lobbed a hand grenade riddled with year old ill feeling into the leadership debate. He put personal bitterness before his party.

Most of Shearer’s lashing out has been directed at David Cunliffe – ironically at the same time that Cunliffe withdrew from the leadership contest. Old scores being unsettled.

Stuff reported David Shearer comes out swinging:

Earlier today, Shearer launched a bitter broadside at Cunliffe, his supporters, Labour’s brand and union influence in the leadership contest.

Shearer said that when he was leader, Cunliffe and his colleagues “undermined and white-anted me”.

Confusingly Shearer said he thought Cunliffe should have stayed in the leadership contest but now he has pulled out he should quit Parliament.

Talking to reporters before Labour’s caucus meeting – and after ruling out of another tilt at the top job – Shearer said it would have been better if Cunliffe had stood for leader, rather than pull out yesterday.

That would have presented a cleaner break and enabled everyone to get behind the new leader.

Now Cunliffe should quit Parliament, Shearer said.

Cunliffe’s response sounded far more reasonable.

But Cunliffe said he “rejected and refuted” the claims.

“It is simply untrue. There is no substance or truth in the allegation I white-anted him,” he said.

“I had no knowledge at all of the moves to replace him. … It was not done by my friends.”

Cunliffe said he wished Shearer well for his future and hoped all his colleagues would respect each other and put the best interests of the party first.

Right now Shearer is nowhere near respect and the party’s best interests.

Can Shearer and Cunliffe co-exist in the same caucus, with one and possibly both harbouring resentment at being ousted from leadership?

Cunliffe is currently the one making the right noises but can he be trusted? He hasn’t had much support from the Labour caucus and will have less now.

If Cunliffe remains in Parliament will Shearer quit?

This doesn’t bode well for Labour and will present major ongoing challenges for their soon to be chosen new leader.

Cunliffe’s belated withdrawal

David Cunliffe has belatedly withdrawn from Labour’s leadership contest, over three weeks after a demoralising election defeat. This enables a more forward focussed contest and probably saves Cunliffe from significant embarrassment.

Choosing to endorse Andrew Little’s bid to lead Labour looks like a parting shot at Grant Robertson and ensures Cunliffe won’t be an unbiased bystander.

It has been reported that Cunliffe made the decision to withdraw last week so it’s curious why he waited until yesterday to make his announcement. He made himself off limits to media over the weekend due to “a family illness” – again showing his unsuitability to lead the party let alone the country.

He has been hiding away for most of the three weeks since the election with various reasons being given. It looks like bereavement leave. Most people who have career setbacks don’t have this sort of luxury, they have to continue earning their wage or resign.

Electorate associate and some time lawyer Greg Presland posted Some thoughts on David Cunliffe’s withdrawal:

And to David Cunliffe can I suggest a short holiday to get yourself ready for the next three years.

After spending a week after the election “soul searching” Cunliffe took a few days off “for a long planned holiday” and seems to have been largely out of circulation for two weeks since. Another holiday now? He has to get over it.

It’s often been said that if you fall off a horse you should get straight back and ride again. Cunliffe is no jockey.

Presland also made an interesting comment in his Standard post:

And you only need to read the overwhelming majority of comments on this blog to see what progressives think about him.

I think he is wrong claiming an “overwhelming majority of comments” supportive of Cunliffe, there have been very mixed feelings expressed. What Presland may be expressing is his own perspective as and integral part of the Standard machine and that those most involved in the running of The Standard have been overwhelming supportive of Cunliffe. That’s been evident going way back to how they tried to drive the so-called Cunliffe coup attempt.

There was a sign of a significant Standard shift in the weekend when they promoted and ran a Q & A for Andrew Little, who happens to now be endorsed by Cunliffe. The Q & A seemed oddly timed, until things became clear yesterday. Presland seems to be in synch with Cunliffe:

And who should the new leader be?  Someone who oversees rejuvenation in the party and ensures that caucus discipline is maintained.  And who is true to the principles of the party.  And who has the support of a majority of members.  Cunliffe has endorsed Andrew Little whose prospects now must be very good.  Andrew has been careful to hold himself apart from the factions and is someone who clearly will work to unite the party and I cannot emphasise how critical this is.

