Courage doesn’t seem to win elections

Courage doesn’t seem to win elections.

Or is it that courageous leaders don’t even try and become politicians, so we are left with pandering political strategies?

Jonathan Milne also writes about political lying in the Sunday Star Times: Our leaders need some steel in the backbone, not just in their roads and building projects

But for the the New Zealand public, the question remains: are we willing to turn a blind eye to untruths in the Beehive and council chambers?

Regardless of how they may rationalise the means to the end, lying is not a legitimate political strategy; it is the recourse of those who lack the courage to tell the truth.

But it seems to be an increasingly common political strategy – political strategists don’t think that courage wins elections.

‘Pandering’ to the majority does have an element of democracy to it.

But real leadership sometimes requires courage, and with it strong leadership. People tend to actually like strength in a leader, as long as it is generally for the greater good.

Strong leadership should go hand in hand with the courage to tell the truth, at least the truth as the leader sees it. If that’s a plausible ‘truth’ surely voters will reward it?

But alas. Trying looking for the strong truthful leaders in the current crop of politicians (and candidates for mayoralties).

A non-threatening deadline

How to be a non-threatening woman:


I get what they are trying to say, but feelgood doesn’t always work.

That could be Metiria Turei saying the James Shaw: “What do you think about consulting with Labour before announcing a plan to cut house prices in half by Monday before I’m due to use an interview with Guyon Espiner to announce contentious house price targets?”

Or someone in business saying “What do you think about completing the job for clients by Monday?” If a commitment has been made to deliver by Monday then “This has to be done by Monday” isn’t threatening, it’s a real deadline.

Try telling Inland Revenue “What do you think about me paying my provisional tax by Monday?”

Or your boss “What do you think about me returning to work by Monday?”

In any case leadership often requires straight talking, including setting specific targets and deadlines, whether you are a woman or a man.

But this isn’t the point of it (or I’m a guy so perhaps I just don’t get it). It’s from “9 Non-Threatening Leadership Strategies For Women,”

…where the Cooper Review pokes fun at this media trope, offering some helpful tips (with funny illustrations) to “alter your leadership style to account for the (sometimes) fragile male ego.”

Playing the “poor me, I’m a woman in a leadership position and it’s so difficult dealing with stupid ego driven men” seems a bit lame.

Another UK Labour contender

Another Labour MP in the UK has put themselves forward for the leadership.

Guardian: Owen Smith to challenge Corbyn for Labour leadership

Owen Smith, the former shadow work and pensions secretary, is planning to challenge Jeremy Corbyn for the Labour leadership on Wednesday.

The Labour MP has been trying to decide for days whether to join Angela Eagle, the former shadow business secretary, in the contest.

He is expected to throw his hat into the ring after Labour’s ruling body, the National Executive Committee (NEC), said Corbyn would automatically be on the ballot without needing to collect nominations from MPs.

In a move apparently prompted by intimidation of MPs and Labour supporters, the NEC also decided to suspend local Labour party meetings for the duration of the contest. The move may be intended to calm tensions at a time when some MPs on both sides have claimed to suffer abuse and death threats.

Eagle had a brick thrown through her office window in Wallasey and had been facing a motion of no confidence by her local party because of her opposition to Corbyn.

Smith’s decision to stand could risk splitting the vote against Corbyn unless either he or Eagle pulls out at some stage, although there is an alternative voting system that counts second preferences.

Corbyn is strong favourite to hold on to his leadership after the NEC’s ruling that he did not have to collect support from his MPs, who have passed a no confidence vote in him.

So the will of the party is expected to overrule the will of the Labour MPs, who overwhelmingly voted no confidence in Corbyn.

But there are multiple issues embroiling the party in toil and trouble.

In a crunch meeting at Labour’s Westminster headquarters on Tuesday, NEC members, including Corbyn himself, voted 18 to 14 in a secret ballot that he was not subject to the rule that forces candidates to show they have the backing of 20% of the party’s MPs and MEPs.

And new member’s have been ruled ineligible to vote.

However, there is already a row brewing over the rules, as it emerged more than 100,000 new Labour members who have joined in the last six months will have to pay £25 to sign up as registered supporters to vote in the contest during a 48-hour window.

