The renaissance of the Crusher

Judith Anne Collins, Member of Parliament for Papakura, former Minister of the Crown and National Party attack dog is on the hunt for the leadership of the National Party once more.

Ms Collins, known as Crusher for her promise to put the confiscated cars of boy racers into a crusher, is staging a renaissance in the National Party. Her revival as one of the key members of the party, pursuing a clear blue agenda has excited the conservative wing of National.

At 6% in the latest Colmar Brunton poll, she is only 1% point behind her boss and Leader of the Opposition, Simon Bridges. Mr Bridges has been wallowing at 7% in the polls and has been unable to gain any traction against Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. At 6% she is even ahead of Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of New Zealand First, Winston Peters.

Ms Collins has time on her side. Barring a major scandal or highly improbable failure to pass a budget, it will be 2020 before an election is called. That gives her time to build up her support, have a think about the direction she would like to take the National should she launch a successful bid to roll Mr Bridges. Any Collins leadership is sure to take National to the right and see a harder line on crime and justice; a more aggressive approach in Parliament and a willingness to dish the dirt.

I anticipate that Ms Collins will place less emphasis on the environment, cannabis reform – despite it being linked to a lot of minor (and not so minor)crime – as well as social welfare, health and education. The latter based on her voting record, suggests she would support the revival of charter schools and tax cuts.

But Ms Collins also has baggage. Her co-operation with blogger Cameron Slater’s dishing the most grubby and smelly mud has not endeared her to the political purists or the New Zealand public in many respects. Her involvement in the Oravida scandal for which she was dismissed from her Ministerial portfolio’s for a period of time.

For now though Mr Bridges hangs onto his leadership of the National Party. He would be reluctant to surrender it because those who surrender the leadership of National or Labour, unless they have done it to support a more popular candidate like former Labour Leader Andrew Little did last year, are generally seen as being in the twilight of their Parliamentary careers. Mr Little’s three immediate predecessors Phil Goff, David Shearer and David Cunliffe were all gone at the end of the Parliamentary term in which they surrendered the leadership.

So, as we settle in to watch this space, perhaps the bigger academic question to ask based on National and Simon Bridges fortunes, when Ms Collins will make her next move?

Government doing okay considering differences

Yesterday I blasted the state of politics in New Zealand and how I find myself along with others feeling abandoned by the party we supported over the Trans Pacific Partnership. Whilst all true and I stand by it, this is just one dimension to a multi-dimensioned state of New Zealand politics, which this article will discuss.

New Zealand, despite its nearly 25 years of experience with coalition Governments, nonetheless has a somewhat chequered history with them in a Mixed Member Proportional environment. M.M.P had its first election in 1996, which resulted in a hung Parliament – neither the incumbent National Party or the Oppposition Labour Party were large enough as a result of that election to form a Government on their own and needed New Zealand First, which had gathered 17 seats and held the balance of power.

New Zealand First Leader Winston Peters chose National. That lasted 20 months and about a year after it formed, the then Prime Minister Jim Bolger was ousted by his deputy Jenny Shipley. After a tumultuous eight month in which Mrs Shipley floated the sale of Wellington Airport, privatizing the energy sector and pushing through reforms that led to significant increases in university fees (and equally significant student revolts in campuses across the country in 1999), the coalition Government collapsed in acrimonious circumstances.

Contrast that with the coalition Government of today, and contrary to the assertions of National Party Leader Simon Bridges that it is in disarray, the Government of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters is doing alright. Do they agree on everything? Absolutely not and there are plenty of good opportunities coming up for the two to have major disagreements. Mr Peters, whilst claiming to reject the neoliberal stance of both National and Labour, undermined that when his party chose to support the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement, something myself and others had staunchly hoped he would reject.

They are co-operating on other matters. Mr Peters got a N.Z.$1 billion injection of spending into foreign aid shortly after he became Minister for Foreign Affairs (for a second time). New Zealand First is able to announce significant projects for rural development, something that National lagged behind on during its time in office.

New Zealand First is likely to clash significantly with the Greens. On issues such as defence, justice, criminal law and so forth, New Zealand First will always be more conservative than the Greens. It is not to say that the stance is necessarily correct as there is a great need to legalize medical marijuana as a matter of urgency and review how we treat drug addiction, which is distorting crime statistics significantly with arrests and punishments for relatively minor offences.

Whilst the Greens have made some progressive since Metiria Turei’s departure, it is still struggling with the fallout from Mrs Turei’s admission of having lied to Work and Income New Zealand. This gives New Zealand First a chance to make inroads in pushing the great body of policy that makes up the party manifesto. Whether N.Z.F. realizes this and seizes the opportunity is another story altogether.

