Bulletins and Reports

Concluding Remarks NZ2017

The 2017 New Zealand General Election has concluded, the coalition negotiations are complete, the new government is Labour, New Zealand First, and the Greens.

The outcome is consistent with the general mood of the campaign.  National relied on a majority of voters being satisfied with the status quo, but that didn’t pan out.  The statistics tell us about growing inequality and intractable poverty – even as the wealthy and privileged continue to get ahead, the people being left behind would not have been excited by the idea of more of the same.  National lost a few seats, but their core support remains solid.  Instead, the sitting government was punished on the margins – the Maori Party was obliterated, and Peter Dunne is done.

Labour and the Greens campaigned on changing the government, appealed to those who have been left behind by National’s policies.  It wasn’t entirely clear this would work – a lot of older folk have seen their net worth skyrocket along with the house price bubble, even if this isn’t disposable wealth because you need to keep a house to live in.  But National has done enough odious deals to turn away a majority of voters – privatising state assets, raising superannuation, abusing welfare recipients, polluting rivers, exploiting conservation land, suppressing rail infrastructure, raising GST to cut taxes for the wealthy – the list goes on.  It was not a slam dunk, but a chipping away at votes that eventually shaved off enough to deny them a majority.

But while a significant number of those voters turned to a resurgent Labour under Jacinda Ardern, unarguably a more energetic and charismatic leader than the previous Andrew Little, the election left neither National nor the Labour/Greens with enough seats to govern alone.  Enter New Zealand First, that stubborn, often unwelcome, yet ever-present fringe.  Throughout the campaign, Winston Peters appealed to the rural voters who have been left behind by National’s policies.  In this, his message was similar to Labour and the Greens, only with a conservative accent as opposed to a progressive one.  He appealed to the conservative poor, attacked National from the right – he also campaigned on change.

So it is not so surprising that New Zealand First ultimately picked Labour as their coalition partners.  Despite what the pundits say and what many people believe, politics is not really about left or right, progressive or conservative – it is about the rich vs. the poor, and it is about power.  National keeps talking about New Zealanders getting ahead, but the reality is that their policies have enriched the rich, and ignored the poor.  The reality is that more and more New Zealanders have found themselves being left behind.  Those people, and those who have enough of a conscience to vote against inequality, have increased in number in recent years.  The Greens, Labour, and New Zealand First campaigned for those votes, and now they are the government.

I started The Echo Chamber Project because I am interested in the growing clout of political social media in influencing people’s opinions, and because there is a growing trend of people only following voices they already agree with, and becoming blind to the other side of the argument.  This is a dangerous trend for any democracy, and so I started The Echo Chamber Project to observe what would happen in New Zealand in 2017.  I found that the National campaign were liars, frequently misrepresenting statistics and inviting counter-factual interpretations.  I found that Labour and the Greens were generally honest actors, though of course their interpretations were favourable to themselves.  I found that New Zealand First skirted a fine line between saying what was correct, yet inviting incorrect interpretations.

So, ultimately, the liars were kicked out of office in exchange for marginally more honest folk.  Somewhat good news for our democracy for the lies to have been relatively ineffective, you might say, but perhaps it was less the case of an informed and vigilant electorate, and more a case of National being bad at lying this time.  Steven Joyce’s $11bn fiscal hole was a farce, blatantly wrong to anyone who cared to examine Labour’s spreadsheet, and it forced a number of bigwig economists to have to publicly denounce it – regardless of whether National’s policies would line their own pockets with bigger profits, there was no way they would destroy their own credibility by supporting such deficient arithmetic.  But National told many, many other lies, the vast majority of them unquestioned and un-examined by the media.

What if Jacinda Ardern had not replaced Andrew Little as Labour leader?  What if Steven Joyce had not overreached with his dodgy statistics and accounting?  What if Winston Peters had made a deal with National instead of Labour?  There are many what-if’s, and few of them have anything to do with policy.  The democratic ideal is that voters will examine the policies on offer, and choose the ones that they believe to be best for our society.  The democratic reality is a precarious hotchpotch of a process, where a society confusedly stumble towards making a decision, sometimes the right one, but sometimes alarmingly wrong.  Having spent so many hours on this Echo Chamber Project, observing New Zealand’s political Twitter during the 2017 General Election, I am left with a sense of relief, but little confidence.  I am relieved that the liars were not rewarded this time, but neither were they punished – The Maori Party and United Future paid the price, not National.