A bunch of self interested wallies self destructing.

Is this the beginning of the end for John Key?

Stacey Kirk asks if this is the beginning of the end for John Key. It probably is, Key seems to be in decline politically, but it’s difficult to predict how quickly the end will come. It may be next year, or he may limp into another term with some heavy coalition parties weighing on his legs.

Is National prepared for a post-Key era? Some lessons National and Labour can learn from each other

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not predicting any sudden demise, but familiarity breeds contempt and few politicians have ever had a best before date stretching longer than three terms. 

The Prime Minister’s favourability ratings across all parties’ internal polling have been in slow decline for months.

Internal polls tend to look more comprehensively at favourability ratings, but decline is not apparent from Colmar Brunton:

“Now thinking about all current MPs of any party, which one would you personally prefer to be Prime Minister?” IF NONE: “Is there anyone who is not a current MP who you would prefer to be Prime Minister?”

John Key since July 2015: 40%, 40%, 40%, 40%, 39%, 39%

But eight years in and he still has capital to burn.

Will he have enough to fuel him first across the line for one more election? At this point, it seems likely. 

That’s certainly not down to his Government’s clumsy handling of a housing crisis, spiralling dangerously out of control (and Labour adroitly capitalising on that).

Nor evidence that inequality is rising, New Zealand is all but a tax haven and essential services like public health are stretched to capacity. 

New Zealanders have a long history of simply voting for change when they want it, but the other side to that is what the alternative looks like. 

Not quite there. 

What Little and Robertson lack in dynamic-duo appeal, Key and Finance Minister Bill English have in spades. 

Colmar Brunton rating Andrew Little: 8%, 10%, 8%, 9%, 7%, 7%

In a way lack of a serious contender helps Key, but it may also make him complacent. If Little finds a way to appeal to voters – he can really only get better – Key may not have anything more to compete with than same old.

And attention will increase on what will happen after Key, especially if voters think he may retire mid term should he win another.

The stars of long-speculated Key heir-apparents, Paula Bennett and Steven Joyce, appear to have waned slightly.

Key still highly rates Bennett however, along with Ministers Jonathan Coleman, Simon Bridges and Amy Adams. 

Any of those options would have to foot it as an effective Opposition leader before they’d have a chance at the ninth floor – Key’s unlikely to step down while he still has a grip on power.

It’s not the end yet. 

National haven’t got an obvious successor. That helps secure Key’s position at the top but as time goes on the lack of other options will figure more in voting decisions.

Labour have had a dire eight years since Helen Clark lost and resigned, leaving both a lack of leadership options and a mediocre support cast in caucus.

Can National hang on for another term? And can they survive the loss of key when he goes?

There may not be a credible alternative Prime  Minister to Key in Labour, still, but is their a credible alternative in National’s ranks?

National Party – conference and future

The National party is having it’s annual conference in Christchurch this weekend.

It is likely to be a carefully controlled and managed event, at least that’s what the aim of organisers will be.

Protesters may help give the conference some attention, media are attracted to distractions.

The Party may be able to fool it’s members into thinking that in Government they are doing great and are on course to another victory in next year’s election.

But National have been flattered in the polls more because of continued Labour abysmality and  a Green support ceiling than their own efforts. When the only way to protest is via NZ First the state of politics in New Zealand isn’t great.

Somehow National have to demonstrate that they are not falling apart and that the dual rots of complacency and arrogance haven’t set in.

They will be doing their best to paint a pretty conference picture but on the Beehive scene their painting hands are looking increasingly erratic and their paint is increasingly flaky. Voters eventually critique painting over widening cracks via the ballot box.

Same old Key and same old Government are not good enough.

In past terms National has done rejuvenation quite well, but that gets harder as the same aging faces – Key, English, Joyce – remain prominent, and the new hopes like Paula Bennett struggle to look like competent heirs to ageing leadership.

Who looks ready, willing and able to take over leadership from Key is of increasing interest.

Who looks capable of taking over from Bill English and his Finance ministry is also of growing importance.

