Political operators and lobbyists being used by media promoting leadership coup

The media were always going to give a lot of coverage to a major party leadership challenge, as they did when Simon Bridges outed the challenge of Todd Muller and the subsequent showdown and change of leader. It was big political news and should have received prominent coverage.

But it also showed a major flaw of the media – their use of political operators and lobbyists to comment on the story.

Matthew Hooton is often used by the media in support of stories, even though he is a professional lobbyist. He was given a shot at promoting his agenda without having to disclose any possible involvement in the challenge.

And Michelle Boag suddenly popped up out of the woodwork to and was quoted a number of times in support of a change. She would be most unlikely to be an independent observer.

NZ Herald – Anatomy of a coup: How Todd Muller felled Simon Bridges and who helped him

This is behind their paywall, but a key part is repeated on Twitter:


RNZ 18 May: Labour surges, National plummets in Newshub-Reid Research poll

“Clearly the leadership has failed. Simon Bridges is down to 4.5 percent. The public simply does not like him, that isn’t fair, the public simply did not like Andrew Little.

“He’s a perfectly pleasant person Andrew Little but the public did not like him, and so Labour had no choice in the end but to get rid of him, and National is now at that point.”

RNZ 19 May: Political poll results with Hooton and Jones

“This is a 25-point gap between National and Labour and that’s simply extraordinary. And the National Party has to take that very seriously, they are taking it seriously, although they do expect another poll to come out on Thursday from TVNZ by Colmar Brunton, and they’ll just see what that has to say.

“If it is as bad as this, I would expect there would be enormous pressure on the current leader and deputy leader to at least offer their resignations to the caucus.

However, a better showing in the Colmar Brunton polling might give Simon Bridges a lifeline, he says.

A “hunk” of National MPs are reluctant to be responding to polls, Hooton says.

“Their views on this is what’s going to decide Simon Bridges future.”

RNZ 21 May (audio): Collins key to National Party battle – Hooton  Political commentator Matthew Hooton speaks to Kim Hill.

RNZ 21 May: Simon Bridges’ tactics likely to lose him the leadership challenge – commentator

Political commentator Matthew Hooton said Bridges’ move to call the leadership vote was an own goal.

“I think it was another example of the poor political judgement that has plagued his political leadership quite frankly.

“I think Simon Bridges’ move yesterday was probably one of the most extraordinary acts of political harikari that we’ve seen.”

Hooton said Muller’s supporters would likely have lost their nerve there would have been no challenge.

“But by taunting Muller, forcing him and … Nikki Kaye to act … there is now a vote on Friday.

“And I think, the way this is going, Mr Bridges will lose and Muller will become leader of the party.

If Bridges survived the leadership vote it would cost the party any chance of winning the election in September, he said.

If Muller and Kaye failed in their challenge Bridges would demote them to the backbenches which would cost the party votes.

“He cannot afford to lose Todd Muller and Nikki Kaye from his senior team, or else he will lose support from both farmers, provincial New Zealanders, and also urban liberals in Auckland.

RNZ 22 May (audio): Commentator backing Muller to win National Party challenge Political commentator Matthew Hooton is supporting Muller to win – Kim Hill asked him how close does he expect the vote to be.

But Hooton was promoting leadership change – in a last NZ herald column last month (24 April) Matthew Hooton (column): Simon Bridges’ leadership beyond salvaging

Hooton is a regular on RNZ and in NZ Herald and is usually a worthwhile commentator, but it’s fair to ask whether his opinions promoted this week were independent of the leadership coup.

If it turns out he was working for Muller that would not reflect well on him due to lack of disclosure, but woukld also refelct poorly onn the media who give him free publicity.

Michelle Boag is not a regular on media, but managed to be given a say on the challenge too.

Newstalk ZB 19 May – Michelle Boag: Bridges could be another victim of Covid-19 fallout

Michelle Boag says it’s no surprise people have responded positively to the Prime Minister – whose ratings shot up to almost 60 percent.

She told Chris Lynch Arden’s been visible everywhere during the pandemic and Bridges hasn’t.

“There is no doubt there’s a good chance of him becoming yet another victim of Covid-19.”

She says that will be up to the Caucus to decide the leader’s fate.

