All to­gether unity show

The Southland Times - - National News - Tracy Watkins

We’re no ‘‘dys­func­tion junc­tion’’, Deputy Prime Min­is­ter Win­ston Peters de­clared af­ter his and Jacinda Ardern’s unity ex­trav­a­ganza, promptly hand­ing the Op­po­si­tion a new name to roast them with.

Since over-egging me­dia ex­pec­ta­tions usu­ally goes badly in pol­i­tics Prime Min­is­ter Ardern’s off­siders were care­ful to let it be known in ad­vance that she would not be an­nounc­ing any new poli­cies in her speech yes­ter­day. So National’s con­clu­sion that it was a Trum­p­like ‘‘rah-rah’’ rally was not en­tirely wide of the mark as the speech in Auck­land to a friendly au­di­ence of about 400 peo­ple was clearly about en­er­gis­ing the troops a year on from the elec­tion. But what Ardern’s speech lacked in new pol­icy or de­tail it made up for in sym­bol­ism as Ardern and Peters sought to show the dis­agree­ments of re­cent days were not enough to break them.

The big­gest sym­bol­ism of all, how­ever, was in what wasn’t said – like Ardern avoid­ance of the words ‘‘Labour-led Govern­ment’’.

In fact, Labour ap­pears to be a dirty word in what we are told is a new era of MMP govern­ment, with Ardern’s speech notes men­tion­ing her own party once dur­ing a 25-minute speech – and that was in the same breath as NZ First and the Green Party all be­ing party to a ‘‘shared vi­sion and shared val­ues’’.

It is dif­fi­cult to re­call a speech by any prime min­is­ter in re­cent years that was not pep­pered with ref­er­ences to their own party and its achieve­ments.

But that wasn’t all that was miss­ing. Af­ter be­ing in­vited on to the stage for what me­dia had been told would be a speech in­tro­duc­ing Ardern, Peters failed to men­tion the ‘‘A’’ word – Ardern – in his roll call of the Govern­ment’s achieve­ments.

Even the term prime min­is­ter seemed to be an­other dirty word since it wasn’t men­tioned, even when Peters segued to the slick video pre­sen­ta­tion that was sup­posed to set the scene for Ardern’s turn on the stage.

In fact, Peters’ ref­er­ence to ‘‘the Govern­ment’’ be­ing sup­ported by the will of the peo­ple didn’t give any credit at all to Labour or Ardern, who is by far the most pop­u­lar fig­ure in pol­i­tics. Peters at least did not shy away from men­tion­ing the ‘‘war’’, in­sist­ing that their dis­agree­ments were not a sign of weak­ness but strength.

But if the show of unity was all about putting to bed the per­cep­tion of a govern­ment that is feel­ing the strains of a coali­tion of dis­parate in­ter­ests and per­son­al­i­ties, it fell a lit­tle short.

The speech it­self, mean­while, fo­cused on the themes and pri­or­i­ties that sup­pos­edly bound them to­gether and which Ardern said had been through the coali­tion and Cabi­net process.

In that case, the devil is still very much in the de­tail with some of the cur­rent dis­agree­ments with NZ First fall­ing un­der the ar­eas of those pri­or­i­ties and themes – like the refugee quota, and in­dus­trial re­la­tions. Horse trad­ing in re­cent days may have smoothed over those dis­agree­ments – some­thing Peters hinted at by sug­gest­ing the only dis­agree­ment on refugees was over tim­ing, not num­bers.

But for a speech sup­pos­edly fo­cus­ing on a uni­fied coali­tion and govern­ment it would have been bet­ter for those dis­agree­ments to be sorted be­fore they took the stage rather than af­ter. The speech has put some stakes in the ground, how­ever, and the next stage will be grun­tier, with Ardern un­veil­ing a se­ries of mea­sures by which to mea­sure her Govern­ment, po­ten­tially in­clud­ing some that pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tions shied away from, like home own­er­ship.

Deputy Prime Min­is­ter Win­ston Peters, Prime Min­is­ter Jacinda Ardern and Green Party leader James Shaw stand in “unity”. ABI­GAIL DOUGHERTY/STUFF

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