English let go of his Clutha-Southland electorate last term, having first won Wallace in 1990, twenty six years ago. He led National to disaster in 2002 but has made amends by being the dour rock for National, complementing Key very capably since they won power in 2008.

English has been solid in difficult economic times but at some stage National will have to give the appearance of something fresh and different.

What we are likely to see from this weekend’s conference is party PR puffery and outside protest, neither of which are likely to harm National’s image.

But at some stage National are going to have to look like they are capable of leading into the future rather than riding on past mundane management in reaction to events like the Global Financial Crisis and the Christchurch earthquakes.

Key is one of the most popular leaders ever. But when you look beyond his persona where has he actually led New Zealand?

Ardern: absolutely no to leadership

For the record Jacinda Ardern has categorically ruled out any aspirations for a leadership role in Labour. Ever. She says that the job looks too tough, too hard.

She rang Tim Fookes on Newstalk ZB this morning to challenge some comments regarding the Labour-Green memorandum – Jacinda Ardern: Defending the Green Alliance.

Fookes asked Ardern about any leadership ambitions she might have.

Fookes: There was an article written by Duncan Garner over the weekend…raising yourself as a possible Labour leader because of the need for Labour to have leaders based out of Auckland.

Have you been approached about this, and is the leadership at some stage something you are looking for?

Ardern: No.

Fookes: Ever?

Ardern: No.

Fookes: So you never want to be Labour party leader?

Ardern: I’ve always been really clear on this. First and foremost there is no question around our leadership in the Labour Party. Absolutely united behind Andrew Little. Secondly…

Fookes: Even though he’s only polling eight or nine?

Ardern: Secondly would I ever consider leadership? I’ve been really clear it’s not my ambition. So there’s no point having any speculation…

Fookes: So, we might save this interview and if it ever comes up maybe in five or ten years…

Ardern: Feel free, feel free.

Fookes: You can categorically say you never want to be Labour Party leader?

Ardern: I can categorically say that, and I always have, this is not new information.

It’s such a, I think politics is probably a place where people make a lot of assumptions about there being lots of ego in it. I guess you know that’s probably a fair assumption, that we make a bit of a guess that everyone who’s involved must want to be the top dog.

But that’s just not the case. There are plenty of us who’ve got into politics and who work in politics…because they want to make a contribution and they don’t see themselves in one of those roles, and that’s me.

I want to be a Minister, and that’s what my goal is, to get Labour into Government. That’s the place I feel I can do all of the things I want to achieve.

Fookes: Can I say to you that by saying no you don’t want to ever be Labour I think is a crying shame, ah because I think someone like you would be someone that would attract votes to the Labour Party.

I think that if Labour is to become, you know to get somewhere back up around those high thirties and early forties, and really on a level playing field with National, someone like you could actually do that job for them.

Ardern: I believe we can absolutely, we can absolutely do it, I do. And whilst that’s, you know very flattering you would take that view but perhaps those who want it the least are probably the sanest.

And I say that because it is such a hard job. I’ve watched from Helen Clark in the leadership role, I’ve had admiration for every single one of our leaders because it’s a really tough job, maybe even harder when you’re in opposition.

So huge admiration but I’ve just also learnt that it’s not a job I would ever want.

Straddling the political divide

Some see politics as a big division between one thing or another but in reality there’s far more fairly common ground than there are extreme differences.

But today the ODT chose to call their editorial Straddling the political divide, looking ahead to the year in Parliament kicking off. However i think what they are referring to is more of a divide between what the public would like to see of their Members of Parliament and how those MPs present themselves in Parliament.

Parliament resumes tomorrow with the Prime Minister’s statement taking precedence over other business.

While official business takes centre stage tomorrow, the political year started earlier with the State of the Nation speeches by political leaders.

Mr Key can take all the time he needs as his statement has no limit in length. The debate in reply has a limit of 14 hours but the Government can, if it chooses, and it probably will, adjourn the debate and get on with other business. The year needs to start strongly.

The debate in reply begins with the Leader of the Opposition moving a no-confidence vote in the Government and moves on from there into the Opposition parties trying to score some political points against the Government in general and Mr Key in particular.

