Tuesday, October 28, 2014

New Zealand literature open letter

Open Letter to Creative New Zealand Literature Review

October 2014

Dear Creative New Zealand

Let me start by saying that I greatly welcome the opportunity to contribute to this review, even if I doubt that my contribution will itself be welcomed, considered, or even read.


My pessimism is based on my twenty years of experience in public policy. I have noticed that those elements of any consulted community which has traditionally benefitted from any one state agency’s largesse are best placed to influence that agency so that their source of taxpayer funding continues unabated.

They do this, typically, through being initially consulted on the terms of reference of the review long before other parties even get notified that a review is in train. Typically these “interested parties” then write submissions which while acknowledging changes in the environment, ultimately recommend the same self-serving policies they have taken $2.4 million from. This is, what I shall term, the “vested interests” view.

There are always, of course, other parties. Those who are not vested interests. Such parties typically are not known to the state agency and therefore regarded as dubious and suspect. Quite often such parties indulge in nakedly jealous agitation for a slice of the “vested interests” pie. Sometimes, fearing some sort of political or media agenda, the state agency tosses them some form of sop to mollify them and bring these “wannabe vested interests” inside the tent, where they can be taught the etiquette of standing politely in line.

And then, finally, there are the “idealists”. People, like myself, who have no vested interest, nor any real ambition to be vested interests, who lob ideas into the mix which cause initial splutterings of discomfort and embarrassment but who can be shut down by appealing to the “consensus” (meaning the vested interests) and their associated gravis. By this means the agency can resume pandering to its vested interests, pick up the threads of business-as-usual and ignore the unpleasant suggestion that they are indulging in arrant cronyism.

That, at least, is the political drama of any “review” and I have seen it played out frequently enough to have a great deal of difficulty believing that this review will be any different.

And yet, despite this -- perhaps because I am indeed an idealist -- I will persist in tilting at windmills which in the heat of the moment give the impression of being capable of shifting.

Why? What is my interest? I am what is now termed an “indie” author. That is an author who, taking advantage of the technological eruptions shaking the publishing industry, has eschewed the conventional route to publication and instead published himself. This was not particularly difficult as in my professional career I have been a journalist and editor for 35 years. However the reason I became an Indie author was more due to circumstance than choice, and those circumstances are core to the issues I wish to bring to the attention of Creative New Zealand because they will affect most new New Zealand writers (i.e. the ones Creative New Zealand doesn’t give much help to).


For it can hardly have escaped Creative New Zealand’s notice that globally Amazon has tilted the playing field of global publishing. Large publishing corporations revenues are falling and they are merging to survive. Most of the large international publishers which have traditionally formed the infrastructure of New Zealand literature have now closed their doors and withdrawn across the Tasman. Indeed the New Zealand publishing scene is fast contracting to the University presses, small (and often part-time) niche publishers and the few remaining large presses which tend to focus on sure-sell non-fiction typically focused on sports or hobbies.

At the same time there has been an explosion of creativity by independents who have taken their literary ambitions directly to market via Amazon, Smashwords, Kobo and more recently the Apple iStore and Google Play. Not needing the permission of anyone these independents are “unknown” to the conventional publishing establishment, even as some bring home foreign exchange from international markets which the “vested interests” writers would struggle to match. It is notable too that the focus of the Independent movement has been completely different to the conventional one. It reflects the global market for stories.

Prior to Amazon and the Independent movement it was impossible to find a New Zealand publisher interested in romance, fantasy or science fiction (the largest genres in world publishing). There is no question that romance, fantasy and science fiction can appeal to the immature who in turn regurgitate it in, the form of turgid prose, emotionally crippled plots and unoriginal ideas. On the other hand Jane Austen wrote keenly observed romances, H.G Wells wrote science fiction and Shakespeare wrote enough about witches, fairies and ghosts to qualify as a paranormal fantasy author. What we were, rather, seeing was a patronising snobbery perpetrated by a small cabal of New Zealand academics and their acolytes. This literary establishment is not interested in stories people read but in its own prestige, it’s pecking orders and being subsidised to the tune of $2.4 million by Creative New Zealand.

Somehow this literary establishment thinks being a Writer is to be a celebrity. The New Zealand Books Council even has writer “pin ups” for God’s sake.  It isn’t to be someone who just feeds their family by writing, but to be the conscience, the wit, and the soul of a nation. It is to be a rock star (and typically with the same dubious royalty arrangements). In this model it is the role of commoners to raise themselves like Daedalus on wings of aspiration and fine prose into the refined air of their elect judges in glamorous literary competitions so that a few might be selected to join their heavenly throng watched on by adoring masses who wistfully applaud their genius assisted by suitable quantities of chardonnay. Those deemed less worthy would crash back to the harsh confines of humdrum employment and plot their rise for another day. And now Amazon is pissing all over that so Creative New Zealand needs a review.

What I expect this review will do is continue with the notion that literature is some form of celebrity industry because it is in the interests of those running the review and benefitting from it to do so. However I would point out that the seriously more glamorous film industry does not operate that way in this country. The film commission deals with an art form which is extremely expensive to create. The cost of creating a book is, by contrast minimal. Most writers do this as equity partners. Traditionally it was the cost of post-production, marketing and distribution in publishing which was expensive. With the advent of electronic books distribution costs are now minimal too.


So let us turn then to the grimy and thoroughly unglamorous business of making a living from publishing. Typically when an industry body carries out a review it starts from first principles.Unfortunately Creative New Zealand’s review has not established a robust policy platform for reassessing the reasons for any state interventions in the literature market. It has simply asked the “vested interests” how they would like their menu of existing subsidies re-drawn. The result will of course be business as usual. But why should taxpayer and lottery funds be spent on the literature market at all? Why should literature receive subsidies and not our computer software industry or underprivileged kids? What is the purpose of investing in New Zealand literature if it is not cronyism?

Creative New Zealand’s governing legislation “Arts Council of New Zealand Toi Aotearoa Act 2014” Section 7 States:

·        The principal functions of the Arts Council are to—

·        (a) encourage, promote, and support the arts in New Zealand for the benefit of all New Zealanders:

·        (b) promote the development of a New Zealand identity in the arts:

·        (c) allocate funding to projects for professional and community arts, including funding for—

·        (i) Māori arts; and

·        (ii) the arts of the Pacific Island peoples of New Zealand; and

·        (iii) the arts of the diverse cultures of New Zealand:

·        (d) uphold and promote the rights of artists and the right of persons to freedom in the practice of the arts:

·        (e) maintain relationships with other agencies and organisations:

·        (f) give advice to the Minister on any matter relating to or affecting the functions of the Arts Council:

·        (g) perform any other functions conferred on it by this Act, any other enactment, or the Minister.

