Leave.EU breached multiple counts of electoral law

New Zealand isn’t the only country with far too slow, too weak electoral law.

The UK Electoral Commission has fined Leave.EU for multiple breaches of electoral law and referred the matter to the police, but the referendum result still stands.

BBC – Brexit: Leave.EU fined £70,000 for breaking electoral law during referendum

Campaign group Leave.EU has been fined £70,000 after an investigation into funding during the 2016 referendum.

The Electoral Commission concluded that the campaign group incorrectly reported what it spent during the referendum.

It found Leave.EU failed to report at least £77,380 of spending and exceeded the limit for non-party registered campaigners by at least 10%.

Facebook, Cambridge Analytica and the data war

I often seen people doing and sharing surveys and quizzes on Facebook. They always looked looked suspicious to me – they looked designed to suck people in.

And it turns out some of them were exactly that – for a nefarious reason. They were used to gather data and compile personality profiles of hundreds of millions of people, and then those people were targeted with “rumour, disinformation and fake news” to influence them in elections.

The process was used experimentally in many elections in many countries – I don’t know if New Zealand was subjected to subliminal coercion (journalists?). The first big election that it was tried on was the Brexit vote in the UK, which surprisingly swung to a vote to exit the European Union.

Then it was used in the US election which resulted in Donald Trump being elected against the odds (aided by a flawed campaign and a flawed campaigner, Hillary Clinton).

Now Cambridge Analytica and the use and abuse of Facebook is being exposed.

Bloomberg: Facebook Suspends Trump Election Data Firm for Policy Violations

  • Data harvested from 50 million Facebook accounts: N.Y. Times
  • Fighting ‘culture war,’ ex-Cambridge Analytica employee says

Facebook Inc. suspended Cambridge Analytica, a data company that helped President Donald Trump win the 2016 presidential election and which may have collected data from 50 million Facebook profiles without their owners’ permission.

The social-networking company said in a blog post Friday that Cambridge Analytica received some user data through an app developer on its social network, violating its policies. In 2015, Facebook said Cambridge Analytica certified that it had destroyed the information.

“Several days ago, we received reports that, contrary to the certifications we were given, not all data was deleted,” Facebook said in a statement. Cambridge Analytica and parent Strategic Communication Laboratories have been suspended from the social network, “pending further information,” Facebook said.

Cambridge Analytica said in a Saturday statement it did nothing illegal and is ​in touch with Facebook in order to resolve the matter as quickly as possible.

Originally funded by Robert Mercer, the conservative political donor and former co-chief executive officer of Renaissance Technologies, Cambridge uses data to reach voters with hyper-targeted messaging, including on Facebook and other online services. It was hired to help with voter outreach by the Trump campaign, whose former campaign manager, Steve Bannon, had been on the company’s board.

Steve Bannon was closely connected to this – and became closely connected to the Trump campaign.

Now one of the people deeply involved is blowing the whistle:The Cambridge Analytica Files 

‘I created Steve Bannon’s psychological warfare tool’: meet the data war whistleblower

For more than a year we’ve been investigating Cambridge Analytica and its links to the Brexit Leave campaign in the UK and Team Trump in the US presidential election. Now, 28-year-old Christopher Wylie goes on the record to discuss his role in hijacking the profiles of millions of Facebook users in order to target the US electorate.

Starting in 2007, Stillwell, while a student, had devised various apps for Facebook, one of which, a personality quiz called myPersonality, had gone viral. Users were scored on “big five” personality traits – Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism – and in exchange, 40% of them consented to give him access to their Facebook profiles.

Suddenly, there was a way of measuring personality traits across the population and correlating scores against Facebook “likes” across millions of people.

The research was original, groundbreaking and had obvious possibilities. “They had a lot of approaches from the security services,” a member of the centre told me. “There was one called You Are What You Like and it was demonstrated to the intelligence services. And it showed these odd patterns; that, for example, people who liked ‘I hate Israel’ on Facebook also tended to like Nike shoes and KitKats.

“There are agencies that fund research on behalf of the intelligence services. And they were all over this research. That one was nicknamed Operation KitKat.”

The defence and military establishment were the first to see the potential of the research.

That should be a concern to everyone – this is not the Russian establishment, it is the US and UK establishment, which New Zealand has close links to.