Mr Key has been untouchable for seven years and will point to the achievements of his Government as he outlines parliamentary priorities for the year ahead. In the past, Mr Key has deviated from his set speech to get a march on the Opposition, which has an advance copy of his address.

Tomorrow can really be the time for Mr Key to put aside the political agenda of trying to make his opponents look silly and provide some uplifting goals to which he aspires.

The Opposition can use their time to avoid making personal attacks and focus on providing some alternatives to what it sees as damaging policies.

All of this seems sadly unlikely and New Zealanders will again be left frustrated on the sides of the political divide.

As I said at the start, I think one of biggest divides in New Zealand politics is  not left versus right (the main parties are often called National Lite and Labour Lite) but a divide between how our Members of Parliament behave in Parliament and how the public would like them to behave.

Robust debate with opponents and challenging policies are very important aspects of a democracy.

But far too often our politicians resort to petty attacking and opposing for the sake of opposing rather than based on common sense.

The tone of our politics and of Parliament must be set from the top, by the party leaders. When did we last have a leader who led by example?

John Key has been a very successful leader but I don’t think he has yet been a great leader. He often tries to be a person of the people, quite successfully going by the polls but that’s probably as much to do with a lack of strong opponents.

Andrew Little is yet to step up as a credible leader.

The party leader I’ve been most impressed with over the annual Waitangi debacle is Winston Peters, who spoke honestly about the core of the problems. Perhaps the wily old campaigner can rise above his usually futile game playing and end his career on a respectable high.

Is Key capable of providing ‘some uplifting goals”?

Or will he continue to massage the masses with meanderings, policy-wise?

Likeable (to half the population) but with modest achievements who eventual fades away? Or can he become a leader of our times? If he aspires to the latter he will need to do more than just wave a flag.

Can Key find a way of straddling the divide between successful politician and aspirational leader? Does he want to?

Hooton lobbying or stirring over National leadership?

When a lobbyist floats leadership change of the governing party I’m naturally sceptical.

Bryce Edwards has tweeted about a paywalled column in NBR where by Matthew Hooton either promotes a National leadership change or is trying to stir one up.

Hooton has been floating ideas about Key needing to go or is due to be replaced for quite a while.

Matthew Hooton: “Joyce associates openly talking about leadership change” (paywalled) –  Rumours of Joyce becoming PM

Hooton says Nats caucus too docile to challenge if Key hands power over to Joyce: “MPs are not encouraged to ask questions or even speak.”

Hooton says National caucus now docile: “Caucus meetings are shorter than ever and are dominated by briefings by Messrs Key and Joyce”

Hooton: John Key’s “knighthood depends on him handing over to a National prime minister rather than losing an election to Labour”

It would be sad if Key’s leadership decision is based on the best way for him to get a knighhood.

I don’t think a knighthood would suit him. Would he still goof around?

If Key & Joyce waited til “Paula Bennett was out of the country, they would have a good chance of presenting a handover as a fait accompli”

Joyce “is sure he could do the retail aspects of the prime ministership – clowning around on commercial radio and so forth – as well as Key”

I don’t see Joyce in that role at all.

Hooton: Murray McCully “may seek the chairmanship of World Rugby, formerly the International Rugby Board, when it comes up in May”

I don’t know about the Chairmanship of World Rugby but it’s time for McCully to move on from politics.

And Joyce responded:

@bryce_edwards All complete rubbish from a commentator who has proven once again he is as close to the National Party as Catherine Delahunty

Collins/Slater power play or just a fundraiser?

It looks like Judith Collins and Cameron Slater are making a power play. Or two independent coincidental power plays.

Collins has been quietly trying to rebuild her political career after being demoted as a Minister leading into last year’s election, in no small part due to her friendly relationship with Slater.

In the meantime Slater has been increasingly critical of John Key’s leadership with what has seemed like daily attacks and sometimes multiple attacks a day in post at Whale Oil.

Collins has had a weekly column alongside Phil Goff. Until now she has written about general topics. But yesterday: Judith Collins: Centre voters just the core, the action is on the fringes:

Elections are never won or lost in the centre. Yes, the vast number of voters are in the centre but they won’t bother to change their vote (much less get out to vote) unless they actually have something to vote for. Mobilising the centre to move to the left or to the right, is what wins elections. If you want to stay in power, then the centre is what keeps you there.

