In this morning's email we covered the latest developments in the National Party leadership contest.
1. Poll pressure on contenders
National's five leadership contenders (Steven Joyce joined this morning) don't have to wonder any more how tough it will be to lead their party back into power in 2020 without Bill English and up against Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
Last night TVNZ broadcast the results of a Colmar Brunton poll taken from February 10 to 14. English announced on February 13 he would resign, which has opened a very open but mostly civil leadership contest (so far). Colmar Brunton confirmed just 25 percent of the polling was done after the announcement.
Labour surged nine points to a 15-year high of 48 percent in the poll of 1,000 voters, with 50 percent of the poll taken on landlines and 50 percent on mobiles. Ardern has effectively doubled Labour's support in seven months to a level just below Labour's record post-MMP high of 51 percent set in July 2003 (when English was also the National leader).
National fell three points to 43 percent. Ardern's support as preferred Prime Minister rose four percent to 41 percent, while English's support fell eight points to 20 percent.
But it wasn't all good news for the Labour-led Government. Support for the Greens fell two points to five percent, while support for New Zealand First fell two points to three percent, which is below the threshold required for re-election. Support for Winston Peters as preferred Prime Minister fell one point to four percent.
The poll shows Ardern and the Labour Government have consolidated and strengthened their immediate post-election popularity, having completed their 100-day plan, successfully attended Waitangi Day events and delighted voters of all colours with a pregnancy. The economy is trucking along solidly too, as the latest consumer confidence indication showed.
The Colmar Brunton poll also found 37 percent of people expected the economy to get better, up one point from the same question asked in December. There were 33 percent who thought it would get worse, down three points from December.
2. And then there were five
The big event yesterday in political terms was Mark Mitchell's declaration of intent to seek the National leadership, joining Judith Collins, Simon Bridges and Amy Adams as the contenders.
But that was trumped this morning by Steven Joyce's declaration he was in the race too. This surprised a few people, including quite a few in his own party. He is not seen as popular in the caucus, despite his clear seniority and track record as National's strategist and campaign manager during nine years of Government.
His failure to stop Winston Peters winning Northland in 2015 and National's failure to negotiate a deal with Winston Peters (who blamed Joyce and English personally for leaking his pension details) count against him. Joyce's decision to accuse Labour falsely of having a $11.7 billion fiscal black hole has also blotted his copybook.
"I've had a huge amount of people from inside and outside caucus saying I should stand," Joyce said.
His intervention raises the stakes significantly for National's old guard and threatens to break open a mostly civilised debate into a clash between a new generation of MPs frustrated by Joyce's control of the party and Joyce's determination to keep the old gang together.
"My view is it has always been about the National Party, it's not about me personally," Joyce told Hosking.
Labour's leadership group will be rubbing its hands together for the next seven days of divisions and debate within a National caucus that is watching its polling drop as the contest goes on.
3. Mark Mitchell's return to Orewa
Every leadership announcement has been different, but Mark Mitchell's decision to jump into the race at his local beach of Orewa was the most unusual, and the most remote from the cauldron of the Press Gallery in Wellington.
Newsroom Co-Editor Tim Murphy jumped in a car for a trip to the beach, and wrote this scene piece from Orewa yesterday.
Moments before Mark Mitchell emerged as National’s fourth leadership contender, his people at the Orewa Surf Club wheeled out a little 4WD towing a surf lifesaving rescue boat.
Mitchell came around the corner, shook the hand of the on-hand celebrity Zac Franich, the club’s head coach, who happens to also be The Bachelor, and marched confidently to the spot for his launch press conference.
He started with an informal apology to the parliamentary press gallery in Wellington for having held this announcement in Orewa, 30 minutes north of the Auckland Harbour Bridge. The effect was that he had to face a B-list or C-list of political journalists, which might have made his first campaign outing a little easier.
Mitchell is a confident and affable bloke, open-neck shirt, with his wife Peggy Bourne beside him and with that smoke-grey hair and olive complexion of a younger Doug Graham.
The setting was important to him. He’s patron of the surf club, they’re his people in his home town in the heart of his Rodney electorate. Media who had set up cameras 20 metres further along the beachfront were re-directed by his campaign guy to the exact point Mitchell would stand, so the water and the Whangaparaoa Peninsula headland, 4WD and inflatable boat could sit nicely in shot behind him.
