8 things at 8am: Little faces possible leadership vote; Consents fall

Labour MPs are arriving in Wellington for the weekly caucus meeting - and possibly to vote between Jacinda Ardern and Andrew Little to take the party into the election. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

1. Little's leadership in the balance

Andrew Little's leadership and Labour's slump in this week's polls into the low 20s will be at the top of the agenda when its Parliamentary caucus holds its weekly meeting later this morning in Wellington.

Little pulled out of his regular Tuesday morning media appearances to prepare for the meeting. There are reports he faces a vote of no confidence, and an actual vote of no confidence would damage Little's leadership fatally, regardless of the result. He would be more likely to step down before such a vote if it was clear he did not have the numbers. Those numbers are being done right now.

He and Labour face a stark choice: either he fights on and Labour risks another three years in opposition, or he falls on his sword and the party takes the chance that Deputy Leader Jacinda Ardern will catch the electorate's imagination in the less than eight weeks before the vote on September 23.

Meanwhile, the polls got even uglier for Labour and Little yesterday.

Newshub's Reid Research poll published last night showed support for Labour fell 2.5 percentage points in the last six weeks to 24.1 percent, which was a record low for this poll and down from 30.8 in March. Support for the Green party rose 0.5 percent to 13 percent, while New Zealand First rose 3.6 points to be 13 percent.

These support levels were record highs for both Green and New Zealand First in the Reid Research poll and came as National fell 2.2 points to 45.2 percent, its lowest result in this poll since just before the last election.

New Zealand First has been the biggest beneficiary of the destabilisation of support for the major parties in last two months. The combined opposition vote in the Reid Research poll is now over 52 percent and as disunited and chaotic as the opposition appears at the moment, they actually have the numbers to change the Government.

Just as Labour's support is soft, so is National's. The electorate appears particularly volatile, as it has been in other elections recently overseas. It's anyone's guess what a potential change of Labour leader might do for the electoral calculations.

Winston Peters' support as preferred Prime Minister rose 2.2 points to 11.9 percent, also a record high for this poll. And ominously for Little, Ardern's support rose 2.1 points to 8.7 percent, while Little's fell to 7.0 percent from 7.1 percent.

With high migration continuing it is worth remembering the historical correlation between support for New Zealand First and the level of non-New Zealand citizen permanent arrivals. This would suggest New Zealand First is headed for well over 10 percent on September 23 and be firmly in the Kingmaker position.

We will report immediately for Newsroom Pro as soon as we have a result from the Labour Caucus meeting.

2. 'Reverse the billboard Jacinda'

One of the stranger objections to Labour changing leaders less than eight weeks before the election is that it would have to change all its billboards, which were put up earlier this month and feature Little and Ardern grinning in tandem at voters.

Newsroom's Tim Murphy wrote a comment piece on Newsroom late yesterday pointing out that the symbolic and financial challenge of changing campaign imagery should be the least of its concerns.

He points to the billboard above on the corner of Dominion and Balmoral roads in Auckland featuring Andrew Little and Jacinda Ardern on one side, with the "A Fresh Approach" slogan.
On the other side of the wooden frame is another Labour board - that one just for Jacinda Ardern, Mt Albert.

"Just take Ardern's solo picture and paste it over the double image currently adorning the red signs around the country. Edit the slogan too, graffiti-style with the addition of two white letters to make it "A Fresher Approach". Take your marks, reset, go," Tim writes.

"If this trivialises the existential crisis facing Little and the Labour caucus, it is meant to. Labour is past the point of sweating the small stuff."

See Tim's full comment piece here on Newsroom.

3. Building consents fall

Aside from public concern about migration, the Government is also struggling to get housing supply rising at the rate needed to keep up with the record high migration, particularly in Auckland.

Statistics New Zealand reported yesterday that dwelling consents fell 1.0 percent in seasonally adjusted terms in June from May.

The nationwide trend measure of consents rose in June from May, but is being driven by consent increases in cities apart from Auckland Christchurch.

The actual number of consents in June in Auckland rose to 906 in June from May, but was below the 921 reported in June 2016. The trend measure in Auckland fell again to 802 in June and has been falling from a high of 883 in September last year.

There were 10,364 consents issued in Auckland in the year to June, but that remains well below the 14,000 per year seen necessary to keep up with population demand, let alone eat into the existing shortage of around 40,000.