Politicians of all stripes need to be fearless, creative, interested, questioning and most of all listening to the electorate. Polling goes to show the centre doesn’t really say much and therein lies the danger of the echo chamber. But the edges of the electorate are always talking.

Winning elections is about engaging people and actually presenting an alternative. Galvanising the centre to be interested enough to vote will not happen simply by prescribing more of the same, albeit with a different coloured tie.

Goff responded:

Judith’s column this week is the opening shot in her campaign to succeed John Key as National’s leader.

It’s a not-so-subtle attack on the well-known fact that John Key is not driven by strong values but rather the results of weekly polling and focus groups.

Judith is inviting you to contrast Key’s soft positions with her post-demotion outspokenness on issues.

You can’t blame her for that or for her antagonism towards Key. After all, he sacked her and is refusing to put her back into Cabinet.

Goff could be perceptive. Or he could be mischievous. Or both.

Matthew Hooton responded to a comment on this at The Standard:

“when it came to Phil Goff’s reply, Collins probably got a lot more than she expected”

I reckon she got exactly what she expected (and hoped for) from Goff.

Today at Politik it looks like Collins is busy getting her message out there in JUDITH COLLINS SAYS IT’S TIME FOR POLITICIANS TO STAND FOR SOMETHING.

She set out a summary of her views in the Sunday Star Times and one Labour politician did have something to say.

Phil Goff said the column sounded like the start of her campaign to become National leader.

But in a lengthy interview with POLITIK she chose her words carefully and avoided any head on challenge to the National Party leadership who have shunned her since she resigned from Cabinet over her connections with Whaleoil.

Nevertheless her message is clear.

“It’s better to make a difference than to sit in Parliament and occupy a seat,” she said.

“You are actually elected to do something.

“If you don’t do something then get out of the way and let someone else do it.”

She worries that the general public all round the world is sick and tired of politicians who say just what they think the electorate wants them to say.

“Actually ultimately you are never going to get anything done unless you change the status quo and you can’t do that from a position of fear or a position of let’s not rock the boat.”

She is suspicious of focus groups.

“The problem with focus groups is that you are asking them a question; you are defining what they can talk about and what they are interested in and sometimes I think you have just got to stand for something.”

She says she doesn’t use focus groups but relies on knocking on doors and what people tell her in her electorate office.

“In my electorate there are probably quite a lot of people who aren’t necessarily National voters but what they like is if you are straight up with them.”

It’s often claimed that John Key is guided by focus groups

Face to face contact is important but it can be self selecting – only people who want to talk will talk – and they can adjust what they say to suit their audience.

There will be many who will scrutinise the comments here and in the Sunday Star Times column for signs of dissidence, for some hint that as Mr Goff claimed, she has begun her campaign for the party leadership.

But what she is saying is more general than that.

It looks more like the beginning of what  may be a long debate defining what the post-Key National Party might look like.

Meanwhile, coincidence or not, Slater has been continuing his campaign. Yesterday his anti-Key posts continued: Losing our Religion – A letter from a reader…to John Key

The letter may or may not have been from ‘a reader’, it can be hard to tell on Whale Oil what’s genuine and what’s part of the campaigning and what’s paid for commentary. Slater added his own comments:

I’m not sure he is listening…but his minions are reading. Maybe the message will get through, either that or we will soon see a series of posts on cat fancier, arts, travel and lifestyle blogger, David Farrar’s blog about the stunning achievements of a John Key led government in a bid to counter “negative” posts here.

I am no sycophant and will tell things as I see them or as my readers emails.

Things aren’t right within National, they have allowed a cult of personality to develop and those never end well.

More posts generally criticise National.

He has followed that up today with specific references to the Collins publicity, first on her Stuff column in Judith Collins on Corbyn, and winning the centre.

This is the quiet changing of religion that I speak of…people turning off and not bothering because politics has become shades of brown and as appetising as cardboar

People get tired of the same old view of politicians and eventually they seek a change, any change, so long as it is not who we have now. They certainly don’t subscribe to TINA…that is the false hope of incumbents.

