Government problem with Russia – Winston Peters

Appointing Winston Peters to the role of Minister of Foreign Affairs was always going to be a risk for the Jacinda Ardern led government. Problems are already emerging, over Peters’ and Russia.

Hamish Rutherford at Stuff (Opinion): Winston Peters’ Russian trade deal hopes could cost New Zealand elsewhere

Anyone who follows international events will not have been surprised when the British Government began calling for action this week over the poisoning of a Russian double agent and his daughter in London.

More than a week ago the UK Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, stood in Parliament to warn of sanctions and punishment, suggesting that British officials may snub the upcoming football World Cup and that Russia was “a malign and disruptive force”.

So it was extremely strange that days later our own Foreign Minister, Winston Peters, an avowed Anglophile – he has called for a pan-Commonwealth free trade bloc – would go on television on Saturday and appear to question Russian involvement in other controversial events, the downing of a commercial jet over Ukraine and interference in the 2016 US election.

New Zealand, he said, was “deadly serious” about a free trade deal with Russia, accusing the European Union of “attacking” New Zealand agricultural markets.

That conflict between EU and Russian trade interests would have caused problems at any time, but now with the escalating problems between the UK and Russia especially so.

After calls from Britain, Peters has now condemned the nerve agent attack, which he acknowledged was “transported from Russia”.

But his position on Russia – both now and in the weeks following the formation of the Labour-led Government – has caused confusion within the diplomatic community.

Why on earth would he go there? What is driving a position which he must know is highly controversial for many of New Zealand’s trading partners? Does he represent the views of the New Zealand Government?

It is his job to represent the views of the New Zealand Government.

Ardern sort of defended Peters after his comments in the weekend: “It strikes me that a lot of the conversation the deputy prime minister was having was around … New Zealand being able to access trade agreements in a fair way, relative to other countries.”

But it must be tricky for Ardern to manage her Minister, who must consider himself her senior in every way but as deputy PM (and he will be acting PM when Ardern is on maternity leave).

Peters’ comments on Russia have now had to be managed by Ardern at least twice.

First when she assured the German president during a press conference in November that a trade deal with Europe was a much higher priority than one with Russia. Then again on Monday when she said Peters was simply responding to questions he was being asked.

Ardern has used a similar explanation when defending the fact that she repeatedly talked about New Zealand’s offer to take Manus Island refugees, raising tension with the Australians: she was just answering questions being asked of her.

As an excuse it makes both the Prime Minister and now the Foreign Minister seem rather helpless in the face of the media.

Anyone who has interviewed Peters, ever, knows he is capable of steering away from questions that do not interest him.

It also appears that Labour did not appreciate how controversial it would be to publicly state that as a Government it would seek a free trade deal with Russia.

While Ardern has now repeatedly reiterated that a trade deal with the EU is the top priority, the initial moves gave greater prominence to negotiating with Moscow.

Ardern seems to have a problem controlling Peters and his own agenda.

At a time when US President Donald Trump is introducing tariffs which could spark a global trade war, New Zealand could find itself on the wrong side of a battle between Russia and the rest of Europe if Peters continues to push for the deal.

Although Russia and its allies offer significant potential as a growth market, it seems foolish to risk the opportunity to strike a deal with the EU, or Britain.

Without the posioned spy scandal this would be a serious potential clash between Peters and the interest of the Government and New Zealand. With the escalation between the UK and Russia, more so.

Stuff – Russian spy scandal: Britain reaches out to New Zealand

British diplomats took the extraordinary step on Tuesday of briefing New Zealand media on the Salisbury spy attack after its prime minister Theresa May issued an ultimatum to Moscow over the poisoning.

The briefing looks to be part of a world wide effort by Britain to stir up condemnation of Moscow over the attack against a back drop of what May labelled a “a well-established pattern of Russian state aggression”.

Britain is looking to countries including New Zealand to join possible reprisals against Russia.

That would not help trade talks between NZ and Russia.

Foreign Minister Winston Peters said the New Zealand Government had grave concerns. “How this military grade nerve agent was transported from Russia and released abroad is the key issue here, and warrants urgent international investigation,” Peters said.

Peters said use of chemical weapons was “repugnant”.

“We share and support the concerns expressed by other nations about such use of chemical weapons,” he said.

Perhaps Theresa May will force Peters into line. Ardern seemed to be struggling to do so.

