Weta Spotting

I’ve always enjoyed the slightly nerdier side of life. Therefore it didn’t take much for this article on Stuff to pique my interest.

Massey University entomologists are calling for volunteers to capture specimens and photos of New Zealand’s creepiest of crawlies – the weta.
The university’s Ecology Group has launched the “Weta Geta” website on how to identify New Zealand’s orthoptera, such as grasshoppers, crickets and especially weta.
The public are being invited to send in photos of weta to help Massey researchers classify new and existing species and catalogue their whereabouts.
Unfortunately the Massey page seems a bit hit and miss – it worked a week ago, but seems out of commission today: definitely a Weta Geta in beta. Not that it matters too much, it functions as a taxonomy guide and then links users to naturewatch.org.nz to actually record sightings.
There’s something rather pleasing about identifying and reporting such marvelous animals, even if the specimens are Hemideina crassidens (Wellington tree weta), a rather common sight here in Karori.

Budget a fillip… for ACT?

Further musing on last week’s budget has led me to consider just how this piece of electoral maneuvering changes the familiar political landscape.

Key can now reasonably claim National are a centrist party. Beyond throwing the leftier Labour into relief, this has the added bonus for National of opening up more space on the right flank of the party.

ACT have struggled for some time now. Not withstanding the laughably poor candidate selection (Banks, Calvert, Garrett), the sense that National have absorbed ACT’s ideologically-driven voter block has pervaded. So much so that even the 2008 parliamentary reentry of cult-hero Roger Douglas was entirely underwhelming. ACT fell to 1.07% of the vote in 2011 – those 23,889 votes entirely wasted as they were unable to shift the needle beyond the single electorate seat of John Banks.

Banks, along with being a former National minister, essentially ran on the (paraphrased somewhat) campaign slogan “vote for me: for PM John Key”. ACT clearly could not be seen to be presenting any alternative beyond the constraints defined by National.

Key’s wet budget changes this, especially when viewed alongside ACT’s alternative 2014 budget. For the first time in years there is now some daylight between the positions of ACT and National.

Granted, it is cigarette paper thin – ACT will still rely upon the proportional-gerrymander of a gifted electorate seat: ACT will not bite the National hand. But with political opposition hardening against the coat-tailing provision in our electoral law, it seems prudent for those on the right to ensure that their political spectrum does not remain monolithic.

Jamie Whyte must surely be pleased – ACT has found a raison d’etre.

Budget 2014: Same-Same and the Overton Boogaloo

Budget 2014 has dropped and it has delivered few surprises. Writes the imminently sensible Keith Ng at PublicAddress

Ultimately, I think this budget is fine, and National really is doing a reasonable job of managing the finances. I expressed doubts a few budgets ago them pushing the cuts to future governments, but here we are, they’ve actually worn the worst of the cuts.

While the sobriquet “rock star” must surely be beginning to piss-off the chaps on the Treasury benches, there is no doubt that our country is in a relatively stable position. The structural problems left over from Clark are still unsolved (superannuation, balance of payments, housing inflation), but in large part we’re looking pretty fit compared to much of the moribund OECD.

Sure, it still sucks to be poor, and rich people accumulating wealth via capital gains are still untaxed. Our rivers are still toxic, and climate change has the potential to claim us all. Sure. But we could be a fair bit worse off.

If anything the performance of NZ post-GFC is testament to the sobriety Micheal Cullen exhibited to repeatedly bank mammoth surpluses to reduce debt. Our current health also reinforces how reckless the position was of Brash-era National – crying for big tax cuts in a red-hot inflationary economy, while calling for Government to increase debt to fund infrastructure. Had New Zealand followed Brash post-2005, it’s easy to see that we would be a lot poorer off right now.

What is most interesting for me however, are the two key social policies rolled out by the Government. Free healthcare for under children under 13 and a four week extension to paid parental leave. This is the type of shameless and overt social interventionism that would surely have been opposed by prior National caucuses. I can only imagine the howls of anguished rage coming from Jamie Whyte when he discovered that sick children would be further insulated from the fiscal consequences of their choice to fall ill.

This type of expensive social policy is exactly the sort of thing that used to be called “communism by stealth” (John Key 2005), moderated slightly to a “dead rat” that had to be swallowed (Bill English 2009), and now in 2014 the same men in charge of the National Government are proudly announcing headline policies to the left of those that Clark achieved.

So while much may be same-same in Budget 2014 it is clear that the New Zealand version of the Overton window has shifted – resolutely.

Waitakere Woman?

