New Zealand Political Mix

With New Zealand gearing up for one of its triennial parliamentary elections later this year, there is more interest than usual in the polls. These are less frequent than in the UK.. The latest one shows this:

National  46% Conservatives
NZ First  11% UKIP
Labour  30% Labour
Greens  11% Lib. Dem.
Other ( Mana /   Maori / ACT ) 2%

The right hand column above shows the very, very rough read-across from English politics. It is all eerily familiar.

What is different is the electoral system, which is Mixed-Member Proportional (MMP). That is to say there are constituencies with a first past the post system, and there is a list system to ensure proportionality in the final result. The slight oddity is that it is possible for a party or parties to “over-achieve” in the constituency section in a way that cannot be rebalanced by the list section. This results in the normal 120 seat parliament having extra seats. So, in 2008 the Maori party won 5 seats in the constituency section, rather than the 3 they were entitled to by their share of the vote. So that parliament ended up with 122 members.

As you can see National is closest to a majority, and they would need to do something pretty remarkable to take over 50% of the vote. In fact no party has had an overall majority for more than 20 years. The current government is a minority National administration.

Is that good or bad? Well NZ currently has a 0.5% (and rising)budget surplus, an unemployment rate around 5% (and falling), and national debt around 30% of GDP (and falling). Government spending is 35% of GDP (and falling). Comparable figures for the UK are; -5% ie budget deficit (and falling slowly), 5% (and static), 85% (and static), and 43% (and static). Optimists might point out that official projections are a tad more positive for the UK than my comments in brackets. So that is all pretty positive for NZ – and it is a cracking place to live, outside Auckland at least. Auckland does suffer in a small way from the usual problems of large cities; house prices, commuting, public transport, cost of living.

Is New Zealand’s relative success helped or hindered by its political system? Well residents seem pretty happy, judging by the way they vote. There is not the same anti-establishment groundswell in NZ that gave us Brexit and Trump. My read across from NZ First to UKIP may have given NZ First a more rebellious shine that they have yet earned. But they are tentatively exploring anti-establishment territory. So maybe . . .



UK Employment Figures

There is the usual difference of view over the latest figures in the UK from the Labour Force Survey reported by the ONS (Organisation for National Statistics).

The Daily Telegraph goes with: “Nearly 450,000 more migrants are working in the UK while the number of British-born people in work has fallen by 120,000, according to new figures.”

The Guardian goes with: “Of the 303,000 more people in work between October and December compared with a year earlier, 233,000 were non-UK nationals, taking the total to 3.48 million according to the Office for National Statistics. UK nationals working in Britain increased by 70,000 over the same period to 28.44 million.”

British workers “falling”, or British workers “rising”. Take your pick. This difference lies in whether we regard being “British” as “British born” or “British nationals”. For what it is worth, I am a British national, born in Ghana.

This is clearly a difficult area. Looking on the BBC website, I find . . . absolutely nothing on this important topic!

The Guardian goes on to say in a related article on wages that: “Employers have also been able to find workers from overseas. Between the final three months of 2015 and the final three months of 2016, the number of people employed rose by just over 300,000. Of those, 70,000 were UK nationals and 230,000 were non-UK nationals. The increase in the supply of labour has helped to keep the lid on wage increases.”

Eh! This is the Guardian, and they note that the availability of non-British labour, whichever way you define it, has “helped” to keep the lid on wage increases. HELPED!

If you are one of the traditional working class people in the Stoke Central constituency who  voted for “Leave” in the Brexit referendum, I imagine that you would rather view wage increases as not just a very good thing, but a suitable objective of government policy.

The liberal elite see the quarterly ONS employment numbers as a pit of vipers to be treated with extreme care, or not at all (BBC). Is there any other issue that encapsulates so clearly the yawning gulf between the UK electorate and the elite who have mis-governed them for so long?


Abortion – Mexico City Policy

In general, I write about the differences between the UK and New Zealand. In this case the similarity is striking. Donald Trump’s decision to issue an executive order re-imposing the ban on NGOs that provide abortion services or offering information about abortions if they receive US funding, has been stridently condemned in the UK and in New Zealand.

It is the lead opinion piece in The Guardian today. And it is the lead article on Stuff. Both take aim at this picture in particular:

This might, of course, be the usual luvvies in the Main Stream Media – but it is an opinion shared by my those I talk to here. Summed up nicely by Martin Belam, Social & New Formats Editor at The Guardian, who tweeted; “As long as you live you’ll never see a photograph of 7 women signing legislation about what men can do with their reproductive organs”.

Presumably this will be reversed by the next president. In the meantime it is hard not to worry that this will not prevent abortions, but it will prevent safe abortions.


New Zeland Electoral Role.

I have just received a letter from the electoral commission her in New Zealand informing me that if I qualify as an elector then I am “required by law to be on the electoral roll”. Actually, I do not qualify. Though I will qualify if , as planned, I gain residency in New Zealand later this year. Two thoughts came to mind.