Although 7(a) says the Council supports the arts for “the benefit of all New Zealanders” it is not made clear whether this is meant in a participatory, economic or consumer sense.  Parliament has not seen fit to stipulate whether “all New Zealanders” benefit from the mere existence of arts (i.e. underprivileged kids should be grateful that subsidies go to artists), or whether the Council is bound by an egalitarian duty of equal opportunity. Section 7(b) gets a little clearer by stating the Council is for “...development of a New Zealand identity in the arts”.  Identity is not defined in the Act but is generally a person's conception and expression of their own self-identity and others' individuality or group affiliations. In short, taxpayers fund arts (or in this case, literature) which helps identify what makes New Zealand and New Zealanders different.

Literature examines qualities of character, conflicts of beliefs and mores, history, the effect of location, and language. Therefore to be New Zealand literature at least one of these elements must refer to New Zealand in some pivotal way. Is it New Zealand literature if a New Zealander goes back to ancestral Finland and writes about reindeer? No. It wouldn’t benefit all New Zealanders and it’s not about any aspect of New Zealand self identity. Why should such literature receive taxpayer funding just because the writer is a New Zealand citizen? It would have been nice to see a little more clarity in the interim document on what Creative New Zealand actually uses as rules for finding because the list it offered precluded projects only on the basis that they could be funded by another state agency. Once again this smacks of cronyism.

The only legitimate reason for any taxpayer assistance to any industry is market failure in the pursuit of a social outcome deemed valuable. If there was no New Zealand literature our conception of self-identity would be inevitably shaped by non-New Zealand literature. According to the Act a New Zealand literature is worth subsidising if it explores a sense of New Zealand self-identity which might not, due to market failure, otherwise be explored.

Therefore the key question is where does market failure occur in the New Zealand literature market?


First it cannot be gainsaid that New Zealand has a healthy supply of writers (poets, novellists etc).  Every year dozens of new New Zealand writers add their efforts to the world-wide glut of stories and poems whether it is through Amazon or on Wattpad, or via conventional publishing. In my view there is no justification whatsoever for a state agency to choose any one individual writer over any other writer or writers.  The reputation of all writers and poets must be tested and established in a market, whether we are talking about Ngaio Marsh, Margaret Mahy, Janet Frame or Narlini Singh. They may be wildly different markets but a state agency has no business in subsidising their business.  If their books lose the interest of their audience this is not a concern of the New Zealand Government.

I therefore reject all forms of personalised benefit such as writer’s residences, travel etc.  This will appeal to the “vested interests” but is scarcely for the benefit of “all New Zealanders”.  Nor does it have much to do with the New Zealand identity. It is simply a reward for other forms of success approved of by the state agency. It is undeniably a form of state funded cronyism.

There is also very limited justification for any kind of state subsidy for the distribution (by which I mean printing and distribution) of any book. Every book can now be rendered electronically, replicated and distributed for virtually no cost. These skills are taught in publishing courses in New Zealand and can be acquired by any reasonably intelligent person on-line.  Why should the state subsidise printing a book of poems rather than housing an underprivileged child just because the poet thinks it would be nicer to have their poems in print rather than on a free website? The only possible justification is where the book is an art work in and of itself. This will generally be because of the quality of the illustrations and their composition into a book form of physical artifact. These cases are rare and do not really constitute literature so are not really within the scope of this review.

There are, however in the fields of marketing and post-production some extremely serious areas of market failure which I would hope Creative New Zealand will now turn its attention to.

When I completed my manuscript all the sites advised me to find a literary agent. The lists on all the authoritative New Zealand websites were all wildly out of date. At that time there were none.

There are, of course, literary agents in other countries, but from experience I have discovered that there really is a big cultural difference in the outlook of Australian, Canadian, English and American literary agents. They simply aren’t interested in New Zealand stories as such. They are interested in selling their own culture’s stories.

So the first and most crucial market failure was the massive hole in the New Zealand literary agents market which occurred when the Ray Richards Literary Agency folded. A huge body of industry wisdom effectively evaporated as former staff scrambled to find new jobs. Only Frances Plumpton managed to rescue a business from the embers and her focus is far narrower than that of her predecessor. Even so if Frances fell under a bus New Zealand would lose a career’s worth of industry wisdom.  Not only does New Zealand need more literary agents, it also needs an on-going system of literary agent development.

I should also add I have absolutely no time for “manuscript assessors”. A literary agent assesses a manuscript with an eye to sale. They know who might buy it and for how much if they can pitch it. A manuscript assessor essentially takes a writers money and (at best) tells the writer someone else “ought” to buy it. At worst they do nothing for the writer but feed their inadequacy while milking them for money.  Publishers do not rely on manuscript assessors views (some are quite blunt about this). Manuscript assessors are simply parasites on writers with more money and lack of confidence than sense.  Only an agent with skin in the game can provide a writer with any meaningful feedback.

It is notable that the Film Commission is effectively a literary agent for New Zealand films.  Lindsay Shelton played a pivotal role in the development of early New Zealand films due to his knowledge of the international market. Shelton was not affiliated with any particular production house (publisher) but all relied on his international contacts and market awareness.  Creative New Zealand has historically sent writers to events like the Frankfurt Book Fair but these are effectively mere junkets.  What is needed is the development of a body of industry expertise in international book markets available to “all New Zealanders”.  Working out the balance between private business and state agency is likely to be difficult but this would provide a vital resource for all New Zealand writers.

But marketing to the traditional publishing industry is only part of the solution. The electronic book market is a completely different animal and it has very different dynamics. Given that this market is growing rapidly where traditional industry is shrinking Creative New Zealand urgently needs to gain a better understanding of how this industry works. This is not a one-off project it is an on-going job and it will require a formidable skill-set.


A new book is added to Amazon literally every five minutes. The discoverability of new (or indeed any) book on these markets is very, very difficult.  New Zealand’s self identity in this environment is in danger of simply being drowned.  This is not a problem if Creative New Zealand is solely interested in pandering to its coterie of vested interests. Creative New Zealand can create and celebrate its literary celebrities as a happy little bubble divorced from the nasty reality of global publishing simply by using its taxpayer funding to do so.  This would be contrary to section 7A of its Act but I doubt if there are many lawyers waiting in the wings to take this to judicial review. But in the long term such a bubble will eventually be popped by technological change and New Zealand literature will have been swallowed up in the meantime. Therefore Creative New Zealand really does need to challenge itself and address this issue.

