What David Willetts wants

16 May

David Willetts resigned as Paymaster general on 11 December 1996. Paymaster general is a Treasury position, it was a merger of the paymaster of forces and other roles including Treasurer of the ordinance ( which sounds like a rubbish star wars baddy ) . Other holders include

Bliss was it to be alive in the Dawn Primarolo held it for 8 years

David Plunket ( a name that could easily get the wrong paternity test sent to him )

Charles Churchill – Winnies cousin

Arthur Henderson held it for a few months during the great war, Neville Chamberlain before he found peace. Geoffrey Robinson held it during his wonderful time in office ( I kid you not his memoirs are the best book about early new Labour you will ever read or need to read ) and little Ben Gummer proving eating infected beef doesn’t hold you back.

But I digress

Willetts ‘ made an ass of himself’ according to Roy Hattersley.

Willetts had tried to stop a committee investigating Neil Hamilton and cash for questions. His note of the meeting with the Chair of the members Interest Select Committee became a priceless memory of the Major debacle. He called the chair ( Sir Geoffrey Pinstripe Smith ) muddled and wanted him to exploit the good tory majority on the Committee.

“ He wants our advice “ noted Willets. No I didn’t proclaimed Pinstripe. Well according to Willetts he wants as in he lacks or needs it. Not that he requests or desires it. Jokes abounded about poor Mrs Willetts being told David wants her.

Willetts was accused of dissembling which is posh tory for lying and he resigned his post shortly after.

He then went on to write the excellent best seller ‘ Blairs Gurus’ in which he attacked John Gray, Will Hutton,John Kay,Frank Field,Simon Jenkins,Andrew marr, Peter Mandelson and David Marquand. It was a later broadway sensation and the film version was nominated for 2 oscars.



Bagpuss and the common market

8 Feb

From the archive


I was forced , and there was some resistance , to watch Bagpuss this morning. The one where the Mice find a mill and then use butter beans to make chocolate biscuits…yes that one. It got me thinking. Particularly when you note it was made in April 1974.

The Mice of course aren’t really making chocolate biscuits, they simply pour the beans into a bag and roll a biscuit out , and to make matters worse they keep reusing the same biscuit.

Why do I care. Well there’s something strangely political about it. I know people have commented before about the mice as a metaphor for striking labour, but I am not sure. In fact they seem like a metaphor for the common market ( as it then was ). Something people thought was all an illusion , that tricky thing with its false claims , its biscuit you never…

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Women poets of the civil war

6 Dec

There can never be enough study of the ideology and thought of the confused and chaotic British 17th Century. The role of women in this process is often neglected. Twenty years ago or so Hilary Hinds wrote a book which for me was a showstopper in terms of my thinking on the 17th Century – “ God’s Englishwomen” she illustrates how women had to circumvent the male dominated religious paradigm they operated within to get their point across. In the terms of Hinds book she demonstrated how women could relay thought through the process of revelatory dreams was seen as ok , but simply having an idea was not. Fast forward 400 years and consider the treatment of women politicians and maybe not a lot has changed.

So its an early xmas present to find Manchester University Press have published another great looking book on 17th century thought this time focusing on Women poets of the english civil war. If the interview below is anything to go by it should be a great read, and if I’m lucky enough to get a copy I will no doubt post a review.




The Truth about Trump

1 Nov

The Truth About Trump, Michael D’Antonio (St Martins Press,2016)


During the reconstruction of the building that would eventually become Trump Towers, workers destroyed two art deco friezes. There had been on going debate about the value of the friezes and Trump had agreed to donate them to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Facing criticism for having broken this earlier agreement, the Trump organisation were coming under increasing public pressure. Enter John Barron who defended the decision based on economics. John Barron was vice-president of the Trump organisation.  However, his existence was not a physical one, Barron was a construct of Trumps imagination played by none other than Donald Trump. It may have been a shield, some form of protection or a way to throw legal threats and deal with rumours. But it was Trump pretending to be someone else. Trump also employed the services of John Miller, another character of his imagination, to inform the press of Trumps dating history with celebrity women.  Michael D’Antonios book “The Truth About Trump” contains this story and many others about the odd world of Donald Trump up to November 2016.


In reading the book you are never quite sure that Donald Trump really exists. Or perhaps its which Donald Trump exists. Trumps relationship with reality is difficult to comprehend. D’Antonio sees the Trump performance as similar to a slightly off-beat comedian. His slow dead beat delivery chipping away an insult at a time. Whether its potential rivals for the Presidency, potential Mrs. Trumps or just his business rivals, the combination of over the top insult, innuendo and fear mongering have been consistent for decades. This has accelerated in recent years with Trump taking to social media for additional delivery. His Twitter storms are referred to as “shitposting”. An inoculation against the facts and perhaps even against reality. The benefit for Trump in doing this is that he always leaves one foot on the edge of the post. The character of Donald Trump might say these things but the real man is somehow hidden a little further away. Maybe though this is the real man, and D’Antonio leaves enough pointers for us to understand that the irrational, inconsistent and at times insulting behaviour is part of Trumps truth.


