Britain's new Independent Group, but will they all be able to look the same way? (Photo by Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images)

The Bulletin: British politics implodes with defections left and right

Good morning, and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: More defections shake British politics, massive hole in NZ’s biosecurity defences revealed, and Privacy Commissioner makes intervention in self-ID debate.

We’re going international today, because there have been hugely significant developments in British politics overnight. The established party system in Britain is imploding, with MPs from both major parties splitting off to form a new group. Organising under the not remotely catchy banner of The Independent Group, they are decrying what they see as the extremism taking hold in both major parties. While the conditions will be unique to Britain, in general terms we’re about to see a fascinating experiment in parliamentary politics. Is there really a place for a party that operates in the so-called centre ground of politics?

The group’s membership is now up to 11 MPs, with more expected to join, which bear in mind is out of a parliament of 650. The developments overnight, from the BBC, are that three Conservative MPs have split from their party to join the eight former Labour MPs who have left that party over the course of the week. That already catapults them to being the 4th equal largest group in the parliament. The Guardian reports that the Conservative MPs who left say that modernisation efforts within the party have been destroyed by the hard right, who now control it in every meaningful way. Having former Conservative MPs on board in turn give The Independent Group far more legitimacy too, given previously it was comprised solely of former Labour MPs on the outer from the current leadership. It also makes it possible that they won’t be able to agree on much within their new parties either.

The odds seem long for any new party to break through the inherent electoral unfairness of Britain’s first past the post system, but writing on politics.co.uk, editor Ian Dunt writes that it could be the shake that the moribund party system needs. On the other hand, writing on Novara Media, left-winger Aaron Bastani says the project will be a disaster, because they don’t seem to have a distinct agenda or any clarity around what they actually stand for. That has long been a criticism of these sorts of centrist movements – that they quickly descend into wooly platitudes rather than pursuing a meaningful political programme. And it may well be that voters see this all as one great big jolly game for the political elite to be playing, with little relevance to their lives.

Apart from a sense that their parties have left them behind, all of the group so far back remaining on the question of Brexit, which neither major party supports, but about half the country does. But that doesn’t necessarily matter, because MPs have been breaking party lines constantly on Brexit anyway, and no election has been called, so the new group doesn’t change things there. The deadline for exiting remains March 29, and exiting with no deal continues to seem like the most likely option. This is where the direct relevance to New Zealand comes in – MPI is currently publishing information for exporters about what to do in case of no deal, and as the NZ Herald reports, there will likely be significant difficulties for NZ companies if that happens. If this new group can delay or even stop Brexit, they may well end up doing one of their former colonies a favour.


A massive potential hole in New Zealand’s biosecurity defences has been discovered, in the form of cruise ships. Newshub has revealed that thousands of passengers have arrived on land without being checked by MPI sniffer dogs, and MPI also doesn’t have detailed records for the food on a lot of the ships. The biosecurity minister Damien O’Connor says it’s not good enough, and has ordered a review. We can’t conclude that this is how the foreign fruit flies are getting in, but this is one way that can’t be ruled out.


Privacy commissioner John Edwards has waded into the tense debate around transgender self-identification. Writing on The Spinoff, he argues that this is a fundamental question of human rights, and that a law change to allow changing the listed gender on a birth certificate will help transgender people live with dignity. The debate over the proposed law change has largely taken place outside of mainstream news, but with a furious intensity all the same.


Police have admitted that their chain of custody for Pike River mine evidence wasn’t up to scratch in the days after the explosion, reports Stuff. At the time, the collection and recording of evidence was described as disorganised, and that was only rectified later in the piece. It’s worth bearing in mind that when Pike River is re-entered, the miners who go in have been trained in forensic techniques, in case further evidence can be gathered. Writing on The Spinoff, journalist Rebecca Macfie, who has written a book about the tragedy, breaks down in simple terms exactly why the missing evidence matters.


We tend to assume that lawmakers will act in the national interest, rather than their personal interests. But we also probably shouldn’t forget that various law changes will have an effect on their lives and finances. That’s basically the thrust of this Newsroom piece, which notes that many MPs who have come out against a possible capital gains tax also own significant amounts of property and business interests.

ACT’s David Seymour is a stark exception here – he’s virulently opposed to a CGT, but like every true millennial owns no property. Remember, this is all completely publicly available information, so if you want to have a look through the register of interests and see which MPs own what, have a gander here.


Lime scooters could be kicked off Auckland’s streets very soon, over concerns the fleet isn’t safe, reports Radio NZ. Auckland Transport’s message to Lime is that software and mechanical failures are completely unacceptable, and that Lime’s response to those concerns has been too slow. There’s another very curious development in all of this – it turns out the way for Limes to be introduced was smoothed by former Labour Party president Mike Williams, who was paid to make introductions on their behalf.


So yesterday I suggested that deputy PM Winston Peters might owe Dame Jenny Shipley an apology, over a column that it turns out she didn’t write. Mr Peters clearly disagrees with that assessment, reports Radio NZ, and has in fact doubled down on his attack, saying they are her words (technically true) and that she needs to explain them. PM Jacinda Ardern has basically kept out of it all, while National leader Simon Bridges says it’s Mr Peters who is at fault for alleged cracks in the relations between the two countries. Dame Jenny herself hasn’t made any further comment since yesterday.

Meanwhile, we’ve got a fascinating piece on The Spinoff about this whole relationship situation – are we in danger of over-reading tiny signs as diplomatically momentous? Massey University politics expert Bethan Greener argues that we might have jumped to conclusions a bit too frequently over the last few weeks.


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John Lambie and the company. Image courtesy of Stuart Lloyd-Harris

Right now on The Spinoff: Our Two Freelancers ponder how much money they’ll need for retirement, as people currently in their 20s. Dylan Reeve rolls his eyes at people who say they’ve been ‘hacked’, when really they’ve just left themselves open. And Tony McCaffrey writes about putting on stage performances for people with intellectual disabilities.


I’m totally convinced animals are far, far smarter and more aware of the world than we give them credit, so found this article fascinating. Published by The Atlantic, it takes a bird hospital in India, and uses that for a wider meditation on the nature of animal consciousness. Crows in particular are seen as very clever at problem solving – but does that necessarily make them conscious beings? Here’s an excerpt:

“A few days after the crow arrived, it started using a special call when it wanted food,” Singh said. “None of the other birds do that.” The bird’s call was not an entirely unique case of bird-to-human communication. A grey parrot once amassed a 900-word vocabulary, and in India, a few have been trained to recite the Vedic mantras. But birds have only rarely assembled verbal symbols into their own, original proto-sentences. And, of course, none has declared itself conscious.

That’s too bad, because philosophers tend to regard such statements as the best possible evidence of another being’s consciousness, even among humans. Without one, no matter how long I stared into the crow’s black pupil, wishing I could see into the phantasmagoria of its mind, I could never really know whether it was conscious. I’d have to be content with circumstantial evidence.


Could New Zealand host the 2023 Netball World Cup? Newsroom reports there’s a tussle going on between this country and South Africa for the right to host that tournament, with NZ Netball hoping to get the tournament for a year they will celebrate their centenary. It also comes as the sport looks to fend off challengers for participants and fans, though any World Cup would be held entirely in Auckland, which would limit its nationwide appeal somewhat.

Finally, congratulations to Ross Taylor, who is now NZ’s highest-ever scoring ODI batsman. Taylor brought up the milestone in an otherwise entirely forgettable series against Bangladesh, and says retirement is still a long way from his mind.

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