It was said the appointing him as Minister of Foreign Affairs would allow Peters to swan around the world with prestige and no pressure. That might have worked if there were no serious international issues to deal with, and if Peters didn’t have a Russian trade agenda.

It has become quite tricky, and the UK-Russia issue seems set to escalate.

It could become even trickier when Ardern goes on leave for three months and Peters becomes acting Prime Minister.

UK versus Russia escalates over poisoning

Following the poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter in Salisbury, England, the UK Prime Minister accused the Russian government of being responsible and demanded an explanation, giving a deadline for this (now expired).

Yesterday:  ‘Don’t threaten a nuclear power’: Russia’s extraordinary warning to Theresa May

Russia tonight warned Britain not to threaten a nuclear power as it refused to meet a midnight deadline for explaining a nerve agent attack on a double agent.

The extraordinary threat came as Theresa May signed up US President Donald Trump’s support to back the UK “all the way” in the stand off with the Kremlin.

As the incendiary row grew rapidly, Kremlin spokeswoman Maria Zakharova was reported as saying in Moscow one should not threaten a nuclear power.

Before speaking to Trump tonight, May had already secured the backing of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron.

Following the call with President Trump, Downing Street said: “The Prime Minister spoke to President Trump earlier this afternoon to update him on the ongoing investigation into the Salisbury incident.

“The Prime Minister set out the conclusion reached by the UK Government that it was highly likely that Russia was responsible for the attack against Sergei and Yulia Skripal.

In a series of incendiary tweets tonight, Russia’s London embassy said: “Moscow will not respond to London’s ultimatum until it receives samples of the chemical substance to which the UK investigators are referring.

“Britain must comply with the Chemical Weapons Convention which stipulates joint investigation into the incident, for which Moscow is ready.

“Without that, there can be no sense in any statements from London. The incident appears to be yet another crooked attempt by the UK authorities to discredit Russia.

“Any threat to take ‘punitive’ measures against Russia will meet with a response. The British side should be aware of that.”

Russia continues to deny involvement and did not respond as requested, so May has taken action.

BBC – Russian spy: UK to expel 23 Russian diplomats

The UK will expel 23 Russian diplomats after Moscow refused to explain how a Russian-made nerve agent was used on a former spy in Salisbury, the PM says.

Theresa May said the diplomats, who have a week to leave, were identified as “undeclared intelligence officers”.

She also revoked an invitation to Russia’s foreign minister, and said the Royal Family would not attend the Fifa World Cup later this year.

The Russian Embassy said the expulsion of 23 diplomats was “unacceptable, unjustified and short-sighted”.

It is the largest mass expulsion since 31 were ordered out in 1985 after double agent Oleg Gordievsky defected.

Moscow refused to meet Mrs May’s midnight deadline to co-operate in the case, prompting Mrs May to announce a series of measures intended to send a “clear message” to Russia.

They include:

  • Expelling 23 diplomats
  • Increasing checks on private flights, customs and freight
  • Freezing Russian state assets where there is evidence they may be used to threaten the life or property of UK nationals or residents
  • Ministers and the Royal Family boycotting the Fifa World Cup in Russia later this year
  • Suspending all planned high-level bilateral contacts between the UK and Russia
  • Plans to consider new laws to increase defences against “hostile state activity”

Mrs May told MPs that Russia had provided “no explanation” as to how the nerve agent came to be used in the UK, describing Moscow’s response as one of “sarcasm, contempt and defiance”.

The use of a Russian-made nerve agent on UK soil amounted to the “unlawful use of force”, she said.

The PM, who was earlier briefed by senior intelligence chiefs in Downing Street, added there was “no alternative conclusion other than that the Russian state was culpable” for the attack.

She said it was “tragic” that Russian President Vladimir Putin had “chosen to act in this way”.

Russia denies being involved in the attempted murder of Sergei Skripal.

This looks likely to escalate further.

If the Russian government was not involved I would have thought they would have offered to help identify the poison and the culprits.


Theresa May: “Highly likely” Russia was responsible for poisoning”

Missy adds:

Theresa May has made a statement in the House of Commons today stating that the attempted murder of the former spy was by a military grade nerve agent developed in Russia, and that it is highly likely the Russian state were behind the attack.

She is ready to conclude that this is amounts to the use of unlawful force against the UK. That essentially says she believes it is an act of war against the UK.

