Joe Hendren

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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Is the fall of the Palace an opportunity for Auckland's rail aspirations?

Last week we saw the sad sight of the 124 year old Palace Hotel fall to the ground, seemingly as some 'reconstruction' work was going on. Auckland lost another piece of its history - it is unfortunate the CBD has so few such pieces left.

Yet when I heard the news a thought suddenly struck me - the site could be a key part of Auckland's future. On Thursday the Transport Committee of the new Auckland Council will meet. (Hat tip Jarbury) One of the first items on their agenda will be considering the business case for the CBD rail tunnel from Britomart to Mt Eden.

The Palace Hotel site would be perfect spot for a SkyCity entrance/exit to the proposed Aotea/Midtown underground railway station. It would be approximately 80 to 100 metres from the Midtown platform to the street. Given the capacity of this station is expected to be greater than Britomart it would make sense to have a greater number of exits to spread the foot traffic.

Say when they rebuilt the site they included a small underground retail precinct with a large 'subway' type entrance on the corner facing SkyCity. This could be linked up by underground pedestrian subway when Midtown station opens, and the retail alongside immediately gets a massive foot traffic boost. I imagine being able to get a escalator up that big hill from Queen Street would be pretty popular for pedestrians as well as rail users.

If the business case for the CBD rail tunnel works out as well as is expected, there should be no need to involve the private sector in a so called public private partnership. These are nothing new - its worth remembering all the private sector railways in 19th century England that were all bailed out by the Government. Instead I wish the Council look back to the mojo of Henry George and Julius Vogel, and look to fund rail projects by ensuring the public recapture the 'unearned increment' of those holding the land. Why should private enterprise privatise the benefit of public investment merely because they live next door?

Keeping these issues in mind doesn't even have to be particularly radical. At the very least there should be a developer levy with the funds going towards the rail tunnel.

The council could also look at buying strategic sites around the proposed stations and develop these areas with provision for their transport plans. Another thought - could we have the pedestrian subways we will need for Midtown before we get the station? The construction activity will help the Auckland economy in the downturn, and the ability for the council to make the leases dependent on the needs of the transport development could potentially lower overall long term costs and improve outcomes. Plus the fact the council could gain some of the benefits of the expected increase in property values once the station is operational.

Riding on the Singapore MRT last year it dawned on me how much easier and cheaper it must be to design and build an excellent public transport system when the Government owns 58% of the land (most land in Singapore is leased). Hopefully with the new Auckland Council in place and a spacial plan in development, some of the tragic planning mistakes will be rectified and Auckland's transport problems will improve. A lot of this puzzle is rethinking how we are using the land.

I hope the Council look at buying the Palace Hotel site - its in a useful location. Before the collapse the owners of the Palace Hotel were looking to reopen the building as a brothel. To end on a cheeky note, there seems no reason why the ground and underground floor of the new building could not be an entrance to Midtown station. Brothels usually don't want or need a high profile street entrance! That said, it is not a kind of establishment I have ever frequented!!

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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Bye Bye Bloglines - sob

Sad to hear that Bloglines will be shutting down its servers, just over a week away, on 1 October 2010.

I've used Bloglines as my primary blog reader for some years. Sometimes a simple uncluttered interface can be so much easier to use than something that tries to do all the bells and whistles.

Unfortunately this blog, or at least the counter of subscribed readers is going to take a hit with bloglines shutting down. Around half of my subscribed readers (22), at least according to feedburner stats, use bloglines to read this blog.

So dear readers I would appreciate it muchly if you were able to transfer their subscriptions over to another blog reader. Thanks to a recommendation of a friend I am trying out Google reader. This link shows you how to download your subscriptions from Bloglines and upload them into Google reader, so you don't have to go entering all your blog subscriptions in again.

Another option is to subscribe by email. If all else fails put this into your blog reader.

Since Bloglines came along all those years ago, it is clear that blog readers have fundamentally changed the way people read blogs. While they certainly make it more convenient, I suspect they are one reason the smaller blogs do not get as many visitors as they used to, and don't attract as many comments. I am comparing the situation to when I first started blogging over six years ago now, and even saying that I feel old. Despite this I suspect the advent of blog readers has increased readership overall.

Another change, which I am not sure is for the better is that some blog readers have presented only the first few lines of a post as a teaser, rather than the entire post. Some blog owners have adopted this format so that readers are forced to click through from a blog reader to the site to read the entire post. In some cases this may be motivated by wanting to keep their visitor count up. Personally I find all these click throughs annoying - if I want to read something I want the entire post on screen thank you very much. Sometimes I don't bother reading blogs that force me to do a click through to read anything. Even Public Address!

It is also possible this 'teaser' culture has encouraged people writing on blogs to structure their posts more like news stories.

Be interested on peoples thoughts on these blog related ramblings. Also interested to hear what other blog readers people use, and how they find them.

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Friday, September 17, 2010

Satire: Garrett to discuss identity theft with Israeli officials

Act MP David Garrett today confirmed he is to travel to Israel to meet with officials and security experts to discuss identity theft and passport fraud.

"Israel have many years of experience in forging passports from a wide range of countries. They represent international best practice."

"Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency has previously used identities of disabled people as part of security operations. I successfully obtained a false passport using the identity of a dead baby.
I look forward to learning from their experience" said Garrett.

