French presidential election

It looks very likely that no candidate will get a clear majority in the first presidential election in France, meaning that a second election will be held next month. But it is uncertain which two candidates will make the run-off, with a poll predicted 25% of voters undecided.

Guardian: French election: vote heading for nailbiting climax – live

Final polls show four leading presidential candidates so close that any two could go through to runoff in two weeks’ time

It’s not exactly nail biting if the result won’t be known until after a second vote in two weeks.

There are 11 candidates but four seem to have a chance of getting through:

Emmanuel Macron

Party: En Marche! (On the Move!). Centrist: liberal economically, left socially
In brief: Fresh, internationally-minded, upbeat

Marine Le Pen

Party: Front National. Far-right.
In brief: Imperious, combative, theatrical, ruthlessly determined; France first.

François Fillon

Party: Les Républicains. Centre-right, conservative.
In brief: Family, faith and the free market; now also alleged abuser of public funds

Jean-Luc Mélenchon

Party: La France Insoumise (France Unbowed). Radical left
In brief: Power to the people, sharp tongue, fiery oratory, great showman

Only one candidate to the left of centre.

France’s 2017 presidential election has been one of the tightest and least predictable in generations. After the final set of opinion polls on Friday, of four candidates leading the first round any two could conceivably make it to the runoff.

FrenchPresidentialPoll2017

What’s more, up to 25% of voters were estimated to be undecided on the eve of the vote. No one, in short, should be under any illusions: anything could yet happen.

Later today (NZ time) we may know which two candidates will go head to head.

Putin linked to plan to sway US election

The controversy over how much Russia tried to influence the US presidential election last year continues with the claim that two documents link Vladimir Putin to attempts to help Donald Trump’s campaign and to attack Hillary Clinton.

Reuters reports: Exclusive: Putin-linked think tank drew up plan to sway 2016 U.S. election – documents

A Russian government think tank controlled by Vladimir Putin developed a plan to swing the 2016 U.S. presidential election to Donald Trump and undermine voters’ faith in the American electoral system, three current and four former U.S. officials told Reuters.

They described two confidential documents from the think tank as providing the framework and rationale for what U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded was an intensive effort by Russia to interfere with the Nov. 8 election. U.S. intelligence officials acquired the documents, which were prepared by the Moscow-based Russian Institute for Strategic Studies [en.riss.ru/], after the election.

The institute is run by retired senior Russian foreign intelligence officials appointed by Putin’s office.

The first Russian institute document was a strategy paper written last June that circulated at the highest levels of the Russian government but was not addressed to any specific individuals.

It recommended the Kremlin launch a propaganda campaign on social media and Russian state-backed global news outlets to encourage U.S. voters to elect a president who would take a softer line toward Russia than the administration of then-President Barack Obama, the seven officials said.

A second institute document, drafted in October and distributed in the same way, warned that Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was likely to win the election.

For that reason, it argued, it was better for Russia to end its pro-Trump propaganda and instead intensify its messaging about voter fraud to undermine the U.S. electoral system’s legitimacy and damage Clinton’s reputation in an effort to undermine her presidency, the seven officials said.

The documents were central to the Obama administration’s conclusion that Russia mounted a “fake news” campaign and launched cyber attacks against Democratic Party groups and Clinton’s campaign, the current and former officials said.

“Putin had the objective in mind all along, and he asked the institute to draw him a road map,” said one of the sources, a former senior U.S. intelligence official.

Four of the officials said the approach outlined in the June strategy paper was a broadening of an effort the Putin administration launched in March 2016. That month the Kremlin instructed state-backed media outlets, including international platforms Russia Today and Sputnik news agency, to start producing positive reports on Trump’s quest for the U.S. presidency, the officials said.

Several specific examples of the Russian news agencies involvement:

  • Russia Today and Sputnik published anti-Clinton stories while pro-Kremlin bloggers prepared a Twitter campaign calling into question the fairness of an anticipated Clinton victory, according to a report by U.S. intelligence agencies on Russian interference in the election made public in January. [bit.ly/2kMiKSA]
  • Russia Today’s most popular Clinton video – “How 100% of the 2015 Clintons’ ‘charity’ went to … themselves” – accumulated 9 millions views on social media, according to the January report. [bit.ly/2os8wIt]
  • Russia Today and Sputnik “consistently cast president elect-Trump as the target of unfair coverage from traditional media outlets.”