RNZ 21 May: Former National Party president Michelle Boag on leadership challenge Former National Party president Michelle Boag speaks to Corin Dann.

RNZ 21 May: Simon Bridges’ tactics likely to lose him the leadership challenge – commentator

Former National Party president Michelle Boag told Morning Report Bridges shot himself in the foot by holding the vote tomorrow rather than next week.

This was because it made it harder for other leadership contenders to jump into the race, and those unhappy with Bridges’ leadership could rally around one candidate rather than their votes being split between a number of challengers.

However calling for the leadership vote was the right decision, she said.

“I think it’s the right thing for the National Party to get this sorted as quickly as possible and I think the caucus will be really pleased to have an early opportunity to do that.”

She said the need for a leadership vote was not solely prompted by the recent poll.

“It is about months and months, and sometimes years, of these MPs having negative feedback about their leader, not only from party members but from constituents.

“So while the poll may have been the thing that sparked [it] – the catalyst for this challenge – there’s no doubt this has been building for a long time.”

Boag popping up in media is a sure sign that she is promoting some sort of outcome.

I think that with important political issues, and leadership changes rank right up there, media should take care not to promote people with interests in the outcomes.

Cameron Slater, one of the most agenda driven political operators around, was given some oxygen by John Banks on radio during the week to talk about the National leadership challenge, but the only leader Slater seems interested in promoting these days is Winston Peters.

A challenging week for Ardern

I doubt if Jacinda Ardern has lost any voter support over the last week and a bit, but she has been challenged by a number of issues inflicted by others, and her attempt to stem the slide in business confidence has had a mixed reaction.

Stuff’s From the Beltway gives Ardern a pass mark.

Ardern – after fumbling Clare Curran’s demotion Ardern acted decisively in the face of allegations that Customs Minister Meka Whaitiri had a physical altercation with a staff member. Ardern also got kudos for her response to business confidence – promising business her ear through the establishment of a Prime Minister’s Business Advisory Council.

The Curran demotion from Cabinet is widely seen as an interim step, with expectations that she will be eventually dropped as a Minister altogether, whether or not she stuffs up again.

The alleged Whaitiri incident can only be an interim step, standing her down from her ministerial responsibilities and setting up an investigation into what is being widely alleged as a physical altercation with a staff member.

Tracey Watkins in Jacinda Ardern’s first term hex:

Ardern’s hand is now stayed till the investigation into Customs Minister Meka Whaitiri is complete. The allegations are clearly so serious, and so significant, she had no choice but to stand the minister aside.

The allegations include shouting and a physical confrontation which, if proven, could be damaging enough to force Whaitiri out of Parliament altogether.

There should be zero tolerance of ministers using standover tactics on staff, and particularly getting physical.

Yet these allegations appear to have come as no surprise to most Beehive watchers.

So Ardern should have been made aware that one of her ministers could be an embarrassment waiting to happen.

But allegations relating to Whaitiri’s relations with her staff date back even to Opposition days – and that should raise some serious questions not just for Ardern, but parliamentary and ministerial service bosses.

First for Ardern –  how could the Labour hierarchy not know about Whaitiri’s reputation among parliamentary staff?

It doesn’t look like a problem solved, just a problem put on hold for a while.

There has been an impression that while Ardern has generally been doing ok at her own job her Government has been lacking leadership, with Ministers left to do their own thing.

And also only partly dealt with, after being sent to an inquiry five months ago, is the youth summer camp embarrassment.

From the Beltway:


Labour Party president Nigel Haworth – he is refusing to release the full report into Labour’s summer camp sex scandal and six months down the track the party is still only “reviewing” policies to prevent a recurrence.

There has been a lack of holding anyone in Labour to account. Neil Kirton slipped away from his job, as the report was delayed. The recommendations made public are an attempt to prevent future problems, and fail to address the camp issues (apart from the ongoing prosecution which was out of Labour’s hands after being forced by publicity).

Tracey Watkins:

Ardern doesn’t need to follow natural justice principles when it comes to her ministers – just as they are not required to follow the usual natural justice rules when it comes to hiring and firing their own staff.

Ardern’s only concern is whether she is being forced to burn some of her precious political capital on ministers who aren’t worth it.

