Pol­i­tics Jane Clifton

Both main par­ties are strug­gling to keep their houses in or­der.

New Zealand Listener - - CONTENTS - JANE CLIFTON

They seek him here, they seek him there. Or just as pos­si­bly, her. Price­wa­ter­house­Coop­ers and Simp­son Gri­er­son seek him/her ev­ery­where.

By now the Nats must wish they’d never launched this in­ter­minable pur­suit of their own damned elu­sive Scar­let Pim­per­nel be­cause it’s clear they’d be bet­ter off leav­ing him/her tact­fully masked.

Their quarry is more of a Blue Pim­ple than the dash­ing sabo­teur of lit­er­a­ture. The leak of data about Na­tional Party leader Si­mon Bridges’ travel costs – which was about to be made pub­lic any­way – was so fee­ble a feat of der­ring-do that pure em­bar­rass­ment, rather than the im­plied dis­loy­alty against the leader, is prob­a­bly what’s keep­ing the Blue Pim­ple from own­ing up. Bridges could have shrugged the whole thing off as some­one play­ing silly-bug­gers, but in­stead mounted the high­est of horses to run the cul­prit to earth. He con­vinced him­self, against a pile of ev­i­dence, that the leaker wasn’t from his own cau­cus or staff.

Now, this lu­di­crous af­fair has gen­er­ated a po­ten­tially dev­as­tat­ing cliff-hanger: what if the traitor is some­one at the very heart of Team Bridges?

The Op­po­si­tion leader’s han­dling of the abrupt leave-tak­ing of front­bencher and close ally Jami-Lee Ross this week has all but outed Ross as the mole. To the ex­pla­na­tion that Ross is tak­ing sev­eral months off to deal with a se­ri­ous per­sonal health is­sue, Bridges added that it was of a “po­ten­tially em­bar­rass­ing na­ture”.

This one hor­ri­bly tact­less blurt brings him down off his high horse with a thud. It wasn’t said in spite, but it may as well have been. It pasted a big fat ex­cla­ma­tion mark on to Ross’ mys­tery prob­lem, li­cens­ing end­less pruri­ent spec­u­la­tion.

Bridges made the an­nounce­ment with the bog­gling in­gen­u­ous­ness of a teacup-rat­tling gos­sip. “You think you know your col­leagues very well …” he ex­claimed, “but you don’t al­ways know what’s go­ing on.”

No, you don’t, which is why the leak fatwa was so un­wise. If Ross is not the leaker, then this is the most almighty co­in­ci­dence. An MP off work in­def­i­nitely for deeply per­sonal rea­sons, weeks af­ter the po­lice con­firmed that the anony­mous leaker – who pur­ported to be a Na­tional MP – was suf­fer­ing from men­tal-health is­sues, and with the leak in­quiry re­port due in­side a fort­night: they’re

Lotto Power­ball odds.

ONE LAME BRIDGE

Never mind Ross’ fu­ture, the big­ger ques­tion now is whether Bridges might soon find him­self “spend­ing more time with the fam­ily”.

The lead­er­ship sap takes a while to stop ris­ing in first-term Op­po­si­tion cau­cuses. The polls show Bridges has yet to en­thuse vot­ers per­son­ally, and col­leagues might see his in­ep­ti­tude over this af­fair as a se­ri­ous li­a­bil­ity. What might a fu­ture Prime Min­is­ter Bridges blurt af­ter sen­si­tive bi­lat­er­als with some­one like Don­ald Trump? “You don’t re­alise un­til you get up close, but man, is he or­ange!”

And what of his judg­ment in mak­ing a fed­eral case out of a triv­ial af­fair, which had the po­ten­tial to blow up in his face from the out­set? “Ban our ap­ple ex­ports, would you, Aus­tralia? Our frigate is on its way!”

Na­tional thought it had a leaks is­sue, but the real plumb­ing emer­gency is the leader’s own fil­tra­tion sys­tem.

Na­tional thought it had a leaks is­sue. The real plumb­ing emer­gency is the leader’s own fil­tra­tion sys­tem.

What­ever the Blue Pim­ple’s fate, he/she will have com­pany. Meka Whaitiri, too, lost her job through a pa­thetic dis­play of pique and van­ity. Leaked de­tails show the Cus­toms Min­is­ter was sacked af­ter she grasped, abused and fright­ened her press sec­re­tary be­cause she had missed a photo op­por­tu­nity with the Prime Min­is­ter. She should have given the young woman a pay rise. If only MPs re­alised how des­per­ate and, frankly, unim­por­tant these photo ops make them look, es­pe­cially on tele­vi­sion. It’s called dough­nut­ting – squeez­ing in around the main event so as to get “face time” for one­self. It makes min­is­ters, es­pe­cially, look like ut­ter nod­dies. “Ooh, look at me, I’m here, too, with the leader. Hello, Mum!”

The leader-and-deputy combo, or the PM and fi­nance min­is­ter fronting up jointly, can make a cred­i­ble state­ment. But un­less you’re baby Neve, lurk­ing in shot dur­ing a prime min­is­te­rial in­ter­view only draws at­ten­tion to your hand­bag sta­tus.

OFF THE PISTE

Still, you have to hand it to our MPs – the rea­sons for which they come a crop­per are never pre­dictable. Even when, as in the case of Clare Cur­ran, they ac­tu­ally re­peat them­selves, you never see it com­ing. The Derek Han­d­ley af­fair is the gift that keeps on giv­ing – to the Op­po­si­tion.

Hav­ing made one mis­take as a min­is­ter and been let off, who would have dreamt Cur­ran would make the same mis­take al­most im­me­di­ately? Her fail­ure to dis­close her meet­ing with pu­ta­tive new Government tech­nol­ogy tsar Han­d­ley showed Cur­ran still hadn’t a clue about the pro­pri­eties min­is­ters need to ob­serve.

To the Op­po­si­tion’s dis­ap­point­ment, there seems no ev­i­dence of a stitch-up or power play in ei­ther of Cur­ran’s off-piste en­coun­ters. The ba­nal fact of both was she was stupid and care­less. But the echoes have lasted ex­tra weeks be­cause Han­d­ley – seem­ingly out of naive en­thu­si­asm rather than any ma­nip­u­la­tive in­tent – brought the Prime Min­is­ter into the email/text/doc­u­ment trail of dis­cov­er­ables. Jacinda Ardern, in turn, failed to be frank when her in­volve­ment was first raised, so the af­fair be­came more of a she­moz­zle than nec­es­sary.

Ardern’s golden glow, bur­nished by a sunny and as­sured per­for­mance at the United Na­tions, has ac­quired a lit­tle too much gloss with her ad­mis­sion to hav­ing paid a New York film crew to record the trip to pro­vide fod­der for so­cial me­dia. This leaves a bad taste in “don’t get up your­self” New Zealand, with­out nec­es­sar­ily bring­ing any po­lit­i­cal ben­e­fit.

This may be the ul­ti­mate in selfie sticks, but prime min­is­te­rial pub­lic­ity and clicks abroad don’t con­vert into New Zealand cur­rency. And years of research have so far failed to find a link be­tween on­line ex­po­sure and votes – even “likes” and votes. If there were one, cats and those adorable Aus­tralian quokkas would run the world. Which, come to think of it, is what our mad pol­i­tics of­ten feels like al­ready, only much

less cud­dly.

Ab­sent friends: Jami-Lee Ross; right, Si­mon Bridges.

Slow learner: Clare Cur­ran; right,Meka Whaitiri.

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