“And then I came across a paper about how personality traits could be a precursor to political behaviour, and it suddenly made sense. Liberalism is correlated with high openness and low conscientiousness, and when you think of Lib Dems they’re absent-minded professors and hippies. They’re the early adopters… they’re highly open to new ideas. And it just clicked all of a sudden.”

T…the job was research director across the SCL group, a private contractor that has both defence and elections operations. Its defence arm was a contractor to the UK’s Ministry of Defence and the US’s Department of Defense, among others. Its expertise was in “psychological operations” – or psyops – changing people’s minds not through persuasion but through “informational dominance”, a set of techniques that includes rumour, disinformation and fake news.

SCL Elections had used a similar suite of tools in more than 200 elections around the world, mostly in undeveloped democracies that Wylie would come to realise were unequipped to defend themselves.

It turned out the the UK and US democracies were unable to defend themselves either.

A few months later, in autumn 2013, Wylie met Steve Bannon. At the time, he was editor-in-chief of Breitbart, which he had brought to Britain to support his friend Nigel Farage in his mission to take Britain out of the European Union.

“[Bannon] got it immediately. He believes in the whole Andrew Breitbart doctrine that politics is downstream from culture, so to change politics you need to change culture. And fashion trends are a useful proxy for that. Trump is like a pair of Uggs, or Crocs, basically. So how do you get from people thinking ‘Ugh. Totally ugly’ to the moment when everyone is wearing them? That was the inflection point he was looking for.”

But Wylie wasn’t just talking about fashion. He had recently been exposed to a new discipline: “information operations”, which ranks alongside land, sea, air and space in the US military’s doctrine of the “five-dimensional battle space”. His brief ranged across the SCL Group – the British government has paid SCL to conduct counter-extremism operations in the Middle East, and the US Department of Defense has contracted it to work in Afghanistan.

I tell him that another former employee described the firm as “MI6 for hire”, and I’d never quite understood it.

“It’s like dirty MI6 because you’re not constrained. There’s no having to go to a judge to apply for permission. It’s normal for a ‘market research company’ to amass data on domestic populations. And if you’re working in some country and there’s an auxiliary benefit to a current client with aligned interests, well that’s just a bonus.”

It was Bannon who took this idea to the Mercers: Robert Mercer – the co-CEO of the hedge fund Renaissance Technologies, who used his billions to pursue a rightwing agenda, donating to Republican causes and supporting Republican candidates – and his daughter Rebekah.

“It didn’t make any sense to me,” says Wylie. “I didn’t understand either the email or the pitch presentation we did. Why would a Russian oil company want to target information on American voters?”

Mueller’s investigation traces the first stages of the Russian operation to disrupt the 2016 US election back to 2014, when the Russian state made what appears to be its first concerted efforts to harness the power of America’s social media platforms, including Facebook. And it was in late summer of the same year that Cambridge Analytica presented the Russian oil company with an outline of its datasets, capabilities and methodology.

The presentation had little to do with “consumers”. Instead, documents show it focused on election disruption techniques.

Russia, Facebook, Trump, Mercer, Bannon, Brexit. Every one of these threads runs through Cambridge Analytica. Even in the past few weeks, it seems as if the understanding of Facebook’s role has broadened and deepened. The Mueller indictments were part of that, but Paul-Olivier Dehaye – a data expert and academic based in Switzerland, who published some of the first research into Cambridge Analytica’s processes – says it’s become increasingly apparent that Facebook is “abusive by design”. If there is evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, it will be in the platform’s data flows, he says.

Millions of people’s personal information was stolen and used to target them in ways they wouldn’t have seen, and couldn’t have known about, by a mercenary outfit, Cambridge Analytica, who, Wylie says, “would work for anyone”. Who would pitch to Russian oil companies. Would they subvert elections abroad on behalf of foreign governments?

It occurs to me to ask Wylie this one night.

“Yes.”

Nato or non-Nato?

“Either. I mean they’re mercenaries. They’ll work for pretty much anyone who pays.”

It’s an incredible revelation. It also encapsulates all of the problems of outsourcing – at a global scale, with added cyberweapons. And in the middle of it all are the public – our intimate family connections, our “likes”, our crumbs of personal data, all sucked into a swirling black hole that’s expanding and growing and is now owned by a politically motivated billionaire.

