Classic political cliche´ is just as relevant now
The cliche´ that ‘‘a week is a long time in politics’’ again proved to be as relevant as ever over the last fortnight. The leader of the National Party stumbled but did not fall, and the coalition Government managed to distract attention away from the Jamie-Lee Ross saga with some inept performances by the housing and immigration ministers.
And now it is only a matter of a few parliamentary days before the foment over issues that last month seemed so politically critical to the nation’s political future will inevitably morph into the subject of relaxed holiday conversation over the prolonged summer break.
Speculation over the fallout following the Jamie-Lee Ross nonsense will continue, but the ‘‘bounce back’’ polling now appears to indicate that the Opposition lost little headway during the debacle. While the tide of National support retreated when the bizarre clash was at its height, the numbers appear to have come bowling back since the Botany MP was dealt to.
And no matter how you measure the impact of the bizarre business, and despite an initially patchy performance by the Opposition leader, Simon Bridges, in dealing with the crisis, his resolute determination to put the unsavoury episode behind him was, eventually, staunchly impressive.
However, the political year rarely ends without some lastminute flurry of indignation, a pending scandal or an unseemly outburst by minor political players who would be well advised to just slip away into the fuzz of the traditional downtime rather than exiting into the Christmas political void beating a noisy drum.
Not to suggest that the issue was contrived, but just when it seemed the daily political theatre was running out of steam came the show-stopping walkout from the debating chamber by most of the Parliamentary Opposition.
The political theatre was supposedly in support of their leader, who was perceived to have been unfairly given his marching orders by Speaker Trevor Mallard.
In retrospect, it all seemed a tad staged, given that Bridges appeared to be going to some effort during the debate to ensure he would be ejected from the House.
However, it could be argued that, under the circumstances, the level of support extended by the National MPs to their leader speaks volumes about the standing he continues to enjoy within caucus. Which would seem to indicate that his leadership is not under any immediate threat, despite some malcontent rumblings. A long-time National Party player put the speculation in perspective with the observation that ‘‘if (Judith) Collins is the answer, we should be rephrasing the question’’.
It is true that Ross, and possibly one or two others, did lead Bridges down the political yellow brick road, but his ability to get back on track in relatively short order shouldn’t be underestimated. Given some breathing space over Christmas, he should be breathing more easily in the new year and, presumably, considerably more conscious of the inherent dangers in trusting the mavericks in his caucus.
And despite his relatively low leadership rating, who among his colleagues would think it was a constructive move to pull the rug when the latest public litmus test would suggest the Opposition and the Government are back to running virtually neck-and-neck in terms of public support?
Meanwhile, after a year of settling into government, the coalition is still looking a tad unprofessional.
While the troika appears to have a sense of direction and a common unity of purpose, that impression seems to pivot on the fact that the Greens are well led and, at this stage, seem content to establish a bridgehead in Government and avoid direct confrontation with NZ First.
Winston Peters is focused on reestablishing his foreign policy objectives, and when he is not playing fullback for the Government, he seems content to back up the prime minister when she is under pressure, without tripping her up in the process.
Jacinda Ardern moves with assurance through waters that must seem daunting on occasion, but she continues to give every impression that, despite her new maternal responsibilities, she is in charge of a tactically difficult exercise against a historically daunting Opposition.
Her most pivotal support in Government is the increasingly assured Finance Minister Grant Robertson, who appears to be consciously working to ensure that a Labour-led coalition is determined to be a responsible distributor of public funds.
He also gives a good impression of a finance minister anticipating international fiscal challenges in the not-too-distant future. That level of caution on the Treasury benches should give the critics pause for thought.
And perhaps Housing Minister Phil Twyford could give some thought to reining in the enthusiasm for building programmes that are still shimmering mirages on the horizon.
His tendency to oversell and argue down critics is not effective politics. His blatant grandstanding looks more like self-promotion, and his failure to include the prime minister’s office in his media sales pitch doesn’t help those attempting to focus on unity of purpose within the three-headed machine.
Iain Lees-Galloway might also use the Christmas break to reflect on his apparent inability to see the political wood for the trees – and perhaps he and Willie Jackson might like to take a course in factchecking before looking down the camera lens and talking nonsense.
Former Radio New Zealand chairman Richard Griffin has had a ringside seat to the country’s political circus for more than 40 years and was previously press secretary to former prime minister Jim Bolger.
Housing Minister Phil Twyford is a great talker, but perhaps he needs to make sure he delivers on his promises first and foremost. They may have been smiling for the cameras at Ratana, but Simon Bridges and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern both want to deliver a knockout blow to the other’s political ambitions.