Officially, politics isn't happening at the moment - MPs are on holiday, political journalists haven't really started writing serious news stories, and the public is taking a break from all things ideological. Despite this, there are some interesting developments and stories that are well worth reading. Chris Trotter certainly isn't on holiday. In addition to his regular columns, he is also in the midst of a series of fascinating blogposts about the Labour Party leadership. The latest is entitled Behind The Mask: Who's Backing David Shearer - And Why?. This post continues on from some other damning critiques: Who Is David Shearer? Revealing The Back-Story To The Back-Story, and The Lazarus Option.
Obviously there are some in and around Labour who are still dissatisfied with David Shearer as leader and would like to see a challenge from David Cunliffe next month. The Standard is the main place to view the ongoing angst about the leadership (as satirised by Scott Yorke in his posts, Who Should We Blame For the Black Caps?; and The Post I Never Posted. A surprise advocate for Cunliffe is rightwing blogger Cathy Odgers, who reckons that Shearer needs to put his leadership up to the vote once and for all, and that a Cunliffe victory would revitalise New Zealand politics generally - see: Labour Struggles With One Direction. And from within the Labour activist base, it's always useful to read blogger Robert Winter's view - see, for example, Labour in the New Year and Trotter on Shearer.
The Labour leadership will be very pleased with news that its latest 'Kiwibuild' policy is very popular - see Claire Trevett's Housing plan a winner for Labour. But some on the left are complaining that Labour are prioritising the housing needs of middle income voters over those of the poor - see The Standard blogpost, State housing vs home ownership.
Once the 2013 political year properly kicks off, Gordon Campbell forecasts that Winston Peters will be the key figure of the year because of his likely role as 'king-maker' after the next election: 'Peters' plans and allegiances will be the subject of endless speculation throughout this year' - see: Peters back in the spotlight. Other parliamentary predictions are made by Fairfax political journalists in Gallery game on: who will rise and fall in 2013.
Undoubtedly the asset sales will play a central part in the political year, and news that the Opposition parties have collected enough signatures to trigger a referendum have been met by criticisms from a Herald editorial - Referendum a farce: we've voted already - and from Chris Trotter: Mandate given at last election. A counter-view is provided by Green blogger David Kennedy in: Chris Trotter and the Mandate Word.
Issues of ethnicity, the Treaty, and Maori politics will surely play a big role once again in New Zealand this year. One reason for this is the Government's Constitutional Review, which will soon be in full swing and will raise some very contentious issues. Some interesting critiques of the Review have recently been voiced by Elizabeth Rata - see: Treaty no longer symbol of national unity, and David Round - see: Treaty 'rights' a trap in constitution plan. Radio NZ has also broadcast an in-depth discussion of the place of the Treaty of Waitangi in a written constitution - listen to Brent Edwards' Outspoken on the Treaty of Waitangi. Related to this is news on public spending on the Treaty lawyers - see Ben Heather's Treaty legal aid bill hits $79m in six years. Also in the economic-Iwi sphere, see the following interesting items: Isaac Davison's Firing up Maori economic engine and Simon Day's 'Pa Wars' hosts fire shots over Maori job.
On a more political level, New Zealand could see a resurgence this year of Treaty-based protest inspired by Canadian activism - see Kurt Bayer's Indigenous protest movement spread to NZ. At the parliamentary level, the obituaries are being prepared for the Maori Party - Chris Trotter's analysis is interesting: Maori Party's founding tenets starting to unravel. A key issue for the Maori Party's survival will be the 'succession issue' - dealt with in Kate Chapman's Ratana unveiling for Turia's successor?, and also aggravated by Pita Sharples decision to stay on as a co-leader - see TVNZ's Sharples defiantly says he won't stand down. Morgan Godfery provides his analysis in Sharples vs Flavell: the leadership edition.
The state of the economy as well as the high unemployment rate will be the big issues of 2013 - which are addressed in Fran O'Sullivan's It's high time the PM got serious on youth employment. O'Sullivan's column has surprised many with her criticisms of the Government and her call for tax increases. See also Rod Oram's John Key's big economic challenges.
New Zealand's political year will kick off in earnest when the media return to reporting in full on the politicians. This year's coverage will change with the introduction of TVNZ's replacement for Close Up at 7pm on weekdays, Seven Sharp. The announcement of the trio fronting the programme - see, Andrew Koubaridis' Mulligan to add the comic touch - has led to various predictions for the show as well as reviews before the first broadcast - see Brian Edwards's TVNZ exchanges current-affairs for a mess of pottage at 7pm and Martyn Bradbury's Seven Sharp already looks blunt. David Farrar has also questioned the involvement of Labour-supporter Jessie Mulligan - see: Seven Sharp. Similarly, Cameron Slater complains that TV3's Campbell Live is becoming a political advertisement for the Labour Party - see: John Campbell comes out of the closet. There is other behind-the-scenes news for state-owned media, with two important departures - see: William Mace's TVNZ's head of news resigns after nine months and John Drinnan's Radio NZ boss confirms exit, apologises.