Sounds a lot like the Trump campaign. Who followed who’s lead?

UK & Europe – French election

Topics about the UK, EU and Europe.

UK-EU


The first round of the French presidential election is due to be held next weekend, on 23 April. There are 11 candidates, and if no candidate wins a majority the top two candidates will have a run-off election on 7 May.

Current president François Hollande of the Socialist Party (PS) has had low approval ratings and won’t stand for re-election.

Front running candidates:

Fillon’s chances took a hit when it was alleged that he has used family members in fictitious jobs as parliamentary assistants in what became known as Penelopegate.

And now French prosecutors seek to lift Le Pen immunity over expenses inquiry

French prosecutors have asked the European parliament to lift the immunity of the far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen over an expenses scandal, deepening her legal woes on the eve of the election.

The move comes just nine days before France heads to the polls for a highly unpredictable vote, with Le Pen – who heads the Eurosceptic Front National (FN) – one of the frontrunners in the 23 April first round.

The request was made at the end of last month after Le Pen, who is a member of the European parliament, invoked her parliamentary immunity in refusing to attend questioning by investigating magistrates.

From the Guardian: French elections: all you need to know

Child abuse a far worse problem than terrorism

If people and Governments put as much effort into reducing the risks of child abuse as they do terrorism perhaps we would make some real progress in dealing with one of New Zealand’s biggest actual problems.

It’s a lot more difficult screening parents in their homes than it is screening passengers before boarding an aircraft.

Jarrod Gilbert: We really must stop this cycle of child abuse

James Whakaruru’s misery ended when he was killed in 1999. He had endured four years of life and that was all he could take. He was hit with a small hammer, a jug cord and a vacuum cleaner hose. During one beating his mind was so confused he stared blankly ahead. His tormentor responded by poking him in the eyes. It was a stomping that eventually switched out his little light. It was a case that even the Mongrel Mob condemned, calling the cruelty “amongst the lowest of any act”.

An inquiry by the Commissioner for Children found a number of failings by state agencies, which were all too aware of the boy’s troubled existence. The Commissioner said James became a hero because changes made to Government agencies would save lives in the future. Yet such horrors have continued.

My colleague Greg Newbold has found that on average nine children (under 15) have been killed as a result of maltreatment since 1992 and the rate has not abated in recent years. In 2015, there were 14 such deaths, one of which was three-year-old Moko Rangitoheriri, or baby Moko as we knew him when he gained posthumous celebrity.

For every child killed there are dozens who live wretched existences and from this cohort of unfortunates will come the next generation of abusers. Solving the problems of today, then, is not just a moral imperative but is also about producing a positive ripple effect.

We have heard of a number of horrifying abuses of children, but they are just the worst. Most of the children being scarred for life suffer in private.

This cycle of abuse is well known, yet state spending on the problem is poorly aligned to it, and our targeting of the problem is reactionary and punitive rather than proactive and preventative.

Of the $1.4 billion we spend on family and sexual violence annually, less than 10 per cent is spent on interventions, of which just 1.5 per cent is spent on primary prevention. The morality of that is questionable, the economics even more so.

The Government say they are investigating ways of using money more effectively to reduce social and criminal problems.

Not only must things be approached differently but there needs to be greater urgency in our thinking. It’s perhaps trite to say, but if nine New Zealanders were killed every year in acts of terrorism politicians would never stop talking about it and it would be priority number one.

In an election year, that’s exactly where this issue should be.

Violence, especially violence against children, is one of the most serious problems we have in New Zealand. It has widespread immediate and long term effects and is very costly to the state – on top of costing many people a decent quality of life.

Why isn’t it a top election issue? Why aren’t parties making it a bottom line when they posture over coalition deals?

Why don’t ‘the people’ demand more from our Government and our politicians?

