Goff in his element

Say what you will about Phil Goff, and I’m sure that in the coming months and years we will see some interesting dissections of his leadership of the Labour Party. But no matter what you think of his leadership, you have to admit he is a very capable politician.

In the last few weeks, while most MPs have been doing anything but politics, Goff has got some runs on the board regarding his (not really) new portfolio, foreign affairs.

Firstly, he uncovered plans to scale back the Ministry, in particular by removing our only diplomatic mission in northern europe (Stockholm embassy to be closed, says Goff).

He’s now got his hands on an internal staff survey at the Ministry, which is damning to say the least (Leaked survey shows disillusionment among Foreign Affairs staff).

In my humble opinion, Goff’s finest moment in the last term of Parliament was his incredible speech on Afghanistan. Goff may not have been the leader we needed, but he’s still a very talented politician, with a huge passion for his portfolio.

More of this please Mr. Goff!

Guest post: Ports of Auckland dispute

A guest post by Rob Carr

Why are the port workers striking?

The Maritime Union has been in discussions around raising pay and conditions since August. Unions negotiate pay and condition rises regularly otherwise pay would effectively reduce with inflation. The desire for better pay is not what the strike revolves around and the union employees rejected a 10% pay increase which the port company was offering to get change it wanted through.

The Port of Auckland wants to have the employees on a rotating roster. In addition they want to be able to contract out the work they do. Essentially this means they want the freedom to take away hours from the workers or their jobs at any time.

What the workers are striking about is the fact they do not want to lose their jobs.

All for the national interest

Fran O’Sullivan in her Herald piece about the port workers echoed comments others had made about it being in the national interest that the port workers lose so the country can benefit:

Nor has the union been paying attention to the Productivity Commission which estimates exporters and importers spend upwards of $5 billion a year on freight and has forecasted annual trade could be boosted by $1.25 billion if transport costs were shaved by 10 per cent. There is a national interest issue at stake here.

The idea that this is about the national interest or that the union hasn’t been paying attention to the productivity commission is farcical. The only argument being made is actually that they want to cut costs in order to increase profits. There is nothing new or special about the Port of Auckland and their desire to cut costs.

The changing union employees for contractors will not cut 10% off the countries transport costs. It is highly unlikely it would do so in just that port. The figures here are saying a 10% cut in cost will lead to a 25% growth in trade which is certainly a considerable profit but it doesn’t explain why the cut has to be made to these port workers job or why it needs to be done in this way. The transport costs could be cut in numerous ways and the fact that one measure can achieve a cost saving does not justify doing it where it has a disproportionate effect on peoples lives.

There are many cuts you can make to businesses to increase profits. When this comes at the expense of their employees however this is a bad thing. The national interest argument is the same one John Key made in the leaders debates during the election where if one group of people is paid less everyone else can have cheaper muffins. It doesn’t make it fair or a good idea and this is seen easily if you were to project the effect over an entire country where the result would be 80% of people being worse off.

Do they need Labour’s help?

There are several people calling on the Labour Party to make more comment around the port workers strike and come out strongly for them or against them. If you ignore national interest the arguments boil down to Labour should ignore them because they earn $90,000 a year and Labour should support them because Labour supports employees. The reality is the divisions in society are not so simple as the level of income a person earns. The division around who needs Labour is whether someone has a scalable or non-scalable profession.

A scalable profession is one where luck, quality and bargaining power determines your income. This is speculators, sports stars, bankers, CEOs, authors, business owners etc. Their income can become massive quickly due to 1-2 events, there is no effective cap on their level of income. Scalable professions are a product of capitalism and depend on its randomness to survive. Labour Governments can be devastating for those in scalable professions aside from the sports star/author ones as regulation supresses the boom bust cycle potentially destroying their careers.

A non-scalable profession is one where quantity of work determines your income. This is cleaners, teachers, doctors, lawyers etc. These people benefit from left wing government right up to near the top of the category (around $200,000 income currently). They benefit especially from capitalism being regulated as this creates a stable economic environment in which they can consistently continue to earn their income. Boom and bust destroys these people’s lives as they need to work every day to afford to live.

Port workers are a non-scalable profession and generally left wing. At $90,000 they would be pretty well paid for a non-scalable profession. However the base rate of salary for a stevedore is actually 50-60,000 as it is a 26 hour week and the $90,000 figure used by the port company is what they would get if they were to work 17 hours overtime every week so unless there is a truly massive amount of overtime worked it seems their salary is not so high afterall. The issue here is also not pay but stability of work the thing people in non-scalable professions need left wing parties like Labour to ensure for them.