The Facebook data is out in the wild. And for all Wylie’s efforts, there’s no turning the clock back.

What to take from all of this? It’s difficult to know. The Wylie revelations could be fake news. Or this story could reveal a propaganda genie that is now out of the bottle, an insidious corruption of democracy.

We are all influenced with the news and views we see online. It’s impossible for us to know whether we have been targeted, whether we have been sucked in, whether we have been influenced by people deliberately trying to swing elections.

Using political propaganda is nothing new, it has been done in various ways for a long time. But using the power and speed of the Internet, the potential is certainly there to take propaganda to a new and dangerous level.

How dangerous? Enough to steer the UK towards chaos as they try to extract themselves from the European Union. Enough to install a chaotic president in the US. Enough to elect an unlikely president in France? Enough to create a precarious political balance in Germany?

What about New Zealand? See Was New Zealand’s election rigged by foreign powers?

 

 

 

 

 

 

UK and EU in ‘Brexit’ breakthrough

Report of a breakthrough in talks between the United Kingdom and the European Union that will allow ‘Brexit’ to progress to the next stage.

BBC – Brexit: ‘Breakthrough’ deal paves way for future trade talks

PM Theresa May has struck a last-minute deal with the EU in a bid to move Brexit talks on to the next phase.

There will be no “hard border” with Ireland; and the rights of EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU will be protected.

The so-called “divorce bill” will amount to between £35bn and £39bn, Downing Street says.

The European Commission president said it was a “breakthrough” and he was confident EU leaders will approve it.

They are due to meet next Thursday for a European Council summit and need to give their backing to the deal if the next phase of negotiations are to begin.

Talks can then move onto a transition deal to cover a period of up to two years after Brexit, and the “framework for the future relationship” – preliminary discussions about a future trade deal, although the EU says a deal can only be finalised once the UK has left the EU.

A final withdrawal treaty and transition deal will have to be ratified by the EU nations and the UK Parliament, before the UK leaves in March 2019.

But it is still not simple from here due to the precarious position of the May led Government.

Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, whose opposition on Monday led to talks breaking down, said there was still “more work to be done” on the border issue and how it votes on the final deal “will depend on its contents”. Mrs May depends on the party’s support to win key votes in Westminster.

What has been agreed?

  • Guarantee that there will be “no hard border” between Northern Ireland and the Republic and that the “constitutional and economic integrity of the United Kingdom” will be maintained.
  • EU citizens living in the UK and vice versa will have their rights to live, work and study protected. The agreement includes reunification rights for relatives who do not live in the UK to join them in their host country in the future
  • Financial settlement – No specific figure is in the document but Downing Street says it will be between £35bn and £39bn, including budget contributions during a two-year “transition” period after March 2019

Brexit: All you need to know

The cost is high:

A figure is not mentioned in the text of the agreement but Downing Street says it will be between £35bn and £39bn – higher than Theresa May indicated in September but lower than some estimates. It will be paid over four years and the precise figure is unlikely to be known for some time.

The prime minister said it would be “fair to the British taxpayer” and would mean the UK in future “will be able to invest more in our priorities at home, such as housing, schools and the NHS”.

So Brexit still has a difficult and potentially very expensive path to follow.

Facebook and the Brexit vote

Facebook is also under investigation in the UK to see how much Russian operatives might have interfered in the Brexit vote.

The Telegraph: MPs order Facebook to hand over evidence of Russian election meddling

The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee has demanded that the US internet giant release adverts and pages linked to Russia in the build up to last year’s EU referendum and June’s general election.

On Tuesday Damian Collins, the chairman of the committee, wrote to Facebook’s chief executive Mark Zuckerberg asking for the company to hand over examples of adverts bought by Russian-linked accounts as well as details about how much they cost and how many people saw them.

The committee is currently investigating the influence of fake news, which critics say has thrived on Facebook in the last year amid politically-divisive votes in the US and across Europe.

“Part of this inquiry will focus on the role of foreign actors abusing platforms such as yours to interfere in the political discourse of other nations,” Mr Collins wrote.