Democracy comes with a price tag – either we keep our vigil and reject dishonestly from our politicians, or we let ourselves be deceived into a government led by bad people with bad policies.  For now, I will consider my price of admission paid, as I close The Echo Chamber Project NZ2017.

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Final bulletin, election day

Summary:

It is literally illegal to try to influence voters on election day.  There’s nothing to say, except that I urge you to exercise your privilege of living in a democratic society and go vote.

The Echo Chamber Project for the New Zealand 2017 election is complete.  The politics never end, of course – there’s still the voting, the counting, and the coalition negotiations.  A final debriefing of this project will come after the dust settles.

 

Echo Chamber National:

Election day:

 

Echo Chamber Labour:

Election day:

 

Echo Chamber Green:

Election day:

 

Echo Chamber New Zealand First:

Nothing.

 

Echo Chamber Maori Party:

Nothing significant.

 

Echo Chamber ACT:

ACT’s Twitter accounts disappeared from the internet.  Weird.

 

Echo Chamber United Future:

Final thoughts:

Election day:

 

Bulletin 22/9/2017

Summary:

Last day before the election.  The parties are mostly just getting people to the voting booths.  No time left for new policies or changing the narrative.

 

Echo Chamber National:

Raise taxes, run zero budgets, and neglect critical expenditure are exactly some of the things Bill English and National has done over the past 9 years.  “Not credible”, he says:

 

Whereas the news is reporting things like, “Economists were unimpressed by news that the economy grew in the second quarter, warning much of the growth was due to one-offs and won’t spur the central bank to lift interest rates any time soon”:

 

Echo Chamber Labour:

Propaganda:

 

On housing:

 

Echo Chamber Green:

On planning:

 

Echo Chamber New Zealand First:

Nothing significant.

 

Echo Chamber Maori Party:

Nothing significant.

 

Echo Chamber ACT:

Propaganda:

 

Echo Chamber United Future:

Policies:

 

Bulletin 21/9/2017

Summary:

The final leader’s debate, but the rehashing of policies and talking points is less interesting than the increasing trend of people outright calling National liars.  It’s taken a while, but as we reach the final days before the election, National’s credibility is tanking right before our eyes.  National has poisoned their own well.  By rights, they should lose the election for trying to deceive their way into power.  But what if they get back in government?  Their supporters are increasingly detached from facts.  Their detractors will reject what they say out of hand, even if they start telling the truth again – trust, once broken, is difficult to mend.

Winston Peters is talking about the Port of Auckland.  I think his strategy this election was a mistake.  He tried to set his own agenda by not engaging the other parties, but he’s ended up making himself isolated and irrelevant instead.

 

Echo Chamber National:

Darkness falls over Bill English.  Seriously, who thinks this is a good promotional photo?:

 

(!) We’ve addressed these already.  National repeating false and misleading statements:

 

Platitudes:

 

(!) Retweeted by Paula Bennett.  Factually untrue, the Memorandum of Understanding never bound the Labour and Greens into a coalition government.  The MoU expires on election night:

 

(!) There are far more than 115 businesses in New Zealand.  The Mood of the Boardroom is qualitative data from a few selected big corporations, is not a representative sample:

 

(!) I don’t know where these numbers are coming from, but it’s not Labour’s fiscal plan or the PREFU 2017.  Page 16 of Labour’s fiscal plan does not have a $23.5bn figure, nor a “new additional line item spending” category, nor a $7.5bn, nor an “unannounced policies” category.  The operating balance in the PREFU 2017 for the 2018-2021 period totals $31.5bn, not $19.3bn.  The $9.7bn figure for increased revenue includes 2017, not only 2018-2022.  The “wages and cost inflation” criticism is directed at the PREFU and Treasury forecasts, saying that the government have underestimated inflation – that’s not Labour’s fault, nor is it necessarily true, just a different set of assumptions used for different forecasts:

 

Echo Chamber Labour:

On poverty and health:

 

On National’s lies:

 

Debating:

 

On the economy:

 

Echo Chamber Green:

On poverty and health:

 

Not debating, but opinionated:

 

On benefits:

 

Echo Chamber New Zealand First:

On the Port of Auckland:

 

On immigrants:

 

Echo Chamber Maori Party:

On LGBQTI:

 

Echo Chamber ACT:

Debate opinions:

 

(!) Factually untrue, Labour has plenty of housing policy:

 

(!) Factually untrue, treaties can be modified if the parties agree:

 

On housing:

 

Echo Chamber United Future:

Nothing significant.