Trump meets May

US president Donald Trump and UK Prime Minister Theresa May have met in Davos at the annual World Economic Forum.

BBC: President Trump predicts ‘tremendous increase’ in UK-US trade

In a series of warm exchanges in Davos, Switzerland, President Trump also told the UK PM: “We love your country.”

He also rejected “false rumours” of differences, saying that the two leaders “like each other a lot”.

The two leaders met in Davos, at the World Economic Forum, with post-Brexit trade relations between the two countries high on the agenda.

Mr Trump said: “One thing that will be taking place over a number of years will be trade. Trade is going to increase many times.

Typical exaggeration from Trump, although ‘increase many times’ is also typically vague.

“I look forward to that… the discussions… that will be taking place are going to lead to tremendous increases in trade between our two countries which is great for both in terms of jobs. We look forward to that and we are starting that process, pretty much as we speak.”

He added the US would be “there to fight for you – you know that” and the two were “joined at the hip when it comes to the military”.

Mrs May replied that the “really special relationship” between the UK and US continued and they stood “shoulder to shoulder because we are facing the same challenges across the world”.

“Alongside that working for a good trade relationship for the future which will be for both our benefits, so the UK and the US both do well out of this – and it’s been great to see you today.”

It will be interesting to see how trade works out between the US under Trump and the UK given Trump’s other moves on trade.

Trump withdrew the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, NAFTA (with Canada and Mexico) looks shaky, and the US has just slapped high tariffs on solar panels and washing machines – see Job creator, or job killer? Trump angers solar installers with panel tariff and US tariff on solar panels is ‘job destroyer,’ says Joseph Stiglitz

May and the UK have good cause to be wary of trade deals with Trump.

Merkel may now attend Davos forum

There could be more attention to the World Economic Forum due to be held in Davos, Switzerland in about two weeks, with US President Donald Trump scheduled to attend. It is seen as contradictory that Trump would want to attend a forum focussed on globalisation given his preference for US isolation.

Reuters: Swiss mountain town Davos relishes its turn in Trump spotlight

The Swiss Alpine town of Davos is used to celebrities and high-rollers, but even it is relishing the new challenge posed by U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to attend the World Economic Forum this month.

“This is the 48th WEF,” said Reto Branschi, CEO of Davos Klosters Tourism. “Every year, we have 20 presidents from all over the world. We are used to the visits of presidents.”

Trump’s visit to Davos for the annual meet-up of global political and business leaders will be the first by a sitting U.S. president since Bill Clinton came in 2000.

“It doesn’t get any better than this,” said Ernst Wyrsch, who was director of the hotel where Clinton stayed during his WEF visit and now heads the region’s hotel association.

“Davos, for at least a couple of days, will be at the center of the world.”

While dignitaries come each year — British Prime Minister Theresa May and Chinese Premier Xi Jinping made the trek to the town last year — they lack the media pulling power of a U.S. president that throws a spotlight on a community reliant on tourism.

Trump, whose entourage will include Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, may drop in for just a day, give a speech and then depart.

There is something of a contradiction in all this.

The WEF is a haven for supporters of globalization espousing the very free trade pacts that Trump has blasted as unfair to the United States.

It had been thought that German leader Angela Merkel would not attend but after a preliminary agreement on a coalition was reached last week this may change.

Reuters: Merkel could join Macron in Davos for epic clash with Trump

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is considering joining French President Emmanuel Macron at the World Economic Forum in Davos next week in what could turn into an epic clash of competing world views with U.S. President Donald Trump.

Merkel, who has been struggling to put together a government since a German election in September, had been expected to skip the annual gathering of leaders, CEOs, bankers and celebrities in the Swiss Alps for a third straight year.

But after clinching a preliminary coalition agreement with the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) on Friday, German officials said Merkel could travel to Davos after all, possibly setting up a major confrontation with Trump, who is expected to speak on the final day of the forum.

An appearance would signal Merkel’s return to the world stage after months of political limbo in which she has avoided the limelight and been dismissed by some in the German and international media as a spent force.

It would also allow her and Macron, who is scheduled to speak at the forum on Jan. 24, two days before Trump, to reaffirm their commitment to reforming the European Union after Britain’s decision to leave, and to defend liberal democratic values in the face of Trump’s “America First” policies.