Examples abound. Trump’s business activities form the main part of this book. Trumps debt funded and ego fuelled deals rarely make commercial sense. It perhaps explains also why, as someone who was overly keen to ensure the media reported his wealth in billions, when he applied for a gaming licence in 1982 he could only demonstrate cash assets of $400,000. His empire was heavily indebted with insufficient available cash. The solution for the Trump organisation was to continue doing deals, to free up some more cash to prolong the inevitable payback. When in the early 1990s this all started to go horribly wrong for Trump he managed to bluff and bluster his way out of it. His Taj Mahal resort-casino went bankrupt and with it a number of his other ventures. As part of the arrangement with creditors Trump continued to receive $1 million per year for use of his name on the complex. In trying to salvage something from the continued operation of his businesses, the creditors avoided lengthy court processes. They also allowed Trump to ride to a position of power from his corporate disasters. He reduced many of his own liabilities but retained a significant asset base. His major financial restraint was a $450,000 per month expenses allowance. In exchange he walked away from over half a billion dollars of debt.  Or as he later said” You have to be strong enough to not pay”.


None of this stopped his image of being a success. A winner as he often calls himself. Trump didn’t feel constrained by just being a business man he became something of a celebrity. Brand Trump expanded itself beyond real estate, it was a lifestyle, a statement, a monogrammed gold plated high interest junk bonded one. Like his business deals though the personality needed to do further deals to fund the ego. Not content or able to just be the promoter of Trump steaks (and who would) he needed to go further. Leading a successful television show takes him further. As does his almost comical “invasion” of a Scottish coastal town to build a golf resort.  Sadly, it was not comic for those on the receiving end of the abuse and bullying that went with it.


However, niggling away was the idea of the biggest promotional deal he could possibly do. Run for President. Having looked at it in the late 80’s, though not in a serious way, he returned in a more serious manner for the 2000 election and the possibility of being the Reform Party candidate. He offered the party “a business mans eye for the bottom line” just as his organisation posted a $34.5-million-dollar loss for the last 3 months. Timing in politics can be everything. Much of his exploratory campaign was built around negative comments about other contenders. D’Antonio lists many of them. Too many to repeat. He managed to turn the campaign though into a book and speaking tour. His campaign eventually ended but not after extensive promotion of Trumps assets.


His 2011 attempt to gain momentum for the Republican nomination was backed by what is now becoming an all too familiar Trump trait, racial ignorance. Trump led the “Birther “charge. A name he rejected on the grounds that being a “Birther” seemed to imply anyone who questioned the Presidents birth details was an idiot. You can judge this statement for yourself. Trumps version of Birther was something else though. It wasn’t that Obama was born overseas (though he didn’t accept this entirely) it was that Obama had a secret. The secret may be that he is a Muslim, maybe something else. Obama, according to Trump, went to a school where no one remembers him and gained an education on the back of being a poor student. Of course it may just be that Trump didn’t like having a non-white President. Though different versions of Trump may have had different views. Trumps campaign ended when he decided to film another series of “The Apprentice”. It wasn’t over though. His 2011 testing of the waters included some strong stuff on Mexicans, and on foreign leaders laughing at America. His next attempt would, to use a quote from a Trump book “Think Big and be paranoid”.


Sadly, we all know where D’Antonios book is taking us. The 2016 General Election win for Trump built on his concepts of thinking big and paranoia. He advocates violence, exploits racial tension, seems comfortably misogynist and creates a climate of fear around immigrants, Muslims and Mexicans. He wants global trade and local news to be on his terms. Trump makes a political deal with those left behind, the unemployed, the Birthers, the white supremacists, climate change deniers and many more. As with his commercial deals there’s too much inherent debt and their wont be enough ability to pay all these political creditors. When the inevitable payback comes what kind of deal will emerge? Will it be more elaborate than the original? A bigger wall? More Walls? Will it cut deeper? What we do know is Trump doesn’t like to lose out in these arrangements. In avoiding Trumps political bankruptcy, we may all feel the pinch.


But are these images of Donald Trump that D’Antonio shows us our real issue to deal with? D’Antonio is certain that Trumps characteristics are known even if the characterisation is murky. The bigger question is what are we going to do about it?


21 Sep

Sean Mahoney discusses radicalism, populism and the contemporary political moment.

via Age of Anger — HONG KONG REVIEW OF BOOKS 香港書評

Memoirs of a Political Bag carrier

26 Jul


Political bag carriers and gatekeepers have a new patron saint. Step forward Alyssa Mastromonoca. The inside cover of her book claims  “ if your funny older sister were the former deputy chief of staff to President Obama, her behind the scenes political memoir would look something like this …” and with that she nailed it.

Mastromonaco writes in a fluid style and takes us all over the place, not just in a geographic sense but in her own world as well. She’s open and honest about herself ( there is no such thing as too open and honest ) and takes you inside the world that seems both exhilarating and frustrating at the same time.