The response many authors are taking to the discoverability issue is to create “launch collectives”.  A launch collective works by authors banding together to buy and five-star review each other’s new books as they are released.  Because the great mass of new books on Amazon vanish into the purgatory of being ignored a concentrated burst of attention to a new book will send it up the rankings attracting the interest of genuine readers.  Similar backscratching techniques also exist on new literature sites such as Wattpad and Authonomy.

While they are ethically dubious launch collectives exist for good reason. The simple fact is that lost in an ocean of options even excellent books will be drowned. The  need for momentum in discoverability is critical to overcome the sheer size of the global market.

The traditional response to discoverability has been the New Zealand Book Awards. While organisers love it for 97% of  authors however this is an expensive waste of time.  If we take a hypothetical award with one hundred entries at $120 each. There will be one winner, and one, maybe two runners-up who are immediately ignored. That means that for 97% of participants there has been no return on investment because only the winner will have any form of promotional focus.  Now if we apply a normal curve to the quality of those entries at least 50% of them were better than average. Some 16.5% of them are above the first standard deviation for quality and five of them are very good indeed.  In the end the judges will make their selection from the top 16.5% based on their own predilections which another set of judges would probably not replicate. So at the top end the final winner is selected largely subjectively. Why should the virtues of all those other writers be ignored and their money taken simply so that the Minister of Wine and Cheese and the top judge can have their picture taken with the winner? How has that whole ediface benefitted all New Zealanders? It doesn’t. It benefits vested interests.

There is a better way.

In the world of electronic publishing the review is critical. It doesn’t matter whether the review was as simple as “it was good” or “it was dumb”, in an environment of low discoverability any review has a huge effect on the sales of any writer. Some reviewers are genuinely interested in writing while others appear to be trolls who serially bag (other) writers.  The motivation to review New Zealand writing is therefore an area of potential market failure Creative New Zealand might address.

Now as a former book reviewer myself (The Dominion, NBR) I believe that there is something to be said for investment in the book review as a literary art form in its own right. First, reviews are short, and don’t need the huge amount of planning and time as either a short story or a novel. Second the qualities of a good review, are also the qualities of any other good example of literature. Third, the perception of the reviewer in appreciating the skills of another writer also provides the insights needed to help train the reviewer also to write.  And finally, but most important, a good supply of reviews is precisely what writers need to sell their books if they are not to stoop to the deception of the launch collective.

Therefore, in my view, what Creative New Zealand needs to do is provide funding to encourage reviews of New Zealand writing.  This would benefit all New Zealanders far more than awards for a handful of books. Because reviews are a short form of literature it would be easier to generate more reviews than more literature. 

While ideally one would reward all reviewers this is not feasible or indeed desirable as some reviews have little insight. This suggests that a competition would be required. The only entry criteria would be publication, preferably in a site or journal where other potential readers might read it (Goodreads etc). Entries would be lodged as links on a New Zealand literature website.   While the reviews themselves would be on existing sites voting on and discussion about the qualities of the reviews would be on the New Zealand literature website.

An obvious target for such a competition would be school and University students. The prizes for students would be a year’s course fees for English at a New Zealand University. There is also no particular reason why foreigners should not be incentivised to review New Zealand books either. This would encourage consumption of New Zealand literature and potentially provide a tourism benefit for literature in the same vein as film claims one. The incentive of a holiday in New Zealand for the winner of a review competition might be expected to hugely improve the chances of foreigners choosing to read and review a New Zealand book.

Such a site would have the benefit of being a focus for the entire New Zealand literary scene as not only would authors seek to have new works reviewed it would become a journal of record of New Zealand works and what audiences thought of them. Those who entered the competition would log their review links and could then vote up or down others reviews (although obviously not of their own books). Because the prize is for the best reviews, not the best works, the writer is less incentivised to gerrymander the outcome. Such a resource would rest most naturally in the ambit of the New Zealand Books Council.

In my view this is as much as Creative New Zealand needs do to address the market failures surrounding the marketing aspect of New Zealand publishing. They are not small and would make a considerable difference. This brings me to the other remaining point of market failure: post-manuscript production.


As I stated before the Copyright Act effectively makes a writers copyright the equity which any author brings to the publisher’s table. But as traditional publishing royalty percentages indicate this equity is not the bulk of the expense of producing a book. There is usually a need for structural editing, copy editing and proofing.  A book needs to be designed and, even if only on the cover, illustrated. There are permissions to manage, facts to check, rights negotiated and contracts drawn. This is the equity the traditional publisher puts into a book even before the costs of marketing and distribution begin.

For Independent authors the costs of post-production can be significantly onerous and the difficulty of finding competent help considerable. Some simply don’t bother and publish work which is wanting for published quality. In some books I have seen (traditionally published too, I might add) the post-production effort of attention is solely on the initial chapter which is all that the buyer sees before committing to purchase. Once sold very few retailers offer refunds on the basis of poor editing. This then is a potential market failure. There is little to incentivise authors to outlay significant sums of money on quality when a suitable cover may, in itself, sell more books.  Certainly online writing forums are full of complaints by professional editors that their skills are being neglected in the publishing stampede. Even I (and I have had “editor” in my job title for 21 years) could not justify the expense of paying for my novel (at 636,000 words) to undergo professional post-production because the family budget simply could not stretch that far.

To my mind there are two separate problems here. One is incentivising the use of editors at all, and the second making their work affordable.

There are a number of schemes around the world for validating the quality of the final proof. It seems to me that the support of New Zealand libraries (local government and school) for a grading scheme would be extremely useful. If books were graded into five star quality gradings based on a simple statistically robust and objective tests for inadvertent grammatical and typographical errors libraries would have a useful guide for the purchase of local New Zealand literature.  Such a grading service would operate on a full cost recovery basis with charges for each test. The test would have the acceptance of a large and influential community of buyers and provide a useful guide to would-be self publishers and their customers. It would also provide a useful quality assessment tool for those wishing to validate the value provided by private editors and post-production service providers.

The issue of affordability is somewhat less clear. Essentially the owner of the work is the party enjoying the benefit of improved quality. Traditional publishers invest in post production based on the expectation of a return but they have the benefit of a portfolio of works to sell.  Any other manufacturer who produced a product (for example in the fashion industry) would not expect to be subsidised by the government to achieve better quality. While Creative New Zealand has typically acted as a funding agency, effectively dispensing taxpayers funds to vested interests who know its systems and its administrators, a more appropriate structure in this regard would be a bank.