Mr Garrett also noted that his Act party leader, Rodney Hide had taken a sympathetic attitude towards Israel after two Mossad agents were caught attempting to illegally obtain New Zealand passports in March 2004. After then Prime Minister Helen Clark criticised Israel for their actions, Hide said her anti-Israel sentiments were "an embarrassment". The Act party also defended the right of the deputy chief of staff of the Israeli army to visit New Zealand, after a stay was placed on all high level visits pending satisfactory resolution of the passport affair.

Mr Garrett also looks forward to discussing the Day of the Jackal with real intelligence operatives. "I want to know if more of the techniques from the book can be used for real."

"This is great stuff. Its just like the Boys Annual I read when I was 26."

The discussions with Israeli officials will be held alongside a tour of Israel by New Zealand MPs, led by the Speaker the Hon Dr Lockwood Smith

Garrett also hopes to discuss his trip with former Defence Science Agency chief Stephen Wilce, who has claimed to be a former MI5 and MI6 intelligence officer.

"Right thinking people can be rest assured they will not expect undue scrutiny when they lie and in Stephen's case, embellish their CV to impress the Defence Force and the Security Intelligence Service".

All quotes by David Garrett have been made up for the purposes of satire. He is scheduled to take part of a Speakers tour of Israel, however he is not meeting with Israeli officials to discuss passport fraud.

The attitude taken by the Act party in relation to the Israeli passport affair is based on true sources, including the quote from Hide.

In 2004 two reported Mossad agents, Eli Cara, 50 and Uriel Kelman, 31, were caught and jailed for trying to illegally obtain New Zealand passports. In June 2005 Israel made a reluctant apology to the New Zealand Government where they promised that "Israel commits itself to taking steps to prevent a recurrence of similar incidents in future."

Yet in January 2010 a senior Hamas official was murdered in Dubai, and it emerged that the death squad used forged passports from countries such as Britain, Germany, Ireland and Australia to enter the United Arab Emirates. Many of the real 'owners' of these passports turned out to have visited Israel or were living there with dual citizenship. Thanks to the Israeli operation innocent civilians now found themselves on Interpol arrest warrants for murder and other serious charges. In response both Britain and Australia expelled Israeli diplomats.

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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Could you table a punched card in parliament?

During Question Time in Parliament today, Green MP Sue Kedgley asked how the Government could possibly reduce alcohol related harm while it continues to allow the liquor industry to spend $73 million a year promoting alcohol. To support her question Kedgley sought to table a CD containing recent television advertisements for liquor.

The Speaker, Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith, promptly refused permission to table the CD, and became quite ratty with MPs who were having trouble understanding his ruling. He later clarified that he was using a very narrow definition of 'document', that being that a document is a piece of paper (Hat tip NRT)

"Mr SPEAKER: The Standing Orders provide for the tabling of documents, not for the tabling of CDs. If members want CDs tabled, they will need to change the Standing Orders.

When documents are tabled in the house, copies of each are put in every wooden in-tray in the parliamentary complex, unless you ask the messengers not to.

Last night on TV1 there was a documentary about the cruel people who keep big cats as pets, and the sad tales of owners killed and maimed when their big puddy cats suddenly revert to being wild animals, and surprise surprise, attack them. No doubt there would be some people who would like the idea that a lion could be tabled in parliament, with a live copy of the lion then appearing in every office in-tray. So it is is probably fair that documents to be tabled in parliament should be restricted to things that can be easily reproduced (hmm so can lions, but it takes a while).

But in the digital age there is no reason why 'documents' should be restricted to paper. A CD can be easily reproduced. It also should be relevant that a definition of 'document' that includes digital formats is already part of the law. Take the definition of document in the Official Information Act for example.

"document means a document in any form; and includes—
(a) any writing on any material:
(b) any information recorded or stored by means of any tape-recorder, computer, or other device; and any material subsequently derived from information so recorded or stored:
(c) any label, marking, or other writing that identifies or describes any thing of which it forms part, or to which it is attached by any means:
(d) any book, map, plan, graph, or drawing:
(e) any photograph, film, negative, tape, or other device in which 1 or more visual images are embodied so as to be capable (with or without the aid of some other equipment) of being reproduced

That got me thinking about how the speakers ruling today could be further tested. If one printed out one of the ads on the CD as a printout of binary code, would the Speaker have to accept it on the basis the document happened to be on paper? Ok, maybe it would be better to use hexadecimal to save trees.

Then I thought of a better test. Back in the 1960s and 1970s, before floppy discs or CDs were invented, computers relied on punched cards to input information. These were pieces of stiff paper that represented digital information by the presence or absence of holes in the paper at predefined positions.

This would be a good test of the Speaker's ruling as it is a document made of paper, but happens to represent information digitally.

If the Speaker said no to punched cards, I would then try a document written in braille, which essentially is a similar concept to a punched card. Now if the speaker refuses a document printed in braille, this could make it difficult for a blind person to be a member of parliament.

Am I attempting to trifle with the speaker? Yes, of course :)

Lockwood Smith is normally a good speaker, and deserves some credit for improving the quality of questions and answers at during Question Time. That said, the times I have listened to Parliament this week Lockwood has appeared grumpier than usual. I don't think Lockwood's ruling that a document must be on paper does his office any credit, and I think that is unfortunate. I hope the Speaker 'reflects' on his ruling once again.

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Monday, August 23, 2010

Australian minnow socialist parties give the left the mandate to govern!

The Australian election over the weekend has dealt a hung parliament with neither Labor or Liberals (ie Tories) with a overall majority.

Straight away the Tories started screaming that because they won the most number of seats and the highest number of primary votes they should be the government. This is constitutionally a lot of bullshit and is based on some self serving mathematics.

Under a Westminster style parliament government formation is based on gaining a majority in the House of Representatives. If Tony Abbott cannot gain the support of 76 MPs in a house with 150 seats he cannot be Prime Minister. Projected results expected to give Tony Abbott one or two more seats than Labor. Yet if the centre-left can combine the support of the Greens and a few independents they will be able to form a legitimate government.

The inescapable fact is that no party won the election. While there was a 4.87% swing against Labour, the party led by Tony Abbott only gained 0.63%. Hardly a strong mandate to be Prime Minister. The Greens gained by far the largest positive swing of all the parties, gaining 3.63%. While the election of the first Green MP in the lower house is to be celebrated, the inescapable fact is that the Greens were robbed by an electoral system that is fundamentally broken. With 11.42% of the primary vote the Greens would have won 17 seats under proportional representation. It is a small consulation that the Greens hold the balance of power in the upper house (the Senate).

Back to Abbott's dodgy maths. Abbott is attempting to claim a mandate because the Liberals and the parties that normally support the Liberals gained more votes than Labor on its own. Of course its is fundamentally ridiculous in this situation to compare a coalition of parties on the right and not also add the Green vote to the centre left.

If we add the Labor total of 38.51% to the Greens 11.42% we get a figure stupidly short of a majority - 49.93%. Rather amusingly, it is the stupidly small Socialist parties that push the centre left over 50% and give the left the mandate on a first preference basis. These are the Socialist Alliance and the Socialist Equity Party, on 0.07% and 0.09% respectively!

Hence my tongue in cheek title :)

The Labor party won the popular vote, on a two party preferred basis, with 50.67% of the vote, compared to the Liberal share of 49.33%.

Over on Red Alert, Chris Hipkins wonders about the public reaction in the situation where the government ends up being led by the smaller of the two major parties. This could happen in Australia as a result of this election, and is even more likely to occur in New Zealand given we have a proportional electoral system.

The public reaction will only be a problem if the born to rule screaming from the Tories is given the oxygen it does not deserve. What it represents is a demand for single party rule on the basis they failed to gain the support of a majority of the population, just as the Tories used to demand their right to rule under First Past the Post when over 60% of the population did not vote for them.

Despite it being constitutionally improper and fundamentally undemocratic Tory friendly commentators in Australia on Saturday night started the screaming - 'our party won the most seats'. They were just following the lead of the UK Conservatives who attempted the same swindle in the aftermath of a hung parliament in the UK earlier this year.

In the case where the smaller of the two main parties gains a majority in the house by forming a support arrangement/coalition with a minor party, in my view the left needs to welcome this as a result representative of the wishes of a larger number of voters.

I look forward to the day the National party in New Zealand is stranded on 55 seats, and Labour forms a government with say 49 MPs and support from the Greens and other parties providing 12 or so seats. Let the Tories scream away - it will be a day to celebrate as our proportional electoral culture matures once again, and the FFP mindset of the dinosaurs finally gives up for dust.

PS: Of course there is an argument that the policies of the Australian Labor party are essentially those of a centre-right party, and it is true that many Labor MPs would have more in common with the Liberals than they do with the Greens or the real social democratic left. A grand coalition of the major parties is not going to happen - the aim of my post was to highlight Abbott's dodgy maths and willful constitutional ignorance.

PPS: The percentages may change over the next few days!

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Friday, August 06, 2010

Update on Hawkins and why a by-election would be good for Labour

In my last post I looked at how Labour leader Phil Goff was handling the fallout from Chris Carter's brain explosion, and the reaction of Labour MP George Hawkins to being mentioned in Carter's missive.

Carter claimed Hawkins was to face a challenge from within the party for the candidacy of Manurewa, the seat Hawkins has held since 1990. I said that Hawkins reaction demonstrated the same 'sense of entitlement' that Goff (justifiably) criticised Carter for in relation to large travel bills.

Hawkins has now announced an intention to stand for a local board in the October Auckland local body elections. He says he will withdraw his nomination for his parliamentary seat if he is elected, meaning that he will not stand at the next election. But if he is not elected to the local board he will stand for parliament again.

The least charitable interpretation of this would be to claim Hawkins is attempting to discourage a potential challenger to his seat, as nominations close on the 1 September. The most charitable interpretation was that standing down from parliament for the local board was always Hawkins intention, and Carter chose to put an uncharitable spin his intention for effect.

Yet in either case Hawkins still gives the impression of wanting to hang on for dear life, which looks like a sense of entitlement to me. I still hope the challenge happens.

The more I think about it, the more I think a by-election in a seat like Manurewa or Te Atatu would be entirely in Labour's interests. Take this for a scenario.

Hawkins resigns from his seat, and challenges Carter to do the same thing. Labour regain the initative, and Hawkins gains a graceful exit in the arms of a grateful party.