If Little fails to win the leadership what then from Cunliffe and The Standard?

(And while ‘The Standard’ appears to have swung from Cunliffe to Little it’s clear amongst the comments that Little isn’t a universally or anywhere overwhelmingly supported leadership candidate).

If Cunliffe finally finishes licking his wounds he could play a significant part in rebuilding Labour, if he visibly supports and works with the new leader and the revamped caucus.

There will be keen watchers amongst the media and opponents looking for any signs of dissent or disloyalty in Labour ranks, especially from Cunliffe, and if any is perceived it will be highlighted and amplified.

This could depend on what responsibilities Cunliffe is given by the new leader. He is potentially one of Labour’s most potent MPs but his attitude and application have to measure up. His endorsement of Little has a hint of utu.

He – and a number of other Labour MPS – have to put animosities behind them and work for the good of the Labour Party, and earn the generous wages and benefits bestowed on them by the taxpayers.

They have to do more than earn that. Unlike their wages credibility and respect aren’t  provided in their job packages and they will have to work very hard to build them back to the required level for elected representatives.

Unfortunately this will probably mostly be on hold while the Labour leadership is decided.

It may be six months into Labour’s third term in opposition before we finally start to see if Cunliffe has gotten over his double loss plus the dashing of a burning ambition to be Prime Minister, and before we see if Labour is on the mend with the combined efforts of all it’s diminishing group of MPs.

Presland said of Cunliffe’s decision:

Clearly he is prepared to put party interests ahead of his own.

That hasn’t been clear at all in the past and especially over the last three and a half weeks.

Labour desperately needs all it’s MPs to put party interests ahead of their own – including and especially all it’s ex-leaders who now include Phil Goff, David Shearer and David Cunliffe (and possibly David Parker will be added to that list).

Cunliffe has belatedly withdrawn from Labour’s leadership.

Can Labour very belatedly begin their repair and rebuild after their defeat in 2008? It will be 2015 before their next leader can crank up their caucus and begin to seriously try.

David Shearer doesn’t sound keen on leadership

While David Shearer didn’t rule out joining the Labour leadership contest when he was interviewed on The Nation this morning he sounded far from keen.

Labour’s David Shearer says being leader of the opposition may be the worst job he’s ever had, but he’s considering whether or not to have another crack.

Mr Shearer says he is going to consult and think before making an announcement about whether he will stand for Labour’s leadership.

“It won’t be today,” he told The Nation today.

He doesn’t have long to decide with the nominations closing on Tuesday.

Mr Shearer said he would only run if he felt he could win and change Labour to make sure it goes in the right direction.

“If I can’t do that then I don’t believe I should be in the race.”

His family aren’t keen, because they saw him last time he was leader, he said.

“It’s incredibly stressful; it takes an enormous amount of time.

“Ask any opposition leader what it’s like. It’s the worst job in politics – possibly the worst job I’ve had in my life. It’s satisfying on the one side, but it’s also incredibly, incredibly difficult.”

That doesn’t sound like someone keen to have a go. Which is not surprising considering what he said after he stepped down from the leadership last year:

“The thing I found most difficult really was the pettiness of politics and being in opposition. A lot of it was petty, a lot of it was venal,” he said.

“Politicians from all sides come in to make difference, to actually get something done. And what you get caught up with, particularly as a leader, is point-scoring and that sort of pettiness.

“I just found it boring, I found it beneath me and I wasn’t very good at it because of that. Other people thrive on it, they love it, I mean that’s the thing they love about the arena of politics. To me, I found it below me.”

I don’t think the job of Labour leader has risen since then, so it would seem odd if Shearer lowers himself to contest the leadership.

Popular Prime Ministers

There’s been some interesting charts published of Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition poll popularity.

Dim-Post On popularity:

Helen Clark was a widely respected Prime Minister who won three elections and led Government for nine years. John Key has ranked high in the popularity stakes since becoming Prime Minister.