The Labour Party should support them in attempts to defend their quality of life. However given the level of media attention already given to these strikes public support from Labour is not needed. Their endorsement won’t change the outcome of negotiations and Labour should save its press releases for when strikes are getting ignored like the Open Country lockouts were.


As you will have noticed, a large part of this blog so far has been looking at various numbers and providing analysis.

This often requires quite a bit of work beforehand; pulling numbers from various sources and manipulating the structures so that it makes some sense. I’m often left with a nice spreadsheet ready to make graphs off.

I’ve had a few requests for some of the numbers behind my graphs. Knowing how hard it can be to get some of this information, I thought I’d follow the example of The Guardian, and where possible provide the background dataset I’ve used.

From now on I intend to not only provide a link to the data with any analysis I provide, but I’ll also link to them on my new Data page. Hopefully someone will find it helpful!

Morning reading

Just the Ticket (Bill Keller, NY Times)

Keller argues that Obama must ditch Joe Biden in favour of Hillary Clinton in order to win in 2012. Well worth a read.

New Year’s resolutions for Labour (Luke Akehurst, Progress)

A really interesting piece about what UK Labour, and it’s individual members should resolve to do in the new year. My personal favourite:

Refound your local Labour party.  We passed a sensible and comprehensive package of organisational reforms at annual conference. They won’t get implemented on the ground unless local activists pick them up and run with them. Has your CLP started recruiting people to the supporters’ network yet? Has it looked at campaigning best practice from Oxford, Barking and Birmingham Edgbaston and tried to emulate it locally? No one is going to do this for you.

Did Jon Huntsman Attack Himself with Racist Ad to Salvage His Failed Campaign? (Rachel Maddow)

Women on Labour’s front bench

Over the New Years break I had a conversation with a (Labour) friend of mine about the number of women on David Shearer’s front bench. With two of the eight members of the front bench being women, it’s not exactly the strongest level of female representation.

I thought it would be worth taking a look at this issue from a historical perspective – is this issue better or worse than itwas under Helen Clark?

(Note that I have not looked at the caucus as a whole, or the party list. There are so many other factors in play there that it warrents it’s own post)

Women on the front bench

Obviously when Labour were in government from 1999-2008 we had a lot more seats in Parliament, and therefore more front bench seats. For comparisons sake, I’ve used the top 8 in the caucus rankings to compare it to Shearer’s front bench. If you’re interested in the raw data, you can get it here (Google Docs). Here’s what we’ve got…

So it turns out that from a historial point of view Shearer’s front bench is pretty standard. In the 1999 cabinet the Alliance’s Sandra Lee took up the number 7 slot by virtue of being her party’s deputy leader.

Women in the top 20

If we expand it to the cover the top 20 (which was mostly the size of Helen’s cabinet, and the number of MPs that Shearer has given a caucus ranking), we’re still not going to see a massive difference…

Again, 7 out of 20 is not a fantastic result. However, it is better than the Labour cabinet of 2002 and 2005, at a point where we had a female leader.

Labour, and I’d venture to say all parties, need to do better with female representation. However it would be rash to pin this problem on David Shearer – it has existed for quite some time.

There has been much said about Labour’s selection processes, and I’m sure they’re going to come under the spotlight in the upcoming organisational review. I’m really looking forward to hearing the ideas that come out of the woodwork to address some of our long-standing issues.


Early votes – the numbers

In the second part of my look into early votes I’ve taken a thorough dig through the election results. There was a fair bit of copy and pasting involved, so apologies if I’ve made any mistakes. All figures in this post refer to the party vote. If you’re so keen you’d like to see the dataset I’ve used, feel free to email me and I’ll send you a copy.

Firstly, I’ve taken a look at the number of early votes cast as a percentage of the total number of votes cast.

While there is a little variation at either end, the early vote in most electorates sits comfortably between 10-14% of the total votes cast.

It is noticeable that Christchurch electorates are very well represented (Christchurch East 2, Christchurch Central 5, Waimakariri 8, Port Hills 10 and Wigram at 11) at the top end of the scale. I’m not sure if this is because Cantabrians voted early due to uncertainty about polling booth locations, because of some extra effort on the part of campaigns or the Electoral Commission, or some other factor. I’d welcome suggestions as to what might have happened.