Instead of handing out funds for writers or publishers to purchase production skills Creative New Zealand would lend those funds – ideally at significantly reduced rates of interest. This would allow Creative New Zealand to have some say on the qualifications of those eligible to be engaged under the scheme. It would however also mean that the fund would grow each year as previous recipients paid back their drawings.


Finally as a new writer one of the most difficult things is finding help which does not treat you like a noob and potential muggins.  Perhaps the most helpful organisation I have found has been the Romance Writers of New Zealand who have a spirit of mutual support and sharing (even if you aren’t a romance writer) that the literary establishment would do well to emulate. It is telling that major New Zealand romance writers are not even included on the New Zealand Book Council’s biography of New Zealand writers.

Which brings me to the New Zealand Book Council. For a start the Book Council seriously needs an electronic books strategy. It obviously hasn’t got one. Most of its programmes treat books as if they are treasured physical artifacts. While the curation of artefacts is an important role, it is one for museums not an organisation which purports to inspire more New Zealanders to read more; to promote reading in general, but particularly to represent and promote New Zealand writing and writers – our own artists, stories and points of view.

For example what is the Book Council doing about the fact that the most common electronic library platform in municipal libraries in New Zealand is Overdrive, a U.S based one which makes it almost impossible for New Zealand independents to be included in its catalogues? Not much. I asked them, and frankly the whole issue was of zero interest.  What is the Book Council doing about eBooks in schools? Again, apparently not one helluva lot. These deficiencies are because the Council’s resources are devoted to programmes which it has been running for decades. Who pays for them? Creative New Zealand.

If a funder-provider split for services to New Zealand literature via Creative New Zealand is appropriate it would be nice if the Books Council was less engaged in ego massage services to New Zealand writers (it has a section on its website called ‘writer “pin-ups” - really?) and more in practical and useful services (such as those discussed earlier) for all New Zealanders and writers.

There is also a need to provide a less celebrity oriented view of writing than Booknotes. There is no practical information in that publication at all compared to the Romance Writers less pretty but far more brass tacks Heart to Heart. This provides useful contacts, and useful how-tos on everything from tax to ISBN numbers. New writers without access to this sort of support would seriously struggle.

And that is, fundamentally, the crux of the issue I put to this Creative New Zealand literature review. Is Creative New Zealand locked into the old publishing/record company style model of celebrity hype and pitiful royalties? Or is it going to address the changes to the business model Amazon, in particular has wrought in publishing? If so, it will need to emulate the film commission and devote a lot less resource to cronyism, subsidies and celebrity and a lot more to providing practical assistance to writers.

It will be interesting to see which course you choose. But as I said from the outset, and it is also obvious from the review document, your path is already chosen, and this is just a Quixotic lance passing in the hot wind.


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Sunday, September 21, 2014

2014 - Why the left lost, and what they should do

The results of election 2014 should be taken as an object lesson by both the left wing parties and the media. As I guessed the left were punished for both “dirty politics” and targeting the Prime Minister via the GCSB. These are not necessarily unimportant issues but they were not election winners. But let’s back up a bit and take a look at a successful Labour campaign so we can ‘play spot the difference’.


Helen Clark swept to power in 2000 having guided Labour back from the near terminal collapse after the Party split into left and right wings following its crushing defeat in 1990. Let’s look at what she did.
First she stared down challenges for the leadership. No Party can win playing musical leaders, as Australian Labor Party leader Kevin Rudd most clearly demonstrated when he toppled Julia Gillard in the lead up to the 2013 election where Labor was thrashed. Political infighting destroys any confidence in a party’s ability to govern.
Second Clark assembled a credible shadow cabinet, especially a credible finance spokesperson. Michael Cullen was essential for Clark just as Douglas had been to Lange and Birch was to Bolger. Her shadow cabinet was a tight five of experienced, and one has to say, very intelligent individuals who all gave the Party credibility in their respective portfolios.
Third Clark was patient. The result in 1996 was very very close, but rather than claim an unworkable victory she gave away the Speaker and prepared for victory next time.
But most important of all was Labour’s underlying philosophy. It campaigned that it was a party for employment. Cullen spent years talking to business leaders finding out what they wanted and building rapport. By the time 2000 rolled around he had a huge backing from business leaders who had actually met him and been impressed with his practicality and stability. In other words not so many people in business were scared what would happen if Labour won.
Then National did two stupid things. In a spiteful and pointless gesture Jenny Shipley toppled Jim Bolger and Bill Birch said he was retiring. Second Maurice Williamson aired “Better Transport Better Roads” a plan to corporatise road ownership out of district council hands which the privitisation battered electorate saw as a stepping stone to privitisation. And that was it. The Government of the day looked ugly and out of touch  Labour looked capable and a better alternative. Result: a convincing victory that sent National into the political wilderness Labour has been exploring lately.
So that is the recipe. Labour has done it before so (theoretically) it can do it again. But the real question is, in practice, can it?


Now let’s have a look at election 2014. First there is no getting around the fact that the leadership coup by David Cunliffe cost the Labour party four seats.  The disingenuous praise by the election winner, John Key, for his opponent should raise alarm bells with the Party. But should Cunliffe go? Probably not. Another round of leadership cannibalism will only make things worse, and in fact Cunliffe did make a reasonable fist of fronting the Party in the television cage fights with an almost over-relaxed John Key. In my view Cunliffe needed this excruciating boot up the arse in order to make him a better leader. Only when his bullshit optimism was finally called by the electorate did he drop the unctious righteousness which completely failed to connect with male voters in particular. Standing practically naked in the bright lights of defeat hopefully he has learned the crucial lesson he needed to learn – it is not about the leader.

Oct 28 Postscript. I am no fan of Cunliffe, as are a good many of the Labour caucus but sadly it seems the ego grudge-match is back and the Party is having a new round of leadership maulings. If Grant Robertson thinks he is any improvement over Cunliffe his head is wedged so far up his own arse he can't see daylight. He has no charisma. In fact none of the potential labour leaders have any charisma. But at least Cunliffe has had exposure. What the party desperately needs is continuity. It took Clark three successive losses before she was ready to step into the Prime Minister's role. If Labour had switched leaders after each loss she never would have got there.