Not for him the posse of MP backers like Amy Adams had employed. Or the parliamentary foyer deployed by Simon Bridges. Judith Collins had no frivolous event – just a tweet, a statement and media interviews.
Here Mitchell was, in his outdoors setting, man of action, man of the people.
4. A big shift in the Press Gallery
Newsroom's Co-Editor Mark Jennings picked up yesterday on a new milestone in New Zealand's media scene.
The appointment of Jessica Mutch as TVNZ's political editor means the biggest offices in the Parliamentary Press Gallery are now all run by women, including the NZ Herald (Audrey Young), RNZ (Jane Patterson), Stuff (Tracy Watkins) and Newshub (Tova O'Brien). TVNZ's Katie Bradford is also the Press Gallery's chair.
The next biggest office in the gallery is Newsroom, led by yours truly.
It was once true that women held few senior editorial or management positions in the media but those days are long gone.
Sinead Boucher is now the CEO of Stuff after being its Editor, Bernadette Courtney is Editor of the Dominion Post, Carol Hirschfeld is head of content (including news) at RNZ, Miri Alexander is Editor of the Herald on Sunday and until she left recently, Joanna Norris was Editor of The Press in Christchurch.
Both TVNZ and Newshub have women in senior editorial positions. Numerically, across all media there are more female reporters than male reporters.
The changes in the parliamentary press gallery are the most striking though.
Being “pale, male and stale” is so 2017.
In addition to the departing Paddy Gower from TV3 and Corin Dann from TVNZ, the long-serving and respected Vernon Small (Dominion Post) and Alex Tarrant (Interest.co.nz) have gone to be Labour press secretaries. The doyen of the gallery, Ian Templeton, has retired after the demise of the subscription-only Trans-Tasman newsletter.
5. 'Don't trust them. Just regulate'
The Government has kicked the sugar tax issue to touch since the election with Health Minister David Clark opting for the voluntary regulation route.
Anti-obesity campaigners are far from convinced, as Newsroom's Thomas Coughlan reported first here on Newsroom Pro.
6. Briefly in the political economy...
Ardern eyes break-in - Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has expressed concerns about a break-in at the home of an academic investigating Chinese influence in New Zealand, saying she will “ask some questions” of officials.
However, Ardern has dismissed Canterbury University professor Anne-Marie Brady’s claims that New Zealand is lagging behind Australia in combating foreign influence. Brady, whose Magic Weapons paper made waves around the world last September with its illustrations of Chinese soft and hard power in New Zealand, revealed the break-ins last Thursday while speaking remotely to the Australian Parliament’s intelligence and security committee.
Her Upper Riccarton house was broken into last Wednesday, which she said was particularly suspicious, the NZ Herald reported. Three laptops, including one used for work, and phones were stolen. No valuables were taken, she said.
That followed a break-in at her office last December. She also received a warning letter last week “that I was about to be attacked”.
Speaking at her weekly press conference on Monday, Ardern said she had only seen media reports of the break-in, but would be seeking further information.
“If it were in response to the work she’s doing, everyone would be concerned, so certainly if there’s evidence of that we should be taking stock of it and taking action…
CPTPP detail - At her weekly post-Cabinet press conference yesterday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern confirmed the Government would tomorrow release the national interest analysis for the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, better known as the CPTPP.
Ardern said she was hopeful the full text for the CPTPP free trade deal (formerly known as the TPP) could be released at the same time, although that was out of New Zealand’s hands as not all parties had agreed to its release - the cause of some frustration for the Government.
Pacific trip - Ardern also confirmed a trip to the Pacific in early March, taking in Tonga, Samoa, Niue and the Cook Islands over four days.
She said the Government had considered whether to call off the trip, planned before Tropical Cyclone Gita which has battered parts of Tonga and Samoa.
It had decided to push ahead, but with a smaller delegation than usual and with a focus on recovery efforts in the countries. Ardern will be accompanied by Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters, along with other MPs, Pasifika community leaders and NGO representatives.
Newsroom Pro’s foreign affairs and trade editor Sam Sachdeva will be with Ardern throughout the trip, with full coverage on Newsroom Pro.
7. One fun thing...
Who would have thunk it. A Russian curler failed a doping test at the Olympics.
Only in Russia has the scoop via Twitter: "The one sport you thought was immune from doping."
8. This morning's political links
These are available in the morning subscriber email.