Brexit plus Trump’s “America First” aims are likely to change international affairs and alignments significantly.

However it seems that the New Zealand Prime Minister won’t be at Davos.

Stuff: The international year ahead: What international trips could be on the prime minister’s radar?

World Economic Forum: This is held in Davos, Switzerland, every year and Trade Minister David Parker is going. And incidentally, the US Government has just announced President Trump will be there. But it’s not a common one for the leaders to visit every year, and it’s unlikely Ardern will have the chance to attend this year – the meeting is just two weeks away.

There are no plans (made public anyway) for Ardern to meet with Merkel, but that would be a significant event if it happened. New Zealand is working towards a trade agreement with the European Union.

A meeting with Theresa May would also be significant as the UK looks for trade deals outside the EU. May attended and spoke at Davos last year and is expected to attend again this year.

Ardern will probably be happy to not meet Trump in the US.

Citing fake excuse Trump cancels UK visit

President Donald Trump has cancelled a visit to the UK that had been planned for next month, blaming it on Barack Obama (in a factually incorrect tweet). Reactions in the UK had caused ructions between the Foreign Secretary and the Mayor of London, and applause from a number of Labour MPs.

It is claimed that Trump is avoiding protests that had been promised.

The Telegraph: Donald Trump cancels UK visit, blaming Barack Obama for a ‘bad embassy deal’, as Sadiq Khan says he ‘finally got the message’

US president Donald Trump has confirmed he will not travel to the UK to open the new American embassy next month, blaming the decision to relocate the building to an “off location”.

Hitting out at former US leader Barack Obama, Mr Trump wrote on Twitter early on Friday that he thought the embassy’s move from Grosvenor Square in the prestigious Mayfair district of central London to Nine Elms, south of the Thames, in a 1.2 billion dollar (£886 million) project was a “bad deal”.

So if it was something already known why did Trump agree to open the embassy in the first place?

In December, US Ambassador Woody Johnson said he was looking forward to welcoming the president when he visited, adding: “I think he will be very impressed with this building and the people who occupy it.”

Mr Trump’s decision not to head across the Atlantic comes despite Mrs May saying that a future visit was still on the cards last week.

In typical fashion Trump made his (factually incorrect) excuse  via Twitter.

Seems like he is using Obama as a scapegoat. And getting things wrong.

Despite Mr Trump publicly blaming his predecessor Obama, the US announced its plans to move to the new embassy site in October 2008 – when George W Bush was in the White House. The new building will open on January 16.

It is being widely surmised that Trump wants to avoid protests promised during his visit.

Mrs May controversially extended the offer of a state visit – officially on behalf of the Queen – when she became the first world leader to meet Mr Trump in the White House following his inauguration last year.

Since then, however, the president has indicated he does not want to take up the invitation if he is going to face mass demonstrations and it had been expected he could make a low-key working visit rather than a trip which involved all the trappings of a state occasion.

Sadiq Khan, the Labour Mayor of London, welcomed the decision and claimed it showed Mr Trump had “got the message” that he would not be welcome in the capital.

But Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary, attacked Mr Khan’s response and accused him and Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, of putting the special relationship “at risk”.

Mr Johnson described Mr Khan as a “puffed up pompous popinjay”.

But others also applauded the visit backflip by Trump.

Liberal Democrat Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Jo Swinson said: “News that Trump has thrown his toys out of the pram and cancelled his trip to the UK will be welcomed by all of us who reject his abhorrent views.

“But it’s a disappointing sign of how weak May’s leadership is that she wasn’t brave enough to call the visit off herself.

“The Prime Minister should be ashamed that she was so keen to roll out the red carpet to a man who spreads hate and division at every turn, and goes out of his way to undermine British values.”

Ex Labour leader Ed Miliband:

Labour MP for Tottenham, David Lammy:

Labour MP Stephen Doughty:

Chairman of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee Tom Tugendhat:

“While I think it’s a shame, I think – if I’m honest – it more reflects the fact that other people criticise in French, Italian, Korean and other languages and we criticise in English, and it’s much easier for him to read English.”

Former Ukip leader Nigel Farage:

“It is disappointing. He has been to countries all over the world and yet he has not been to the one with whom he is closest.

“I would say it is disappointing. Maybe, just maybe, Sadiq Khan, Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party planning mass protests, maybe those optics he didn’t like the look of.”