Clark and Key have tracked very similar paths over their second terms.

Leader’s of the Opposition struggle to get recognition in polls. David Farrar at charts this at Kiwiblog in Opposition Leader in the Preferred PM poll:

Clark languished as low as 2% for her first three years as Labour leader and then shot up, presumably around the time of the 1996 election which Labour came close with 34.68% to Bolger’s National’s 35.05% to be thwarted by NZ First siding with National in coalition.

Key started much higher and kept rising until and after National won in 2008.

Phil Goff started much lower until a late climb for the 2011 election but withdrew from leadership soon after.

David Shearer had modest ups and downs before pulling the plug on a position he never looked comfortable in.

David Cunliffe picked up from there but has slid since. He’s got time to recover and challenge Key in September – but not much time.

“Labour face disaster at the next election”

Labour have struggled to make an impression since Helen Clark and Michael Cullen departed after their 2008 election loss.

They struggled under Phil Goff.

They struggled more under David Shearer.

And they continue to struggle under David Cunliffe.

It must be more than a leadership deficit. The Labour caucus and the Labour Party machinery seem to be in perpetual struggle mode.

In the last few days alone – launching their election year, a time when it was essential Cunliffe and Labour made a strong impression – Labour have lurched from embarrassment to stuff-up.

Their ‘baby bonus’ launch has been overwhelmed by controversies. As well as strong criticism for offering people on high incomes a baby benefit the policy has been beset by controversy and David Cunliffe has had to admit he made mistaken claims.

And amongst this Dunedin North MP David Clark, once promoted as a fast riser in the Labour ranks – Shearer promoted him to 12 in the Labour rankings – has made a major blooper suggesting the Government should be able to threaten to ban use of Facebook if the multinational didn’t pay enough tax.

3 News reported:

Banning Facebook was an extreme suggestion from Labour Party MP David Clark – and it took party leader David Cunliffe just 24 hours to shut it down.

Mr Cunliffe has now ruled it out completely, but ridicule from the Government still came hard and fast.

Just 24 hours? That was far too long, this embarrassment should have been dealt with swiftly. It wasn’t.

In yesterday’s post David Clark attacked from all sides on Facebook farce ‘Goldie’ commented on the litany of Labour errors.

The comment by Kiwi in America is spot on.

First, it underlines the lack of talent in the Labour caucus. Dunedin is a Labour stronghold, so the MPs should be the stars of the party – instead you have Clare Curran and David Clark.

Second, it shows the lack of discipline in Labour – there is absolutely no way, when the policy focus should have been the “baby bonus”, that Clark should have been permitted to talk on anything else. Cunliffe’s office is not operating as it should. It lacks grip over its MPs, and can’t control its own issues (witness the speed with which the “baby bonus” policy got derailed).

Third, Labour have not been able to uncover a single major scandal on the Government and Labour have not been able to make a single policy that has not been widely shredded within days in three years. It says to me that the political machinery behind the scenes – the party researchers and advisers – have become “hollowed out”.

In contrast, the Greens are busy, focused and confident. They have the great advantage of not needing to appeal to either centre or apathetic voters, but only to people who are going to vote left anyway. As National look increasingly like they will win the election, left-leaning voters will have less reason to stay disciplined to Labour, and will “shop around” (like what happened to National in 2002).

Labour face disaster at the next election.

It’s very early in election year but Labour, who desperately needed a strong start, have stuffed up again. And again.

Unless Cunliffe can transform himself into a strong and positive alternative (too many mistakes and too much sneering snark), unless the Labour caucus can look united and competent, unless the Labour media machine can provide competent advise and support and unless the Labour Party can function effectively then it’s on the cards that Labour could face disaster at the next election.

If that happens it will be bad for New Zealand politics. We need strong party leadership and performance, especially from the large parties. Labour is losing it’s way, losing credibility. If this continues we all lose.

Update: It appears to be continuing unabated. Good grief. David Parker this time, in Parliament yesterday. See Labour says Apple et al plundering NZ economy.

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