That’s what former prime minister Helen Clark was referring to when she pointed out that heads would have rolled had the Labour summer camp scandal happened under her watch.

Clark would not have wasted her time defending the indefensible.

Ardern is going to have to learn that being ruthless is a necessary part of the role. Otherwise she won’t have any political capital left to burn on the fights worth having.

Ardern became involved in what should have been an issue between the Speaker and National.

RNZ Week In Politics: Could it get any worse for Labour?

Speaker Trevor Mallard’s decision to call off the inquiry set up to find the culprit has created a controversy that isn’t going to be easily resolved.

Police know who it is but won’t tell Mr Bridges. Mr Mallard apparently doesn’t know either but pulled the plug on the inquiry after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said it was an internal National Party matter.

Mallard controversially spoke to Ardern before scrapping the inquiry, a day after appointing a QC to run it.

Another contentious issue was the timing of Mr Mallard’s announcement that the inquiry wouldn’t take place. This came just before the release of Ms Ardern’s statement that she had sacked Clare Curran from cabinet.

The suspicion was that an attempt had been made to bury the inquiry story by swamping it with a bigger one.

Media tend to show their annoyance if their weekends are disrupted by later Friday news dumps.

This cluster of problems reflect on the management of Government. Demoting or sacking ministers can be politically embarrassing, but are storms that can usually be weathered.

But one issue has wider and bigger implications – business confidence (especially a lack of) can impact on the economy, and if that falters that can reflect badly on Labour’s financial management credibility.

Ardern tried to address it in a long planned speech, but a like warm response from her wordy and vague pep talk that attempted to address sliding business confidence.

While this was rumbling on, Ms Ardern decided to deal with a problem of her own – falling business confidence which the Opposition has been using to condemn the government’s economic management.

Ms Ardern’s creation of a Business Advisory Council, chaired by Air NZ chief executive Christopher Luxon to provide “high-level free and frank advice”, had a lukewarm reception at best.

The PM wants the government to have a stronger grip on the way it engages with the business sector, but she’s dealing with people who believe they already know what’s going on.

It’s going to be hard to persuade them that ministers in a Labour-led government know as much about business as predecessors such as Steven Joyce and Sir John Key.

Setting up an advisory council is a virtual admission that Ardern didn’t have the business knowledge and contacts deemed necessary for a Prime Minister.

Just as it seemed a bad week couldn’t get worse, another ANZ Business Outlook Survey was released showing confidence had fallen another five points.

The bank’s economist, Sharon Zollner, said that indicated “a threat to near-term activity”.

And it didn’t help that NZ First minister Shane Jones resumed attacks on the person Ardern appointed to lead her advisory council.

NZ First also created some awkward contradictions for their own stances on championing the regions and attacking Australian owned banks and business interests when Winston Peters released a racing report written by an Australian businessman that proposed shutting down many regional race tracks, and taking rrace betting of the TAB and giving it to Australian businesses.

Ardern has survived the week, but many of the challenges that arose remain as problems that will eventually need to be dealt with better.

Particularly with Simon Bridges flailing around over with the expenses leak Ardern’s voter approval will have barely been dented, but her ability to manage her Government  and especially her Government’s ability to manage financial matters, will need to improve or she may struggle to hold her coalition together.

A popular Prime Minister with an unpopular Government will find re-election another major challenge in two years time.


US popular vote

If the Green Party challenge is unsuccessful Donald Trump has won where it counts in the Electoral College, but the current vote tally has Clinton ahead by more than 2 million votes overall.


However Trump has the highest vote ever for a Republican candidate.

The current numbers:

  • Clinton 64,418,125 (48.1%)
  • Trump 62,314,184 (46.5%
  • Others 7,168,364 (5.4%)


Politico reports on the possible challenge:

Among the potential steps to challenge the results on Wednesday was an announcement from Stein, often a strident Clinton critic, that she would seek to challenge the results in all three of the states if she raised the $2 million necessary to do so.

Pennsylvania and Wisconsin are traditionally Democrats states that fell into Trump’s column on Nov. 8, and Michigan’s story is similar, though it has yet to be officially called for Trump.

As of Thursday morning, Stein’s campaign had raised at least $2.5 million, according to multiple news reports.