First; I do not know how they knew of me; bank account, driver’s license, house purchase, work visa? But, I am impressed that the electoral commission is sufficiently on the ball to know that I exist. Further, the letter came from a named person with a phone number and an email. An exchange of emails confirmed that I do not [currently] qualify, within a day. How easy is that!

Second; what a good idea to make it compulsory to be on the electoral role. It takes all the debate about sections of society being under-represented on the electoral role completely out of play. Also, it allows time to ensure that the electoral role is not begin tampered with in some way. If there is a rush of registrations leading up to an election, it will inevitably be difficult to check for fraudulent registrations. However, over the parliamentary election cycle, three years here in New Zealand, it is clearly possible to do a more thorough job.



Global Temperatures – A Curiosity

2016 was the warmest year since reliable records began in 1979. It exceeded the previous hottest year, 1998, by 0.02°C. The surface of the earth (the lower troposphere to be precise) has been warming by 0.001°C per year over the last 19 years. There was a significant El Nino associated spike in temperature early in 2016. December 2016 was the coldest month since September 2014.

What is curious is the coverage. Here in New Zealand there has been coverage on national television and in the press. We turn to NIWA (National Institute of Water and Atmospheric research) as our primary source for data relating to New Zealand. They inform us that 2016 was 0.8°C above the 1981-2010 annual average. This is a big number. Sadly, they use a “seven-station series”. These are ground stations, and given the liberties that have been taken with the ground station series for the world as a whole, it is difficult to be confident that this figure is all it seems. Satellite data for New Zealand is available and NIWA could, and should, be using that.

For interest the satellite data for the world shows that the world was 0.5°C hotter in 2016 than the 1981-2010 average. And, remember that 1981-2010 is a very odd reference period. It includes a period, 1981-1998, when the world was warming; and a period, 1998-2010 when the world was not warming (actually cooling very slightly).

And in the UK . . .  Well not a lot. A search of the Guardian and Independent websites brings up nothing. Do they feel that the current cold conditions in Europe make this a bad time to run their usual global warming narrative? Are they disappointed that the rise is so close to zero as make no difference? Are they worried that 2017 seems destined to be cooler than 2016?

This last possibility deserves a little clarification. How can I be so certain on Jan 10th 2017 that 2017 will be cooler than 2016? Well, 2016 was a exceptional year, as was 1998. No other years come close. And 2017 is starting cold. So 2017 would have to change from being cool by recent standards to being exceptionally hot by recent standards, for it to compare with 1998 and 2016.

Whilst the Global Warming crowd work out how to play this, the rest of us may remain sceptical.

UN Resolution 2334

There has been plenty of coverage of the vote in the UN Security Council condemning Israel for its settlements in the occupied territories, in the UK media. It even commanded editorial comment, such as this from Simon Tisdall in the Guardian. However, as far as I can find it, nothing in the New Zealand press. Not a Dickie bird! Which is especially odd given that New Zealand was one of the non-permanent members, final month of the two year membership, that voted for the resolution; and was one of the two countries singled out by Israel to have their ambassador withdrawn.

For those of you who feel that the press reporting has overstated the severity of the wording in this resolution, please do have a look for yourself here. In this case the journalists are doing no more than reporting the facts.

Hopefully, the lack of reporting in NZ shows that New Zealanders are less concerned with geopolitics and more concerned with getting on with their lives. I think Queen Elizabeth II would approve.

Liberal Values

In the England that I grew up in it has always been assumed that being “liberal” was a good thing. All right-thinking, educated people would have a “liberal” outlook on the world. In the UK, as in New Zealand, national politics has offered a choice of two parties offering remarkably similar “liberal” policies; centre-right (Conservative and National parties respectively), and centre-left (Labour and Labour parties respectively).

However, that “liberal” consensus has vanished, and those with a “liberal” outlook don’t seem to have noticed. They have forgotten that truth comes in many shades of grey. The rail against a “post-truth” culture because they no longer hold a monopoly on deciding what is true.

Sweden’s Minister for Culture and Democracy writes to Facebook calling on them to censor fake news voluntarily or the government will compel them to do so. Mark Thompson writes in the Guardian that we are “in a battle . . . between facts and lies.” And he singles out the New York Times, where he is CEO, and the Guardian as the kinds of news sources that “believe in the opposite of fake news”. He even has the temerity to state that in order to be properly informed peole should pay to hear his views.

But he is precisely the kind of “liberal” that believes the world is warming AS A FACT and that the £350m per week claim by leavers in the Brexit campaign was flat out wrong AS A FACT. In both cases there is more than reasonable grounds to take the opposite view from his own.

As I wrote on 15th Nov the satellite data shows no meaningful warming since 1998. And the fiscal pick up from Brexit is certain to be greater than £350, if only because outside the EU we will be able to require multi-national to pay corporation tax on their UK activities in the UK; regardless of the view you may take on the safety of our current rebate had we remained.

At one point Mark Thompson did acknowledge the old advice that you should “expose yourself to multiple sources of news”. Just now it seems that it is only the British media who do not trust people, especially electors, to do that. I have seen no such comparable tendency to censorship or paying for news and opinion here in New Zealand.


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.