For that was the fundamental flaw in the left’s strategy – if it can be called that. The strategy went like this. Pile up a whole bunch of shit on the head of the other leader (John Key) and then call upon the electorate to “Vote Positive”. The mistake Cunliffe made was his own arrogance. The assumption that the leader matters. It doesn’t. We don’t have a president, we have an elected cabinet running the country. It is the team that matters and Cunliffe didn’t have one. David Parker is no match for Bill English. Phil Twyford is no match for Steven Joyce. And both had profiles lower than earthworms.
Plus the other problem is shit sticks. In theory Labour had nothing to do with Nicky Hager’s book, “Dirty Politics” and nothing to do with Dotcom’s “Moment of Truth”, but by talking about both it got dragged into the shit-storm and was tainted in the process. By default it let the news agenda be set by these events because it didn’t have anything else to contribute. It didn’t have events and challenges of its own and just rode along on the coat-tails of the muck-rakers. If that was deliberate (Wellington is a small town and people talk) it was a very dumb strategy. If it wasn’t it was incompetent campaigning. By contrast in his heyday Winston Peters has raked his own muck on governments and he has been very accurate and clever with the way he’s dispensed it too. People respect Winston for holding the government of the day to account by himself. Simply saying “Yeah, when I’m Prime Minister I will call for inquiry” is weak from every angle.
The internet may excite some people but for most it isn’t important. Most people don’t care about political shenagins. The only people who do are the media.
There is no question that in an election marked by the failure of egotists (Cunliffe, Dotcom) to realise it was not about them, the media has acted like another bunch of egotists. Nobody much out there cares about Cameron Slater and Nicky Hager. They are only important if you are a gallery journalist. The huge distraction of “Dirty Politics” etc was only because political journalists are even more out of touch with ordinary New Zealanders than politicians are. They have no point of contact and the result is distorted editorial decision-making. My contention is that this isn’t just a problem with political journalism, but a problem with all journalism, but I’ll leave that debate for another day.


For the real problem with the election was the left didn’t have a strategy. It had a circus and the electorate punished them for it. Kim Dotcom should now realise that his egotistical bid to carry his fight against John Key to the political realm has been a disaster. It has probably cost the Mana Party its seats. But that was a sideshow to the event that was conspicuous by its complete absence.
There was no question that Labour had no chance of governing alone. It needed the Greens and it needed New Zealand First. Everyone knew this. So where was the announcement of the Policy Accord between the three which detailed the areas where the three parties agreed on a single coherent policy? Where was the alternative government in waiting? Right, there wasn’t one. All the three parties had was a promise to reflect the policy concerns of their own base. That’s not coherent. It’s certainly not a potential government. It was a potential nightmare. That isn’t a “positive” vote.


Now let’s have a quick peak over the fence at National. National has factions in it, to be sure, but they unite for the purposes of winning elections. They are coherent. They look in charge.
They are also very cheeky. They are poaching Labour policy and territory forcing themselves into the centre and Labour to the extremes. National’s catchphrase “Working for New Zealand” could have been the Labour catchphrase.  That’s the cunning way National is dominating the centre of politics and that is where elections are won because right in the middle of the electorate are people who aren’t in any base and will vote Labour or National. It is they who decide elections.
Because the fundamental problem for any political party is that it’s base is usually a liability when it comes to extending its appeal. The way the National Party hung the Conservatives out to dry was very smart. While it may have cost them Napier (where Sensible Sentencing Trust’s Garth McVicar split the blue vote letting Labour steal it) it signaled to the centre that National was not interested in lurching right. If it had done that, things may have gone very differently on polling day.
The problem with Labour’s base is it’s unbelievable hatred for National and John Key in particular. The idea that the son of a poor single mother could work himself up to become a significant fund manager at Merrill Lynch and then come back and lead the National Party seems to assault something deep in the psyche of Labour’s supporters. Perhaps it is the sell-out to the unprincipled world of mammon, or perhaps it is that Key is a direct assault on the ego protection that a person’s poverty is not due to their own lack of work ethic and determination but because “the system” sucks. Labour’s base is all about changing the system to suit those who aren’t winning in it. Unfortunately for those in the Centre that looks a bit like the losers voting themselves a win rather than doing the work. It was what the Austrian economist Joseph Shrumpeter thought would ultimately destroy the socialist governments of Europe. It was also the what led the British to vote for Thatcher.
By contrast Bill English has been saying some quite extraordinary things about deprivation lately. As a professional policy researcher I had realised that one of the main challenges facing New Zealand was the growing gap between rich and poor potential. Automation could eat up many jobs that the poor have traditionally relied on. The danger was the creation of large ghettos (especially in South Auckland) which essentially poison the rest of the country. To my surprise when I started exploring what could be done about this English was already there. The Nats have recognised that benefit dependence is a long-run cost and that if that long-run cost can be obviated by up-front investment the whole country wins. For a Party that has traditionally associated with beneficiary bashing this is an extraordinary bit of enlightened self interest. But it’s also invading Labour space and taking aim at the Labour base.


So what can Labour do?
First it needs to recognise that the problem isn’t a leadership one, it’s a team one. The team is weak and needs work. A Cunliffe – Norman team could work but it would mean a completely new way of working for the Labour and Green Parties.
Second the Labour Party needs do what National is doing and extend its reach beyond its base and woo business.
Third the Labour Party needs a far more coherent common policy platform with its potential allies which it can present to the electorate. It was the Greens that cost Helen Clark her fourth term in 2008. If the Labour-Green alliance isn’t coherent and credible Labour’s vote will remain weak. For this to work Russell Norman’s efforts to mainstream the Greens have to continue.
Finally Labour needs to recognise that if it keeps doing the same thing with the same people, the same way its going to get the same result. New people, new ideas, new approaches are needed. Dyed in the wool Labour Party supporters will have to get over their post 1990 suspicion of a more rightist stance and recognise that if Labour is about work it needs to work with job creators. That means recognising the difference between the financial pirates who infiltrated the party in 1984 and employers who bring and keep sustainable work in this country. It means unions helping business, and business helping skilled employees. If Labour can develop a profile which reflects its commitment to employment then it has a reasonable crack at winning.
Eventually, as John Key and Bill English have both said, the electorate will get sick of them. But without the Labour Party offering a credible alternative Labour will not necessarily benefit. If they don’t get their acts together National will sleep-walk into fourth and even fifth terms without interruption.

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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Decision 14 = public policy as bomb disposal

This year's New Zealand election has been rather like watching an earthmoving crew working on an unexploded bomb site. For a while there was a bit of a punch up over in the corner over Nicky Hager's "Dirty Politics", about who would drive the bulldozer that was a complete distraction to the issues New Zealanders really wanted to talk about, namely: the economy; the distribution of wealth; our prospects as a country and the priorities for the future. Finally we seem to be actually discussing what we should have been talking about from the beginning.

So why is New Zealand an unexploded bomb?

Reason one: Third most over-valued property prices in the the world.

