Wednesday, 27 August 2014


28 August 2014

Amidst the sideshows in danger of enveloping the election campaign, the issue of child poverty stands out as one of the most important matters facing the country and which deserves strong attention.

Most political parties seem to recognise this and have developed their own responses to dealing with it.

UnitedFuture’s position is clear cut. We say every child not only deserves the best start in life, but also deserves the love and attention of both parents, wherever possible, no matter what their circumstances are. The family unit, however structured, is therefore a vital component in the life and development of a child, and every child has a family to provide the nurturing and support they need. But, sadly, children have no choice over whom their parents are, or the circumstances of their upbringing. So an important part of addressing the issue of child poverty has to be about strengthening and empowering parents and families to be the best that they can be.

At one – albeit important – level, it is vital to ensure that families and their children have good access to opportunity: jobs, income support measures like our Income Sharing plan, good social services and access to quality early childhood education. UnitedFuture supports all of those things but recognises that of themselves, no matter how generous the programmes or the support mechanisms, they will not be enough in all cases to ensure every child has the opportunities to be the best they can be.

And that brings us back to the critical role of parenting. Parents are arguably the most important but most overlooked group in our society. They receive precious little training or support for their role (buy a new dishwasher and it comes with more information and back-up services than any new parent receives) and even when parents do ask for help, they are the ones considered to have a “problem” that needs resolving.

Very few parents, if any, wilfully set out to fail as parents or to let their children down, so we need to be investing much more in supporting and encouraging parents as they carry out their role. That is arguably the area of greatest single focus in ensuring that every child grows up in a decent and loving environment and then gets access to all the things they need to live happy and contented lives.

My major concern about some aspects of the child poverty debate is that parents are being left out of the loop. Of course, there are economic issues to be addressed, and I am not arguing against those, but the focus has to be as much on promoting good parenting as it is on supporting children.

United Future is the original family party. We championed family issues long before it was fashionable to do so. And we have achieved much for families over the last decade or so. The best way we can support our children today is to support our families, something we will continue to do with vigour.       




 

 

Wednesday, 20 August 2014


21 August 2014

I have been amazed by the reaction to UnitedFuture’s release of an on-line election Manifesto, and our ongoing Policy of the Day announcements.

Reactions have ranged from the abysmally ignorant (“I didn’t realise UnitedFuture stood for anything and actually had any firm policies”) to the incredulous (“What are you doing releasing policies at this stage of the electoral cycle?”) and the cynical (“You’re only doing this to try to win votes”).

Funny, I know, but I thought elections were a time to focus on policy, what the various parties stand for, and how they can implement their plans. Voters then make a considered judgement on what they think is in theirs and the country’s best interests and vote accordingly. But that must just be the political scientist in me, focusing on the theory of electoral politics rather than its current practice.

At least, judging by the direction of our election campaign to date, one could be forgiven for concluding that election campaigns are no longer about policy, but who can throw the most and slimiest mud at their political opponents. It matters not whether we are talking about the highly dubious conduct of seedy right-wing bloggers, or populist politicians preaching a hateful message of racism and bigotry. The campaign has degenerated to sleaze over substance.

The media are caught up this swirl too – almost unwittingly. At one level, they have to report all this drivel because it is news, but, at another, they will be keeping a wary eye on where all this might be heading. We were aghast at the British phone-hacking revelations and the subsequent High Court trials of prominent editors and journalists. The upshot was the Leveson Inquiry and stricter rules for press regulation, which gnaw at the very notion of a free press, and an open society.

We could not have imagined this sort of happening here but recent events could lead to pressure for the same sort of over-reaction and for calls to regulate – somehow – the blogosphere. They certainly raise the vexed question of email security and the protection of the privacy of communications, which are much bigger and more international issues.

But, back on the election trail, voters are much more interested in policies and performance, the likely shape of governing arrangements, and what the parties have to offer. These after all, are the things that ensure jobs and opportunity, not the parade of salacious gossip.

So, UnitedFuture, at least, will continue to do the now apparently quaint thing of promoting policy, and focusing on the issues of concern to New Zealand families. That, after all, is what elections are really all about. 

 

 

Tuesday, 12 August 2014


13 August 2014

This is shaping up as a very unusual election indeed.

Elections are usually the opportunity to debate the future direction of the country and where alternative governments might lead it. This election, at least based on the evidence of the phony-campaign to date, seems to be an almost policy-free zone. What policies have been announced have been either a reiteration of what has been released already, or so bold and grandiose to defy the reality of being implementable, leaving the suspicion that their real purpose has been as a rallying call to shore up the wavering party faithful.