Other important or interesting recent political items include:
• New Zealand has received yet another accolade - this time for 'human freedom' - see TVNZ's NZ leads worldwide in human freedom. The most interesting reaction to the award comes from Danyl Mclauchlan (A brainfart on Freedom) who disapproves, and David Farrar (NZ most free country on earth) who celebrates and provides further details.
• Judith Collins is coming across decidedly liberal in her decision announced today to allow prisoners to retain compensation received for ill-treatment - see Claire Trevett's Collins backtracks on jail compo. She's even receiving plaudits from arch-liberal law professor Andrew Geddis - see: In praise of Judith Collins.
• The country's first spy drone has been purchased by the police, leading to concerns about privacy - see David Beatson's Look out! The Drones are here - and we're not ready and Toby Manhire's NZ must act fast to control aerial spying devices. This issue comes on top of heightened public interest in state spying - see Chris Trotter's Opening a can of worms. In addition, see No Right Turn's Our military is spying on us.
• New Zealand's public service comes in for some international attention in Max Rashbrooke's Guardian article, Are UK public managers doomed to fail in the land of the Hobbit? . Meanwhile the Ministry of Education is being criticised for contracting out some of its core functions and also increasing the pay at the top - see Kate Chapman's More big pay packets at Education Ministry. The Ministry of Health is also in the firing line for providing poor policy advice to the Government - see RNZ's Health Ministry told to lift performance.
• Paul Buchanan has - as always - been making interesting comments, this time about both anti-redhead prejudice (Acceptable bigotry) and the current visit by British foreign minister, William Hague (Hague's real mission: our SAS in Africa).
• The policing of illegal drug use is an ongoing contentious issue. New figures from the Minister of Justice have re-opened the debate about the justice and effectiveness of the rules - see Ben Heather's Petty drug users fill New Zealand jails. Also in response to this, see Will de Cleene's The High Cost of Cannabis Prohibition, Mathew Grocott's MP urges new approach to drugs, and Rosemary Mcleod's Ostracise the pot smokers, not jail them.
• The taxpayer subsidies for the Hobbit film production is being questioned once again - see Kate Chapman's Peters: Hobbit subsidy should be handed back. But New Zealander's don't appear to agree - see Isaac Davison's The Hobbit: should we have paid?. Gordon Campbell has also responded to the issue with a very thoughtful and nuanced blogpost, On the subsidies for The Hobbit.
• Yesterday John Key described Education Minister Hekia Parata as 'one of National's top communicators' and said 'she's been one of the smoothest communicators we've actually had' - see Claire Trevett's Parata's job safe in shuffle. Scott Yorke wonders whether the PM's later reflection on that statement had anything to do with his subsequent fainting and hospitalisation - see: Falling over. For further details on John Key's health - see: John Key faints at restaurant. Meanwhile, John Armstrong wonders whether the Government is now 'stuck with a lame-duck minister' - see: Keeping minister on a gamble for Key.
• Political scientist Claire Robinson received all sorts of flack last year for her very interesting research into image bias in newspapers during the 2011 general election. She's now responded by cataloging and responding to the criticism - see: Only now getting around to my rebuttal.
• Have New Zealanders become Australia's slave labour? Chris Trotter argues today that 'Kiwis living in Australia' face significant injustice, but this suits New Zealand's ruling class - see: Facing a future as Australia's poor relations.
• Whatever happened to all those alleged breaches of electoral law at the last election? The Electoral Commission referred 94 cases to the police - but apparently the police are still investigating 89 of these - see RNZ's Scores of alleged electoral law breaches unresolved.
• How big is the gap between the rich and poor in New Zealand? A new study suggests that the top 1% of earners receive 9% of the national income, but this figure is more egalitarian than for many countries - see Newswire's The rich Down Under share more - study.
• The Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage, Chris Finlayson, provides the public with his own evaluation of the art on display at Parliament - see Claire Trevett's Tour Parliament's $12m art as main man turns critic.
• Finally, for more information on where our politicians are holidaying, see Bevan Hurley's Politicians lying low over holidays in some favourite Kiwi spots and Michael Field's Beaching it: The PMs' summer tradition.