If you ever find yourself undertaking a job like this ( even if its for a small place local body politician ) you will benefit from Mostramonaco’s guide as to how to explain your job. Don’t go into detail just say it slowly, in hushed tones and with some inclusive hand gestures.

The human side of the book is wonderfully self-deprecating and funny. How could fighting the urge to need the toilet whilst waiting to meet the Pope not be both ? How could you possible end up married when your first date is gate-trashed by Jim Messina ?

Behind this though are some more serious points. She is put down in the press mainly as a scheduler because, well hey she’s a Woman. And the stress and strain of the job remind me of Stephanopolousis also wonderful insider memoir. They burn them out in the White House. It may not be intentional, it may be it craves a certain type. Not just funny older sisters who pretend to be hedgehogs. And even if you don’t share her love (obsession) with lists, you’ll still find something wonderful in this book.

Who Thought This Was A Good Idea ? Alyssa Mastromonaco, twelve books,2017

Harold Wilsons Minority Queens Speech

28 Jun

…and its dodgy advice.


There never seems to be a situation in British Politics that we haven’t been in before. In 1974 Harold Wilson was given the opportunity to lead a minority Government. Of course Wilson had been in opposition in February 1974, however like Teresa May Harold Wilson was confident of passing a Queens speech. Wilson did not seek agreements with any of the minor parties, and it is likely none would have been keen to do so. The Queens speech was set for 12 March. Wilson understood that his tenure leading a minority administration was likely to be short, and that much of the manifesto commitments wouldn’t be enacted. However, he also didn’t want to table a mini queen’s speech. Indeed, Wilson wanted to act big and put much of the legislation down even of it wasn’t going to get passed into law. The electoral cycle continued! (and Teresa May seems to be following by tabling a 2 year Queens Speech). Most of the Cabinet expected another election by the end of the year.

Heath as leader of the opposition warned that they would seek to defeat the government on the speech and force Wilson out of office. Wilson was adamant that he would seek a dissolution if this occurred.

The Civil Service though gave Wilson quite a lot of duff advice. Robert Armstrong advised that if Wilson lost a confidence vote the Queen might send for a senior figure to form a Government ( Jenkins/Whitelaw) . Armstrong and Crowther Hunt (his Minister at the Cabinet Office) argued against resigning in the event of defeat. Indeed, Crowther Hunt wrote the first draft of a note to the PM on the train into work on the morning of 15 March.

Crowther Hunt saw 2 alternate courses of action if a Conservative amendment was carried. Alternative A was to simply ignore the vote and Alternative B was to call a confidence vote. If defeated in the confidence cote Crowther Hunt advised Wilson stay put and ask for a dissolution. He then uses some fairly dated commonwealth examples of the risk the Queen would have in saying no. Namely that if Heath couldn’t form a Government (which he couldn’t) there would need to be a dissolution anyway. Crowther Hunt thought the Queen would be acting constitutionally improper to call for say Whitelaw or Jenkins to try and form a Government, given the accepted practice of electing party leaders. Crowther Hunt thinks the only way the Queen could refuse would be to call a Round Table Conference to seek all-party agreement, but even then he sees it as a precursor to dissolution.

Crowther Hunts memo then gets the Armstrong tinkering and is slightly expanded for Wilson. Armstrong adds 2 other alternatives as a subset of the defeat on a vote of confidence, namely forming a “broad based” Government and advising the Queen to appoint Heath as PM. These are then instantly dismissed as not being what Wilson is interested in. Armstrong though doesn’t give up, he adds a paragraph that says the Queen would be looking to avoid another election and that she might take soundings amongst good Tories. She would be reluctant to so so with Labour as it “would be hazardous in the extreme”. Crowther Hunt notes his view that the Queen wouldn’t call someone else to form a Government but Armstrong is less certain. Perhaps he’s hoping rather than being rational? There’s even a suggestion that the Queen might then enter into a complex game with Wilson testing his nerve around the dissolution versus a Whitelaw style Government. Wilson would need to consider his position in relation to the “Government of National Unity” a favourite idea for many in the early 70s.


4 days later Armstrong came back with a confession. After being pressed by Crowther Hunt on the precedents Armstrong realised he had cocked up. His understanding ( i.e. advice) to not resign after losing a vote on an address was based on a misunderstanding. He was using the precedent of Peel being defeated on an amendment in 1834, who didn’t resign on that but on a later defeat on an appropriation resolution (supply in modern DUP terms). Defeat on the amendment have been seen as confidence after all. His draft note on this claims both he and Crowther Hunt believe this doesn’t change the earlier advice. The final note only relies on Armstrong being confident on this manner.


The actual speech featured a youthful Neil Kinnock as one of the 2 star opening turns, Nigel Lawson wondered if Zetland might declare UDI and the ever popular Dennis Skinner wondered of the Liberals had gone off streaking.