The lure of the dog-whistle seems to have been more important – the use of selective comment to persuade voters that a particular party is on their side. That is why New Zealand First is playing the race card so blatantly. In the just ended Parliament one or two of its MPs frequently looked and sounded like misplaced members of the Ku Klux Klan, and now that appeal to the extreme red-neck portion of the electorate has been legitimised through the racist overtones of the party’s campaign launch last weekend. And the Conservatives, long suspected to be really “hang ‘em and birch ‘em” proponents on law and order have reinforced that sentiment by the recruitment of Sensible Sentencing’s leader as a candidate.

In their own ways, the two main parties are also blowing the dog-whistle. National’s emphasis on protecting the fledgling Budget surplus is as much about sending signals of its reliability and credibility as an economic manager, as it is about enhancing the reputation of the Minister of Finance. Labour’s apparent willingness to appear looser with the purse strings serves the dual purpose of sending the signal it is more warm and caring, but not as fiscally irresponsible as the Greens, who, if they do well enough, will be tapping on Labour’s shoulder for the role of lead party of the left.

While this is all good fun, especially for the salivating commentariat who love to analyse and re-analyse such signs to the point of extinction, it is not doing much to inform voters of what the parties really stand for, or what new ideas they might be ready to spring upon an unsuspecting electorate a little way down the track.

In previous elections the party manifesto has fulfilled this role. In 1987, there was shock and horror when Labour did not release its manifesto to the public until a week after it had been safely re-elected. Nowadays, the same shock and horror seems reserved for the suggestion that a party might actually have a detailed manifesto at all!

For its part, UnitedFuture has never been too worried about the political norm. A few years ago, we campaigned on the central role of families, at a time when all our advice was that to do so would be divisive, because families came in so many shapes and forms. Now, every party prides itself on being family friendly. In 2004, we argued that the foreshore and seabed was public domain that should be vested in all New Zealanders. No, that could never be, the other parties said – yet that was precisely the solution the present government adopted in 2010, to general public approval.

Well, we are about to break the mould again. Early next week we will release a detailed on-line manifesto which every voter will have access to, as they consider their voting options. Maybe, that will be another case of being first to set a new trend!    

    

  

 

 

 

 

Thursday, 7 August 2014


8 August 2014

There has been a lot of commentary in recent weeks about so-called electorate deals – where one party gives a nod and a wink to its supporters to caste an electorate vote for another party’s candidate to boost its chances of being able to form a post-election governing arrangement.

A couple of things need to be remembered about these situations. First and most important, they are merely indications of a party’s preference, in the same way that a newspaper editorial might indicate support for a party or candidate, or a lobby group might encourage its supporters to vote a particular way. They are all just indications – part of the rich tapestry of information voters are entitled to have when shaping their voting decision – and therefore do not in any way compromise the integrity of the electoral process. The voter, in the secrecy of the polling booth, still has the ultimate, utterly secret say. As it should be.

The second point is that most people – apart from perhaps the most die-hard of supporters – want to caste an informed vote, and, if possible, their vote to count. A common question at every election discussion relates to possible post-election combinations, and which parties can and will be able to work with each other. And it is only logical that parties and their supporters will seek to maximise their opportunities in such circumstances. Voters have a right to know likely combinations and how they can be achieved before they go to vote. To suggest otherwise is to suggest elections should be some sort of lottery, a national entertainment game of blind man’s buff, or pinning the tail on the donkey.

Having said all of that, I am surprised at one election deal that has not been done, and which seems unlikely to be done. That is the particular case of the Te Tai Tokerau electorate. For differing reasons it is surely in the interests of both the Labour Party and the Māori Party to be rid of Mana and Hone Harawira. Yet the inability of both to work together to achieve this by doing their best to ensure Labour’s Kelvin Davis is elected is both extraordinary and dumbfounding.

To some extent, Labour has been hoist by its own hypocritical petard of professed opposition to such deals – because they do not benefit from them in the main – but the Māori Party’s opposition is much more difficult to understand. It is unlikely to win the seat in its own right, and the Mana Party is already proving to be a long-term threat. The incentives for bringing about Mana’s defeat in Te Tai Tokerau (and therefore its likely removal altogether from Parliament) must surely be overwhelming. But its apparent failure to want to take this opportunity to deal with that, is at best extremely puzzling and potentially self-destructive.

After all, as Disraeli famously once said, “A successful politician learns early on that when he sees a back, he must either slap it or stab it – his mistake is to ignore it.”