It’s something we must do more about, but we seem more concerned about things beyond our control, like Trump and Brexit and Islam that are low risk to us.

There are children in our communities at high risk now. Shouldn’t we me more outraged and more demanding of action?

 

Another book from Hager?

Will Nicky Hager launch another book this year?

He only recently revealed he would be launching what turned out to be the book he co-wrote with Jon Stephenson, Hit & Run. Stephenson presumably did most of the investigating, and it was not a long book (I think not much over a hundred pages).

Before the launch it was said that the book wasn’t targeting or would affect the election campaign like Hager’s last book, Dirty Politics.

There’s time for another book launch before September. Does Hager have another book up his sleeve?

I’m just wondering, I haven’t heard anything about another Hager book this year. He manages to keep his launch plans fairly secret.

Dutch election results

 

Here are what appear to be final interim election results from the Netherlands, along with recent polls.

The green column is the interim election result.

Projected seats (with 93.3% of votes counted):

  • VVD 33 seats
  • PVV 20
  • CDA and D66 19 each
  • GroenLinks, SP 14
  • PvdA 9
  • ChristenUnie and Partij voor de Dieren 5 each
  • 50PLUS 4
  • SGP and DENK 3
  • Forum for Democracy 2

The current Prime Minister Mark Rutte leads the VVD party which has lost seats but is clearly well in front so Rutte is expected to lead a new coalition with three or four other parties (it could take months to organise).

Geert Wilders (PVV) is claiming a victory of sorts and claiming losers will form a coalition. It is expected that he will not be invited to negotiate any role in the Government.

The Dutch Labour Party PvdA has crashed to a disastrous low.

Greens (GroenLinks) have jumped up from 4 to probably 4 seats and are ecstatic.

So no Trump/Brexit type shocks.

An editorial from  Dutch daily NRC :

The Dutch have woken up in a “normal” country, as prime minister Mark Rutte puts it: there was no populist revolt.

Rutte’s VVD lost a quarter of its support but thanks to its substantial lead over the other parties finds itself in an exceptionally comfortable position as leader.

The PvdA, however, one of the pillars of the postwar welfare state, is in existential crisis. Never in parliamentary history has a party lost so many seats.

What is clear is that governing does not pay. The outgoing government presented a dream budget this year: what should have gone up went up, what should have come down came down. The Netherlands is currently one of the best performing countries in the EU. And still voters punished the outgoing coalition severely.

For the voter, apparently, politics is about more than the economy.

 

 

 

 

Bill English to actually speak today

Bill English has had an inauspicious start to election year. He has been hammered this week for his tardiness and lack of response to Donald Trump’s immigration orders. As Prime Minister he needed to be careful, but he needed to be seen to say something, much faster.

Yesterday he got some attention when he announced the election date – September 23. He also gave some hints about his approach to the election and it’s aftermath.

Vernon Small:

Meanwhile some of the themes – and be prepared to be bored by them before too long – have started to emerge.

English’s one word summary was “growth”. But he also hammered the leftward drift and policy-free plans of Labour and the Greens … and seemed to love the suggestion that they were all about the “vibe” – though that was one reporter’s commentary on the Labour-Green state of the nation speeches, not something the parties themselves were saying.

On the other side, Labour and the Greens are hammering English’s lack of “leadership” – on anything from his limp response to Donald Trump’s immigration announcements to not going to Waitangi and not standing a candidate in Mt Albert.

It’s a two-pronged message; to make English look weak and remind voters that the leader they liked so well – Key – is no longer there.

Sam Sachdeva at Stuff: Economy to take centre stage at September 23 election, PM Bill English says

Prime Minister Bill English saying the economy will be at the heart of National’s bid for a fourth term.

That’s very unsurprising.

“New Zealand is well placed compared to many other countries. That’s down to the hard work of households and businesses across the country, backed by the National-led Government’s clear and successful plan for our future.

“The challenge for our country now is to sustain that growth and build on it to deliver more again for all New Zealanders.”

Asked to sum up the election in one word, English replied, “Growth”.

He believed it was unlikely immigration would be a major issue at the election, with all forecasts indicating there would be a slowdown in the number of immigrants arriving.