In the end Heath didn’t call for a division on the speech but instead the amendment to the vote was defeated by 295 to 21 with the Conservatives abstaining. On 18 March.






The 2017 UK election …what happens now

16 Jun

The DUP shouted about state sponsored murder…they up the ante and make the situation much harder to cope with …slowly over time you don’t even bother to register the outrages..but the slow dripping of bile and insinuation undermines the process.It makes people more uncertain and fearful, shakes their belief that progress can be made.


This is from Mo Mowlam. The DUP are now the King maker in UK politics, how did this come about and where will it end ?

Its like a great tragedy. The 2017 election is likely to be written about and talked about for many years to come. Whether its the starting point for some new politics or just a punctuation on the way to a return to normal service time will tell. It was an election no one won, everyone lost. Yet some of the losers are clear winners, and the most reactionary Party in UK politics ( quoted recently but I can’t find where as the political wing of the 17th century ) the DUP are going to have power. Yes this might not be a coalition or a formal power arrangement , but there votes are required and they will extract a great price. They are the most Socially Conservative of all the elected parties at Westminster. They also have a fundamentally hardline view on the governance of Northern Ireland. And to those who weren’t watching, they are responsible for one of the biggest scandals in recent UK times. https://www.renewableenergyhub.co.uk/blog/norther-ireland-the-rhi-scandal-and-what-it-means-for-renewable-heating/

More worrying though is that if the Government is reliant on one Northern Ireland party it will upend the peace process and current Governance arrangements. One of the great moves forward in the peace process has been to include wider shades of nationalism and unionism. However by utilising FPP, the DUP will have a monopoly not only on Unionism but on Northern Ireland issues with the UK Government. Do we need to go to this ?

And what of  Teresa Mays backbenchers? They will make sure the coast is clear and that Corbyn can’t touch power, but at some point she will leave. To be replaced by who or what ? Does the lack of majority mean another election ? Well you’d think so, especially if a new leader gets a poll bounce. But wasn’t that what just happened ? Who is going to trust a poll bounce now. May’s monumental cock up will reverberate for years. We could be faced with a slow Parliamentary death like the 74-9 Parliament. Defeat extracted one day at a time.

And I had hoped this was as bad it was going to get.

The Tories will plough on but look unlikely to be able to deliver on big policy. Of course the election was meant to be about Brexit. It quickly wasn’t, yet the implications for it will be massive. This Brexit Parliament ( if it remains in place ) will deal with it all. The clock is ticking on Article 50 and suddenly the divisions that are in the Tory party between the soft and hard Brexit camps will become real. Parliamentary arithmetic is claimed  to favour soft Brexit. The current Prime Minister was a remainer. I doubt there will be an appetite for big risk. However the position is unlikely to be between soft and hard but more consensual. The Brexit deal will almost certainly have to be cross party or certainly pan-party. Even those curiosities the Liberal Democrats may need to be onboard.


And suddenly everything Teresa May touches turns to disaster. The Confidence and Supply agreement doesn’t materialise, the Queens speech is delayed and the awful Fire disaster has found her lacking in just about every area she was needed in. Does this shorten her shelf life ? Undoubtedly, but from what to what is unclear. Don’t expect this means another election though, not yet anyway. What are the odds on a new leader arising to bring the Lib Dems onboard ( also under a new non religious leader we assume ) and moving forward with a cross-party Brexit before calling for another election in say 2019/2020 ?

What does seem certain is that despite having a wonderful result by historic standards, the SNP took a pasting and Indyref2 finds itself in some slightly longer grass.

An eccentric and elegiac election

5 Jun

The UK is going to the polls (again) and these plebiscites are becoming high entertainment spectacles even if they are low on political x factor. Many will of course wonder why now, and as many reply why not. Teresa May must have agonised over this. Had she come in and cleared the decks then this might be seen as acceptable. But she didn’t she told us over and over that no election was coming. Then suddenly we were having one because Parliament might not continue to keep agreeing with her. It takes some time to follow through all the issues she raised here. Of course the cynical way to look at this is that she decided to cut and run. 20 point leads in the opinion polls don’t come very often. All she could see in front of her was the downside of leaving the EU, the end of free movement, recession, possible criminal charges against sitting MPs and a Labour opposition that could only go up. Mrs May decided to cash all this in, but she’s gone in a short space of time from being Mrs Thatcher to Ted Heath. Remarkable that perhaps the PM who took us out of the EU has made the same blunder as the one who took us in. A snap election to focus on a key issue that then gets little focus, whilst your leadership slowly drains away.  Even if she wins unless she wins big the writing is on the wall. She started the campaign with talk of a 1930s style result and now were looking at February 1974 !


Never trust a person who doesn’t know how to eat chips !

