Ardern’s plan of coherence over chaos
Given the shambles in Government since Jacinda Ardern returned from maternity leave, a show of unity by Winston Peters and James Shaw at the Prime Minister’s major speech yesterday was in order.
The political theatre is of greater value than the substance of the Prime Minister’s speech, billed as “Our Plan”.
And the timing of the speech, which was planned when the PM was on maternity leave, was fortuitous.
It may help to give a sense of coherence to the Government which has been looking fairly chaotic recently, particularly between Peters’ New Zealand First and Labour.
Peters provided the preamble to Ardern’s speech.
In it, he uttered a word we have not heard from him in a long time — “Labour”. He did not refer to the Labour-led Government, a term which he now finds offensive given it subjugates the role of New Zealand First.
But he did refer to the Labour-New Zealand First Coalition. He said the Coalition was “unified”.
Not quite unified enough for Peters to share the stage with the Greens after Ardern’s speech, to take questions from the audience. Instead questions were left to Ardern, Green Party co-leader James Shaw, NZ First minister Tracey Martin and Finance Minister Grant Robertson.
Peters later allowed himself to share a platform with Shaw, along with Ardern at the press conference after the speech. It looked like things might be changing.
But Ardern ended the press conference when Peters started getting belligerent with the media, and it looked liked not much had changed.
Ardern delivered her speech in Ted-talk style, like the gifted communicator she can be.
And while it was important in terms of setting out priorities, nothing in it was new. Under three themes, and 12 priority areas, it draws together various promises from the disparate documents Ardern has long talked about as comprising the Government’s programme: the two coalition and confidence and supply agreements, the Speech from the Throne, and the 100 days programme.
Ardern herself has developed the work plan and has given Cabinet committees responsibility to identify which policies come within their ambit and how progress on them can be measured every six months.
She revealed the plan with the enthusiasm of someone who believes she has done something remarkably new — which of course she hasn’t.
The notion that this is the first time a government has set objectives and will measure them every six months is nonsense, as is the claim that this is the first government of compassion. She might think she is inventing the wheel but as anyone who followed Bill English’s monitoring work in the Better Public Service programme and social investment knows, it has been invented before.
In fact her plan appears to be a hybrid of the thematic approach to policy honed by former Prime Minister Helen Clark and the very specific measures demanded by English’s social investment and Better Public Service Targets approach.
Most of the problems of the Government in recent weeks have arisen from Coalition management, not because there was no plan.
Ardern’s outline of the plan is to be welcomed. But it won’t be a substitute for better management by the parties of government.