Further to my last past on the irrelevance of the trope of the red-blooded-Shane-Jones-type Waitakere Man in the modern electorate, it is pertinent to look at policies that the National Government have pre-announced from this week’s budget. The theory being that if the concept of Waitakere Man was worth a damn then there should be plenty of evidence of National targeting their policy towards his valuable political interests.

So what hairy-chested policies have National pushed forward to snare this bloke?
Counseling for victims of sexual violence has been increased by $10.4 million.

$1 million tackle the country’s “nits epidemic”.

John Key says paid parental leave will be extended in budget.

Waitakere Man has never been more than an ideological burp; anthropomorphising two key issues with the 5th Labour Government. Firstly the failure of 3rd Way neoliberalism to address the economic interests of the working class, and secondly unease with which traditional patriarchal structures within the left are now forced to engage and share power with minority groups such as GLBT, ethnic minority groups and women.

Champions of Waitakere Man need to question why they championed support of anti-women or anti-GLBT stances. Instead of seeing him as a valuable part of the NZ electorate, perhaps Waitakere Man was coming from inside the house.

Shane Jones Edition

Originally this post was intended as a comment to the (always excellent) DimPost’s writing on, what else, Shane Jones.

The crux of the Jones-issue concerning political minds is – how useful was Jones’ connection to male working class voters? I genuinely believe Jones did connect on some level – as I wrote on the Dim:

FWIW – at the leadership meeting I went to Jones definitely connected best with the blue collar guys sitting in the row behind me.

The line that received the most spontaneous murmurings of assent from the crowd was Jones criticising the performance and discipline of the Labour caucus, something that Cunliffe and Robertson didn’t do.

Jones is definitely a skilled communicator, and reached a part of the electorate that Labour has long struggled to attract. But I don’t think this connection is necessary for a Labour victory. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I think Labour will be better off without Jones.

Waitakere Man doesn’t exist as a viable bloc of voters for the left, at least in the way pundits like Trotter and Pagani et al would have you believe.

Men tend to vote right, women tend to vote left. This rough rule of thumb can be seen across Western democracies; it’s a useful place to start when looking at our electoral narrative over the last few cycles.

Take a look at the last two competitive elections Labour faced – 2005 and 2008. National’s success under Key and failure under Brash can largely be attributed to differences in how those two leaders connected with female voters.

Women were turned off by Brash and the Nats lost. Brash was dry, alienating and misogynistic – decrying Labour’s women-friendly policies, demoting women from National’s front bench and, in a final symbol of his political death knell, was exposed as cheating on his wife. Conversely Key is well related to and trusted by women, meaning Labour languishes. Key presents himself as wetter, softer and safer than Brash – a true family man who is much more attuned to the female electorate, and importantly employs highly visible women ministers to champion National’s work.

The “centre ground” of NZ politics that National occupies essentially was staked out by Clark. It’s simple 3rd Way Neoliberalism – involving acceptance of key female-targetted policies like paid parental leave, WFF, and interest free student loans. Mums love their kids, and they vote with children in mind.

National has readily absorbed this –  and hence major iniatives are frequently couched in ways that appeal to this middle ground of female voters. Tinkering in schools has been largely framed so as to maximise appeal to suburban parents with a focus on choice and parental empowerment; assets sales become family-friendly when they are promulgated as helping these same suburban “mums and dads”, despite them only being a tiny slice of actual stock buyers.

The truth of the matter is that there isn’t “centre ground” issues or policies in our political landscape that Waitakere Man is a player in. He is either is in a union and votes in his class interests, or more likely isn’t unionised and tends to vote to the right. Waitakere Man cares much less about paid parental leave or WFF, and most likely actively resents unions despite them championing his economic interests. This is the chap who doesn’t mind hearing someone in a suit using meaningless phrases like “business growth agenda” as neoliberalism argues that what is best for business is best for him.

Meanwhile, there women who voted Labour in 2005, but who switched to Key in 2008. And due to: (pick one) the political cycle/the power of incumbancy/opposition incompetence, they’ve been Key voters ever since. Women are the low-hanging fruit for a left-wing party – securing this demographic is paramount for a left victory.

And Jones just doesn’t appeal to women – he actively alienates them. The porn, the jokes about geldings, the red-blooded appeals that so excited political pundits – none of it resonates with the key bloc whose choices will decide the next Government.

…and I’m back

Reading the always excellent DimPost I had the urge to write a comment that was entirely far too long. Thus the need to restart this particular vehicle for more long winded carefully constructed thoughts.

So please, pull up a chair; bang your head against the desk in frustration; write something offensive in the comments.

All correspondence will be entered into.

The Onion is Serious Journalism


Old articles from The Onion are like fine wines – they just get better with age. The above piece is a 2001 vintage  – but featured the most salient assessment of the coming Bush terms I’ve read.