There are also concerns about just how many of those consents are turning into actual houses. RNZ reported more refined Auckland Council data on Code Certificate Completions (CCCs) showing just 6,260 houses were completed in calendar 2016 and that there were 6,827 houses completed in the year to May. Statistics New Zealand has reported that 10,379 homes were consented in the year to May.

The Government has repeatedly contested the view that the building consent figures are not accurate, saying that over time 99 percent of consents turn into houses.

4. Decile system to end

There was actually some election policy news around yesterday, with the Government confirming its plans to replace the decile system for funding schools with a risk-based system.

Newsroom's National Affairs Editor Shane Cowlishaw reports the current system, which ranks schools from one to 10 based on the socio-economic ranking of each school's community, will be replaced with a new risk index that assesses individual children enrolled at a school.

Unlike the decile rankings, this will not be published publicly, in an attempt to stop parents judging a school by its number.

Education Minister Nikki Kaye had already signalled her distaste of the decile system and announced on Monday that Cabinet had agreed it would come to an end in either 2019 or 2020.

“At the moment some parents have seen the decile number and thought that that is somehow a measurement of the school when actually it’s just a crude calibration of the socio-economic income of a particular neighbourhood,” Kaye said.

The key number that surprised me was that only three percent of school funding is related to the decile system. Kaye has pledged that no school will be worse off with the new system.

See Shane's full report over at Newsroom Pro, where it was published first yesterday.

5. Turning the young on to voting

Victoria University is holding a week of events this week in Wellington to dive deep into the very topical issue of democracy. We'll be covering the events and I'll be going today to one on how to halt the creeping decline in political engagement.

Yesterday, Newsroom's Sam Sachdeva covered the first event on why so many under 30s avoid the ballot box.

Children’s Commissioner Judge Andrew Becroft described the issue as “something of a crisis for democracy”, pointing to the fact that at the last election, four in every 10 young Kiwis did not vote - the highest percentage of any age group.Becroft said the youth vote was “a big bloc”, with nearly 600,000 Kiwis aged between 18 and 29.

“If those numbers that I talked about were pulled together and the issues that we've all raised were taken seriously, and on my part particularly the issues of child income-related poverty, material disadvantage...that issue alone could reach headline levels...It would be an extraordinary, powerful voting bloc and I don’t think anything like its power has been unleashed.”

See Sam's full report on Newsroom Pro, where it was published first on Newsroom Pro yesterday. Full disclosure: Victoria University is a foundation supporter of Newsroom.

6. While you were sleeping

If you thought Labour political dramas were something, they're nothing like the gold-leafed standard for turmoil: the White House.

You couldn't make this stuff up. US President Donald Trump decided overnight to remove Anthony Scaramucci from the role as Communications Director just 10 days after he was appointed. The New York Times reported new Chief of Staff John Kelly (not Kerry as I put in yesterday's email - apologies) insisted Scaramucci go. Scaramucci had bragged he reported direct to Trump rather than the Chief of Staff.

Donald Trump tweeted that there was no White House chaos.

Meanwhile, on the slightly less chaotic other side of the Atlantic, Theresa May announced the free movement of EU citizens to Britain would end in March 2019, which appears to be hard Brexit. (Reuters)

7. Coming up...

Labour's Parliamentary caucus will hold a meeting to decide on the Labour leadership later this morning.

Victoria University continues its Democracy Week programme of events in Wellington this week. Today it holds a session on its Kelburn campus at 12.30: "What would it take to halt the creeping decline in political engagement and inject some life into twenty-first century democracy? #dogsatpollingstations? Or something more fundamental?" See a lot more about the week's events over at Newsroom.

8. Some fun things

Twitter was at its best this morning riffing on the latest sacking in the White House.

Scaramucci did the fandango and then he was let go. Then there was some thunderbolt and lightning...

The tweet of the week came this morning came from Matthew Gertz:

"TRUMP: Bismillah! No, we will not let you go KELLY: Let him go! TRUMP: Bismillah! We will not let you go KELLY: Let him go! TRUMP: OK!"

Simon Maloy: "Scaramucci resigning to spend less time with his family."

Sam Baker: "John Kelly, are you available to help me get my life in order, too?"

Crime writer Ian Rankin: "I've got stuff in the fridge that's been around longer than Scaramucci..."

Eds: That's enough.