The fateful meeting between John Key and John Banks has become the defining moment of the election campaign. The affair has spiraled out of control for National and its campaign is suffering death by a thousand cuts, with the latest damage inflicted by another Key own-goal. By inviting police intervention TVNZ, RNZ to be searched; Key has raised the stakes - a decision he may already be regretting.
Russell Brown, in a must-read blog post, Criminalising Journalism, argues that 'a psychotically aggressive press statement by Steven Joyce', bizarrely comparing it to the News of the World phone hacking scandal, 'criminalizing the media' and 'the decision to drive a wedge between the public and the news media - has done enduring damage. This thing has gone to a very bad place'. It's true that dangerous territory is being traversed when the police get involved in elections and media.
There's a wealth of quality reporting and analysis on the teapot tapes drama today. The following items are particular worth reading, starting from the most important: John Armstrong's Trapped by the tape - Key losing control, Gordon Campbell's On Epsom, Derek Cheng's two items: Key stands by suicide remarks and Nats pull out of teapot tape radio interview, Vernon Small's It's the message, not the medium, Danya Levy's Refusal to release tape a bad look - Brash, Duncan Garner's Tape saga reveals 'changing face of PM', the Herald's editorial, Time to get the chat out in the open, and the Manawatu Standard's editorial Key only has self to blame for cuppa-gate.
A big part of the problem in Epsom is that National Party candidate Paul Goldsmith clearly does not want to win, going to great lengths to avoid campaigning for the electorate vote. Goldsmith has been photographed taking down election advertising encouraging a vote for him - although he seems to be the victim of a setup (Signs were bogus, says Goldsmith).
Overall, the National-Act strategy in Epsom has badly backfired. This is reinforced by today's mini-poll result that shows Goldsmith is leading the contest - see Andrea Vance's ACT polls at wipeout low in Epsom.
The 'fake candidate' phenomenon is certainly not confined to Epsom. There are candidates in electorates everywhere who are doing their damndest not to receive electorate votes - often specifically asking people not to vote for them. Every Green Party candidate across the country, for example, seems to be saying 'don't vote for me' and is using their candidacy as a backdoor method to promote a party vote for the Greens. As I've argued before, this brings MMP into disrepute and is entirely unnecessary - see: 'Fake' electorate candidates. And today, we see a strange twist on this phenomenon with Act's John Boscawen suddenly saying that he would actually like to win Tamaki despite saying he was retiring from politics - see Derek Cheng's Boscawen quit ... but now he's back.
National is also facing criticism at the moment from its traditional supporters - business. According to an interesting survey of business leaders (Party time is over Prime Minister. It seems that captains of industry are less than impressed with the speed of National's uber-pragmatic approach to economic reform. See also, Fran O'Sullivan's two items of analysis: Business loses confidence in Act and Top marks for the circuses, now what about the bread?.
The minor party leaders debate last night is still being discussed and evaluated. There seems to be a consensus that Winston Peters and Hone Harawira were the best performers - see, in particular, John Armstrong's Hone a surprise stand out, Claire Trevett's Peters returns to old form, Tracy Watkins' Peters comes out firing in debate, and Andrea Vance's Winston Peters winner in minor party debate. Tracy Watkins notes that 'Green Party co-leader Russel Norman remained steadfastly "on message" as he tried desperately not to break the formula which has seen his party rise in the polls by appearing a more moderate force'.
Most leaders brought some light to the issue of post-election coalitions but Russel Norman typically chose to obfuscate rather than illuminate their party's likely role after polling day. It seems that the Green Party wants its voters to trust the party to do the backroom negotiations and come up with the best deal from either Labour and National. Related to this, Claire Trevett's Maori Party gains stronger voice in union with Nats deals further with National's post-election options.
Apart from the teapot tape saga, the main theme of this year's election campaign has been the economy, with the subtopics of austerity and inequality sometimes giving the debate a more significant and meaningful nature. It's therefore appropriate that with a week to go in the campaign, we now have a chance to talk about MP remuneration due to news that politicians are suddenly getting a pay rise of about $7000 each - see: Kate Newton's MPs get pay rise package of $7000 and No Right Turn's Earning that reputation X.