Facebook sparked a political storm in the US last month when it revealed that thousands of adverts were bought by Russians in the run-up to Trump’s election victory.

Under investigation from Congress it has handed over 3,000 adverts purchased over two years by the Internet Research Agency, a group linked to the Russian Government. Mr Collins said he was looking for similar evidence in the UK.

The US adverts, which also appeared on Instagram and were seen by 10 million people, focused on divisive topics such as race, immigration and gun rights, and were allegedly used to help propel Donald Trump to the White House. Mr Trump has attempted to play down the impact of the adverts, saying the amounts spent were “tiny” and claiming that Facebook was on Hillary Clinton’s side.

Mr Zuckerberg has said it “just wouldn’t be realistic” to stop all interference in election campaigns on Facebook, although the company has since vowed to manually review every advert targeting people by political affiliation or race.

The Internet has become a key component in the globalisation of dirty politics.

Examining the Russian media war

A very interesting article by Jim Rutenberg in the New York Times that claims Russian influence in what has become known as fake news, used to promote discord and protest and to interfere in elections in countries around the world.

Examples are given of interference in Germany over immigration, in the UK over Brexit, and in the US election.

RT, Sputnik and Russia’s New Theory of War

How the Kremlin built one of the most powerful information weapons of the 21st century — and why it may be impossible to stop.

…Steltner found the phone calls he received that morning confounding. They came from police officers from towns far outside Berlin, who reported that protests were erupting, seemingly out of nowhere, on their streets. “They are demonstrating — ‘Save our children,’ ‘No attacks from immigrants on our children’ and some things like that,” Steltner told me when I met him in Berlin recently.

The police were calling Steltner because this was ostensibly his office’s fault. The protesters were angry over the Berlin prosecutor’s supposed refusal to indict three Arab migrants who, they said, raped a 13-year-old girl from Berlin’s tight-knit Russian-German community.

Steltner, who would certainly have been informed if such a case had come up for prosecution, had heard nothing of it. He called the Berlin Police Department, which informed him that a 13-year-old Russian-German girl had indeed gone missing a week before. When she resurfaced a day later, she told her parents that three “Southern-looking men” — by which she meant Arab migrants — had yanked her off the street and taken her to a rundown apartment, where they beat and raped her.

But when the police interviewed the girl, whose name was Lisa, she changed her story. She had left home, it turned out, because she had gotten in trouble at school. Afraid of how her parents would react, she went to stay with a 19-year-old male friend. The kidnapping and gang rape, she admitted, never happened.

The allegations were false, but Russian news agencies kept publishing them, promoting protests and discord over immigration in Germany.

Officials in Germany and at NATO headquarters in Brussels view the Lisa case, as it is now known, as an early strike in a new information war Russia is waging against the West. In the months that followed, politicians perceived by the Russian government as hostile to its interests would find themselves caught up in media storms that, in their broad contours, resembled the one that gathered around Merkel.

They often involved conspiracy theories and outright falsehoods — sometimes with a tenuous connection to fact, as in the Lisa case, sometimes with no connection at all — amplified until they broke through into domestic politics. In other cases, they simply helped promote nationalist, far-left or far-right views that put pressure on the political center.

What the efforts had in common was their agents: a loose network of Russian-government-run or -financed media outlets and apparently coordinated social-media accounts.

And this is effective. This is evident in New Zealand where ordinary people, especially those with conspiracy tendencies or with strong views about things like immigration or politics, pick up on and amplify the messages – which is of course one of the aims.

After RT and Sputnik gave platforms to politicians behind the British vote to leave the European Union, like Nigel Farage, a committee of the British Parliament released a report warning that foreign governments may have tried to interfere with the referendum.

Russia and China, the report argued, had an “understanding of mass psychology and of how to exploit individuals” and practiced a kind of cyberwarfare “reaching beyond the digital to influence public opinion.”

I wouldn’t rule out other countries either, like North Korea, from the Middle East – and the US, who are also one of the main targets.

But all of this paled in comparison with the role that Russian information networks are suspected to have played in the American presidential election of 2016.

In early January, two weeks before Donald J. Trump took office, American intelligence officials released a declassified version of a report — prepared jointly by the Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation and National Security Agency — titled “Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent U.S. Elections.” It detailed what an Obama-era Pentagon intelligence official, Michael Vickers, described in an interview in June with NBC News as “the political equivalent of 9/11.”

“Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election,” the authors wrote. “Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton and harm her electability and potential presidency.” According to the report, “Putin and the Russian government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.”

The intelligence assessment detailed some cloak-and-dagger activities, like the murky web of Russian (if not directly government-affiliated or -financed) hackers who infiltrated voting systems and stole gigabytes’ worth of email and other documents from the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign.

But most of the assessment concerned machinations that were plainly visible to anyone with a cable subscription or an internet connection: the coordinated activities of the TV and online-media properties and social-media accounts that made up, in the report’s words, “Russia’s state-run propaganda machine.”

The assessment devoted nearly half its pages to a single cable network: RT. The Kremlin started RT — shortened from the original Russia Today — a dozen years ago to improve Russia’s image abroad.

But it is not simple to isolate and combat.

Plenty of RT’s programming, to outward appearances, is not qualitatively different from conventional opinion-infused cable news.

Its fans point to its coverage of political perspectives that aren’t prominent on mainstream networks — voices from the Occupy movement, the libertarian right and third parties like the Green Party. The network has been nominated for four International Emmy Awards and one Daytime Emmy.

This makes RT and Sputnik harder for the West to combat than shadowy hackers.

 RT might not have amassed an audience that remotely rivals CNN’s in conventional terms, but in the new, “democratized” media landscape, it doesn’t need to.

Over the past several years, the network has come to form the hub of a new kind of state media operation: one that travels through the same diffuse online channels, chasing the same viral hits and memes, as the rest of the Twitter-and-Facebook-age media.

In the process, Russia has built the most effective propaganda operation of the 21st century so far, one that thrives in the feverish political climates that have descended on many Western publics.

It is a long article but worth reading if you have any interest in international propaganda and information wars.

As stated it is not just the use of news organisations, it is the use of social media as well. Facebook is gradually admitting how they were used during the US election campaign.

Reuters: Facebook says some Russian ads during U.S. election promoted live events

Some of the ads bought by Russians on Facebook last year promoted events during the U.S. presidential campaign, Facebook Inc said on Tuesday, indicating that alleged meddling ahead of the 2016 election went beyond social media.

Facebook said in a statement that its takedown of what the company last week called Russian-affiliated pages included shutting down “several promoted events.”

Facebook declined to provide details of the promoted events.

Facebook, the world’s largest social network, said last week that an operation likely based in Russia had placed thousands of U.S. ads with polarizing views on topics such as immigration, race and gay rights on the site during a two-year period through May 2017.

The Daily Beast, the news website that first reported on the promoted events posted on Facebook, said one advertisement promoted an anti-immigrant rally in Idaho in August 2016.

The rally was hosted by a Facebook group called “Secured Borders,” which was a Russian front and is now suspended, according to the Daily Beast.

In social media they commonly target people who want to believe certain things and  spread issues that have dubious merit.

Morgan and the Macron miracle

The UK vote for Brexit surprised, the election of Donald trump in the US shocked, and then Emmanuel Macron came from virtually nowhere to win the French presidency.

Then Theresa May destroyed a significant advantage to end a disastrous campaign still ahead of the rapidly improving left wing maverick Jeremy Corbyn but severely weakened, both in government and as Prime Minister.

Now France is voting for their Parliament, and exit polls suggest that Macron’s party En Marche will win a majority. Not bad for a party that didn’t exist at the start of last year.

So around the world voters are make decisions that seem to stick it to traditional politics and the status quo.

Could it happen in New Zealand?

Winston Peters and NZ First are often promoted as the king maker, with the baubles of power virtually a formality. But Peters is very old hat and has been there, done that before.

Will voters look for something different?

Barry Soper writes:  In politics anything is possible

Think about it, Prime Minister Gareth Morgan, leading a majority government with half of his MPs never having been elected to office before.

Sounds absurd? Yes well it’s highly unlikely to happen but these days in politics anything is possible as we’re seeing in France at the moment which has to be the political story to beat them all.

The 47 million French voters are again today going to the polls and are expected to give their new 39-year-old President Emmanuel Macron a healthy majority. It’s spectacular because Macron’s party was only founded by him in April last year.

