Clas­sic po­lit­i­cal cliche´ is just as rel­e­vant now

Nelson Mail - - Front Page - RICHARD GRIF­FIN

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.

CHRIS­TEL YARDLEY/ STUFF GETTY IM­AGES

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.

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