The hypocrisy of switches in power

The Dominion Post - - Politics - LAURA WAL­TERS

ANAL­Y­SIS: ‘‘That’s the kind of thing you say in op­po­si­tion, not in Gov­ern­ment.’’

For­mer Labour MP Steve Ma­harey was un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally can­did for a politi­cian when he said this back in 2000. And he’s right – there are some things op­po­si­tion MPs can get away with that gov­ern­ments can­not.

An op­po­si­tion is there to hold the gov­ern­ment to ac­count and rep­re­sent their con­stituents. That gives them the free­dom to take a harder stance on an is­sue than a gov­ern­ment might.

Mean­while, those in power are of­ten con­strained when it comes to de­liv­er­ing on prom­ises, due to a) money, b) sup­port needed to get a deal across the line, and c) in­ter­na­tional se­cu­rity and diplo­macy, in some ex­treme cases.

This has be­come ap­par­ent dur­ing the early stages of House swap.

A Labour Party that’s been talk­ing about hold­ing power to ac­count, val­ues and vi­sion, is find­ing its prag­ma­tism. That some­times means piv­ot­ing, de­flect­ing, stalling - where the old­look Labour across the aisle would have jumped in boots and all. Ba­si­cally, one of the first lessons a gov­ern­ment learns is how to mind its ps and qs.

There has been a race to the cen­tre in New Zealand pol­i­tics since the im­ple­men­ta­tion of MMP, the re­sult is po­lit­i­cal party con­flict char­ac­terised by greater lev­els of prag­ma­tism.

Mean­while, the (sort of) fresh­faced Na­tional has come out swing­ing.

Now Na­tional’s on the other side of the aisle they have more free­dom with what they say, and leader Bill English has made no se­cret of his party’s plan to make life hard for the Labour-led Gov­ern­ment. On the day he an­nounced Na­tional’s port­fo­lios, he re­minded Labour and the pub­lic ‘‘it’s not our job to make this place run’’, ad­ding that Na­tional would ‘‘frus­trate progress’’ where it could.

And yes­ter­day, Na­tional deputy leader Paula Bennett let rip at Labour, say­ing be­ing a gov­ern­ment was ‘‘hard, com­plex work’’.

‘‘I hope you take ad­vice, I hope you take a breath, I hope you look at the things that are work­ing, and not throw them out, just be­cause ide­o­log­i­cally you be­lieve you know so much bet­ter than any­body else,’’ she said.

She also re­ferred to the de­ba­cle in the House on day one, where it ap­peared Labour may have made a mis­take when it came to its num­bers. Labour later said it knew how many votes it could get, if the Speaker’s elec­tion went to a vote.

‘‘What was a real shame, af­ter lec­tur­ing us re­peat­edly at how much bet­ter and prin­ci­pled this Gov­ern­ment was go­ing to be, that the first thing they did was spin it...

‘‘In­stead they proved them­selves to be ab­so­lutely as flawed as the rest of us, wel­come to the real world, but you should have had the guts to stand up and say it.’’

It’s not sur­pris­ing things change when the gov­ern­ment changes. It’s al­ways eas­ier to talk the talk, than walk the walk.

Ear­lier this month, Na­tional for­eign spokesman Gerry Brown­lee called on For­eign Min­is­ter Win­ston Peters to ex­pel a ‘‘hate­ful’’ Ira­nian diplo­mat, who de­liv­ered an ‘‘anti-semitic hate speech’’ at a mosque in Auck­land.

But it didn’t take long for new For­eign Min­is­ter Win­ston Peters to call Brown­lee out on the hypocrisy of his state­ment.

Peters re­turned fire, ask­ing why Brown­lee had not ex­pelled him when he was for­eign min­is­ter: ‘‘It hap­pened in June’’.

One of Labour’s flag­ship ed­u­ca­tion poli­cies dur­ing the cam­paign was the prom­ise to scrap Na­tional Stan­dards. The stan­dards were in­tro­duced un­der Na­tional, and they are highly un­pop­u­lar with the unions, and teach­ers.

But par­ents like Na­tional Stan­dards – they give them in­sight into their child’s progress; they set a clear mea­sure, and the up­dates come twice a year.

On Tues­day, Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Chris Hip­kins said schools could con­tinue to use Na­tional Stan­dards, rather than the ‘‘new and im­proved’’ mea­sure­ment.

This ap­peared to be a big u-turn for Labour.

Prime Min­is­ter Jacinda Ardern fought a cam­paign based largely on val­ues. Is­sues like child poverty, sui­cide, and refugees.

As the sit­u­a­tion with the refugees on Manus Is­land in Pa­pua New Guinea de­te­ri­o­rates, Ardern reaf­firmed New Zealand’s of­fer to re­set­tle up to 150 refugees.

Aus­tralia Prime Min­is­ter Mal­colm Turn­bull has re­peat­edly re­fused Ardern’s of­fer.

In this case Ardern has stuck to the val­ues Labour cam­paigned on, but the up­shot has been ten­sion in the trans-Tas­man re­la­tion­ship.

De­pend­ing on what side you land on, some may say Ardern could have had used more prag­ma­tism and less fo­cus on val­ues in this in­stance.

Ear­lier this month, Na­tional for­eign spokesman Gerry Brown­lee called on For­eign Min­is­ter Win­ston Peters to ex­pel a ‘‘hate­ful’’ Ira­nian diplo­mat, who de­liv­ered an ‘‘anti-semitic hate speech’’ at a mosque in Auck­land. It didn’t take long for Peters to re­turn fire, ask­ing why Brown­lee had not ex­pelled him when he was for­eign min­is­ter: ‘‘It hap­pened in June’’.

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