After he won the Presidency last month he was on his own, he didn’t have one MP in the French Assembly. Since then he’s had to cobble together 577 candidates to stand for his party and after the first round of voting they led in 400 constituencies, more than half of them women.

And it looks like En Marche has succeeded.

Let Macron’s success be a warning to those established political parties who think elections are a walk in the park. The Socialists who ran the last French Government failed to scrape together even ten percent of the vote.

Here in New Zealand National obviously have the most to lose, but voters here have shown a reluctance to take big risks. They have preferred a stable government but without absolute power.

NZ First are in the box seat to hold the balance of power, but it’s possible a real alternative is considered.

The 5% threshold is a long shot for a new party, something that hasn’t been achieved before here.

The newly formed Conservative Party got a 2.65% in 2011, and increased to 3.97% in 2014, creditable but not enough. They are out of contention now after the political collapse of Colin Craig.

The only option looks to be TOP. Morgan doesn’t look like getting his party close at this stage, but there is three months to go.

Recent overseas elections have shown that anything is possible, even the unexpected, but a major surprise looks unlikely here.

 

 

The ‘Meh’ election?

There seems to be two major things at play around the Western world in elections, interference by hacking, and a growing dissatisfaction of voters.

Attempts to influence elections via social media manipulation and data hacks, allegedly by the Russians may or may not be making a difference but the intent seems clear.

It looks likely that Marine Le Pen will lose the French election but the fact that a candidate like her can come second shows that many voters are wanting something relatively radical to replace what they have now.

The UK election is certain to have some social media skulduggery but we will have to wait and see if hackers succeed in obtaining data to try and at least disrupt proceedings there – however it’s hard to see anything getting in the way of Jeremy Corbyn dragging Labour down to a bad defeat there.

Coming up in September Germany have their elections and there are already rumblings about attempted interference there.

And in New Zealand we have our election in September too.

We have already had an attempt to swing an election here by hacking, when Nicky Hager launched his Dirty Politics book in the lead up to the 2014 election using illegally obtained emails and other communications. It’s unlikely the Russians were involved in that but they may well have learnt something from.

What may not have been learnt from the New Zealand example is that using hacked data to influence an election can backfire, or at least fail to fire the incumbent government.

The second major factor is what appears to be a growing dissatisfaction with the status quo, whether it be the established government (as in Washington) or with international alliances (as with Brexit and the UK).

Voters seem to be attracted to more radical options because they want change from what they currently have. However while disillusionment and dissatisfaction are common the radical changes are in different directions.

Hence the rise of Donald Trump in the US, and the popularity of Bernie Sanders. They appealed to quite different voter groups.

And in the French presidential election the final two choices are a fairly radical right wing-ish Marine Le Pen, versus Emmanuel Macron, who has been a member the Socialist Party (PS) from 2006 to 2009 of minister in a socialist government, and only started his f En Marche! ‘political movement’ a year ago.

In New Zealand it’s sort of the same and also quite different. The left (Labour and Greens) are struggling to get much traction. Instead we have a mix of radical/maverick and a long established politician, Winston Peters. He has been doing the outlandish vagueness tricks that seem to have worked for Trump, as well as having a running battle with the media.

NZ First are polling better than they have for some time in the lead up to our election. Time will whether their support grows or not. Peters is going hard out anti-immigration, and the media are as usual giving him a lot of publicity, but that may or may not flow through to September.

So for a long time New Zealand has already had Peters attacking the media and being rewarded with publicity, plus dog whistling against immigrants. And we have also had an attempted hack interference.

And while some politicians and media are trying to talk up growing divides and discontents I’m not sure that there is a significant aversion to the status quo here that there is elsewhere. National have maintained unprecedented (under MMP) levels of support for an incumbent government.

They are showing signs of wavering, but the main alternative, Labour, have conceded they can’t match one-to-one and have set up an alliance of sorts with the Greens to try to compete. So far, going by the polls, that has not worked very successfully.

Change here may hinge on NZ First, but in the last few elections voters have resisted giving Peters a say in Government, or more accurately, sufficient voters have kept supporting the status quo.

While New Zealand has major housing issues and also a growing income divide and social issues of concern, our economy is generally doing very well. While we have always had “bloody Government” discord it is nothing like the ‘drain the Swamp’ level of Washington discontent.

