Nats’ ar­ro­gance the most fa­tal of blows

Bill English is warn­ing of third term-itis and his party needs to lis­ten.

Sunday Star-Times - - FOCUS - Stacey Kirk

MPs like to claim their party alone gets ‘‘the is­sues real New Zealan­ders care about’’. But Na­tional MPs are look­ing cocky three months away from an elec­tion; that’s a big prob­lem.

On one level, it’s un­der­stand­able; Na­tional’s polling is telling them that af­ter nine years in Gov­ern­ment, they’re still strong, which also matched re­cent me­dia polls.

But no party should be tak­ing com­fort in polls, and if the past week has taught MPs on both sides any­thing, it’s that com­pla­cency is a killer.

Clutha-South­land MP Todd Bar­clay did not sur­vive his brush with ar­ro­gance, but the mis­han­dling of an em­ploy­ment dis­pute seem­ingly brought about by a ca­bal of elec­torate of­fi­cials with equally over-sized egos is not a crime.

Record­ing some­one else’s pri­vate con­ver­sa­tions, though, is – al­though Bar­clay may have had rea­son to be­lieve he’d got away with it.

But if Prime Min­is­ter Bill English hadn’t been caught in the same storm – ar­guably thanks to his own blither­ing in­con­sis­tency – Bar­clay might still have a job and not be star­ing down the prospect of a re­newed crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Bar­clay does not stand alone at the gal­lows of poor judge­ment.

Ju­nior min­is­ter Al­fred Ngaro’s com­ments at a re­gional party con­fer­ence last month, where he openly bragged about hav­ing the power to pu­n­ish any­one who bagged the Gov­ern­ment, by with­hold­ing their tax­payer fund­ing, were chill­ing for their im­plied at­ti­tude to­wards democ­racy.

As­so­ciate Health Min­is­ter Nicky Wag­ner’s tweet that she’d rather be on the Waitem­ata Har­bour on a sunny day than in meet­ings with the dis­abil­ity sec­tor just showed a mo­ronic in­abil­ity to check her priv­i­lege.

When English de­liv­ered his open­ing re­marks at the party’s an­nual con­fer­ence in Welling­ton yes­ter­day, he ham­mered the mes­sage home.

‘‘Even when on the cam­paign trail we find pol­icy dif­fer­ences, no doubt with our pro­test­ers out­side, we need to be con­fi­dent that we’re still lis­ten­ing, that we can back the de­ci­sions we’ve made in what is now nine years in gov­ern­ment, but we can still hear what should be heard so we can de­liver for New Zealan­ders in the fu­ture.’’

English will de­liver his for­mal ad­dress to the rank and file this af­ter­noon and equally, im­press the need to avoid third-ter­mi­tis (with

Nicky Wag­ner showed a mo­ronic in­abil­ity to check her priv­i­lege.

some added tub-thump­ing to talk down the Op­po­si­tion).

And cer­tainly, Labour has a se­ri­ous cred­i­bil­ity is­sue over whether it’s sim­ply com­pe­tent enough to run a coun­try.

They could have been play­ing foot­ball with an en­emy’s head this week.

In­stead, they took a broadsword to their own kneecaps when it emerged the party en­ticed 85 ‘‘fel­lows’’ to New Zealand from around the world with the prom­ise of lec­tures from Helen Clark and a bevy of cur­rent am­bas­sadors.

The un­paid in­terns ar­rived to a cramped marae dor­mi­tory, no lec­tures, and a bro­ken shower. No mat­ter how they tried to spin it as an independent fel­low­ship, this was a Labour-branded sham­bles.

Worse, the party un­der­mined their own pol­icy to re­duce im­mi­gra­tion by pre­vent­ing the ex­ploita­tion of stu­dents through shoddy education cour­ses. Worse still, it was morally wrong, and ques­tions still hang over whether laws were bro­ken.

But at Na­tional’s con­fer­ence, the forced glee at Labour’s hypocrisy fail only served to high­light the nerve dam­age from their own self­in­flicted wounds.

The big­gest threat to Na­tional’s chances of se­cur­ing a fourth term may not be Labour, but a feel­ing among their own troops that they have the elec­tion in the bag.

Far from it.

ROBERT KITCHIN / FAIR­FAX NZ

The prime min­is­ter will have a mes­sage to Na­tional’s rank and file at the party’s an­nual con­fer­ence in Welling­ton today.

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