English said National’s preference was to work with its current partners – UnitedFuture, ACT, and the Maori Party.

While describing Winston Peters’ party as “an inward-looking party who believe in a closed-up New Zealand”, English would not “rule in or out” choosing Peters as deputy prime minister.

Today English will give his ‘State of the Nation’ speech, and he promises a contrast with Labour and the Greens, saying he will actually announce major policy.

Tune into Prime Minister Bill English‘s Facebook page from 12.30pm today as he live streams his first speech of the year.

This is Bill’s first big test as a lead campaigner. Expectations are that he will be competing with Andrew Little on boredom.

Election on September 23

Bill English has announced the election date for 2017 – September 23. This doesn’t seem to have surprised anyone, and following John Key’s practice gives all parties plenty of warning.

English also gave an indication of which parties he thought National could work with, naming the current partner parties ACT, United Future and the Maori Party.

He said that he couldn’t work with Labour-Greens and especially the Green Party.

He said that He would prefer not to have to deal with Winston Peters and NZ First but if need be would try to work something out with them after the election.

Scoop: PM’s Press Conference 01/02/17: Election Date Announced (includes video)

Prime Minister Bill English began today’s press conference with an announcement that the general election will be held on Saturday 23 September.

The Prime Minister was asked if he would be willing to work with the NZ First Party, to which he replied that it is not likely but he is not “ruling in or out” anything at this point.

PM English insisted that he will not work with Labour or the Green Party, stating that they are too leftist and the Greens are “too ideological.”

 

The MoU paradox

Vernon Small brings up a reminder of the paradox of the Labour-Green Memorandum of Understanding in the aptly headlined Ready or not, it’s election year and the annual theatrics have started – a key aim of the MoU is to present Labour and Greens as a joint ‘government-in-waiting’, but it terminates on election day, before the haggling over coalition arrangements begins.

But the two parties are sailing into a paradox that will only be made more stark by their closer co-operation.

If they are a presenting themselves as a “government in waiting” why does their memorandum of understanding (MOU) formally expire on election day?

We all know why, of course. Because as much as the Greens would like a more enduring pact, Labour does not want to indelibly ink a deal ahead of polling day for fear that will ostracise Winston Peters and NZ First – and give him reason to opt for National if he holds the balance of power.

It makes the sales pitch of a two-party government in waiting too cute by three quarters.

It is a contradiction the parties ought to resolve before election year gets very much older.

Perhaps Labour have indicated a resolution may be coming – Andrew Little attacked Winston Peters over his theatrics over Pike River.

Labour has to compete with NZ First for votes, especially any that National might shed, but Labour will also be keen to get back support that NZ First has been picking up.

The union of Labour and Greens will be emphasised in a week with their joint ‘state of the nation’ act.

While Greens will be pleased with this arrangement, according to Small some in Labour are not so sure.

But the most significant move yet has been that decision by Labour and the Greens to step up the momentum of their agreement to cooperate, with a joint “State of the Nation” event in Auckland next week.

There were misgivings in Labour over the move, with some questioning the wisdom of doubling down on their memorandum of understanding, which had already seen leader’s speeches at their respective annual conferences.

The concern is that greater and greater efforts to present as “one Opposition, two parties” will alienate centrist Labour-leaning voters who are spooked by the Greens – and to be frank there are those inside the Labour caucus who would rather not tie the party to the Greens, full stop.

Labour’s problem is that their support has slipped so much they have a couple of choices:

  1. Concede major party status, accept that they can’t compete with National on their own any more, so semi-join with another party.
  2. Revitalise, rebuild and make a determined effort to be the best supported party again.

They have tried the latter a number of times – including trying four leaders – without any  success.

So last year Labour chose the former, hence the MoU. It is too late to change before this year’s election.

The MoU paradox is still there, despite the Peters attack and the planned joint ‘state of the country’ speeches.

The latter could give us a better indication about the state of the parties, the state of the MoU, and whether Labour is prepared to stop trying a bob each way on NZ First versus Greens.