While immigration numbers are being debated we don’t have the border problems and numbers of illegal immigrants that cause growing concern in the US and Europe. Peters is trying to scapegoat immigrants, and Labour has dabbled at that as well, but it’s hard to know whether that will appeal to prompt many voters to want to change the government. It had a negative effect for Labour.

One of the media’s biggest concerns seems to over who of Bill English and Andrew Little is the most boring. So they look for headlines elsewhere, hence the promotion of Peters and Jacinda Ardern, and trying to push new faces like Chlöe Swarbrick.

Kim Dotcom dominated a lot of coverage (and election spending) last election, as did the quirky Colin Craig, but the Internet Party in particular failed to attract voters.

Despite some threats Dotcom is largely out of the picture so far this year, Craig is too busy in court, and the one success of Dirty Politics was to have rendered Whale Oil down to rancid.

Despite some politicians and political activists trying to talk down the country and talk up a need for revolution, and despite some media searching for sensation, there seems to be no significant public discontent with our current government. It’s more like ‘meh’.

We don’t really have the levels or depths of discontent that are evident elsewhere.

There have been claims that Wikileaks (or the Russians or both?) have a data dump ready to go for New Zealand.

But if our election campaign is hit by a Dotcom promoted dump of hacked material is that going swing things? Or will the people vote ‘meh’.

Despite the best efforts of some media to sensationalise things – the overplaying of the Pike River videos by Newshub a recent example – and despite Dotcom or Hager or the Russians or the Aussies or whoever dumping on New Zealand this could turn out to be the ‘Meh’ election.

Brexit impact on New Zealand

While the United Kingdom exit from the European Union poses major challenges for the UK and for the rest of Europe, it should mainly offer opportunities for New Zealand.

We are trying to do a trade deal with the UK as soon as that is possible (they will be a tad busy at the moment), and also want to make progress on a trade deal with the EU.

Serena Kelly at Stuff looks at Brexit: the past, present and future impact on New Zealand

The past is of interest but it doesn’t matter much now. What we can do now and our future prospects are more important.

So what does Brexit mean for New Zealand and how has New Zealand reacted to developments?

Trade

Trade is the most vital interest for New Zealand’s foreign policy. Official statistics show that for the year ending June 2016, the EU was New Zealand’s third largest trading partner (and rising), and the UK our fifth largest export market. Out of our total trade with the EU, UK trade makes up 20 per cent.

The EU’s importance to New Zealand was showcased a few weeks ago when Prime Minister Bill English made his first official trip to Europe. In what was possibly a first for his National party, English visited Brussels before the UK.

During his Brussels visit, the possibility of fast-tracking the EU-NZ FTA was promoted on both sides – in order to signal to the world the importance of trade liberalisation in the face of a global trend towards so-called populism.

Indeed, Trade Minister Todd McLay has indicated that the EU-NZ FTA is likely to be finalised before an UK-NZ FTA. This is understandable – Britain still has at least two years to negotiate its exit from the EU and has yet to be accepted as a member in the World Trade Organisation.

No improved immigration access

Immediately after the referendum, there was hope that New Zealanders would benefit from relaxed immigration laws directed at New Zealanders. Unsurprisingly – given the consensus that Brexit was a vote against unfettered immigration – Prime Minister May recently told Prime Minister English that there would be no change.

Patience may be required.

Theresa May’s letter last month means there is suddenly a probable timetable for Brexit– around 18 months. May’s letter only hints at the phenomenal amount of time and manpower required to extract the United Kingdom from the European Union and to come to an agreement about the future relationship between the EU and UK. This means very limited resources for relationships with third countries such as New Zealand.

New Zealand may be a minor player and a low priority – but the UK could benefit from our extensive experience with doing trade negotiations, compared to their almost complete lack since they have been in the EU.

Getting in early would be a big deal for New Zealand. As far as size of trade goes it would be a small deal for the UK, but they could gain a lot more in other trade if they manage to do something quickly with us.

UK and Scottish parliaments clash over second referendum

UK Prime Minister has repeatedly said that “now is not the time” for another Scottish referendum on independence, but the Scottish Parliament has just voted in favour of “seeking permission” for a referendum before the UK leaves the European Union.