And then I’ve also taken a look at how Labour’s party vote in early votes compared to their share of the rest of the votes (votes cast on the day, and special votes).

Again, while there are some big outliers, particularly Te Tai Tokerau and Tamaki at the bottom end, there is not actually a great deal of variation in the numbers here.

Of the 25 electorates where Labour’s share of the early votes was higher than their share of the other votes (or exactly the same in the case of Ohariu), they won 12, with several others being very close.

With a total of 287,113 early votes cast (or 12.73% of the total vote), it is clear that this is going to be a very important part of the electorate. If more and more people are going to be casting early votes, it is going to be important that campaigns do not rely on only communicating with them in the last week. Early campaigning is likely to become even more important.

That said, you often hear people talking about the percentage of people who make their mind up in the polling booth. I’d be very interested to see research regarding how this number is moving.

Early votes

One of the interesting things about the 2011 general election was that we saw a big increase in the number of advance votes cast. Huge numbers of people cast their vote before election day, so they didn’t have to worry about it on November 26th. In the next few days I’ll take a bit more of a look at the numbers. Were these votes helpful for Labour or did they largely fall in line with the national averages?

I have also been taking a look at what happens in other countries, and how advance voting can form an important leg of a get out the vote campaign. David Plouffe, Barack Obama’s campaign manager, writes about their concerns with advance voting numbers in his book, The Audacity to Win

… because we were so dependent on first-time and sporadic voters, we mustered an intense effort toward executing early vote. This effort consisted of radio ads reminding people of early vote and explaining how it worked; a fusillade of Internet ads to push the concept; repeated e-mail and text messaging to people on our list from these states; and a blizzard of door-knocks and phone calls to remind voters person-to-person about early vote. We also tried to make sure all our volunteers voted early so that they would be freed up on Election Day.

It gives me a sense of relief to hear that, scale aside, what we were doing in New Zealand was very much in line with what the Obama campaign was doing in the states.

Some in political circles argue that the early vote doesn’t matter – that the people who go to the effort to vote early are committed voters who will almost certainly show up on Election Day. We fervently believed that if a hurdle presented itself on Election Day – a family issue; a work emergency; transportation problems – nonhabitual voters are the most likely people to throw in the towel on making it to the polls. These are the folks we relentlessly encouraged to vote early and the yardstick to which we paid closest attention – not how many early votes we were getting, but whose.

In New Zealand, for local body elections you receive a daily update of who has cast their postal ballot during the three-week voting period. It’s very useful to be able to target only those you know have not voted. Extending this to the general election would be fantastic.

As we began moving deeper into early vote, one number caused alarm. Carson came into my office one afternoon. “I’ve been poring over the early-vote data,” he said, “and we seem to have a problem. Or what could be a problem, I should say. We’re meeting or exceeding our early-vote goals in most demographics across most states. But younger voters – under twenty-five-are off quite a bit.”

“Let’s move more money and bodies resources to it,” I replied “and maybe try some different messaging.”

Carson agreed but also suggested doing some research among this group to try to fund out why they were not voting early in great numbers. Did we have a motivation problem, an execution problem, or both?

I green-lighted the research, which yielded two very illuminating findings. First, many young voters were so excited by this election that they couldn’t envision doing anything besides voting for Barack Obama in person at the polling location. When we raised with them the possibility of long lines, or the potential to free themselves up to volunteer, they simply wouldn’t budge. This was a big moment for them and they felt it would seem bigger if they voted at the polls. In any case, they were still dead-set on participating, which relieved us.

This is also a big factor in New Zealand. Many of my colleagues on the campaign trail, despite knowing how valuable their time on election day would be, simply couldn’t bring themselves to cast an early vote. They had worked their guts out on the campaign trail and really wanted to savour the experience of casting their vote in their local polling booth. I know I sure did!

Most offensive ad of 2012 so far…

I’ve just returned from holiday and I’m starting to catch up with the news. In terms of politics, the only things of note are the Iowa caucuses have concluded (Mitt Romney won, Rick Santorum came a very close second, Michelle Bachman pulled out – full results here). In the UK, Ed Miliband seems to be coming under a bit of strife for making little traction in 2011.

However this is one incredible video. Certainly the most offensive attack ad I’ve seen in some time. It’s from Ron Paul’s campaign, and hits out at John Huntsman for being too close to China. Imagine if John Howard had tried something like this against Kevin Rudd in 2007…