Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards: Political roundup: Challenges for the Greens and Labour

Russel Norman. Photo / APN
Russel Norman. Photo / APN

Labour and the Greens probably have a 50/50 chance of forming the next government as recent opinion polls have them neck-and-neck with National in the race for the popular support. But the two parties face all sorts of problems and challenges in the lead up to election day.

The main challenge for Labour and the Greens is how to both 'compete and co-operate' and there will be some delicate manoevering required in how the two parties present themselves to the electorate. This is covered well today by Vernon Small's must-read column, Art of doing two things at once. The column also looks at the challenging 'fault line' that is submerged within the Labour caucus, and has led to ambiguous and problematic policy stances on issues such as deep sea oil drilling, the SkyCity convention centre deal, and the Trans Pacific Partnership.

For the Greens, the issue of the day is the surprise leadership challenge against Russel Norman. There is a consensus that the challenge is not seriously going to bother Norman's position in the party. Even the challenger, David Hay, appears to say that. So what's the challenge all about? The potential motivations lying behind this peculiar challenge are discussed in a guest Kiwiblog post, Greens go Haywire. The leading option seems to be that it's about David Hay's own personal advancement up the Green Party list.

At the same time Hay has raised legitimate questions about the Green Party's major weakness at the moment: it's Auckland base.

This is insightfully discussed by Martyn Bradbury in his blogpost, What's eating David Hay?. He argues that the Greens are 'deeply rooted in the Wellington mindset' and 'losing step with the largest City in the country'. The Auckland Greens, says Bradbury, 'see Russel as part of the problem, not the solution'. Laila Harre has been working hard to turn that around as the de facto Auckland Party leader (running their campaigns on the Parliamentary payroll) but, as Hay and Bradbury argue, the Greens actually need a strong Green MP leading Auckland.

Chris Trotter also speculates on what's going on with the leadership challenge, arguing that 'David Hay is either a very stupid or a very sinister person' - see: Enter The Sophocrat: Will the Greens Elect Themselves a Philosopher King?. Trotter raises the possibility that Hay's challenge is really 'stalking horse' for a more serious challenge against Norman or Turei. Certainly Turei seems unhappy with the surprise challenge, being reported as saying that the party membership is 'very upset' with how this has occurred - see Michael Sergel's Greens not happy with leadership challenge. But it should be noted that on iPredict, the stock for Turei to be Green Party co-leader or leader on Nomination Day remains high at 94%.

Barry Soper doesn't see Norman being replaced: 'He might be an Aussie, he might have an unfashionable carrot top and he may have had parents who had difficulty spelling his Christian name, but Russel Norman, the bullfrog of The Kermits, is well liked by his 13 caucus colleagues' - see: Russel well-liked by the Green caucus.

Despite this, the challenge has the potential to do some damage to the Greens. One Labour Party activist, Patrick Leyland confesses to enjoying 'more than a moment of schadenfreude' in a blogpost, Green-spill. He talks about 'how shallow the talent pool' is in the Greens, and suggests that the party adopt a higher threshold for the ability of members to challenge for the leadership.

Patrick Gower goes further, and says 'This is a pathetic joke of a challenge - but the joke is on the Green Party given its constitution allows such a futile challenge' - see: Colin Craig & greedy Greens go crazy. Gower suggests 'the Greens are getting greedy' as they get closer to power, but that it will backfire on the party: 'The Greens look like a party of navel-gazing, Morris-dancing time-wasters - the very image they have been trying to escape. The Greens are supposed to be getting ready for power. But it looks like their constitution and grassroots are not ready for the responsibility and would prefer instead to play silly games.... Grownup, functioning political movements do not do this sort of silliness'.

To see what David Hay has to say about it all, see his blogpost, Leadership Challenge FAQs, and you can listen to his interesting 6-minute interview with Duncan Garner. And see my updated blogpost, Top tweets about the Greens leadership challenge to Russel Norman.

Asset sale opportunities and ambiguities

The Government's ongoing asset sales programme has been a huge boon for Labour and the Greens. It has allowed them some easy hits against National, and given them a very useful campaigning tool. But it's also presented both parties with a difficult challenge: would they buy the shares back? It shouldn't be difficult to answer, because the logical corollary of opposing the sale is to buy them back. New Zealand First unambiguously takes this principled position. The Greens and Labour are more wary. David Cunliffe has justified Labour's middling stance by saying he doesn't want to make a commitment in favour of nationalisation and as a result be portrayed as a 'profligate communist'.

Matthew Hooton suggests that the real reason is that 'He must know that it would be barking mad for a government to decide not to direct surpluses into education or new infrastructure, but instead buy shares in an airline and two energy companies operating perfectly happily. It would be crazier to decide to borrow to buy the shares if times were tough and the government's books were back in the red' - see: Share buybacks - will Cunliffe be hypocrite or 'profligate communist'? (paywalled). Hooton also says, 'In truth, Mr Cunliffe knows full well - as does the Greens' Russel Norman - that it will never make sense for the state to buy back any of these shares because it simply doesn't matter who owns those dams and other generation infrastructure as long as the electricity is flowing and the state retains the power to regulate'. See also, Tova O'Brien's Labour 'quite likely' to buy state-owned assets back.

