Ardern’s plan of co­her­ence over chaos

The New Zealand Herald - - News - Com­ment

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.

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