It would be a nonsense if Labour and Greens campaign together as they are, with the degree of togetherness that next week’s speech emphasises, but to leave prospects of a Labour-Green coalition  up in the air as a maybe, if it suits Labour at the time.

It hasn’t been the game changer some predicted, but Labour is harming their prospects if they buy into Winston’s ridiculous persistence in refusing to let voters know in advance what coalition arrangements they rule in and rule out.

We know that the Greens have to go with Labour if they want to be a part of Government unless Green Party members have a major change of heart about dealing with National.

Perhaps we will get clarity on Labour’s post-election aims from Little’s speech next week, alongside Metiria Turei.

If not the paradox will keep highlighting Labour’s duplicity.

Labour sleepwalking towards a nightmare election

Labour really needed to start election year strongly. There is no sign of that so far.

Labour had a fairly ordinary year in 2016. And ordinary wasn’t good enough.

Andrew Little seems to have established himself as unchallenged leader and has kept the Labour caucus under control, but he has failed to grow into the job.

Mid year Labour signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Green Party, with the apparent aim of presenting a joint approach as a government-in-waiting. Some said that it was a game changer. It seems to have changed nothing – to the contrary, it has entrenched Labour as a struggling mid level party that requires another party as a crutch.

Labour had some successes later in the year. They were very pleased with their efforts in the local body elections, especially in Wellington (ex leader Phil Goff managed in Auckland more on his own).

They had a successful by-election in Mt Roskill, with Michael Wood replacing Goff, and they said this was a great trial run for the general election.

The post-by-election confidence turned into euphoria when John Key announced he was stepping down. Labour seemed to see this as a gift from political heaven, another game changer.

But nothing much seems to have changed.

A Roy Morgan poll taken over the period of Key’s announcement showed a recovery for Labour to 28.5% from an outlier low of 23%, but their January poll just out has Labour slipping to 27%, and Labour+Greens dropped 3.5 to 39.5%.

Colmar Brunton’s last poll in November had Labour at 28%.

Little conceded recently that Labour was polling poorly – “I have to lead a party that starts from 2014 at a 25 per cent vote, polling at the moment at late 20s, 30 per cent sort of mark. So we have a lot of work to do, and I don’t underestimate that.”

But the work he has done so far this year is unimpressive.

This week Little announced that he wouldn’t be standing for the safe Rongotai electorate and would go list only. He should have said this as soon as Annette King announced she would  stand down before the Christmas break.

Little also joined the political fray over Pike River, attacking Winston Peters and offering a solution to re-entry. He will present a bill to Parliament that will dispense with responsibility for safety of entering the mine – something he had lobbied hard to embed in legislation.

On social media Labour has put some effort into negative campaigning, attacking Bill English a number of times. This seems to be repeating the failed strategy of attacking Key over a decade.

Labour thought that the Mt Albert by-election in February would be a good opportunity for them to promote themselves, get positive media coverage, and have another trial run for the general election.

But they may have walked into potential jeopardy, with Greens standing a candidate against them.

Standing Jacinda Ardern looks a bit like rearranging the deck chairs. At best Ardern will win the seat with a comfortable majority. That’s what is expected.

But it could be worse than that.If it looks like a jacked up joint publicity between Labour and Greens the voters may rebel.

Julie Anne Genter looks like a stronger candidate, and the Greens will want to put in a strong showing for themselves. They won’t want to just bolster Labour.

If Ardern’s vote slips too much, and if Genter seriously challenges her, it could turn to custard for Labour. The reality is that the best way that Green can grow their vote is to cannibalise Labour support.

Little and Labour really have to up their game. So far this year there is no sign of that happening.

Little has said their will be few if any major policy announcements – they will concentrate on highlighting common policies with Greens.

Little will share his ‘state of the nation’ speech platform with Metiria Turei.

There is no real leadership from Little, there is no real leadership from Labour. They look nothing like a head to head competitor with National.

There may be some big change or some big event that turns out to be a real game changer for Labour. Little may suddenly find a way of engaging and impressing. Plodding along won’t suffice – they need to change their game significantly.

But at this stage Labour looks like they are sleepwalking towards a nightmare election.