Hard News by Russell Brown

The Odds

The Centrebet odds on a Labour victory shortened a little again this morning with the publication of the Herald and NBR polls. At $1.33, Helen Clark's party isn't exactly unbackable, but I'm not sure that $3.00 is enough to make you open your wallet for a flutter on Don Brash either.

The Herald poll threw up some stark numbers: National runs 20% behind Labour among women voters, which is not surprising. But it's also 20% astray among voters in Auckland, which is quite startling. If this continues, we might expect some upsets in those North Shore electorates currently held by National MPs.

The Herald's split on polling before and after the tax cuts announcement is also interesting: a staggering 14-point lead to Labour shortened to 6.6% after Monday's announcement, but I wonder if National hasn't already burned off some of that advantage with this week's whoopsies. Labour, on the other hand, has largely stayed out of trouble - even Trevor Mallard - and opened the goodie bag for a policy-a-day. This was always going to be a risk for National once it started Actually Doing Stuff, but the forestry debacle was unforgiveable.

Gordon King has a thoughtful post, pointing out that on current polling, "the total centre-right vote hasn't shifted since the last election":

There are two problems. Firstly the failure of political management to shift centre voters from Labour to National. Secondly, and I believe more importantly, the failure to articulate a credible alternate vision to shift the political centre rightwards.

National's political management in this campaign has been patchy. No matter how much we on the right would like to spin it they have been constantly bested by Labour in timing, execution and delivery. Most of the less important failures (debates, racing cars, policy bungles and suchlike) can be sheeted home to the unexpectedly poor performance of Brash, but in the big stuff of policy delivery they've been made to look like amateurs by a Labour machine astonishing in its ruthlessness.

Gordon advances the argument that what National need is a a vision, "something much bigger" that its tax cuts, "something visionary like flat tax (undoubtedly the next big thing in fiscal reform world wide)." I seriously doubt that any party could pull 45% of the vote in New Zealand with a flat tax policy, but I think the point about National's policy offerings is well made. As I have noted before, several of National's key policies suck: they were originally devised not as a platform on which to govern but to pull in targeted elements of the vote. Abolishing parole might please the Sensible Sentencing Trust, but on the evidence it makes no sense. Ditto for work-for-the-dole and the immigration policy. There are other examples. And did anybody really believe Brash's rationale for his vote on the Civil Union Bill?

If National does fail to gain the Treasury benches in three weeks' time, I would hope that that failure prompts a sweeping changing of the guard. The party has some significant talent set to enter Parliament on its list, and three years in which to put together a coherent platform. I think Labour would have to pull off a miracle to hold out a John Key-style National Party in three years' time. For the moment, National's platform is incoherent; its ironic advantage going forward may be that some of that incoherence has begun to infect Labour's platform. (The expanded Working for Families scheme might simply become a working part of the landscape, or it might become a monster. An immediate shift in tax brackets in this year's Budget, combined with the already-announced WFF roadmap, would have made more sense. But that's history now.)

For the moment, it's hard to see why National bothers to maintain an Arts & Culture page on the policy section of its website. There isn't any policy, and the minister allegedly responsible has now gone more than a year without making a statement relating to her portfolio. She's also broadcasting spokesman; nothing there either. Maurice Williamson is information technology spokesman, but hasn't made any official releases on that. And Foreign Affairs spokesman Lockwood Smith doesn't appear to be offering an international relations policy. Labour won the 1999 election after making a virtual fetish of policy wonkery. It would behove National to do the same.

There was some amusement to be derived from Noelle's political interviews on 95bFM this week. On Tuesday, she talked to United Future leader Peter Dunne, who was emphatic that the Steve Taylor standing for his party in Auckland Central could not possibly be the Stephen D. Taylor who wrote to the Herald declaring that Labour MP Tim Barnet might have to be "'put down' like a rabid dog". Because, well, they wouldn't have anyone like that standing for them, would they?

It's the same man, of course. The same man who flouts the letters policies of a range of magazines and newspapers (because, presumably, acting under false pretences is what Jesus would have done), and claims to have had "over 6000 copies of my letters published throughout the regional and national media over the last 3 years." He uses the Maxim letter-writing wizard, which makes letter-bombing the media trivially easy.