New Zealand property is, as everyone knows, wildly over-valued. Property is propped up by foreign investors, Auckland City Council's metropolitan urban limit ( see Grimes) and the destruction of available land in Christchurch. The problem is people (particularly Aucklanders) are addicted to high property prices and 10% per annum increases. If the music stops there won't be enough chairs to go around and many property owners will end up with negative equity. There is a risk of capital flight and massive deflation.

Reason two: Our Net International Investment Position is terrible

While Treasury worries about the state of Government debt the NIIP is an indicator of all the debts and assets of all New Zealanders. Government debt is relatively modest but private debt is astronomical. New Zealand is up there with Ireland, Spain and Greece. Singapore owns more of the world than the world owns of it. We are the reverse. The only reason our unemployment has stuck at 6% has been Australia's mining industry. But as that slows people are returning home and there isn't much for them. There just isn't much to come and go on. We are reaching the end of our credit rope.

Reason three: Shallow industrial base

You don't have to look at New Zealand's export statistics for very long to see that aside from Fonterra we don't have any other major vertically integrated corporations. The next biggest is Air New Zealand, but while this re-nationalised airline is in far better shape than Qantas, it is still operating in a difficult and political environment. The rest of New Zealand's firms are tiny, very diverse, and have very little in common with one-another. Diversity is not a bad thing, but small size is not so good. It means our firms are shallow. They don't have the same resilience and sticking power as larger firms. Corporations are important because they are the repositories of applied intellectual property. Only corporate intellectual property delivers wealth. New Zealand has loads of tiny smart new firms. What it needs is more bigger firms that stay in this country and don't follow in the footsteps of Glaxo to other corporate locales.

Reason four: Ill-educated underclasses

Let's be straight about this. There is poverty in New Zealand. Being poor, is not necessarily a bad thing if there is a legitimate way out. Many successful people are motivated by poor childhood's and do very well for themselves as a result. Our Prime Minister is a good example.
But I'm talking about cyclical poverty where generations never escape, where education becomes irrelevant rather than a means of escape and crime becomes the first best option. This is happening in New Zealand and it costs us in two ways. First there is the opportunity cost. People who could contribute who never get the chance are a cost. Then there are the actual costs: benefits; health problems; mental problems; crime and the costs of crime and mental health impacts on others. This is a dead-weight cost to the rest of the community, as more and more jobs become automated, turned over to robots or machines, the scope for these people to find meaningful work (paid or otherwise) is diminishing.
To be blunt I blame middle class teachers for this problem. Their outlook on education is essentially a supplier-oriented one. They want to teach a certain thing and organise education to facilitate that. What they want to teach is essentially what they were good at, in their own education. Adding value to the lives of students, which they may have nothing in common with, simply doesn't feature unless it fits into their own middle class value systems. The result is far too many Universities teaching courses with no value for employers and too few technical institutes teaching low cost practical vocationally useful courses. We do need a shake up of education but politically I don't think Labour dares disturb its base and National will only antagonise it.

Put it together and shake it up

Put all this together and you don't get a pretty picture. You have a nation which is a perfect example of the "Tragedy of the Commons" ( where everybody in pursuing their private interest ends up compromising the collective interest). A large part of the problem is that public discourse is dominated by petty politics rather than serious issues. We are, in effect, distracting ourselves towards collapse.

What don't we need as a result of this election?

1) Policies that rip demand out of the property market suddenly. A sudden collapse in demand could easily lead the way to a total meltdown which will lead to serious amounts of negative equity in highly geared Auckland households. If the property market collapses lending will collapse and with it investment. The dollar too would plummet increasing fuel prices and the cost of living for everyone. While we certainly have a property bubble the last thing we need is for someone to pop it. We need it to be squeezed down over time, ideally by increasing supply so that prices stabilise so incomes can catch up.

2) Borrowing or taxing for things that don't make a return. We do not need to take money out of productive purposes to invest in things which aren't. Politically motivated investment is always dangerous. Politicians who want to build monuments to themselves should be shamed and exposed for what they are. Investing in things people won't use or don't want just because it fits some kind of ideological mantra is not something we can afford. This applies equally to the Nats, the Labour Party and the Greens. The prudent course is if in doubt that you can't create more value than people can for themelves don't take the money from he people.

3) Ego driven politics. There are always seriously inflated egos in politics but now we have from left to right (based on their historical actions of putting themselves before the rest of their own party): Kim Dotcom; Hone Harawira; David Cunliffe; Winston Peters and Judith Collins. It's not pretty. People who relish the opportunity to hold sway. People who love power for its own sake and will do anything to get it. We don't need that shit. We need a political process that can make predictably sensible decisions in a calm and rational manner. When you are on an unexploded bomb site, you don't want a lot of shouting. Instability and grandstanding will only make any crisis worse. The last thing we need is the horror confronting the United States in these midterm elections.

4) Partisanship. To be honest I don't see much difference between Labour and National.  Some will howl that the nats are dirty tories but frankly Labour has skeletons too, they simply haven't come out yet. I have supported both Labour and National and I have hated both at various times. I have no time for partisans, because I don't think any side is automatically right. I have no time for extremists either because they simply don't believe in democracy, and my steadfast belief is that ultimately there is wisdom in the average of all views.

To be honest I am not relishing this election. I am very frightened of a circus attempting to manage this country through delicate and difficult times. The left shows a terrifying lack of policy experience with many policies apparently developed without any reference to anyone other than their own base. The right, while a much tighter and more disciplined organisation, has shown an unnerving tendency to ignore popular concerns and plough ahead with policies they have not explained convincingly and which basic humility should have given them considerable pause about executing.

I just hope nobody cuts the wrong wires. 