TINA is There is No Alternative, seen as one reason for Key’s sustained popularity, but Slater has been trying to establish a meme that there is an alternative – from within National. I wonder who he thinks that should be. Note that for some time he has strongly criticised Bill English,  Steven Joyce and Paula Bennett.

Then later today he posted on the Politik interview with Collins – Collins expands her discussion on the centre. In agreeing with Collins he said:

She’s dead right about that and MMP has created a situation where seat warmers are the politicians of the day. If you have a look at Helen Clark’s legacy it is nothing but banal social policy. John Key’s legacy is shaping up to be not much better, with the prospect of the flag being retained that particular dream is in tatters.


Straight shooters have always done well in New Zealand politics, and it is a shame that John Key has changed from that perception of a straight shooter to a perception that is much less than that.


What is funny though is the left wing getting all excited that Judith Collins will attempt to do what they have failed thus far to achieve…topple John Key. They should be careful what they wish for, because I doubt such an event would go well for them and their union pals.

So it is easy to see this as a two pronged attack on Key by Collins and Slater.

What sort of support would Collins have in the National Caucus? I don’t know.

But one this is for certain – she has a whale sized millstone hanging around her neck.

Eighteen months ago a campaign like this from Slater may have been seen as a serious threat. But his political credibility has plummeted.

I think a Slater orchestrated leadership bid is unlikely to cause anything but trouble for Collins. Sure it may damage National, and Slater has been trying to do that since he fell out of favour. But His alternative is unlikely to be looked on favourably.

Something not covered in Collins’ column yesterday nor in her Politik interview was whether she was being invoiced by Slater for his advice and his Whale Oil campaigning. This could be as more a fundraiser for him than a serious leadership bid.

Anyone as knowledgeable about politics as Slater claims to be (he was praising his predictive abilities last week, see the poor me/clever me post LOSING YOUR RELIGION) would know that  Slater+anything is currently seen as toxic.

And the Slater attacks on National don’t even seem overly popular at Whale Oil. From his Saturday diss Hooton: ‘Thanks John, time to move along now’ he explains his TINA theories:

John Key is still popular because people still believe in the false premise of TINA (There Is No Alternative).

Logic suggests that TINA is not valid. If John Key were to be mowed down by a bus driver on Lambton Quay on Monday morning it is certain that there would indeed be a replacement. When he does finally step down or is knifed, or gets voted out there will be an alternative. There is always an alternative…whether or not an alternative is apparent depends entirely on the vision of the person stating TINA.

The belief that TINA is real…suggests these people think John Key is immortal and can reign forever…neither are true…politically or in reality. There is always an alternative.

But if you have a look at the upticks on the comments in LOSING YOUR RELIGION it seems clear his audience isn’t captivated or convinced by Slater’s campaign.

Note: I’ve done a few edits and additions to this in the half hour after posting.

Tony Abbott leadership challenge

It looks like Tony Abbott’s leadership is being challenged in Australia.

Turnbull to challenge Abbott for leadership

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott will be challenged for leadership of the Liberal Party, the senior partner in the ruling conservative coalition, after Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull asked him to step aside on Monday.

Turnbull said he informed Abbott he would challenge him for the leadership after losing confidence in his management of the economy.

“The prime minister has not been capable of providing the economic leadership our nation needs. He has not been capable of providing the economic confidence that business needs,” Turnbull said.

“We need a different style of leadership.”

A style with far fewer stuffups would help.

I saw a report that said it could got to a vote and be decided “as early as tomorrow”.

That’s a bit different to UK Labour’s four month leadership process.

UPDATE: It’s all on. SMH reports:

Liberal leadership: How the spill motion will work

Malcolm Turnbull has announced he intends to challenge Prime Minister Tony Abbott for the leadership of the Liberal Party.

Mr Abbott will declare the leadership and deputy leadership of the party vacant at a party room meeting to be held Monday evening. He said he intended to contest the ballot and expected to win.

There may yet be another candidate beyond Mr Turnbull and Mr Abbott, though this would be unexpected.

If, on Monday night, it becomes clear one candidate has the support of the majority of the party, the losing contender may decide not to contest the ballot.