Disagreements over deep sea oil drilling

The current deep seal oil exploration has also handed the two leftish parties a populist campaign to exploit. For Labour, however, the issue is highly problematic, as the party has no firm position on the issue (by design), and its caucus is divided - see Stuff's Drilling could split Labour. For more on this, see also Vernon Small's Art of doing two things at once.

Pike River compensation wins

Labour has certainly come out on top over the issue of government compensation for the families of the Pike River victims. Numerous commentators have come out in favour of David Cunliffe's outspoken position on paying the families - see in particular, Fran O'Sullivan's Govt must pay for Pike tragedy, John Armstrong's Cunliffe stays on top in Pike compo fight, and Tracy Watkins' Pike River decision may cause backlash.

However, the strongest and most interesting critique of Labour's stance has come from Liam Hehir, who labels it A threat to rule of law. Hehir looks at the mechanics of how a Labour government could actually implement its policy, and declares them to be politically and legally repugnant.

Labour's argument is strongest, however, in its admission that successive governments allowed the disaster to happen, and that the payouts are therefore necessary due to the culpability of both Labour and National when governing. Interestingly, David Farrar builds on this point with the following argument: 'why not have the parties that were in Government pay, rather than us poor innocent taxpayers. Regulatory problems happened under both Labour and National Governments. It is easy for Cunliffe to declare that taxpayers should pay, but why should we pay for mistakes made by the Government he was part of. So why doesn't Cunliffe pledge $1.5 million to be paid to Pike River families from the Labour parliamentary budget, and call on National to do the same. Would that not be fairer that asking for taxpayers to pay?' - see his comments at the bottom of the Kiwiblog Guest Post by Flipper on Pike River.

Labour's performance

How is Labour going under new leader David Cunliffe? Duncan Garner evaluates some of the recent debates Cunliffe has been involved in and gives him both praise and criticism in his blogpost, Tone down the tosser, Cunliffe. In terms of policy, Chris Trotter worries that Labour is shifting too far towards the middle, especially at the party's recent annual conference - see his column, Cunliffe and co need to sharpen their Leftist edge.

Strategically, Cunliffe made a mistake last week in his misdirected sledge against Judith Collins in his guest blog post, Them's fighting words. He was quickly labeled a 'sexist' for calling Collins a 'trout' - see the Herald's You're a trout. Collins to Cunliffe: You're sexist. Interestingly, those on both the left and right have condemned Cunliffe for his attempt at humour - see No Right Turn's David Cunliffe: Sexist and David Farrar's Cunliffe calls Collins a trout.

The spillover from last week's identity politics debate has Martyn Bradbury blogging: Is Giovanni Tiso racist? Is Graeme Edgeler a rape apologist and QoT proves hell hath no fury like a blogger scorned. For a contrast to this leftwing infighting, see Amy Shanks' Mother has $8 left to feed family.

Labour has an apathy problem - not just in general elections, but in defending its Christchurch East electorate in the upcoming by-election. John Armstrong says 'Labour's biggest voter indifference. Turnout is going to be low' - see: Apathy clear frontrunner so far in Christchurch East. Labour's campaign manager is Jim Anderton, but he's reported today as denying that he's rejoined Labour, and that 'Never am I going to do that. I left the Labour Party and I do not intend to return' - see Audrey Young's Anderton driving Labour's hopes.

Jane Clifton draws attention to Labour's lack of rejuvenation in her latest Listener column, Thinning the ranks (paywalled). She points out those Labour MPs who could be retiring: 'Phil Goff, Annette King, Trevor Mallard, Darien Fenton, Maryan Street, Clayton Cosgrove, Damian O'Connor and defeated leader David Shearer could all consider they have now, in the euphemistic parlance of these decisions, Made Their Contribution'. The problem, Clifton says, is that the 'old guard' has stick round, because the newer MPs simply aren't making a 'political impact'.

Many had been expecting that Labour would receive a major boost with CTU president joining the caucus next year, but it's reported today that Helen Kelly has decided not to stand in 2014 - see Michael Fox's Kelly won't run for Parliament.

What seats might Labour seek to win off National in next year's election? Party activist, Patrick Leyland has blogged to identify some - see: Labour's urban targets. Of most interest, is Maungakiekie, which Leyland suggests shouldn't be given to Carol Beaumont (which would be to 'reward failure'), Hamilton West, which shouldn't be given to 'five time loser Sue Moroney' who 'is never going to be able to take the seat for Labour', and Christchurch Central, where there will be 'a very tough fight for the selection'

Ex-Christchurch Central MP - and Labour's only former Prime Minister living in New Zealand - Geoffrey Palmer has got a new book out - see Anthony Hubbard's The Reluctant Prime Minister. The most interesting aspect of this interview/profile is Palmer's strong criticism of Lange as PM, and also his milder criticism of Helen Clark.

The Labour Party has a new blogger. Rob Salmond has established a blog and consultancy company hired by the Labour Party - see: Welcome to Polity.

Finally, after 25 years as Radio New Zealand's Morning Report co-host, Geoff Robinson has announced his retirement. For reaction, see my blogpost, Top tweets about Geoff Robinson retiring form RNZ.

- NZ Herald

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Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago. He teaches and researches on New Zealand politics, public policy, political parties, elections, and political communication. His PhD, completed in 2003, was on 'Political Parties in New Zealand: A Study of Ideological and Organisational Transformation'. He is currently working on a book entitled 'Who Runs New Zealand? An Anatomy of Power'. He is also on the board of directors for Transparency International New Zealand.

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