All together unity show
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