The election seems to be witnessing the death of UKIP and the Lib Dems. UKIP have seen a lot of their policy platform hoovered up by the Tories. We now have a protectionist anti-foreigner, anti free movement, isolationist Government. Kippers no longer need to protest. But what of the Lib Dems, the hope they would bounce back as the sensible voice of remainers doesn’t look likely. The electorate seems to have moved on, or not fully comprehended the leaving of the EU. This is becoming a fictional election, fought on a fictional issue brought about by a fictional Brexit.  I’m sure the Lib Dems will survive, but a massive success for them would end up with something like 15 MPs. It doesn’t seem worth sniffing all those spaniels for does it ? The leader seems to get caught again and again on theology. It doesn’t seem to make a great deal of sense. Why he hasn’t developed convincing lines on it is beyond belief. Which reminds me of the UKIP manifesto. A one in one out immigration policy  ( then someone presumably gets shaken all about ) A ban on covering your cheeks in public, a brexit day national holiday.

Some people are trying to keep BRexit alive 

There will be lots of focus on the result in Scotland, there is a big challenge for the SNP as they are coming off an unbelievable high. However the prism of Independence will be cast over the result. The Conservatives look like being the main beneficiaries, but its hard to see the SNP not being the 3rd largest party again. And by some margin.

I enjoyed the spectacle of the Jeremy World Cup. First Jeremy Corbyn went up against Jeremy Vine. He obviously did ok because he played Jeremy Paxman in the semi-final. I eagerly await the clash with Jeremy Hanley ( who has his own fan club remember ) but hope we can avoid Jeremy on Jeremy violence as its unnecessary.

Teresa May has unravelled in a way no one thought possible. How the Tories must be cursing the choice they made. How Boris Johnson is enjoying providing the outgoing aggressive insensitive foil to her introverted aggressive insensitive character. First there was Mugwumps then he insulted a whole audience by talking about “ Clinky Clinky “ of bottles of imported Scotch to India. But he’s gone much further as the TV debate spinner. All arms and finger-pointing and aggressive gestures. He called Corbyn’s chance of governing dependent on  the tutti fruity coalition. He doesn’t realise how appealing that sounds. Tough the Italian Tutti Frutti coalition was more like the modern Conservative government. Populists and nationalists all held together by fear of foreigners. A group who can’t decide on what their policy position is on anything. The shambles of the Dementia Tax said it all.

Many Tories would have rather had him calling the shots, he couldn’t have been worse than May. Well perhaps he would.


or perhaps he wouldnt 

But the 2017 oddest attraction seems to be Zac Goldsmith. He probably deserves a post all on his own, which I will do shortly. He’s back again campaigning as a candidate for the party he resigned from and tried to stand against last year. He’s a trier if nothing else !

Without doubt  the oddest attraction, but in some ways the most heartwarming has been Grime for Corbyn.

The polls are all over the place and there’s a good article by Nate Silver ( have I just typed that !) on it all at https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/are-the-u-k-polls-skewed/

It might be worth coming back to if Mrs May doesn’t have an 80 plus seat majority.

And then there are the grotesque terrorist attacks. Impossible to comprehend. The issue of security has now come to the fore. No one can win this debate by being binary. Its not a binary issue.

Jeremy Corbyn has been the undoubted star of the campaign, he has been humorous, engaging and realistic and offered hope. The Tories have hit him in a predictable Crosby style ( whose also going to be worth a separate post ) but it hasn’t landed. The public understand him warts and all. Perhaps the public have realised that the bogeymen myths about left wingers just aren’t true ?

Perhaps they don’t feel there’s anything left to risk or lose. Perhaps they like him after all. What has the voter to make of it all. The Brexit election, which isn’t really about Brexit at all, the Tutti Frutti election where the 2 parties will probably get more of the combined vote than in the last 40 years. The election is likely to show the huge divisions across the UK in starling Technicolor while  providing a result in monochrome. You’d still have to say this is Mrs Mays victory for the taking, but it’s no longer straightforward. Oddly the awful terrorist attacks have exposed May. She can’t blame anyone else for security failures. She sounds odd standing outside Number 10 saying enough is enough. The public may agree with her. The hardline rhetoric hasn’t worked, maybe something else will. The grandstanding over nuclear weapons mixed with the mock horror that Corbyn wasn’t always keen on shoot to kill policing shouldn’t be surprising.

2 years ago the media and pundits were obsessed with the idea of a hung parliament, now there may well be one that sneaks up on us. May deserves the hung parliament, the UK perhaps doesn’t but who knows ? The joy of a Corbyn led Government may be short-lived, I doubt a hung parliament would allow it to happen but we could hardly have 5 years of a Conservative DUP coalition….or could we ?

If I had to call it I would say small Conservative majority, but punditry is for the brave.


Mt Albert By-Election

20 May

From ex Leader to next Leader.

Some notes for a wider project piece I am trying to put together …comments welcome ….

The New Zealand political environment was still trying to come to terms with the resignation of Prime Minister John Key when only 2 days later it was reported that former Labour leader David Shearer was to resign his seat and take up a job as United Nations special envoy to South Sudan[1]. The Mt Albert electorate was to have its second MMP by-election to allow a former Leader to safely parachute out for an international job. Perhaps MMP by-elections had found a purpose after all.