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Monday, August 18, 2014

The race for the bottom in politics of New Zealand

I suppose politics will always disappoint the idealist. Politics is, after-all, the business of dressing up the pig of personal advantage with the lipstick of the public good. But it seems to me that election 2014 has become so distracted by the shade of lippy and who applied what that we seem to be losing sight of the fact that the point of the exercise is to decide who gets the pork.
Because, as Labour leader, David Cunliffe, quite rightly observed, aside from a few political pundits who hog the nation's microphones, nobody gives a crap about the way politics is conducted. According to the Readers' Digest New Zealand's politicians are trusted 46th out of 50 professions, behind insurance salespeople and just ahead of sex workers. New Zealanders regard their elected representatives as political sluts, who will say or do anything so long as they get a vote. How dirty they get is, a bit like what sex workers get up to, only of prurient interest to those, that way inclined.
This is why I believe Nicky Hager's book, Dirty Politics, is at best ineffectual. Yes, some of the political sluttery is awful, but what does anyone expect?  Apparently not much. They expect bitchiness and shitty behaviour, and guess what? They're right!
If Nicky stood to make any serious money out of the book, one might accuse him of being cynically self-serving by exploiting the left's deep felt hatred of the Prime Minister John Key's smugness. Nicky has delivered a book which guarantees to stoke the fires of the Left's self-righteousness. It has sold out already. Unfortunately, the reality of publishing in New Zealand is that 4,000 books is a lot and even if he made half the average annual wage for his efforts, he would be doing extraordinary well.
Knowing Nicky distantly I have no doubt that he is an idealist who certainly does not profit much from his success in publishing but does so because he doesn't mind living frugally while delivering journalism the far better resourced news media don't seem capable of delivering. Weirdly the same could also be said of Hager's target in the book, the vile, and well-named, Cameron Slater. Slater too makes no money out of his journalism but he too has broken stories (the Auckland mayor, Len Brown's, affair) which mainstream media were unable or unwilling to break. While both make mainstream media look insipid that is not the point.
The point is the left's hatred of Prime Minister John Key completely fails to comprehend why almost half the electorate seems to be preparing to vote for him and his team anyway. Indeed the more poo is thrown around the less likely, it seems to me, that the left has any chance of winning. Here's my hypothesis as to why.
First, New Zealanders already regard their politicians with very little respect. It's like a couple of sad old slappers drunkenly yelling accusations of more and more degrading activities for money. Nobody wants to know. The more both sides grovel around in in the filth, muck-raking on each other the less the public will regard any of them. This will create a genuine disinterest in politics in any form. In short the less of it people have to put up with hearing about bitchy politis, the happier they will be.
What people want is a vision. The Labour Party is right. They want a positive message. They want, to quote the Obama campaign, "change they can believe in".
Here the biggest problem with the left is the tendency toward policies which are always against doing things rather than being for anything. How is New Zealand meant to thrive when the Greens want to throttle intensive  agriculture, stop manufacturing and have no idea what the are talking about when it comes to developing "smart" new businesses. Most businesses in New Zealand are tiny operations based around one or two families at most. Directors meetings take place around the kitchen table. While Labour has got a policy in favour of protecting sub-contractors when main contractors die, that isn't actually very visionary. Ideally the main contractors don't die, they grow, succeed and make heaps of money so that sub-contractors can expand. That sort of vision isn't coming from the left.
The vision that built the left in the 1930s was based on government expenditure via very large contractors, like Fletchers. The left then built things and employed people. These days the left stops things from being built and arranges unemployment benefits. Its hard to see where prosperity is meant to come from under such a regime. So not surprisingly all those small businesses aren't interested, and neither are the larger ones.
The fact is people don't vote for other people. They vote for themselves. It would be lovely if the electorate voted to end child poverty in New Zealand as the Greens suggest but frankly New Zealand isn't a rich country and the electorate is more concerned about their own poverty first. If you ask Aucklanders what is the most pressing issue in their city, they will say congestion. In fact they are utterly wrong. The most pressing issue is child poverty because the demographics of Auckland shows it is these poor kids who are multiplying, not the rich ones. Fast forward twenty years and we are betting the city, and much of the country's future on young minds who at the moment are mostly concerned with survival. But while the Greens are willing to put three billion into a rail loop (which, even if it doubled to 20 million trips per year won't have any effect on city-wide congestion which numbers in the billions of trips a year) they will only put one billion into child poverty. It should be the other way around. Unfortunately the Greens political thinking is not based on the politics of enlightened self interest, it is based on the same base self-interest as all the other parties, except that it is fundamentally rooted in an attitude of entitlement to other people's money. And sadly the Greens are the thought leaders of the left. By contrast the Labour Party seems to have nothing.
Labour's one policy initiative, now that they are safely in opposition, is a capital gains tax.  Despite nine years in power Labour never tried to implement this during the 00s. Now their capital gains tax proposal however exempts the family home ( drive your truck through legal loophole here) and doesn't seem too much different to the IRDs income tax treatment of those who act as traders in any market. Such people can be taxed on unrealised income, anyway. So while the capital gains tax sounds great it isn't really the magic solution to Auckland's runaway (10% real per annum minimum) property market which is the source of most of New Zealand's inflation and cost of living increases, that it sounds like.
In fact the real solution to this problem is to simply let Auckland sprawl a bit. The simple fact is that the cost of not letting Auckland sprawl is translating into land price increases which if expressed as a relative cost of carbon would be out of all proportion to carbon prices anywhere in the world. While the Green Party may believe that any extra carbon is a sin, for poorer people lower cost housing is a far better way of reducing poverty than forcing them to rely on hopeless public transport (and Auckland public transport can never be efficient except to the CBD), and hand-outs from the government for child care.
Ultimately what "Dirty Politics" is, is a way of distracting the electorate from the incredible policy weakness of the would-be left-wing Government. And that is before we even start talking about reliability.
At the moment the National party seems to be capable of forming a government from mostly its own seats, and a few other usual suspects, such as United Future and the Maori Party. By comparison the Labour party would lead a fractious coalition made up of itself, The Greens, New Zealand First, and Mana-Internet. That means David Cunliffe would have to form a government with Russell Norman and Merira Turei as well as Winston Peters, Hone Harawira, Laile Harre and not forgetting Kim Dotcom chucking things in from the sidelines.  The Greens, who are normally on the extremes, end up looking sane by comparison. A 2015 Labour led Goverment might appeal to anarchists, but not too many others, because it would be a circus.
In my view New Zealand needs a stable, growth oriented, leftist government. Unfortunately what's on offer is an unstable, growth-opposing, leftist government or a stable, growth-oriented, rightest government. My prediction is that many people will hold their noses and kiss the pig because two is better than one out of three.

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Sunday, June 22, 2014

Why and how the Labour Party needs to change

It's time New Zealand's left wing took a very long hard look at itself.

Right now the Labour Party's vote is arguably around 30%. Under Helen Clark, back in 2005 it was 41%. The Green's share of the vote is around 10%. In 2005 it was 5.3%. So while the Labour Green vote is 40% all that has been happening has been the Greens have been eating Labour's lunch on the left and scaring off middle New Zealand who might vote Labour by looming as a powerful coalition partner for anyone who votes Labour. The net result is that the Greens are killing the prospects for the left for the foreseeable future.

Labour is slowly sliding into obsolescence, and why? Because it has forgotten who it is. 

