Prime Minister Resigns

John Key that is. He was actually in power, whereas Matteo Renzi was merely in office.

There is a slight difference in the coverage between New Zealand and the United Kingdom press.

In the UK, the BBC goes with “Mr Key, a popular leader, said it was a personal decision, and later denied media reports his wife of 32 years, Bronagh, had given him an ultimatum.” Never too highbrow to resist a bit of mindless and baseless tittle-tattle when its there for the taking! But it goes on that Mr Key “was formerly at Merrill Lynch as a foreign exchange dealer” and was “known by the local media as “Teflon John” because very little controversy has stuck to him during his time in office.”

Maybe the UK press is getting used to the idea that rule by bankers and other establishment figures has a limited life expectancy, and are suspicious that he is going now before things get tricky.

There is some scepticism in New Zealand; Jennifer Lees-Marshment, an associate professor in politics and international relations at Auckland University, said in The Guardian: “The Key brand has become disconnected and he has increasingly appeared to be someone who doesn’t understand what it is like to be an ordinary New Zealander any more.” This is not a view your hear in New Zealand today.

Liam Hehir, a conservative commentator in New Zealand writing for Stuff, states that; “I believed then (as I do now) that in this doggedly centrist country, Key is about as good a prime minister as any conservative New Zealander can reasonably hope for.”

Even the leader of the Opposition Andrew Little paid tribute to outgoing Prime Minister John Key, saying he has “served New Zealand well”.

The New Zealand press and politicians seem minded to cut John Key the sort of slack that UK politicians can only dream of. Maybe he really was that good?


Global Temperature Trends

I last wrote on this back on 2nd Jan 2016. Today we have newspaper reports that 2016 is very likely to be hottest year on record. This may indeed be true. However, the reports persist in undermining the case for action on the environment by using discredited information. The terrestrial and oceanic surface measurement data [rightly] requires manual adjustment to avoid the “garbage-in-garbage-out” problem, and once given an inch the analysts doing this manual intervention have taken a mile – the historic record seems to change each time they present another graph. The only reliable global temperature data comes from satellites.

So, when the BBC reports that “October data indicates that 2016 is very much on track to surpass the 2015 level, which in turn broke the previous high mark set in 2014”, we should be sceptical.

If you want to make up your own minds, you can. The NOAA satellite data is available on the REMSS website. They give you the MSU/AMSU data and if you want to appreciate the scientific integrity of this then REMSS are happy to explain. (My data analysis is here). This shows that the 1998 average anomaly was +0.55°C, compared to +0.62°C for the first ten months of 2016. Even if the October reading of +0.35°C is repeated in November and December, 2016 will still average out at +0.58°C. 2016 is the first year to come anywhere near close to 1998.

The claim about 2015 and 2014 being record years is nonsense, based on the discredited terrestrial and oceanic surface data.  Using the satellite data you can see that the anomalies for 2014 and 2015 respectively were +0.27°C and +0.38°C. If you draw a straight linear regression through the data from Jan 1998 to Oct 2016 you find that temperatures are +0.33°C above the period Jan 1979 – Dec 1997, and increasing at +0.05°C per decade. That is not a typo. For the last 19 years global temperatures have been essentially static. The “pause” in Global Warming is a scientific FACT.

All of which means that the fuss over CO2 is an awful distraction from the task of conserving species and genetic diversity through conservation of habitat, very large bits of habitat. So, if and when Donald Trump concludes that the “CO2 emperor” has no clothes, he might just be giving an enormous boost to proper conservation.

Trump and Polling Error

There is little to say on different perceptions in the UK and new Zealand to Donald Trump’s victory. Overwhelmingly there is a consensus, that his was “a primal scream against Washington” (Rupert Cornwell, Independent in the UK). Tracey Watkins, writing for Stuff in New Zealand, concludes that “The forces that propelled Donald Trump into the presidency are the same forces that drove Britain out of the European Union”. That the people of the UK and now the USA wish to take back control of their futures; and, specifically, to have a less divided society, must surely be good.

Some people are concerned that this is a nationalist, right-wing, thing. Looking after the interests of the nation that elected him would be one thing. Bigoted xenophobia would be quite another. Time will tell.

On the polling, the excellent Anthony Wells writes:

“the final polls were clustered around a 4 point lead for Clinton, when in reality it looks about 1 point. More importantly, the state polls were often way out, polls had Ohio as a tight race when Trump stomped it by 8 points. All the polls in Wisconsin had Clinton clearly ahead; Trump won. Polls in Minnesota were showing Clinton leads of 5-10 points, it ended up on a knife edge. ”

There is already a narrative about “shy” Trump supporters appearing in the media. Evidence for this is apocryphal to non-existent. It is too early to know the reasons that the US pollsters got it so wrong, but we do know why the UK pollsters got the last UK general election wrong. The British Polling Council conducted an in depth review, and “shy Tories” was an urban myth not a cause. They concluded that “The main cause of the error was unrepresentative samples”. Anthony Wells’ excellent summary, with a link through to that full report is here.

