Would you vote for an atheist?

via Politico

This graph of a long-running Gallup survey is pretty interesting. Of course, it’s a US audience, and I’d take a punt that the sample is more conservative than a New Zealand sample would be.

I’m quite surprised at how low atheists rate – especially given our last two Prime Ministers here have been non-religious, though never quick to admit it. Their willingness to vote for a black president has been very high since around 2000, and that barrier has now well and truly been broken. The other meteoric rise has been the willingness to elect a gay president. Unfortunately for Mitt, Mormons have pretty much flat-lined.

As I said, I think the situation in New Zealand would be pretty different. We’ve seen it recently with the Labour leadership contest. While both (all three?) leader candidates were middle-aged Pakeha males called David, the two deputy leader candidates were a different story. We had a female Maori, Nanaia Mahuta, and an out gay man, Grant Robertson.

None of the media outlets (that I saw, right wing blogs might be different) said that Nanaia and Grant were unsuitable for their jobs because of their identity and demographics. In fact, since Grant’s election to deputy, I think I’ve only seen his sexuality mentioned a handful of times, and only in passing.

We are a country where a provincial electorate elected Georginia Beyer (a transsexual) over Paul Henry (an angry redneck broadcaster). I think we can hold our heads up high and say we are doing pretty damn good.

Contributors wanted

Are you on the centre-left and wanted to do some blogging! This is the chance you’ve been looking for!

I’m looking for contributors for The Progress Report. It can be regular or once-off, under your real name or anonymous.

Also, I’ll be away from internet access for around a week over summer, so I’m particularly looking for people to write things then.

If you’re interested, please drop me a line at patrick.leyland@gmail.com


Morning reads

Cunliffe not so supportive after all (Stuff.co.nz)

An embittered David Cunliffe is refusing to rule out quitting Parliament altogether as leader David Shearer moves to finalise his front bench.

It is understood Mr Cunliffe has been offered a front bench seat and a senior portfolio but has balked at his proposed ranking.

This is not good. After Cunliffe pledged his support to Shearer, we would have expected better. To be honest, maybe it would be best if he either left parliament, or spent some time on the back benches (a la David Miliband). The last thing the new Labour caucus needs is their own Kevin Rudd.

Key rejects Shearer’s call for cross party poverty group (Amelia Romanos, NZ Herald)

Not at all surprising, but still disappointing…

Labour leader David Shearer’s wish to be included in a ministerial poverty committee is unlikely to come true.

In the formal announcement about Labour’s leadership yesterday, Mr Shearer said he did not want to see the gap between the rich and poor grow further, and wanted to be part of the Government’s proposed poverty committee.

“John Key has indicated he is finally prepared to address the issue of poverty and will set up a ministerial committee. I call on him to be brave and open that committee up to all political parties,” Mr Shearer said.

“I want to be on it and to have the chance to offer my expertise to help us deal with the problem.”

One of David Shearer’s strengths is that he does have expertise in dealing with exactly these issues. If Key were to take the issue seriously he would not only be looking to include Shearer, but also all the other parties in Parliament, to work together to find lasting solutions for the massive poverty issue this country faces.

There are too many Ministers (Trevor Mallard, Red Alert)

Good to hear this from Trevor…

New Zealand has a ridiculous number of Ministers for a country our size.

It had got slightly worse under MMP but this government has taken it beyond absurd with 80% of the non National confidence and supply partner members bought off with a Ministerial post, and the final one on a promise of getting one during the term.

I spent three years as a whip which included cabinet committee experience in the 1980s and the nine years as a Minister in the Clark government.

I saw lots of weak, and some frankly useless Ministers. Most, but not all, were in the second half of the rankings. They often caused more work than they added value. There was an enormous amount of time wasted explaining what was either obvious or buried in papers that if they had been read hadn’t been understood.

We do need to look at the size of the ministry, but in the context of a bigger review of our public service. I’m totally opposed to the sort of across the board cuts that Tony Ryall seems so keen on, but a measured look at how we can make our public service more effective has got to be worth while.