I guess it's possible that the self-described "conservative Christian" Taylor is a perfectly nice man in person, but his presentation via his written communications does not create such an impression. After the Herald apologised for its poor judgement in printing his letter about Barnett, he sent Barnett an email reading: "The NZ Herald may have been forced into an apology Timmy, but Hell itself will freeze over before you hear one from me."

After Noelle's show she received an email from Taylor declaring, among other things, "You may also wish to grow a backbone - attacking someone in their absence is simply a cowardly display of existential insecurity - even for the Irish." Noelle is Irish. And yes, this is the same man who wrote that letter about Barnett (and many others like it), whining because his name was mentioned on the radio. He's not big on irony.

Dunne, to his credit, readily apologised to Noelle by email: "While I am still unaware of precisely what he said, I do not condone the type of rude reply you have received from him, and will be telling him so. This boorishness and abuse is not what I regard as acceptable behaviour." I understand there have been subsequent emails from Taylor, but I won't inflict them on you.

Meanwhile, a few of us have been following the malign progress of a certain Maxim Institute talking point about votes for small parties being wasted. The Fundy Post has written up the background, and quoted the hapless Sandra Paterson trotting out the line, which appears to be aimed at consolidating the moral conservative vote behind National.

In another sighting, Public Address reader Emily May reports the churchgoing editor of the Pohutukawa Coast Times, Duncan Pardon, holding forth on MMP and strategic voting: "a vote for a 3rd party is a wasted vote ... it is not only a wasted vote, it is actually a vote for a party you may not like on the basis that any party that doesn't make the 5% threshold (or win a seat) has its vote redistributed among the parties that do cross the threshold."

This is, of course, complete crap: It's absolutely not true that a vote for a third party is a wasted vote. It can be - if a party fails to either reach the 5% threshold or win an electorate seat. But as it happens, there are FIVE "third parties" who either have a strong chance of making the threshold or winning an electorate seat: the Greens, NZ First, United Future, the Progressives and the Maori Party. Supporters of any of them should know that they can increase that party's representation in Parliament by voting for them.

The exception as things stand is Act, which is - waddaya know! - going after the conservative Christian vote with this pamphlet. Ironically, in an accompanying letter to target voters, Stephen Franks warns them against voting for avowedly Christian parties ("Tactically they siphon Christian votes into ineffectiveness.") That's a bit rich, isn't it?

Franks' implicit references to homosexuality are bizarre. In the letter, he says that "We believe that true civil rights are the hard won individual rights to freedom from coercion, not freedom from the natural social consequences (short of force or threat of force) from lifestyle choices." That'll be the "lifestyle choice" of being gay. In the pamphlet, he intones that: "Liberty may restrict the state's right to punish self-damaging behaviour, but that makes it even more important that the peaceful social sanctions of healthy communities are not suppressed."

I was talking to David Herkt at the Little Brother show on Wednesday night, and he mentioned that he knew one or two young gay men who were toying with voting Act. That's not too surprising, given the breeder-oriented tone of the major party campaigns - but perhaps they'd want to have a quick look at Franks' pamphlet before doing anything rash.

The show was enjoyable and a little surprising (dungarees? cloth caps?) and from there Damian Christie, Simon Pound and I (honestly, you can't move in Central Auckland without running into a blogger-media type) headed up to the university for the 95bFM Private Function gig featuring Tegan and Sara. The venue, Shadows, was packed and whatever it was designed for in the 1970s, it certainly wasn't acoustic integrity, but it didn't matter too much. They were fab.

Some good links: Car Zimmer on Corante looks at the impact (or lack of it) of "Intelligent Design" on scientific discourse. Wired's "TV of Tomorrow" issue has an interview with The Daily Show's Jon Stewart, which notes that his is, in various ways, the biggest TV programme on the Internet. (By the way, I bought one of those Dick Smith $150 DivX DVD players. It's a somewhat eccentric conventional DVD player, but it plays DivX and MPEG files quite well. I've got three Daily Show episodes lined up to watch tonight.)

Stephen Hansen sent me this link to a scary Rolling Stone story on the broken practice of lawmaking in the US Congress. And Neil Morrison pointed me to this page of MIDI tunes based on DNA, RNA and protein sequences. Freaky.