The problem has been far too many bourgeois liberals in the Labour Party. Bourgeois liberals are those who earn their living from law, or policy analysis, or working in Government who align themselves with the left because big government makes them better off. They love issues that make them seem a bit defiantly radical, a bit like Professor Verkhovensky and Madame Stavrogina in Dostoyevski's The Devils. Radical enough to wear long scarves to film festival shows, and make slightly outrageous political propositions in tutorials but not so outrageous as to actually put their car parks in jeopardy.

These people infest the Labour Party with their ill-conceived and often completely naive notions for reform in industries they know nothing about, while steadfastly resisting any change whatsoever in industries like education or health which they may know something about. As such the New Zealand electorate only vote Labour if there is a lot of money about and they want the Government to do more. This happened in 1984 as the sharemarket ballooned prior to the 1987 crash, and again in 1999 as we clambered out of recession on the back of rising dairy and oil prices.

Because the problem with the Labour Party is that it has forgotten it was born from a depression and the need for jobs. While the bourgeoisie have wrung their handsies about environmental and social issues what has been forgotten is simple, basic economic issues like unemployment, jobs and New Zealand's economic and industrial development. 

New Zealand's Net International Investment Position ( all it owns, less all it owes) is in the same territory as the PIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Greece, Spain). It's bad. Really bad. There are, however, three differences between New Zealand and the Pigs which help. First, we aren't stuck with someone else's exchange rate (like the Euro nations). Second, our overseas debt is private debt not public debt. It is households who owe a fortune to foreign banks not the Government (partly through the magic of privatisation). Finally, and this is a real biggie, we have been exporting our surplus unemployed to the Australian mines, keeping unemployment down to 6% for adults and about double that (as usual) for youth.

Unfortunately all this good news is covering up a very big dirty secret which the OECD has pointed out recently. New Zealand has the second highest property prices in the OECD after Greece. But the average is strongly affected by our largest city, Auckland, which is home to a third of the population. While the Auckland property prices have been growing at over 10% per annum (most recently 13%) generating inflation and a not insubstantial slice of GDP (through financial services  i.e. mortgages) the simple fact is that the baby boom generation is in the final approach for retirement. Within ten years boomer families will realise that their living costs in Auckland (in particular) are escalating dangerously, their pensions are not sufficient and they are sitting on $1m properties. If they sell those properties and move down the road they can probably put half a million in the bank and their very long retirements will be most comfy indeed. Problem is who will buy them?

The next generation is not only relatively poorer, it is also considerably smaller. So Government will have a choice. Either increase immigration (again) or watch Auckland's property market slide. Immigration will generate resentment (which is gathering already), a price collapse could have a serious and lasting economic impact.

So New Zealand's fundamental problem is that a crisis is coming. It just hasn't got here yet.

While the National Party has shown some indication that it can see the problem the Labour Party doesn't seem to have anyone with the nous to recognise the problem let alone start to deal with it. This is a huge pity because the National Party's solutions are not going to go easily on Labour's traditional constituents.

Part of the problem is the Auckland mayor who is threatening to impoverish ratepayers to build a rail link around the central business district. This rail link will mostly service the well-to-do and their student children but even then relatively small numbers of them. If Auckland is lucky it will double the rail share from 1.3% of trips to 2.6% of trips. But because the mayor has also decided that the long term rates plan the city decided on is politically impossible his only solution is to cut other services in order to build the rail tunnel. 

Unfortunately bourgeois liberals have been convinced that rail is more sustainable than cars and lacking any mathematical ability have adopted the kind of Animal Farm mentality about the project swallowing the Mayors belief that a rail project which will cost half the book value of all the local roads in Auckland will solve the city's congestion problems. Sadly to these liberals what is important is not that this is physically impossible but that it is an important gesture. Rail means being a "proper city" for those in the leafy inner suburbs and tweaks the noses of all those dirty plebs who will still have to drive in from the outskirts.

The second part of this story is that Auckland's impoverished South (home to many poor white, Maori, polynesian and other immigrants) is the youngest, fastest growing population in the country. There is already higher than average unemployment in this part of the city and the rapid evolution of technology suggests this is only going to get worse. So far the bourgeois liberals have merely used these people's plight as a demonstration of the heartless thuggery of the National Party but have offered absolutely no workeable solutions to avoid a potential social disaster within twenty years.

What is actually needed is some strong leadership by the Labour Party not only in Auckland but nationally.

In Auckland the Party needs to look at its constituents needs in reality rather than in theory. The rail loop is not what they need. What they need is better support for safe walking and cycling (especially at night) through better street layouts and lighting. Better access to valid licences. Better libraries that kids can do homework in, better homework facilities for non-academic studies in schools, and better sports and cultural facilities. While the rich of Auckland may resent their rates being spent on the poor it will mean that in twenty years time they don't have to worry about a generation of unemployed thugs fighting it out Los Angeles style with guns from the internet.

The Labour Party also needs to work nationally.

First it needs an education policy which sets out a strong reform agenda. The fundamental problem with New Zealand's education system is that while it works fine for the best and brightest it fails to provide our average and ordinary people with the skills they need to find employment and live their lives. It treats the trades as failure, rather than success. We have far too many Universities and far too few technical institutes. It does not provide basic skills in financial literacy or the ability to get to work. It is all about teaching, and not about adding value to others lives.

To get an education reform agenda agreed with the teachers unions would be a huge coup for Labour and will certainly work better than the reforms National will inflict on the sector if Labour cannot offer a better alternative.

Next the Labour Party needs to start making friends with New Zealand businesses. It needs to look at ways to integrate labour protections, labour flexibility (yes businesses do need flexibility), and work-force planning. New Zealand cannot succeed unless New Zealand business succeeds and Labour has to not only accept that but embrace it. 

Finally Labour needs a policy for local government that actually works. The Resource Management Act has been an abject failure and National will probably replace it or heavily amend it. But it has failed because local government is simply not able to make it work. Local government is in dire need of reform, not only for business but for households as well, It needs more resources, less red tape and incentives to assist employment.

In the end the Labour Party is about employment. It isn't the gay rights party or the environmental protection party it is about the thousands of New Zealanders on the average wage or business drawing who struggle in a way that their parents did not. When Labour can stand up and say, truthfully, that it has done its best to achieve full employment and improve New Zealanders incomes then it will achieve the electoral approbation it deserves.

But not before.

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Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Reviving Observations

Its been a long time since my last post and the question has become whether to abandon observations altogether or not. I've decided not. I've decided to start posting again about issues connected with the media, politics, society and economics in New Zealand. As always the views expressed are purely my own.

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