The US and UK electorates understood that “if you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep getting what you’ve always gotten” and voted for something different – anything different. The pollsters techniques were incapable of identifying and correctly analysing that change.

Labour Party considering training levy.

The New Zealand labour party that is. Their finance spokesman, Grant Robertson, said that “Immigration, skilled workers will always be part of the mix but we’ve got to do a better job of training New Zealanders”. I believe this would not affect the arrival of seasonal labour, essentially Pacific Islanders, who come to bring the fruit crop under what is widely regarded as a well targeted and well administered scheme set up specifically for that purpose.

There are the same concerns here in New Zealand, and in Australia, over the levels of low wage immigration, as there are in the UK. And there are some pretty Trump’esque solutions on offer. The opposition coalition in Australia proposed last week “to deny asylum to any asylum seeker who has been judged to have purposely destroyed their identity documents”. Maybe those arriving in Australia are different, but I doubt that that identity documents would be top of my list of concerns if I were fleeing the fighting in Syria.

The scheme being considered by the Labour Party would charge all businesses this levy, unless they were providing approved training to their employees. Which strikes me as just the kind of sensible sounding, do-gooding proposal that we are so familiar with in the UK. And it will come with the support of the same kind of crony corporatist elite that have been making such a mess of running the EU and the UK. Big companies love this kind of stuff, because they know that it will hammer small businesses.

Fortunately, in New Zealand this kind of proposal is very unlikely ever to come into effect. New Zealand recently came top in a Forbes list of the best countries in which to do business. And New Zealand is not going to allow proposals like this to jeopardise that reputation.

Lukewarming – A Consensus on Global Warming?

I have blogged on global warming in Jan 2016 and continue to follow the subject with interest. So I was very interested to hear what Viscount Ridley had top say in his lecture to The Royal Society on 17th October. The full text is here, and I strongly encourage you to real all of it.

The central thesis of his talk is that Global Warming can be real but not dangerous, saying:

Suppose they do indeed experience carbon dioxide levels of 600 parts per million or more, but do not experience dangerous global warming, or more extreme weather, just a mild and decelerating increase in global average temperatures, especially at high latitudes, at night and in winter, accompanied by spectacular global greening and less water stress for both people and crops.

He does not even mention “the pause” in global warming – no increase in global temperatures from 1998 to 2016. Instead he says:

I am not claiming that carbon dioxide is not a greenhouse gas; it is.

I am not saying that its concentration in the atmosphere is not increasing; it is.

I am not saying the main cause of that increase is not the burning of fossil fuels; it is.

I am not saying the climate does not change; it does.

I am not saying that the atmosphere is not warmer today than it was 50 or 100 years ago; it is.

And I am not saying that carbon dioxide emissions are not likely to have caused some (probably more than half) of the warming since 1950.

The implications for energy policy are huge.

Also, I was delighted to find a piece of relevant science that was completely new to me. CO2 is proposed to have a direct effect and an indirect effect in raising global temperatures. Matt Ridley accepts the former and reject the latter. There is supposed to be threefold amplification of carbon dioxide’s warming potential, principally by extra water vapour released into the atmosphere by a warming ocean, and accumulating at high altitudes. However, NASA’s CERES data shows that there is a strong and significant, negative correlation: that higher temperatures lead to more cloud cooling.

There is so much more in this article, and I hope you will take the time to read it.

New Zealand Rugby – Crisis?

The BBC has today posted an article asking if New Zealand Rugby is in crisis? The BBC asserts that “these are dark times for New Zealand’s national sport, that has become mired in scandal”. This will be news to rugby fans in New Zealand, which is to say most of the nation.

The immediate spur for this article is presumably the recent release of video footage showing the starting All Black scrum half, Aaron Smith, entering a toilet cubicle with a woman who was not his partner.

They back this up by citing three other possible indiscretions:

  1. Members of a Super Rugby club, The Chiefs, were accused of sexually assaulting a woman at a club function.
  2. A teenager with the Wellington Lions was accused of assaulting four people.
  3. A former All Black, Dan Carter, is accused of failing a drugs test.

In none of these three cases has anyone been found guilty. The first two are history now, and Dan Carter denies the charge and will defend himself at a forthcoming hearing.