 

Bulletin 20/9/2017

Summary:

National keeps fudging numbers and making vague promises that aren’t within their power to keep.  Ardern continues to draw big crowds, and Labour announces they will rein in predatory lenders.  The Greens talk about climate change and public transport.  New Zealand First has an ad.

 

Echo Chamber National:

Kaye’s personal campaign:

 

We don’t differentiate between those who have and those who have not:

 

(!) Talking about averages conveniently ignores all considerations of inequity, of course.  Keep in mind that the wealthy and privileged benefit from ignoring inequality, while the poor and disadvantaged are harmed by ignoring inequality:

 

(!) The claims are not backed by evidence:

 

Promises you can’t keep:

 

(!) What does it actually mean when more students pass examinations over time?  IQs increasing dramatically from one year to the next?  No.  Teachers becoming dramatically more effective from one year to the next?  Highly unlikely.  Teachers and students figuring out how the examinations work, and optimising their work to pass the exams?  Likely.  The exams becoming easier to pass over time?  Possible.  The thing to keep in mind is that everyone wants more kids to pass – the students want to pass, the teachers want them to pass, the government wants their statistics to look good.  The whole system is designed so that more students pass the examinations:

 

Echo Chamber Labour:

Campaigning:

 

On National’s lies:

 

On health:

 

On loan sharks:

 

Echo Chamber Green:

Debating:

 

On transport:

 

Echo Chamber New Zealand First:

Propaganda:

 

Echo Chamber Maori Party:

Nothing significant.

 

Echo Chamber ACT:

Nothing significant.

 

Echo Chamber United Future:

On climate change:

 

Bulletin 19/9/2017

Summary:

Some farmers are protesting against Labour, and the photos aren’t pretty.  The Greens release their fiscal plan, in which their policies are costed and their impact on government finances outlined.  National is trying real hard to talk up their accomplishments, but it also sounds increasingly detached from reality.  They also need to stop retweeting the crap from the Kiwiblog fake news factory.  Labour seems to be turning towards attacking National – perhaps they figure it’s enough to be less negative than National, and National has been very negative recently.

 

Echo Chamber National:

(!) “Here’s my ballpark estimates”.  He’s pulling numbers out of his ass and inventing things that aren’t Labour policy:

 

(!) Retweeted by Maggie Barry.  Literally making stuff up.  Read the actual policy at http://www.labour.org.nz/workplace_relations_policy.  I’m not going to bother to refute every single point, but doing a few starting from the top.  Kiwiblog lie: “The industry will have no ability to say no to it”.  Actual policy: “In conjunction with all relevant stakeholders”.  Kiwiblog lie: “A small employer in Invercargill will be forced to pay the same wages and conditions as a large multinational employer based in Auckland.”  Actual policy: “Agreements that set minimum conditions”, does not preclude conditions above the minimum.  You get the picture:

 

Propaganda:

 

On trade deals.  Do you think we’ll make more money selling our goods to Latin America, or Latin America will make more money from us with greater access to our markets?:

 

Fear taxes and fear the unknown:

 

Borderline gaslighting:

 

Echo Chamber Labour:

On National:

 

On healthcare:

 

Echo Chamber Green:

On water royalties:

 

On aircraft fuel:

 

On Green economics:

 

On poverty:

 

Echo Chamber New Zealand First:

Protesting:

 

On aircraft fuel:

 

Echo Chamber Maori Party:

Debating:

 

Echo Chamber ACT:

On protests:

 

Crack down on kids more:

 

On aircraft fuel:

 

(!) The ravings of a madman.  Do I really have to explain that no one is actually enslaved, or that those taxes are to pay for the things that those people need?:

 

Echo Chamber United Future:

On income taxes:

 

Bulletin 18/9/2017

Summary:

There’s unlikely to be any more policy announcements in the few days before the election.  Candidates are out campaigning and rehashing what they’ve already said.  A ruptured fuel pipeline gives Labour and New Zealand First something to criticise the government about.

 

Echo Chamber National:

Oil pipeline leaks, government offers support to the oil companies, no mention of environment:

 

Campaigning on the status quo:

 

Echo Chamber Labour:

On education:

 

On Bill English lying:

 

On aircraft fuel:

 

Echo Chamber Green:

Campaigning:

 

On property rental laws:

 

Echo Chamber New Zealand First:

On aircraft fuel:

 

Echo Chamber Maori Party:

Nothing significant.

 

Echo Chamber ACT:

Nothing significant.

 

Echo Chamber United Future:

On synthetic cannabis: