Gordon Campbell on New Zealand First’s loyalty pledge

Like King Lear, Winston Peters and his courtiers in New Zealand First have chosen to demand a self-defeating expression of loyalty from prospective NZF candidates. In future, those selected to run for Parliament under the NZF banner will need to sign what the party intends to be a legally enforceable contract. One that will require any of its MPs that resign or who are expelled from the party caucus to resign from Parliament altogether within three days, or pay a $300,000 fine into the party coffers.

This gambit is an attempt to resolve a situation whereby even the list MPs expelled from the party can stay on in Parliament – as Brendan Horan did – as independent MPs. As Peters complained on RNZ this morning, the Horan outcome erodes the mandate given to NZF by voters and affects its voting power in the House and the resources it receives. That’s a genuine problem – although arguably, the mandate is given at election time for a three year term, and to a list whose members are not simply interchangeable. The solution however, swings the needle too far in the opposite direction; in that, clearly, it would inhibit the freedom of expression and action of MPs elected on the NZF platform. That’s one good reason why if tested in court, as Otago University law professor Andrew Geddis has already pointed out, the NZF contract would probably fail – on public policy grounds.

If one of the criticisms of MMP is that it puts too much power into the hands of the party bosses, this measure really is the 1,000 megaton version of that problem. Peters may claim that it would not interfere with MPs rights to dissent on matters of principle and that it would be used only against caucus members suspected or proven to be guilty of corrupt practices, but currently, these conditions are not written into the policy. As it stands, any MP in the NZF caucus who gets seriously offside with the leadership would be looking down the barrel of the sudden termination of their parliamentary career, or a $300,000 fine. If democracy is as precious as Peters claims, it shouldn’t be carrying a price tag.

This is where the Lear analogy kicks in. In the twilight of his career, Peters has devised a loyalty oath that will not only deter independent minded candidates from standing for the party, but will re-inforce the perception that New Zealand First operates along feudal lines, at the whim of its founding father. This would be a step in the wrong direction. Surely, the party needs to address – as a matter of more urgency – just how it is proposing to manage the process of succession, once Peters leaves the helm.

Polls, Polls

Interesting discussion on The Standard about the latest Roy Morgan poll, which has the centre-left bloc up and the centre-right bloc losing ground – National down to 42.5% in fact, the Greens up to 14.5%. This is only one poll etc etc. and National is still leading Labour by a double digit number. However, this particular poll measures the responses between April 21 and May 4 – which, as The Standard points out, means that it barely touches on the period of Maurice Williamson’s resignation and Judith Collins’ meltdown over Katie Bradford. Obviously, it is too early yet to conclude that the long-predicted tightening of the election contest has finally arrived…but at least it is now glimmering on the horizon.

TUnEyArDs, new album

If we’re lucky, politics usually offers only schadenfreude and a sense of karmic retribution: see Collins, J. Music is a far more reliable source of pleasure/inspiration. So from now on, each of these columns is going to end with a link to music worth sharing. First up…those of us fortunate enough to be at the TUnEyArDs show at the Kings Arms in Auckland in January 2012 already know what an exhilarating ruckus Merrill Garbus (aka TUnEyArDs) can make onstage. Her third album Nikki Nack has just been released. Werewolf interviewed Merrill G. back in early 2011. Her new single “Water Fountain” may sound at first like a manic children’s clapping song (nothing wrong with that) but the lyric also has a pretty dark undertow of personal and systemic decay.

No water in the water fountain / No side on the sidewalk….

Nothing feels like dying like the drying of my skin and lawn /

Why do we just sit here while they watch us wither /‘til we’re gone ?

BTW, the repeated lyric references to “Old Molly Hare” makes “Water Fountain” hark right back to the old American fiddle and string band folk song of that name – and for the sake of comparison / inspiration I’ve linked to a mid-1930s version of it by the great Riley Puckett and his pal Clayton McMichen. But do check out the Nikki Nack album, for the full array of Merrill Garbus’ massive talent. Let’s hope she tours here again, come summer.