As I've argued in detail before, MPs are incredibly highly paid - in fact with salary packages of between $180,000 and $500,000, New Zealand Members of Parliament currently earn more than 99% of their constituents. So, to modify the slogan of the Occupy movement, MPs are now part of the 1% against the 99%. There is actually a very good argument for putting all MPs on the average wage. Interestingly, John Minto has made this demand before, but when I asked him in a Vote Chat interview recently (view here) he refused to commit to that or to advocate it for his Mana Party colleagues. Nonetheless, the Mana Party are speaking out against the pay rise - see: Mana outrage over MPs' $7000 pay rise and Harawira calls for MPs to donate pay rise.
The Mana Party is particularly interesting at the moment. The party has been evolving quickly and is no longer simply a Hone Harawira Maori nationalist party - see: See Chris Whitworth's Sue Bradford - the Pakeha with Mana, and also some interesting policy announcements from Mana: Mana releases 'Top 10 Crimes of the Millennium' list and Harawira says Cabinet should be drug tested (http://bit.ly/sMYBWv). Certainly we're seeing a quite different version of Hone Harawira these days - in the minor party leaders debate his new-found constructive and composed approach was well received.
Some of the most fascinating electoral battles are occurring in the Maori seats, and today Rawiri Taonui has a decent roundup of them in his article, The Maori vote. Taonui makes the following important point about the Te Tai Tonga contest: 'Ask anyone and a month ago Labour's Te Rino Tirakatene was going to win Te Tai Tonga. Not so now. Enthusiastic, bilingual and articulate Mana candidate and son of Ngapuhi "Hurricane" Clinton Dearlove stole the live debate. He will not win but who he takes votes from will decide the outcome'. So despite previous assumptions it seems that the Maori Party's Rahui Katene is in with a fighting chance of holding on. I'm interviewing Katene tomorrow in my final University of Otago Vote Chat meeting. It's filmed in high definition, and you can watch it live-streamed or watch them later on YouTube here. Tomorrow's interview with Katene is at 12 noon - please watch online or follow on Twitter (the hashtag is #OUVotechat2011), and let me know if you have any questions for the Maori Party MP.
Teapot tapes and Epsom
Andrea Vance (Stuff): ACT polls at wipeout low in Epsom
Russell Brown (Hard News): Criminalising Journalism
Newstalk ZB: Winston Peters 'spills the beans'
Andrew Geddis (Pundit): 5-0 be down here about the bodies, yo
Derek Cheng and Paul Harper (NZH): Tea tape: media outlets to be searched
Derek Cheng (NZH): Tea tape: Key stands by suicide remarks
Gordon Campbell (Scoop): On Epsom...
John Armstrong (NZH): Trapped by the tape - Key losing control
Vernon Small (Stuff): It's the message, not the medium
Martyn Bradbury (Tumeke): Has John Key just lost the election?
Danya Levy (Stuff): Refusal to release tape a bad look - Brash
Peter Wilson (TV3): Key heads to far north as teapot tape saga continues
Derek Cheng (NZH): Nats pull out of teapot tape radio interview
Barry Soper (Newstalk ZB): Political Report: November 17
Mai Chen (NZH): The tea cup tape: Play It
Garth George (NZH): The tea cup tape: Don't play it
Manawatu Standard: Editorial - Key only has self to blame for cuppa-gate
Bernard Orsman (NZH): Twists in the cup-of-tea seat
Tim Selwyn (Tumeke): Pot on the boil
The Standard: Key declares war on the media
No Right Turn: Going nuclear
John Pagani (Stuff): Key's tea party helps Peters
Grant Robertson (Red Alert): The demise of Brand Key
Quentin Findlay (New masses): A Long Lasting and Bitter Cuppa
2011 New Zealand General Elections, A Voters' Companion: Our History: Secret Recordings
Denis Welch (Opposable thumb): League tea tape call
Minor parties debate
Tracy Watkins (Stuff): Peters comes out firing in debate
John Armstrong (NZH): Hone a surprise stand out
Audrey Young (NZH): Rusty Brash misses shot
David Farrar (Kiwiblog): Hone did well
Andrea Vance (Stuff): Winston Peters winner in minor party debate
Claire Trevett (NZH): Peters returns to old form
Morgan Godfery (Maui Street): On the two political debates
Phoebe Fletcher (Tumeke): Review: TVNZ's Minor Parties Leaders Debate
John Hartevelt (Stuff): Winston Peters takes aim at Key in debate
MPs pay rise
Paul Harper (NZH): Mana outrage over MPs' $7000 pay rise
Kate Newton (Stuff): MPs get pay rise package of $7000
No Right Turn: Earning that reputation X