BBC: Scottish Parliament backs referendum call

Nicola Sturgeon’s call for a second referendum on independence for Scotland had been formally backed by the Scottish Parliament.

MSPs voted by 69 to 59 in favour of seeking permission for a referendum before the UK leaves the EU.

Ms Sturgeon says the move is needed to allow Scotland to decide what path to follow in the wake of the Brexit vote.

But the UK government has already said it will block a referendum until the Brexit process has been completed.

Prime Minister Theresa May, who met Ms Sturgeon for talks in Glasgow on Monday, has repeatedly insisted that “now is not the time” for a referendum.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon says she is not seeking confrontation.

“My argument is simply this: when the nature of the change that is made inevitable by Brexit becomes clear, that change should not be imposed upon us, we should have the right to decide the nature of that change.

“The people of Scotland should have the right to choose between Brexit – possibly a very hard Brexit – or becoming an independent country, able to chart our own course and create a true partnership of equals across these islands.”

She added: “I hope the UK government will respect the will of this parliament. If it does so, I will enter discussion in good faith and with a willingness to compromise.

“However, if it chooses not to do so I will return to the parliament following the Easter recess to set out the steps that the Scottish government will take to progress the will of parliament.”

But this looks like a clash of wills between her and Theresa May, and between the Scottish and UK parliaments.

Ms Sturgeon is expected to make the formal request for a section 30 later this week – after Mrs May formally starts the Brexit process by triggering Article 50.

Scottish voters rejected independence by 55% to 45% in a referendum in 2014, but Ms Sturgeon believes the UK voting to leave the EU is a material change in circumstances which means people should again be asked the question.

There certainly has been a material change in circumstances.

While May and her UK government prefers no split it may make sense to find out if that is what the Scots want and take that into account with exit plans from the EU.

Her Scottish secretary, David Mundell, has said that the timescale could include “the Brexit process, the journey of leaving and people being able to understand what the UK’s new relationship with the EU is, so they can make an informed choice if there was ever to be another referendum”.

He added: “We are not entering into negotiations on whether there should be another independence referendum during the Brexit process.

The Scottish Parliament vote may or may not change that position.

There may be some chicken and egg here.

Would plans for the UK exit from the EU be easier if they knew whether Scotland was going to split or remain?

Or should another Scottish referendum wait until they know what the exit from the EU is going to look like for them and the UK?

 

UK & Europe – the Brexit process

Topics about the UK, EU and Europe.

UK-EU


The Guardian explains the Brexit process.

What is article 50?

In just 264 words in five paragraphs, article 50 of the Lisbon treaty sets out how an EU member can voluntarily leave the European Union. It specifies that a leaver should notify the European council of its intention, negotiate a deal on its withdrawal and establish legal grounds for a future relationship with the EU.

What is ‘triggered’ by article 50?

Once a country gives notice it wants to leave it has two years to negotiate new arrangements, after which it will no longer be subject to EU treaties.

How and when will article 50 be triggered?

The Brexit starting pistol is fired on Wednesday 29 March, when the government delivers a letter to Donald Tusk, the president of the European council.

Then what?

On Thursday the Brexit secretary, David Davis, will publish the government’s “great repeal bill”. This will set out an end to the authority of EU law by converting all its provisions in British law once the UK leaves.

How will the EU respond?

Tusk has promised that he will respond by Friday with “draft Brexit guidelines”.

How long will they take?

The EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, has said he envisages there being less than 18 months of real negotiating time. The crucial window is likely to be the year from October 2017, after the German elections on 24 September.

What are the key sticking points?

It’s a long list, and even the topics for negotiation are subject to negotiation.

For example, the UK wants trade talks to be part of the leave discussions, but senior figures in the EU think trade should be discussed separately. While the UK is still part of the EU it is not allowed to negotiate trade deals with non-EU countries.

Another key topic that will need urgent resolution will be the rights of EU citizens living in the UK and British subjects living abroad. The government ruled out giving EU citizens guaranteed protections before the start of talks, giving rise to fears that they will be used as bargaining chips.

Other pressing but tricky issues include security, migration and border controls.

Brexit: everything you need to know about how the UK will leave the EU