The BBC went on to say that it ” has asked New Zealand Rugby (NZR) how it maintains discipline and ensures that players remain role models”, noting sniffily that “NZR has yet to fully respond to our inquiry”. I very much doubt if NZR have any intention of indulging journalism as desperate as this.

Maybe there will be lots more of this leading up to The British & Irish Lions tour here next year, and through to the next World Cup. Because, just now, there is no sign of anything on the field of play that is going to upset this imperious All Blacks squad.

Or, maybe it was just a [very] slow news day in the UK.


Local Elections – Results

The results of the local elections here in New Zealand are in, and . . . Not much really. I asked a few people at a barbecue last night and they were unanimously uninterested. One thing they did share with me was that directly electing members of the Health Board was a nonsense. Over such a huge area, and with candidates running without party labels, voters have virtually no information to inform their vote.

Scanning the demographics of the mayoral election results did surprise me. Out of 67 Mayors, district council Chief Executives, elected there were:

48 White male.

13 White female.

3 Result not yet in.

3 Other.

Judging from the names and mug shots the three other were, all male, and; 1 Indian, 1 Chinese, 1 Maori.

I’m not sure what to make of that. Maybe the non-white population have more sense than to spend their time in local politics?

Oh, and there is a consensus on the main challenge facing these mayors, which will be familiar to UK electors. It is . . . the availability of affordable housing.

Local Elections in New Zealand

We have local elections coming up here and there are some striking differences from the UK, as well as similarities. There are actually three elections in this region; for Tasman District Council mayor,  Tasman District Council councillors, and for the Local District Health Board members.

The main differences:

  • The geography is enormous.
  • Voting is [almost] entirely by post.
  • Clearer understanding of council/board responsibilities.
  • Candidates run as individuals, not under any party banner.

And the similarities:

  • Mayor (Council Leader) is a full time post. Others part time.
  • Similar ratio of applicants to posts.
  • Limited knowledge of candidates amongst voters.

The geography is striking by UK standards. For comparison Tendring District Council (Clacton, Frinton and surrounds) covers 340 square kilometres and 140,000 people. Tasman District covers 10,000 square kilometres and 47,000 people. The Health Board, including three districts, covers 227,000 square kilometres and 145,000 people. Those zeros on the square kilometre figures here are not typos. The Health Board area here really does cover about the same number of people as Tendring District Council, but over an area nearly 1,000 times as large, or twice the size of Wales.

Possibly as a result of the geography voting is entirely by post. Papers were received in this household a week ago and the voting closes in a fortnight. You can vote in person, up to the closing date, but this is primarily for people who do not get their postal voting papers for some reason. There are concerns here, as in the UK, about fraudulent perversion of postal votes, though the long term solution here is seen as electronic voting. “Real Me”, a single point of eContact with NZ government already exists.

The relatively simple governance structure, in Tasman District, of [just] local council and central government makes it relatively clear what the responsibilities are. There is a Motueka town council, but its powers are minimal. The Health Board covers; hospitals, primary care and pharmacy. The District Council covers; planning and recreational facilities as well as water, sewage and roads. Schools are run nationally. That has to be better than the dogs breakfast of; European [currently], national, county, district, mayoral layers of government, plus the confusion between hospitals and local government of care of the elderly, plus the [increasing] range of different schools (Grammar, free, academy, faith, comprehensive . . .). I think it is fair to say that the electorate here are much clearer than in the UK, over what the people they elect are going to be responsible for. In most other parts of New Zealand there is Regional Council above the District.

The numbers of candidates / positions for each election are:

  • Tasman Mayor – 3 candidates for one position.
  • Tasman Councillors – 5 candidates for the three Motueka seats on Tasman District Council.
  • Health Board – 15 candidates for 7 positions.

This compares with the six candidates for two positions in the ward when I was elected as a local councillor in Clacton. There are similar rumblings here about the quality of some candidates, but it seems than in NZ as in the UK there is an adequate supply of adequate candidates for the system to work effectively. That may be helped in NZ by Councillors receiving NZ$38,000 pa (c £20,000 pa), compared to £5,000 in the UK. Each  district decides its own voting format, which means here that the Health Board uses Single Transferable Vote (STV) and the Council (Mayor and Councillors) uses First Past The Post.

And then we come to some familiar problems. The candidates a simply not well known. Voters do get an official list of candidates, including a short statement from each. And they run as individuals. No party affiliation to guide the voter here. Despite this turnout for local elections here is around 50%, compared to 35%-40% in the UK (for elections not coinciding with a national election).