Explain to the public that while by-elections are expensive, at the end of the day democracy and the right of the people to have a say is worth more. This would tie in with a strong message about the lack of democracy in the Super City too. Highlight how National Maungakiekie MP Sam Lotu-liga oped to stay on the council after being elected an MP, and avoided a by-election for the political convenience of his CityRat mates.

At the beginning of the by-election campaign/s Labour annouce they will use every public meeting to tell people about the National party's attempts to bring back the Employment Contracts Act in drag, and every pamphlet delivered for the by-election will also be accompanied by a leaflet explaining the negative effects of the proposed employment law changes on 'every wage and salary earner'. Strong soundbites against '90 days' echo through news bulletins for three weeks.

Labour would be bound to win Manurewa with an ok candidate and Te Atatu with a strong candidate, which would help build momentum and exposure and make it more difficult for the Nats to control the news agenda. There is not likely to be any harm in the Greens running good candidates in either seat, for the same reasons.

So Chris Carter is going on two months 'sick leave'? Is this to waste just enough time so the 'election is too close for by-election' excuse can be trotted out? Please Chris, you may not care for Goff, but please resign from parliament immediately for the sake of the party you claim to care about. The public want you gone.

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Monday, August 02, 2010

Telling Carter to go while protecting Hawkins is a mistake

Overall Labour leader Phil Goff has handled the impact of his MP Chris Carter's brain explosion reasonably well. Carter's antics, which have included sending an unnamed gossip sheet to the parliamentary press gallery yet addressing the envelopes in his own handwriting, must go down in New Zealand political history as one of the most inept attempted coups ever. It has to take a vain individual to start an whisper campaign against his leader, when the said individual secretly wants everyone to know it was him all along.

Goff has made the best of a bad situation, using last week as an opportunity to demonstrate how he can be a decisive and strong leader. While Goff has done well overall, some weaknesses in Goff's public position have begun to emerge. The suggestions from senior MP Trevor Mallard and Goff that Carter is 'unwell' may be an honest attempt to explain the bizarre behavior of the later, however this may rebound on Labour if Carter and Government MPs accuse Labour of bullying. Better to state the facts of Carter's behaviour and let the public work that one out for themselves.

The second weakness is the apparent differing treatment of Carter and long time Labour MP George Hawkins during this affair. In his gossip sheet to the gallery Carter alleged unionist Jerome Mika was looking to challenge long time Hawkins for his Manurewa seat, and that Hawkins was threatening a byelection if the challenge went ahead. Significantly, Hawkins refused to deny this was the case when he was questioned about this by journalist Rebecca Wright.

Not only did Hawkins chose to comment on an issue that should have been immediately redirected to the press office of his leader, he did so in such a way that confirmed 'all sorts of rumours'. I am not saying that Hawkins conduct is on the same scale as Carter but the underlying issues at stake are similar.

Goff has criticised Carter for having a sense of entitlement. From the looks of things you could say exactly the same thing about Hawkins sense of entitlement to his seat. Hawkins said that it wouldn't be the first time someone with political ambitions has eyed his safe Manurewa electorate as an easy way of getting into Parliament. That goes for staying there too George.

While acknowledging the seat was subject to a party selection process, Goff sent a message of support to Hawkins by saying "I am confident that George is well supported by the people in his electorate and that he would be confident of being elected even if it was contested". At the same time Goff has called on Carter to resign his Te Atatu seat as he no longer represents the Labour party. The danger is that the Te Atatu electorate committee could also demonstrate support for their troubled MP, as they have now done so.

For these reasons, and some potential legal difficulties in expelling Carter from the party, its good to see some Labour figures backing of this threat for now. A plea bargain of sorts may emerge, perhaps along with a lighter punishment like suspension, where Carter promises not to publicly comment on the leadership of the party, not to travel or be involved in any way in the selection of a new candidate for Te Atatu. Carter has already said he will not stand at the next election. Better to state the facts of Carter's behaviour and let the public work that one out for themselves.

It would a great shame if Hawkins held on for another three years on the back of Carter's stupidity. When now Act MP Roger Douglas resigned his Labour seat in 1990 he anointed Hawkins has his successor, and Hawkins has been a member of the right wing faction in Labour ever since. After a single bumbling term as a minister between 1999 and 2002, Hawkins was quietly told to stand aside as a minister before others made the decision for him. Hawkins career isn't going anywhere, and Manurewa stands as one of the most obvious electorates where rejuvenation is required.

I have only briefly met Jerome Mika, so I don't feel I can comment on his suitability as a candidate. I have heard he is not lacking in ambition, and that he is such a natural at 'working a room' that he sometimes does this at work. Recognition among some of South Auckland's large industrial sites, along with support from Labour's Pacific networks could make some interesting numbers. He may not win the nomination, but Jerome would help send a message.

To my mind the worst thing for Labour would be the appearance of an attempt by head office to stop the challenge to Hawkins, as this would only give Carter's outbursts more credibility and highlight the differing treatment of Carter and Hawkins. Either Hawkins should face the challenge with a little more grace than he has demonstrated so far, or he should announce his intention to stand aside at the next election. The later would also allow alternative candidates to emerge - a more open contest can only increase the chances of Manurewa getting the kind of MP its healthy majority deserves.

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Monday, June 21, 2010

Economics for Everyone - free seminar today

Heading along tonight to the second part of 'Economics for Everyone' a free presentation by Canadian union economist Jim Standford, hosted by the Fabian Society.

Last weeks session was so well attended, they had to move the talk into the larger downstairs room at the Trades Hall. Great to see so many people there, and Jim provided a jargon free introduction for those who feel they know little about economics. I also think its useful for people who may know a little more. I often find looking at a subject in a new framework allows for clearer thinking - in essence it makes you a better teacher, and Jim is a great teacher.

If you missed last week you can catch up with the audio podcast

The first seminar, 'Understanding the Logic of Capitalism', was be held last Tuesday.

The second, 'What Went Wrong? The Failure of Neo-liberalism, and the Alternatives', will be held today: 22nd June 5.30pm – 7.30pm, at the Trades Hall, 147 Great North Road. Auckland.

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Tuesday, June 01, 2010

TVNZ make a mockumentary of their own decline

So, for a 50th Anniversary of television broadcasting in New Zealand, TVNZ did a mock celebrity game show with heavily forced product placement.

It would be nice to think this was a spoof, but sadly TVNZ could not have done a better demonstration of what is wrong with our publicly owned broadcaster if they tried.

The programme could have been so much more - they had a treasure trove of New Zealand cultural history at their fingertips. A means to show how TVNZ has not only been a camera lens, but involved in New Zealand life itself. Dig out clips of those old programmes no one has seen for years, even if people don't know what it is they can still laugh at the haircuts.

It was like TVNZ went to Te Papa only to read the trashy magazines in the waiting area. They really sold themselves short.

The answer to this disaster may be in the demographics. The only ratings that matter are the eyes attached to the 18 to 35 year olds - the olds don't really count. Hopefully the ratings are senstive enough to pick up the large number of TVs that went off before the first half hour was up - mine certainly did.

TVNZ did use a few clips from old shows and news broadcasts, but they were so short one could have blinked and missed them. Perhaps the advertisers were worried the public might remember what real public broadcasting looked like....

Well might I just scrape into the 18 to 35 age bracket, yet I remember TVNZ when it was a real public broadcaster.
To make matters worse, Tumeke reports the Minister of Broadcasting Johnathan Coleman ordered TVNZ to deliver a new channel exclusively on the Sky pay TV platform, thereby undermining investment in TVNZ's own Freeview platform. "It is hardly conceivable that a more tragic and self-destructive present could be opened on such an anniversary. To use the Head of Digital's own assessment it will mean a "slow suicide" of the TVNZ digital channels (whose charter funding is set to run out in a few years). Great news for the SKY shareholders and another concocted reason to sell off the state broadcaster, so we can see why the National government did it."

Against the Current also suggests John Key's government is readying TVNZ for sale.

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Thursday, May 13, 2010

Coalition of losers govern in United Kingdom

This is the headline the Conservatives and their apologists in the media would have screamed had the Liberal Democrats chosen to form a government with the Labour party, and left the Conservatives as the largest party and the opposition.

So on the grounds that no party actually won the election, the new Conservative Liberal Democrat government should also be called a coalition of losers. Of course its asking too much of the fans of the Tories to expect consistency. While I loath the Blairite Press Secretary Alistair Campbell, he succeeded in uncovering the clear pro Tory bias of the Murdoch controled Sky News and their political commentator Adam Boulton. Stunning.

I don't actually believe the headline in this post. Constitutionally speaking it is simply irrelevant that the Conservatives happened to win the largest share of the vote (36%). All that it is required is for a government to demonstrate it holds a majority in Parliament. Over 70% of Britain did not vote for the Conservatives. A rainbow coalition/support arrangement that comprised of Labour, the Lib Dems, the Greens and the Scottish and Welsh nationalist parties would have been just as legitimate as the Lib Con government that has just been formed, and in fact would have been more representative of a greater number of UK voters.

So why didn't the UK get a more progressive government?

The alternative so called 'rainbow' government was undermined by a number of factors. A significant faction of the Labour party, just like the born to rule Tories they really are, demonstrated an unwillingness to share power when they foolishly publicly dismissed an offer by the Scottish National Party to support an alternative government. Labour chastised the SNP for wishing to appear relevant, precisely because that is exactly what the SNP were - as vital to an alternative government as Labour. It is likely members of this faction, such as the loathsome David Blunkett, wished to drown an alternative government because there was too much danger of real electoral reform being the result. Some may have feared greater devolution of powers to the Scots and Welsh assemblies, even independence, but the result of this election is likely to increase pressure for this anyway - politically speaking the Kingdom is anything but United.

Another fear was that the SNP, the Welsh Nationalist party would demand some protection from the savage cuts to public spending as a price for their support. Actually this would have been a very democratic result. The Tories have no mandate outside Avalon - in Scotland they won a single seat and 16.7% of the vote, while in Wales the Conservatives won 8 seats out of 40 and 26% of the vote. In Northern Ireland they and their new partners won absolutely nothing. A coalition of losers indeed. It was England that voted for the Tories. So while the Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish may have felt for the greater cuts imposed on the English, they would have had a simple reply - you got the policies you voted for.

I believe Nick Clegg chose to form a government with the Tories in the final week of the election campaign, perhaps even before. I discussed some of the rationale for this in my previous post. Nothing else seems to explain his pronouncement in the final week that he would first try and form a government with the largest party. He would have known then this was likely to be the Tories. Just as I predicted, this move cost the Lib Dems significant numbers of seats as voters ran back to the major parties. I believe in doing this Clegg had another purpose - he was preparing his party to back the Conservatives over Labour.

It is also apparent that the Lib Dems are closer to the Tories in terms of their approach to dealing with the deficit. Yet a programme of savage cuts to public spending threatens to deepen the recession - Herbet Hoover made a similar mistake in the United States in the 1930s, and despite this neoliberals across the world are demanding the same mistakes be made all over again.

In a touch of irony, apparently Cameron made his first speech as Prime Minister as a rainbow could be seen across the sky of London. Now how powerful would that have been if Britain had been welcoming a rainbow coalition instead?

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Thursday, May 06, 2010

Here is hoping Britain votes for electoral reform

Like many political geeks I have been following the run up to the British election. While it appears the tide is going out on the present Labour government, when the polls are converted into seats things are still close. To my mind progressively minded folks should have a clear aim - vote to obtain electoral reform.

Following the performance of Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg in the first leaders debate, the LibDems surged in the polls and leapfrogged Labour into second place, with the Conservatives with the most popular party by a small margin. Yet due to the deeply undemocratic First Past the Post (FPP) electoral system Labour could still gain the most seats and remain in Government despite receiving less support in the popular vote than the LibDems or the Conservatives.

Assuming the LibDems gained enough support to deny Labour or the Conservatives an outright majority, and Clegg keeps his backbone, this could be the last British election under FPP. Hopefully the result will make clear a real proportional voting system is needed, not just Alternative Vote which is FPP in drag. A fairer electoral system would also be of great benefit to parties to the left of both Labour and the LibDems, and would make it harder for the Conservatives or the right wing of Labour adopting Thatcherite policies again. A hung parliament is a means in order to obtain a better democracy. A website has started to help voters achieve this result.

It is most unfortunate Labour did not progress electoral reform while they were in government as this would have set the stage for a long term Labour - Liberal alliance with the potential to shut the Tories out of Government for a long time. Yet as Will Hutton notes the key problem is that senior Labour party figures hate electoral reform and wish to maintain the two party system. In the current situation Hutton suggests Labour should offer Nick Clegg the role of Prime Minister in a coalition deal. Under this scenario Clegg would have to front up to any issues faced by a coalition government, while Labour could develop an alternative PM in waiting.

Yet after the Guardian/Observer endorsed the LibDems, Nick Clegg sprung to the right and said he would not back Labour in a hung parliament if they came third in the popular vote - this essentially opened the door to the Lib Dems supporting the Conservatives, despite the Tories being even more strongly opposed to real electoral reform than Labour. Following this development, in an interesting piece of timing, the Guardian carried a high profile article by Gordon Brown calling on LibDems to back Labour in Labour/Tory marginals.

Yet on another level Nick Clegg's moves should not be such a surprise. Nick Clegg is known to be on the right of LibDems, and the record of the party in local government elections is to campaign to the left, but govern to the right. The Lib Dems are already in coalition with the Conservatives in a number of city councils, including Birmingham, Leeds, Warrington, Camden, Southwalk and Newport, Gwent. A coalition of cuts. Clegg's claims to lead a progressive force have a hollow ring when compared to their council record.

The UK media are deciding only to report on the fortunes of the three 'major parties', those being the Conservaties, Labour and the LibDems. Yet as John Oyston points out the fortunes of minor parties in the regions could determine the result of the election in a close contest. Conservative leader David Cameron knows this - he visited Northern Ireland this week in a bid to support the Ulster Unionist candidates who will back the Conservatives in Westminster. If the difference to forming a government comes down to 10 to 20 seats, the media could look like stunned mullets as they realise the influence small parties have on the formation of the next British government.

If small parties do well this will strengthen the case for electoral reform. There are quite a few seats where minor parties have a strong candidate with a good chance of winning. Neither Labour or the Lib Dems really deserve the votes of the left - at least in some electorates the left have better options. The Scottish National Party may gain more seats in Westminster than its current seven. The Welsh Nationalist party Plaid Cymru is also on the left of Labour. Respect have a good chance in Bethnal Green and Bow, Birmingham Hall Green and Poplar and Limehouse. Caroline Lucus has a very good chance of winning Brighton for the Greens, who are also putting in a strong showing in Norwich South. These will be the seats I will be watching.

The last few days of the campaign has seen Labour increase its support, and the Lib Dems fall away, most likely as a result of Clegg's monumental error in cuddling up to the Conservatives. Not only has Clegg suggested he will support the Tories if they are the largest party (which encourages LibDem voters to switch back to the two old parties) but he is also appears to be going soft on electoral reform by stating this is not a precondition of talks with the Conservatives. In response to Clegg's comments Green party leader Caroline Lucus summed up the situation nicely, highlighting how Clegg had previously said electoral reform was an "absoulute precondition"

"The Liberal Democrats have made a huge noise about being the party of change but when it comes down to it all they really are is the party of changing their minds. It's common knowledge that the Tories don't want electoral reform. Any coalition negotiations that don't set out electoral reform as a deal breaker will lead to five more years of the same old system and it's the voters who will suffer."