Shearer had not formally resigned his seat, nor been confirmed in the role and the thinking about whether there would be a by-election was advancing. Some commentators, and even the Labour leader Andrew Little, wondered if there might be cause for an early general election if Mr Shearer were to resign alongside the potential departures of the Pakuranga MP Maurice Williamson, the New Lynn MP David Cunliffe and the former Prime Minister and Helensville MP John Key. [2]

Within days of becoming Prime Minister Bill English announced that the by-election would be held on 25 February 2017 and that National would not contest the seat (even before David Shearer had resigned the seat). This seemed to end any speculation of a super Saturday for replacing sitting MPs or an early election. English wanted National to focus on winning the 2017 General Election, a decision aspiring Labour candidate Jacinda Ardern noted as “surprising”[3] and the Deputy Leader of the Labour party, Annette King, went on “I think he’s a bit of a scaredy-cat, he doesn’t want to look as if he’s not successful and he doesn’t want to have a defeat at the beginning of the year, “That’s fair enough, but it’s very strange that he wouldn’t take the opportunity to run a candidate and put out their policies and what their achievements are, if they can identify them.”[4] Nationals campaign manager Steven Joyce hit back and said that Labour’s decision not to stand in Northland had been fine for them. When challenged with the reality that Labour had stood in Northland, Joyce called this a “ relative term “[5]  The Green Party announced on 23 December that they would contest the seat, to give voters a choice. Given they had previously not contested the Mt Roskill by-election to assist the Labour party it was a decision open to some interpretive criticism. [6] Green co-leader Meteria Turia said the party were committed to standing but accepted that the Labour party would win. Quite how her reality of accepting defeat and standing was any less or more rational than English’s view of accepting defeat so refusing to stand will be for others to consider. What was clear, even before Shearer had officially left his seat, was that Labour would win.

2014 Election Result

Mount Albert was held at the 2014 election by David Shearer. Shearer had won the seat in a by-election in 2009 making it the first seat to be contested twice as an MMP by-election. There had been some initial excitement that given National had gained a larger share of the party vote than any other party in the 2014 election, that they may be able to win the seat.

David Shearer Labour 20,970 58.17%
Melissa Lee National 10,314 28.61%
Jeanette Elley Green Party 3,152 8.74%
Jeffrey Johnson CNSP 525 1.46%
Tommy Fergusson ACT 321 0.89%
Joe Carolan Mana 290 0.80%
Anthony Van Den Heuvel 76 0.21%
Michael Wackrow 68 0.19%
Informals 336 0.93%
Votes Cast 36,052
National Party 14,359 38.89%
Labour Party 10,823 29.31%
Green Party 8,005 21.68%
New Zealand First 1,512 4.10%
Conservative 719 1.95%
Internet Mana 603 1.63%
ACT 356 0.96%
Maori Party 178 0.48%
ALCP 93 0.25%
United Future 57 0.15%
Ban 1080 12 0.03%
The Civilian Party 11 0.03%
Democrats Social Credit 7 0.02%
Focus New Zealand 6 0.02%
NZ Independent Coalition 5 0.01%
Informals 176 0.48%
Total 36,922


For the Labour party the obvious strength of a high profile sitting list MP who lived in the Mt Albert constituency saw Jacinda Ardern emerge as the only person to put their name forward for selection. Her candidature was confirmed on 22 January at a local party meeting. [7] Ardern had stood in the neighbouring Auckland Central seat at the last general election.

The Green party also choose a sitting list MP in Julie Ann Genter. Genter had stood in Epsom in the 2014 General Election. Genter saw Nationals absence as a way to show politics could be done differently, and that the campaign would not be negative.[8]

The New Zealand People’s Party who had formed in 2016 as a party focused on Indian and Asian immigrants decided to contest the by-election and chose Vin Tomar as its candidate. Tomar was a former Green Party member and lived in the constituency.[9]

The recently formed but yet to be registered The Opportunities Party announced that it would contest the by-election. The party founder and leader Gareth Morgan announced the candidature of Geoff Simmons, a Wellington based economist and the party Chief of Staff, under a barrage of analogy. Simmons would be the “rose between two thorns” and “David against Goliath”. Labour and the Greens were “Sisters in arms”. Simmons even referenced a recent cricket match result to show that anything could happen. [10]

By the close of nominations there were thirteen candidates, including four independents, the Communist League, People Before Profit, Cannabis Party, the strangely named Not a Party and the Human Rights Party. [11]


In many respects the absence of the National party took the wind out of the campaign before it began. Whilst this may have been the intention from a political perspective it again raised questions about the financial cost of running a by-election in an MMP environment.

The Opportunities Party began their campaign with another bizarre analogy session. Simmons, perhaps anticipating the result, said he didn’t want to be a career politician. He then went on “Every politician promises you a nice pair of underwear but what you find after three years is, really all you had is, you’ve taken the old underwear, turned them inside out and put them back on again,”[12] He went on to say “We the party, we actually want to do ourselves out of a job – that’s what we’re setting this thing up so we don’t have to do it anymore”. Simmons father who lives in the constituency attended the launch, waving a Julie Ann Genter campaign sign and said he had yet to make up his mind which way to vote. [13]

The Opportunities Party were later subjected to a complaint on behalf of ACT (also not standing in this election) about the use of a van for “treating “. This is a legal concept alleging that voters were being given a free ride rather than a fun concept as no one could really imagine going for a spin in a van with Gareth Morgan’s face on it as a treat ! Thankfully the Electoral Commission cleared them of the allegation.  [14] [15]

The three main candidates all featured in a debate hosted in an Indian restaurant in Sandringham Media coverage seemed to focus on the absence of any difference between the three candidates and that they were all candidates of the left (though its questionable where The Opportunities Party and the Labour Party sit ). The Auckland housing market was a key question raised for the candidates. Simmons advocated a Capital Gains Tax on first homes. Arden disagreed with this while Genter advocated for planning zone changes. Simmons made another of his now familiar odd comments by asking that he was elected on the basis that he’s the only one not already in Parliament. [16] Whist’s it’s an odd campaign slogan there is of course a wider issue ( see below ).

The campaign seemed to focus quite quickly on the size of victory that Ardern would achieve and the potential impact that would have on the Labour party for the 2017 general election. Arden’s campaign was a personalised one, whilst there was some logic to this in a one-off election it also highlighted the candidates favourable image. Or at least a more favourable image than her party and leader. Electors were being asked to back team Jacinda rather than vote Labour. The perceived inevitability of the result made for a rather lack luster time.  Her main opponent even referred to her as “ own to earth and friendly, even though she’s a superstar in Parliament”.[17] Indeed the closeness of the two candidates ( they even apparently car pooled while canvassing !) took any potential edge out of the campaign. It even prompted what might be the worst piece of election writing ever by the New Zealand Herald when they declared “ The least bitter rivalry in New Zealand politics has broken out in the Mt Albert by-election” [18] Not only had they car pooled and canvassed together they had shown off dance moves. Genter said it had been “fun”.

As election day arrived, Labour leader Andrew Little campaigned with Ardern and downplayed discussion of a future reshuffle. Ardern toyed with idea of recycling her first name billboards for the General Election and discussion seemed to be on how low the turnout would be. [19]


One observer who had witnessed many elections (Mike Williams) observed it was the “most low-key byelection I’ve ever seen” However it was thought the Labour party were testing a new campaigning strategy. The strategy was claimed to be adopted from the Victoria Labour Party and the recent Wellington Mayoralty. They established a network of field officers and volunteers who data mine whether a voter is persuadable and what issues they care about.[20] Some may question why they had never thought of this before.

Result and aftermath

The preliminary result surprised no one and Ardern received over 77% of the vote on just under 13,000 votes cast. Genter was second but distant and The Opportunities Party came in third. Turnout was only around 27 % at the preliminary stage. [21]

The official result published on 8 March with little change to the result.

Jacinda Ardern Labour  10,495 76.89%
Julie Anne Genter Green  1,564 11.46%
Geoff Simmons  623 4.56%
Vin Tomar New Zealand Peoples Party  218 1.60%
Joe Carolan People Before Profit  189 1.38%
Penny Bright  139 1.02%
Abe Gray Cannabis Party  7 0.05%
Adam Amos  81 0.59%
Dale Arthur  54 0.40%
Anthony Van Den Heuvel Human Rights  34 0.25%
Peter Wakeman  30 0.22%
Simon Smythe  19 0.14%
Patrick Brown Communist  16 0.12%
Informals  90 0.66%
Total 13649
Turnout 30%

By the Wednesday following the poll, despite rejecting the idea a week earlier, Annette King resigned as Deputy Leader of the Labour Party and Jacinda Ardern was backed for the vacancy. [22]

The Green party went off to contemplate what the result really meant for them. Could the poor showing undermine its chances of being in Government? Labour may cannibalize the Greens vote where it can and be left holding hands with New Zealand First. The expectation of gaining 30 or even 40 % of the vote seemed woefully optimistic. [23] The Opportunities Party were reflecting on achieving 4.6 % of the vote as being near its target 5%. It seemed rude to point out the absence of National and New Zealand First negated that effort somewhat. [24]

Three months after David Shearer indicated he was leaving there was a new MP in Parliament. However, this wasn’t the victorious candidate Jacinda Ardern. She had been in Parliament throughout the campaign as had her main rival. The new MP was declared elected on 15 March 2017 following Arden’s resignation from the list. Raymond Hau was the ultimate beneficiary of the poll result.[25] So what was this all about?