The lack of knowledge seems to arise from a lack of media coverage of how these locally elected politicians are performing, which is strikingly similar to the UK. And, by and large, that reflects the general lack on interest amongst residents. Some issues raise the political pulse; TPIP, mineral extraction in national parks, but not many. Clearly it is that much easier in the internet age to do some research into the different candidates; though inevitably people do ask people they know, who they regard as more informed. That is not necessarily a bad thing as at least their vote is “informed”, when some votes in the UK might be criticised for being cast after consulting little more than their prejudices. The turnout does seem to indicate that more voters feel able and interested to vote than in the UK.

Is there anything the UK might learn from Tasman Council, about local elections. Maybe that clarity over responsibilities does facilitate effective democracy.


Racial Tolerance

Dame Susan Devoy recently launched a campaign to encourage New Zealander’s to identify and talk about racist incidents in New Zealand, as a way of ensuring that New Zealand remains a beacon of racial tolerance. You can read her open letter here.

As an incomer to New Zealand the lack of any racial tension is certainly something that you notice. The two main racial types are European and Maori, and the country is genuinely bi-cultural. There is an ongoing process of restitution to Maori communities over breaches of the Treaty of Waitangi (1840) by European, essentially British, settlers. Elsewhere in the world I am sure such a process would be controversial. In New Zealand it commands, as far as I am aware, universal support.

The letter does not mention “migrants” or “immigration”. However, the press conference to launch the campaign seems to have developed a life of its own. I cannot find a verbatim transcript or video of the event, but many newspapers report that Dame Susan said, amongst other things, the New Zealand “must not become as racist as Australia”! She also aid that “she did not want migrants being blamed for every issue and problem”. Maybe these outrageous comments are simply designed to raise the profile of the campaign launch.

However, it would be very sad if Dame Susan really was confusing concerns over immigration with racism. Clearly immigrants will sometimes come from a different racial type. However, if UK residents object to immigration, that relates to pressure on low-skilled jobs, education, healthcare, housing and social services; with no distinction as to whether the migrant is Nordic, Germanic, Latin, Slavic or indeed Eskimo.

I cannot help but feel it is rather sad that New Zealand should achieve global visibility over a program to combat racism, when race relations in New Zealand must be amongst the best in the world. I would also point out that Dame Susan is NOT an official of the New Zealand Government. The New Zealand Human Rights Commission, that Dame Susan sits on is an “Independent Crown Entity”.

New Zealand is indeed a wonderfully tolerant place and that is something that New Zealanders quietly get on with making a reality, with or without a news conference to launch a[nother] campaign.

Funding Conservation

This post is not just another plug for the wonder that is New Zealand. It is a suggestion about how we, in the UK, might make a greater contribution to funding conservation worldwide. What if the 0.7% of GDP that is currently a protected budget within UK government spending, was to be spent entirely on conservation?

I have just watched the third of the recent BBC series on the natural world of New Zealand.  The series may look, to anyone who has not been there, as though it should have been part funded by the New Zealand Tourist board. However, trust me, it really is that wonderful.

The genetic diversity of this planet is a precious treasure trove. The human race is morally its guardian, to preserve and enhance; not its owner, to plunder and degrade. Also, on a more prosaic, self-serving level, the genetic diversity of the planet is a gold mine of potential benefits for the human race. Think of the foods and medicines that have been developed from nature, and we have barely begun to explore the possible benefits. If you throw a 1M quadrant on the tropical forest floor, only some 1% of the species you find are already known to man. Of course the other 99% are not large, fluffy, endearing mammals. They tend to be plants, insects, worms, fungi and microbes – and we know absolutely nothing about them.

To preserve genetic diversity, and discover what those genes can actually do, requires the conservation of species, which requires the conservation of habitat. Large areas of habitat!

Developed nations have substantially degraded the natural habitat that they govern, so the most valuable habitats tend to be governed by poorer nations. And there are the oceans and poles not governed by any specific nation. Two particular problems arise with expecting poorer nations to bear the cost of the conservation effort that is required.

1 – There is no moral or intellectually coherent case to be made for denying less developed countries the habitat degrading path to development that was followed by developed nations.

2 – The wealth required for the scale of conservation effort required is [obviously] in wealthier countries rather than poorer countries.

The protection of the overseas development budget by the UK government is widely resented by UK tax payers. My suggestion here is that not only would spending 0.7% of UK GDP on conservation be a wonderful thing for the planet and future generations, but also that it could be politically popular. I for one would welcome this expenditure on conservation of habitat, species, and genetic diversity.

The NZ Department of Conservation (DOC) performs heroically, as the BBC program highlighted in the case of the Kakapo, but it is facing budget cuts as New Zealand struggles to find the funds that it considers necessary. New Zealand is indeed poorer than the UK, and “Yes” I would have some of this money going to projects in New Zealand. But also to projects in India, Africa, South America and the Pacific.

If we are going to ring fence the UK overseas development budget, surely this is how it should be spent.