But even if Stein were to raise enough money for the challenge before the states’ looming deadlines, it’s still a stretch: Clinton would need to win all three states in order to flip the Electoral College vote.

Stein’s call came shortly after the report that the group of experts had told Podesta and Elias they saw evidence that Clinton received 7 percent fewer votes in Wisconsin counties that used electronic machines instead of paper ballots or optical scanners.

I think that Clinton is only about 70,000 votes short but would have to reverse the result in all three states to win the presidency. I think it ain’t going to happen.

There’s also talk that some of the Electoral Votes may be cast contrary to the state results but it would take quite a few to swap sides. And it would create an uproar, and potentially a political crisis.


Corbyn finally being challenged

After Jeremy Corbyn held fast to his leadership of UK’s Labour Party despite a resounding no confidence vote against him it looked like he had stared down any challenge.

But things have been fired up again with a challenger set to formally launch a bid. It is Angela Eagle, someone I’ve never heard of, but I’m not familiar with most UK MPs.

The Guardian reports: Labour leader and MPs set on collision course in a battle for party’s soul

An election that pits unions against ministers begins on Monday: and the mood is so poisonous that even the rules of the contest are a source of friction

On Monday in what aides say will be a “deeply personal” speech over which she has agonised for days, Angela Eagle will formally launch her bid to be leader of the Labour party, just as its very foundations appear to be crumbling.

Flanked by allies, she will explain her motives for seeking to unseat Jeremy Corbyn, only nine months after he was elected, and trigger a race whose very rules are deeply contested.

It is for that reason that Monday’s fireworks – all the more glittering, perhaps, forthe delay in them being launched – may prove to be just a sideshow to a more substantive political event the following day.

In delivering 51 MPs in support of a leadership bid to the parliamentary Labour party chair, John Cryer, Eagle will trigger the start of the contest. Indeed she has many more names than 51, and the same is true of the former shadow welfare secretary, Owen Smith, who is likely to join the race at some point in the coming days.

But it is on Tuesday, when a special meeting of the party’s governing body, the national executive committee (NEC), will be convened at Labour HQ, that the key questions over this campaign will be discussed and the fate of the Labour party as we know it shall be placed in the balance. It is set to be a day of high drama and much anger, but hopefully some clarity.

At the top of the contentious agenda will be whether Jeremy Corbyn, as incumbent, needs to collect 51 MPs himself to appear on the ballot paper.

It looks ugly.

Colin James: the 2015 challenge

In his latest column Even the world’s small can stand upright Colin James writes of “the 2015 challenge” – how do we deal with “inequalities of wealth, income and opportunity”?

We drag with us into 2015 a quarter-century of now-ingrained wide inequalities of wealth, income and opportunity, which divide and undermine us and debilitate our economy.

In the 1890s, as Tom Brooking’s compendious new biography of Dick Seddon expounds, just such a division was fazing dreams of a new, freer society.

Seddon, William Pember Reeves and Jock McKenzie sanded off the patrician patina shipped in from Britain. New Zealanders (except Maori and Chinese, one must note) were to have a fair go to make the best of themselves.

That held for 90 years till the mid-1980s. Now many kids don’t get a fair go and we all lose.

Seddon and Co’s fair-go drive demonstrated that a small, open society can more flexibly imagine ways of doing things than a big, established one.

That is the 2015 challenge.

Rapid technological change is recasting production, value chains and sales channels, redefining education and ways of keeping and restoring health, sowing and vacuuming information, connecting people and things and destroying privacy.

That revolution plus global economic and political disorder have torn up political-economy texts.

The next texts will mostly be written elsewhere. But New Zealand has shown itself — in the 1890s, 1930s and 1980s — to be a place where new ideas can be tested in practice and enhanced. We can be flexible, open and quick-acting. We can innovate, as in our bicultural accommodation. And we have some fine minds.

Standing upright, we could make this a place the compilers of the new texts come to for a sparky idea or two.

That is one of many opportunities a disordered world opens for us in this safe, spacious, well-endowed place.

Can we in New Zealand be “flexible, open and quick-acting” in addressing inequalities of wealth, income and opportunity”?

Is this best done by dragging the top down, lifting the bottom, or a mix of both?

I think raising the bottom to keep up with the rest would be the best point of focus but it’s not easy, nor cheap.

But it may be more expensive in the long run not to.

Internet Party candidate shortlist

The Internet Party have posted their candidate shortlist online:

“Meet the shortlist of 22 for our Candidate Challenge”

This list has been chosen after a series of meetings around the country.

The Internet Party is delighted with the response to our candidate application.

About 150 people from a diverse range of backgrounds have applied. Preliminary screenings to assess potential candidates will begin soon. These are happening around the country at the dates and venues below. All Internet Party members are encouraged to attend to meet other members and your potential Internet Party candidates. Following the preliminary events, a final Internet Party Candidate Search event will take place in Auckland on Saturday June 7.


20 tickets left for tomorrow’s #CandidateChallenge at Q Theatre! Get in while you still can! Will be streamed also.


The party leader has already been chosen – Laila Harre

The combined Internet-MANA list will be:

  1. Hone Harawira (Mana)
  2. Laila Harre (Internet)
  3. Annette Sykes (Mana)
  4. John Minto (Mana)
  5. Internet candidate
    – alternating Mana-Internet from there

It’s going to be very challenging for them to get four or more MPs so the top candidates from this Candidate Challenge list are an outside chance only of getting into Parliament.


Today is a big day for the Internet Party. The final Candidate challenge. Time for our members to pick 15 leaders.

That is 15 selected from 22.

But the party executive committee will get to have the final say. The current committee is self appointed:

There will be an inaugural Executive Committee consisting of the founders of the Internet Party. The inaugural members of Internet Party Assets Incorporated will be the inaugural members of the Executive Committee. In the Internet Party’s second year, there will be an Annual General Meeting for Members to elect an Executive Committee as per these rules.

The selection process:


12.1 The Executive Committee shall determine the selection and approval of Party List candidates and Electoral candidates for election to Parliament.

Selection Pledge

12.2 All candidates must sign and agree to abide by a formal written selection pledge which shall contain (without limitation):
12.2.1. Confirmation that the candidate is a New Zealand citizen;
12.2.2.Confirmation of eligibility and suitability for nomination to Parliament;
12.2.3. An undertaking to uphold and abide by the objectives and rules of the Internet Party;
12.2.4.An undertaking to promote and abide by the manifesto of the Internet Party; and
12.2.5.Any other matters the Executive Committee considers relevant.

12.3 The Executive shall also distribute to candidates:
12.3.1. The process for resigning from the Party List or as an Electorate Candidate, as determined by the Executive Committee; and
12.3.2. Any other matters the Executive Committee deems appropriate.

Selecting the Party List

12.4 The Internet Party’s Executive Committee shall produce the Party List. The process for selecting the Party List is:
12.4.1. In a general election year, the Executive Committee shall decide the time periods and deadlines for each stage of selecting the Party List;
12.4.2. The Party Secretary shall call for nominations for the Party List in accordance with the time period and deadline set by the Executive Committee;
12.4.3. Only Full members may be nominated for the Party List. Full members may nominate themselves for the Party List;
12.4.4. At the close of nominations, the Executive Committee shall rank nominees and produce an “Indicative Party List”, with no less than 9 and no more than 121 candidates;
12.4.5. The Party Secretary will distribute the “Indicative Party List” to members for consultation;
12.4.6. Members will rank the candidates on the “Indicative Party List”, in accordance with their own preferences, and will return the ranked “Indicative Party List” to the Party Secretary within a time period set by the Executive Committee;
12.4.7. Having regard to the ranked lists provided by members, the Executive Committee will produce a “Final Party List” at its sole discretion that will constitute the final Party List.

12.5 The Executive Committee will be responsible for determining the procedure for implementing the provisions of clause 12.4 and the Party Secretary must notify all members of that procedure prior to nominations being called for.

Selecting Electorate Candidates

12.6 Once the Party List has been finalised, the Executive Committee may ask candidates on the Party List to stand in electorates as Electorate candidates.
12.7 Which electorates candidates are asked to stand in is at the discretion of the Executive Committee.
12.8 Party List candidates may decline to stand in an electorate and can remain on the Party List.


12.9 In determining the ranking of candidates in the Final Party List, the Executive Committee shall actively maintain and promote economic, cultural, social, ethnic, age, geographic, and gender diversity, and will promote equality as far as is practicable.

Democratic participation

12.10 Every Member is entitled to actively participate in ranking the Indicative Party List.


12.11 The Executive Committee is empowered to remunerate members of the Party List through agreement with them.


The process promotes participatory democracy but the final say on everything is by a (currently) non-democratically chosen executive committee.

It appears that the leader (Laila Harre) was head hunted and appointed by the executive.

Labour’s big Kiwisaver challenge

Labour have a very big challenge to overcome if they want to successfully sell their compulsory Kiwisaver policy proposal. A comment by Disraeli Gladstone at The Standard illustrates a potential problem.

I wanted to bring up a potential situation which is probably reasonably common across the country:

A single parent with multiple kids, potentially three or four. Maybe the parent is a widow, maybe they receive some support from the other parent, maybe the other parent fled the country. They earn around $50,000. That’s not bad. It’s under the median income but they’re definitely not counted as a person on low income. They even get a bit of Working for Families.

However, they’re a renter. They also have a car they’re still paying off: nothing flash, something to get by which wouldn’t also have to go into repairs often. They have various school fees and uniforms and books and trips to pay for. Electricity bills are always a bit of a concern.

Now, the parent is doing okay. They want the best for their kids. So they budget accordingly. Healthy food over cheap rubbish, so they don’t have any silly gym membership or anything like that. They want their kids to have books and internet so maybe they don’t get Sky TV.

It’s a nice life without being affluent. It’s also rather tediously poised. They’ll be some weeks when the parent is scrambling for every cent: unexpected school fee, kid’s shoes have broken, etc. It’s comfortable without ever being safe.

One of the things they have to consider is Kiwisaver. They decide against it. They can’t afford it yet. Once the kids are older, they’ll open one up.

When I say potential situation, I am largely writing about a good friend of mine.

Suddenly, under Labour’s new policy, everything changes. They have to contribute to Kiwisaver. That’s a certain percentage of their income gone. They can’t withstand the unexpected expenses now, school fees and new uniforms are dreaded. And this is someone on a reasonable salary. They’re nearly going under.

Furthermore, the rate is variable, how is that person meant to budget? A responsible way of life of budgeting essentials and nice-to-haves is suddenly thrown away with the risk that soon their Kiwisaver contributions might rise. Maybe the kids don’t get their books, maybe they have to downsize the car and cringe with every WOF, maybe they have to downsize a house and have multiple children in each room in a more dangerous part of town.

For someone earning $50,000 would have $4,500 per year ($86.54 per week)  contribution with Labour’s compulsory Kiwisaver and increase to 9% total contribution (that’s a total of employee plus employer contribution).

Now Labour just needs to provide a really good policy to make sure low-income and renters don’t get punished by this. (geoff)

That’s Labour’s biggest challenge.

At 9% (Labour’s suggested Kiwisaver rate):
$30,000 is $2,700
$40,000 is $3,600
$50,000 is $4,500

How can they “not punish” people earning those amounts? If they have children their effective PAYE less WFF credit means they are pay little or no income tax.

And how can they ‘not punish’ them without being unfair to those who already contribute to Kiwisaver?

David Parker has talked about increasing the minimum wage and using a living wage but these are substantial compulsory contributions, and it will be very difficult to be fair to all.

What about a solo parent who works 30 hours a week on $25 per hour ($39,000 pa with $3,510 Kiwisaver)? They won’t be affected by any increase in the minimum wage and are unlikely to be affected by any living wage.

It will be difficult for Labour to explain the possible benefits some time in the future of some possible effects on Official Cash Rates and exchange rates – especially when a lowered exchange rate will increase the cost of living for many people due to more expensive imports, and most people won’t noticed anything from improved export prices.

It could be even more difficult for Labour to explain to and ‘not punish’ low income earners and people who aren’t yet on Kiwisaver.

Low and average earners would potentially see $50-$100 per week less in their pay packet.

Making Kiwisaver compulsory, an up front $50-$100 per week less in the hand and rising petrol prices versus tweaks that might affect the OCR, Forex and Fonterra payouts. Selling the benefits of their policy will be a big challenge for Labour.