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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Auckland Philippines Solidarity - message to friends and family of James Balao

Yesterday in the Cordillera region of the northern Philippines friends and family of James Balao gathered to mark his 49th birthday and the 580th day since his enforced disapperance. Philippine government security forces are widely believed to be responsible for his abduction. The organisers explain the programme:

"A message from the family, messages of solidarity, poems and prayers for James will be delivered and read during the short program. The program will culminate with the putting up of 49 prayer flags with messages for James within the Healing Gardens of the Sta. Scholastica Convent. The prayer flags are adapted from the concept of the Tibetan prayer flags which the people put up to promote peace, compassion, strength and wisdom. There is a belief, too, that messages written on the flags will be brought by the wind to its recipient."

Auckland Phillippine Solidarity sent the following message to be read at the gathering in Baguio City. Its a little odd to write something about yourself in the third person, but I thought it would be easier to be read aloud that way.
Greetings from Auckland Philippines Solidarity in New Zealand. In October 2008 one of our members, Joe Hendren took part in the International Solidarity Mission to Surface James Balao. Since his return Joe has written articles about the case and spoke at a public meeting about the disappearance of James.

APS calls on the Philippine state to Surface James Balao and all victims of enforced disappearances. APS calls for the abandonment of the campaign of political repression known as Opan Bantay Laya, and believes the Filipino people will only be safe once those responsible
for human rights abuses are brought to justice. The responsible authorities should also be held to account for their lack of real effort to find James, and their constant denial and cover-up of the
military's hand in the abduction of James and over 200 victims of enforced disappearances under the Arroyo watch.

We would like to send our aroha (love/compassion) to the family and friends of James, and the long efforts to locate him. There are now people all over the world who know the name of James Balao, and we are all hoping for his safe return to his community.

Kia Kaha (stand strong),

Auckland Philippine Solidarity, New Zealand (Aotearoa)

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Friday, March 26, 2010

Consistency - Whale Oil style

The right wing blogger Whale Oil has been throwing that H word around a lot today, accusing all in sundry of 'utter hypocrisy' for saying one thing now and another thing at another time.

Yet only last week Whale Oil celebrated the resignation of Porirua City Councillor Hemi Matenga as 'One less Labour Trougher'. "Bring shame and humiliation down upon their heads until they resign". "Good riddance, now pursue him for his salary for non-performance"

Matenga missed four consecutive council meetings, and subsequently resigned from the council.

But what did Whale Oil say only a few months back, when Eden-Albert Community Board member Ryan Hicks missed four meetings and had to be sacked from the Board?

"The left are want to bang on about equal rep­re­sen­ta­tion and trans­parency in democ­racy but when it comes to feather-bedding for their own they are a lit­tle more quiet about all that. Rocky from the Stan­dard aka Rochelle Rees has just been appointed by the City-Vision major­ity on the Eden-Albert Com­mu­nity Board to replace an elected C&R rep­re­sen­ta­tive (Ryan Hicks) who failed to turn up for 4 con­sec­u­tive meet­ings. Whilst on the sur­face this looks like a mat­ter of replac­ing an AWOL rep­re­sen­ta­tive, in fact Ryan Hicks appears to have been hounded from the role by the nasty spite­ful City Vision mem­bers on the Com­mu­nity Board, mak­ing life unbear­able for Mr Hicks at meet­ings, so much so that he no longer came to the meetings."

The board member in question happened to be from the right wing Citizens and Ratepayers ticket, the National party in local drag.

At the time Citizens and Ratepayers HQ bought out the smears in an attempt to deflect from the fact they selected a representative who was simply not doing his job. CityRat boss John Slater (and Dad of a Whale) told the central leader "City Vision has treated him quite shabbily. He has been poorly treated and it's simply disgraceful"*. Somehow I suspect the Slaters believe this sort of compassion for missing meetings should only apply to the blue team, as there is a big difference between this and calling for 'shame and humiliation'.

In constructing his little conspiracy theory, Whale Oil also neglected to mention Rees was the next highest polling candidate in Eden Albert- making her the logical replacement in a situation where a by-election was not going to be held. A much clearer example of a gerrymander was in Maungakiekie. Following his election as local MP, CityRat Pesta Sam Lotu-liga opted to stay on the City Council, double dipping in other words, just long enough to avoid a by-election in the council seat. He then got his mates to vote that the seat stayed vacant (the next highest polling candidate was Labour's Rosie Brown). Essentially Lotu-liga cheated his constituents from being fully represented at council for the sake of the political convenience of the CityRats. While trying to juggle both jobs, Lotu-liga missed Council meetings too.

Whale Oil accusing anyone of being a hypocrite or a party hack are claims as hollow as an echo chamber.

* Central Leader (4/11/09), "Member of board sacked"

PS: I have thrown out a few old newspapers tonight - this shows it always pays to read them again!

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Rodney Hide attempts to protect Telecom from democracy

This week Act leader Rodney Hide demonstrated how the Regulatory Responsibility Bill and any of its bastard offspring in terms of 'regulatory principles' are really about protecting big capital from democracy.

Hide rode to Telecom's defence, attacking the decision of Communications Minister Steven Joyce to fund the roll-out of high-speed broadband in rural areas by redirecting tens of millions of dollars Telecom received from its rivals under the Telecommunications Services Obligations*. Hide moaned this impaired Telecom's property rights. In order words regulation was going to cost them money.