There a debate to be had over the role and purpose of by-elections under MMP. Nigel Roberts returned to this debate during the Mt Albert contest. He points to the wide range of countries that don’t hold by-elections yet still have stable and useful democracies.[26] Would we have been any worse off to have replaced David Shearer with Raymond Hua without reference to the electorate? Does it diminish the role of by-elections on Parliamentary arithmetic? Well it’s a different world under MMP. Electors vote for party preference as well as individual MPs. There a desire to keep that party balance in place over the three years, which is a relatively short electoral cycle. Could we survive without another by-election? Well certainly without one as lackluster as MT Albert we certainly could.


[1] Audrey Young “ David Shearer to quit for UN job: Mt Albert by-election Looms” 8 December 2016,at http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11762554

[2] RadioNZ “ David Shearer to quit, Labour ready for early election” 8 December 2016, at http://www.radionz.co.nz/news/political/319876/david-shearer-to-quit,-labour-‘ready’-for-early-election

[3] RadioNZ “ National won’t contest Mt Albert By-election” 19 December 2016, at http://www.radionz.co.nz/news/political/320794/national-won’t-contest-mt-albert-by-election

[4] RadioNZ “ Bill English accused of chickening out in Mt Albert ‘ 20 December 2016, at http://www.radionz.co.nz/news/political/320840/bill-english-accused-of-chickening-out-in-mt-albert

[5] ibid

[6] Stuff “ Green Party to stand against Labour in Mt Albert by-election” 23 December 2016, at http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/87898480/Green-Party-to-stand-against-Labour-in-Mt-Albert-by-election

[7] Stuff “ Jacinta Arden Labour’s sole nominee for Mt Albert by-election” 12 January 2017, at http://www.stuff.co.nz/auckland/88372683/Jacinda-Ardern-Labours-sole-nominee-for-Mt-Albert-by-election

[8] Nicholas Jones” Mt Albert by-election:Its Jacinda Arden vs Julie Ann Genter “ 12 January 2017,at http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11781265

[9] Sandeep Singh”New Zealand People Party to spice up Mt Albert By-election, announces candidate”,26 December 2016, at http://www.indianweekender.co.nz/Pages/ArticleDetails/7/7433/New-Zealand/New-Zealand-People-Party-to-spice-up-Mt-Albert-by-election,-announces-candidate

[10] NZHerald “ Gareth Morgan’s Opportunities Party to run in Mt Albert by-election” 1 February 2017, at http://www.nzherald.co.nz/politics/news/article.cfm?c_id=280&objectid=11792452

[11] RadioNZ “ Thirteen candidates for Mt Albert by-election “ 01 February 2017, at http://www.radionz.co.nz/news/political/323580/thirteen-candidates-for-mt-albert-by-election

[12] Troika Tokelau-Chandra “ Mt Albert by-election Candidate Geoff Simmons makes unlikely comparison at launch “ 4 February 2017, at  http://www.stuff.co.nz/auckland/89097590/mt-albert-byelection-candidate-geoff-simmons-makes-unlikely-comparison-at-launch

[13] ibid

[14] Treating is defined in the Electoral Act 1993 (Section 217 ) as the provision of food, drink, entertainment or provision with the exception of a post meeting light supper, with the intention of influencing or procuring the recipients vote.

[15] Issac Davidson “ Gareth Morgan accuses ACT Party of petty complaints.” 21 February 2017, at http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11804867

[16] Simon Maude “ Mt Albert electorate left to the left wing parties to fight it out “ 15 February 2017, at http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/89458458/mt-albert-electorate-left-to-the-left-wing-parties-to-fight-it-out

[17] Ricardo Simich, “ By-election front runners guide to Mt Albert” 18 February 2017, at “ http://spy.nzherald.co.nz/spy-news/by-election-frontrunners-guide-to-mt-albert/

[18] NZherald “ Greens’Julie Anne Genter and Labour’s Jacinta Ardern strike up friendship in Mt Albert “ 22 February 2017, at http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11805567

[19] NZHerald “ Mt Albert byelection:Andrew Little joins Jacinta Arden for final day of campaigning “ 24 February 2017, at http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11807048

[20] Issac Davidson “ Candidates brce for the polls..wait,what ? There’s a byelection?” 18 February 2017, at http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11803016

[21] NZherald “ Landslide win for Jacinta Ardern in Mt Albert by-election “ 25 February 2017, at http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11807614

[22] Nicholas Jones “ Labour’s new deputy:JAcinda Ardern’s ‘pay-it-forward’ politics” 2 March 2017, at http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11809968

[23] Simon Wilson “ The GReens’ mediocre Mt Albert result reveals the hill they have to climb in 2017” 27 February 2017, at https://thespinoff.co.nz/politics/27-02-2017/the-greens-mediocre-mt-albert-result-reveals-the-hill-they-have-to-climb-in-2017/

[24] Nicholas Jones “ Gareth Morgan’s party happy with Mt Albert by-election result” 26 February 2017, at http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11807863


[26] Nigel Roberts “ We should do away with by-elections, 14 February 2017, at http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/opinion/89336361/nigel-roberts-we-should-do-away-with-byelections