Whatever triggered the late withdrawal it has highlighted the unpredictability of Trump, reinforced his reputation for making fake excuses, and caused some division in the UK.

Fox News reported on this briefly – Trump: London visit canceled over Obama administration decision

President Trump has cancelled plans to visit the United Kingdom next month, according to reports out of London on Thursday.

He later blamed a move by former president Obama for the decision to cancel.

That reported quoted Trump’s tweet blaming Obama, but did not mention that the decision to move the US embassy was made while GW Bush was president.

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.

World’s most powerful female politicians

Forbes Magazine has named Jacinda Ardern as the 13th most powerful female politician in the world. I think this is a bit premature, but it will increase Ardern’s international profile.

Most Powerful Women In Politics (Forbes):

  1. Angela Merkel, Chancellor Germany
  2. Theresa May, Prime Minister, U.K.
  3. Tsa Ing-Wen, President, Taiwan
  4. Michelle Bachelet, President, Chile
  5. Federica Mogherini, Foreign Policy Chief, European Union
  6. Ivanka Trump, Senior Advisor, The White House
  7. Ruth Bader Ginsburg/Elena Kagan/Sonia Sotomayor, Supreme Court Justices
  8. Queen Elizabeth II
  9. Sheikh Hasina Wajed, Prime Minister, Bangladesh
  10. Beata Maria Szydlo, Prime Minister, Poland
  11. Aung San Suu Kyi, State Counsellor, Myanmar
  12. Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi, Minister of International Cooperation & Development, U.A.E.
  13. Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister, New Zealand
  14. Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, President, Croatia
  15. Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland, U.K.
  16. Nikki Haley, Ambassador to United Nations, U.S.
  17. Erna Solberg, Prime Minister, Norway
  18. Elvira Nabiullina, Governor, Bank of Russia
  19. Liyuan Peng, First Lady, China
  20. Hillary Clinton, Former Presidential Candidate, U.S.
  21. Dalia Grybauskaite, President, Lithuania
  22. Kersti Kaljulaid, President, Estonia

Not surprising to see Merkel at the top, and Theresa May is probably up there as well but it’s debatable how powerful she is in the UK let alone the world.

Surprising to see Queen Elizabeth II there. She is a figurehead, not a power in politics.

Hillary Clinton well down the list is no surprise, she has no political position.

Not sure that Ivanka Trump is particularly powerful either.


US-UK trade deal “very very quickly”

Donald Trump said that a very very big trade deal with the UK will be done very very quickly, but others are very very dubious.

“There is no country that could possibly be closer than our countries. We have been working on a trade deal which will be a very, very big deal – a very powerful deal, great for both countries – and I think we will have that done very, very quickly.”

“Prime Minister May and I have developed a very special relationship and I think trade will be a very big factor between our two countries.”

That sounds very very Trump but Theresa May was less certain.

May said she would not be sceptical about the Trump offer but remained “optimistic”.

Others were more sceptical. Thomas Bernes, who has dealt with the US in a major trade negotiation and is now a fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation:

“I was involved in the Canada-US trade agreement and it was extremely complicated. No one will be interested in a trade deal until you know where the UK is vis-a-vis the European Union and until that point is reached you can have plenty of goodwill but it is nothing more than that.”

“I think it is political puffery. There will be no fast US-UK trade agreement.”

The Guardian Trump expects trade deal with UK to be completed ‘very, very quickly’:

Trump’s comments are unlikely to signal any confirmed trade deal being announced soon. The US president has consistently pledged to put American interests before those of any ally countries and a UK-US deal remains a long way from being agreed.

A senior Downing street official said no date was being announced for a visit by Trump, but added: “The invitation has been extended and will be set out in due course.” They suggested there were no plans for an imminent visit.

The official described a “very good atmosphere” in a 50-minute meeting, in which a “significant proportion” was dedicated to the trading relationship.

“They agreed to prioritise work so a deal will be ready as soon as possible after Britain leaves the EU. They pledged to examine areas now where the two countries can deepen their trade relations. The president made clear he believed the UK would thrive outside the EU,” he said.

The conversation did not go into any specific detail of what a trade agreement might look like, he added, but “was talking in broad terms about the determination to get a good deal for both countries”.

Maybe Trump will just very very quickly build a trade deal and insist that the UK pay for it.


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.