"Mr Hide, who is also Regulatory Reform Minister, branded the plans a breach of National's own regulations policy and a "sad indictment" on the Government. He released a strongly-worded letter to Telecommunications Minister Steven Joyce that signals one of the biggest fallouts between ACT and National since the parties agreed to govern together."

"I'm very displeased and the reason I'm displeased is not only is it poor law-making, it also sends a signal to any investors into New Zealand that their investment isn't safe, and therefore it makes it tougher to get the sort of infrastructure and the sort of investment we need to grow the economy," he said.

Essentially Rodney is demanding that when government is considering legislation or regulation the squeals of needs of business and property holders should be treated as a special case. Bullshit. Large corporations are currently able to use the same mechanisms available to the rest of us to voice their concerns, such as writing to Ministers and making submissions to select committees. In fact there is already good evidence large business are already able to have a disproportionate voice through these channels, in particular in terms of access to Ministers.

An analyst at the multinational banker J P Morgan, Laurent Horrat went straight for the hyperbole when he declared that Telecom is becoming "a worst case scenario worldwide for the effect of government regulation on an incumbent telco". "I understand the policy objectives, but if you take the list of things Telecom is faced with, there aren't any incumbent telcos facing such an extensive list." Horrant also captured the pure sense of entitlement transnational corporates believe they deserve. "Typically in regulatory discussion between government and incumbent telcos there tends to be a give and take. I can see a lot of the take, I can't see a lot of the give here," said Horrut.

Horrut has a horribly short memory. Telecom has been on the take ever since it was privatised,
  • running down the assets of the company to pay out high dividends to overseas shareholders
  • paying its CEOs ridicious salaries for their efforts to avoid regulation.
  • charging high prices for slow broadband well below international standards.
  • fighting and suppressing competition whenever it had the chance to occur.
  • worldwide there would not be many telco's who 'had it so good' for so long. If Telecom had been regulated earlier there would not be this impression of regulation happening all at once.
For years representatives of the 'markets', of which Horrut is only the modern equivalent, warned any attempt to regulate Telecom in favour of telecommunications users would crash the sharemarket given that Telecom was the largest listed company (it no longer is). This is oddly reminiscent of the claims the US banks were 'too big to fail' - well if that the case then this is an excellent argument for breaking such companies up and introducing regulations to ensure nothing gets 'too big to fail' in the first place. Its also a good argument for keeping key infrastructure in public ownership.

While Hide and his cohorts love to talk about the magic of Adam Smith's 'invisible hand', in reality Smith would have been the first to demand that Telecom's monopolistic outrages be bought to an end, and thats if Smith even accepted Telecom's existence as a 'joint stock' company in the first place.

If superannuation and Kiwisaver funds of New Zealanders happen to hold significant Telecom shares this only means that financial advisors and superannuation trustees need to be held to account for making poor investment decisions. Funnily enough this is a poorly regulated area too. Its not as if they were not warned the Telecom dividend machine was likely to be switched off. In 2007 Christopher Niesche called on Telecom to stop being a company obsessed with holding back the tide of regulation at any cost and become a company seeking growth.

A key reason why a select committee recommended against the Regulatory Responsibility Bill was that it increased the litigation risks associated with adopted the principles of the LAC guidelines and the regulatory impact statement requirements into legislation. The threat of litigation from litigious corporations like Telecom and Infratil, who then might start demanding compensation for government actions in the public interest. One hopes this and Hide's clash with Joyce will demonstrate to National why they should kill the Hide/Douglas Bill when it comes back into the House. Hide admits he is yet to secure National party support for the bill.

Telecom have always attempted to blame the threat of regulation for everything. Is it a co-incidence that Telecom's market friends are screeching about regulation at the same time Telecom's XT network is also screeching to a halt? Are they attempting to create the impression the slump in the share price had nothing to do with Telecom's own incompetence at running a mobile network?

I say call their bluff. Given the extent of Telecom's pillage since privatisation, perhaps a just outcome would be leaving to go it into receivership so the core network could be bought back into public ownership for a song. Regulation of the industry could then happen without Telecom's meddling, and access to the network could be rented out to telecommunications providers on the terms set by the representatives of the people. Ok receivership is a pipe dream - but a fun one. I actually suspect Telecom are overstating the extent of their poverty in any case.

David Cunliffe as communications minister in the previous government did a great thing when he broke the cycle by ignoring Telecom's protests and unbundled the local loop. Cunliffe stood up to Telecom where his Labour predecessors in the portfolio appeared to cower at Telecom's feared wrath. Another part of breaking the cycle is to ignore the protests made on behalf of 'foreign investors' - these are exactly the kind of foreign investors which bled Telecom dry in the 1990s. Real investment is welcome, but rent seeking ideologically driven cowboys are not. One could also ask why Hide, as a government minister is effectively encouraging a capital strike of the speculators.

In the wake of the collapse of the finance institutions in the United States which started the Global Financial Crisis and the examples of multinational corporations in our own backyard attempting to bully governments at the expense of the people, it is time whether it is asked whether corporations really ought to have more influence on government than everyone else.

And to cap it all off this week the Government appointed former Telecom boss Rod Deane to undertake a review of defence spending. Was he Hide's pick, or a payoff for all those donations Deane gave the National party?

* Used to be called the Kiwishare

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