Why Chris Hipkins is just what Labour needs right now

From Stuff

New Labour party whip Chris Hipkins has sounded a warning shot to caucus members dissatisfied with the election of the party’s new leadership team.

”Everyone of our 34 MPs has got a really important role to play. We don’t have a lot of room for people to be disgruntled. So, it’s going to be really important that everyone pulls their weight, gets behind the leadership team and makes it happen.”

He added: ”I have absolute confidence that David Cunliffe and Nanaia Mahuta…that their first commitment has always been to the Labour party and that they will absolutely do their fair share.”

One of the reasons that Phil Goff’s leadership really struggled over the last three years was that he was constantly being undermined and second-guessed, often from within his own party.

It’s very good to hear these sorts of things from the new chief whip. To get ahead in this parliamentary term, the Labour team (both party and parliamentary) are going to be unified behind the leadership. There is no room for anything else. Hipkins obviously understands this, which is encouraging indeed.

Shearer’s opening moves

A must read post by Lew on Kiwipolitico about David Shearer’s first moves. At the crux of it, in the words of the Carpenters, we’ve only just begun.

The job’s not even started yet; there’s much to do and much ground to gain, the bones of which have been sketched out in two epochal posts by Jordan Carter, here and here. Other important questions, like whether David Cunliffe’s abilities will be adequately used, remain — but I am very encouraged by what I have seen.

Interestingly enough, John Key has already moved to reject Shearer’s call for all parties in Parliament to be included in the committee on poverty…

“John Key has indicated he is finally prepared to address the issue of poverty and will set up a ministerial committee. I call on him to be brave and open that committee up to all political parties,” Mr Shearer said.

“I want to be on it and to have the chance to offer my expertise to help us deal with the problem.”

However, when asked about the idea today, Mr Key did not seem keen.

This reminds me so much of Key’s job summit. It was conduced with much pomp and ceremony, but achieved nothing. My (cynical) prediction: this committee on poverty will not include those it needs to, and it’s going to achieve nothing at all.

Clinton’s political triangulation

In January 1999, Bill Clinton’s presidency hung in the balance. He was fighting off an impeachment, and after failing at reforming healthcare in his first term, he was still struggling to build a legacy.

His State of the Union speech, crafted with the help of Robert Shrum, was designed to win back his Democratic base, and reach out to moderate Republicans. It needed to make him look like a man who could still lead the country. It worked. From Shrum’s book, No Excuses

As we worked it over, the speech was becoming a consciously strategic document that transcended triangulation: while the target audience remained as always the broader public, for the first time in years, the imperative was to reach out to congressional Democrats. In short, Clinton had to prove to the country that he could be president and he had to hold his base. So, the first substantive section of the address celebrated “the first balanced budget in 30 years” – and swiftly moved to an used that moved Democrats: the surplus should be set aside, “100 percent of the surplus… every penny… [to] save Social Security first.” We had to get Democrats on their feet early, and embarrass as many Republicans as possible into joining them in a visual validation of the Clinton presidency. This imperative also led to a call near the top of the speech calculated to rouse Democrats again – a proposal to “raise the minimum wage.” We broke our prep format and had a brief free-for-all to argue the idea. One economic advisor worried that this wasn’t central to the president’s domestic agenda and shouldn’t be a lead-off item. I said what was central to the speech was getting all the Democrats on our side as soon and as often as possible. Americans had to see a president who was leading, in charge, validated by the reaction in the House chamber. Clinton said leave the minimum wage right were it is – right after Social Security.

The appeal on Social Security, the minimum wage, and then education was cast in a thematic framework that subtly but clearly backed off the claim of 1996 that “era of big government is over.” The phrase never sat well with a lot of Democrats; they saw it as a repudiation of progressive politics. Clinton told me that he had been misinterpreted. He now redefined his position in a way that was music to Democratic ears but still stole the Republicans’ clothes: “We have moved past the sterile debate between those who say government is the enemy and those who say government is the answer. My fellow Americans, we have found a third way” – this phrase, borrowed from the British Labour Party, was a particular favorite of Blumenthal’s. “We have the smallest government in 35 years, but a more progressive one.”

The rest was history. Clinton received an amazing reception and was eventually acquitted of the impeachment proceedings.

Here is a video with the highlights of the speech…

Later in the chapter, Shrum muses that had the impeachment been successful, Al Gore would have very likely won the 2000 election, and history would be very different indeed…

Morning reads

Shearer must unlock mix to beat Key (Tracy Watkins, Stuff)

David Shearer won’t get the luxury of three years to prove himself like his predecessor, Phil Goff. But he will have the luxury of a honeymoon, which is something Mr Goff never got.

He must not squander it. The Labour leadership contest has created more interest in the party than any of the policies it pitched on the campaign trail.

If Mr Shearer is serious about reforming the party – inevitably a bloody process – he will need the Cunliffe camp with him, not against him.

But none of that was why the Shearer camp were celebrating last night. For the first time in many years, they finally believe they have found a match to John Key.

Annette King may run for Wellington mayoralty (Stuff)

Now this is a campaign I would love to be involved with…

Wellington city councillor Paul Eagle, who stood on a Labour ticket during local body elections, said Mrs King had been asked by “lots of people” if she would stand in 2013.

“It’s not something she’s been open about … but in saying that, she’d make a wonderful mayor. She’s hugely popular across the political spectrum.”

David Shearer’s fresh start – 1) Keep it real (Tim Watkin, Pundit)

The new leader says he wants Labour to be “a party of ideas”, and so he should. He will need a big idea sooner rather than later which represents his values and identity and says something about this “fresh” Labour party – as JFK introduced the Peace Corp, given Shearer’s background he should be looking for something representative of practical service and generosity.

But big airy fairy ideas would be poison. Labour’s job now is to keep it real. And to grab a few ideas from National, to show it can reconnect with the centre.

Interestingly enough, the Peace Corps idea was something that Young Labour have toyed with for years.

Shearer’s first steps

David Shearer has given his first press conference as leader, and done a very fine job indeed.

He talks about reforming and uniting the party. Growing our membership and growing our relevance to New Zealand. We need to be clean, green and smart. Just what we need.

John Pagani notes David’s plans to celebrate

But he’s one of us, too. Tonight he is not going out celebrating or plotting down at the Green Parrot in hallowed capital tradition.

He’s taking his son to the Foo Fighters. His son had to scrimp and save to buy his ticket, because you have to earn your rewards.

Shearer is not an ordinary politician.

Very cool.

Chris Hipkins has been elected chief whip, a very well deserved promotion. He already knows what he’s got to do…

Everyone of our 34 MPs has got a really important role to play. We don’t have a lot of room for people to be disgruntled. So, it’s going to be really important that everyone pulls their weight, gets behind the leadership team and makes it happen.

And the most unexpected comment comes from former leader Phil Goff…

Goff said he still had ”no thought at all” of forcing a by-election by standing down from his Mt Roskill seat.

”And my current intention would be to run again for Parliament in 2014. I’m a young man.”

Congratulations Labour

The Labour caucus have this morning selected David Shearer to lead the Labour Party, assisted by Grant Robertson as deputy leader.

Neither of these two were ministers in the last Labour government, or even in Parliament. They are not weighed down with the baggage of the past and can offer the electorate a fresh face and fresh ideas.

Shearer has run a clean, honest campaign which is hopefully a portent for the future.

He has experience. He managed a two billion dollar budget with hundreds of staff reporting to him. In Iraq. He knows how to negotiate and how to bring a team together. Now, more than ever, we need these skills.

As Phil said

It’s not the same as being a Wellington bureaucrat or party apparatchik but it is a definition of experience that people outside the Labour Party vortex might see as valuable.

David and Grant can lead Labour to victory in 2014. I’m going to be doing my damndest to make sure this happens.

Well done to the Labour caucus, today they have made a principled decision for the best interests of their party, and for New Zealand.