The party will also probably clash with Labour at some point. Labour, despite its swing to the left in the last election is still tarred – and might be forever – by its experiment in the 1980’s with market economics. It’s failure to buy back the electricity grid in full has disappointed many. It’s reluctance to announce significant increases in investment in science, diversifying the economy

I am expecting to see significant further announcements across the remainder of this Parliamentary term in a range of areas – from the Defence Force announcing what will replace the C-130 Hercules transports, to the $300 million promised for Christchurch transport to the education review and how the concerns over oil and gas bans will be tackled.

But that does not change the fact that if an election were held in the very new future your guess would be as good as mine about how I would vote. Right now, I honestly don’t know.

Low tide in politics

I feel as if it is low tide. It is not moving in any particular direction – I do not feel an attraction to a particular political party at the moment. So much so that were an election held today, as to who I would vote for, your guess would be as good as mine – I honestly could not tell you.

To have members such as Fletcher Tabuteau consistently attack the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement inside and outside of Parliament and drum up support for ending it, only to then see them vote enthusiastically for it, infuriates many.

New Zealand First made a promise that it would see out the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement. It has consistently attacked using its Members of Parliament and the Leader Winston Peters. Its Members of Parliament all told me at one point or another that they did not want a bar of the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement.

The problem is who do I vote for?

I am too conservative to be a Green – I do not agree with them on most things including foreign policy, defence and justice, but also the feasibility of ending coal and gas in New Zealand. Their opposition to having a dysfunctional defence force, along with a general distrust of the military establishment raises questions about what they would do were a war where the U.N. requests N.Z assistance breaks out.

In some respects I might also be on the conservative wing of Labour were I to vote for them. Labour was my first vote – a misguided one at that – in 1999, when New Zealand voted to be rid of a three term National-led Government that had had nine yeas to change from being the neoliberal party that enabled massive market reforms, but at great cost to New Zealanders.

So, you say I should vote for New Zealand First?

No. New Zealand First and I have had a fractuous relationship. I enjoy getting to know people when I joined and the culture was quite nice. I have always been inspired by the Party’s : 15 Fundamental Principles, which supported pretty much most if not all of the basic themes that the party wants to take home: equality for all; retirement at 65%., a sustainable environment, better protection of our assets and resolving the Treaty of Waitangi claims.

Others might ask whether I would be interested in Social Credit. I honestly have no idea. Social Credit would – I suspect find themselves constantly standing on the toes just to draw level with the eyes of New Zealand First and the Greens would not look that natural and one could ask “how long, really?”. It is not that I am trying to put them down, and some of their policies – I have not read anywhere near all of them, and am not sure when I would get around to it – do look fine on paper.

Those are my feelings about this 1 year after Labour took office. On the whole Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is probably quite happy with how things have gone and will be more than pleased to see that National, like Labour before them, are capable of having bad days.

Toxicology report for National

A report sits on the desk of National Leader Simon Bridges. It is labelled “Toxicology results: National Party, 10/2018”. They contain the results of a batch of tests done on the toxic internal environment of the New Zealand National Party.

The results are clear: National has a toxic internal environment that is proving hugely damaging to the party. The claims of Mr Bridges that there is no “cultural” issue within the party are those of a leader who is in complete denial of the situation.

Labour and the Greens did not get to the high placing they currently have on 1 News Colmar Brunton polls simply by turning up to work. They achieved that placing by being consistently the better performing, by having policy for a change and getting on with implementing it instead of being caught up in divisive damaging machinations. Credit to them for doing so.

When the A.C.T. Party, normally National’s friend is so disgusted with the state of its partner that the Leader of A.C.T., David Seymour is openly critical then there is a significant problem.

National’s toxicology report shows a biological culture in its Molesworth Street offices in Wellington that is not fit for human beings. It is of a place with questionable work place practices, ethics and accountability. It has hanging over it like the stink of rotten fish, the Jamie Lee Ross saga, where despite Mr Ross having been taken to a mental health unit and discharged into the care of a friend, something putrid clearly still remains.

The detritus of past scandals permeate the place as well. Several high ranking National Party M.P.’s who held significant portfolios in the previous Government are covered in muck, of which at least some is of their own making. Arch rival and former Minister of Police and Justice, Judith Collins might be in Opposition, but her reputation is tarnished forever more by the Oravida Scandal involving her husband David Wong Tung. It is further tarnished by investigative journalist Nicky Hager exposing¬† in his book “Dirty Politics” the dirty activities of bloggers such as Cameron Slater and Ms Collins’ links to them.

Deputy Leader of the National Party, Paula Bennett is not free from blame either. Her involvement in this has brought almost as many questions regarding her conduct and future in Parliament as that of her boss on himself. Her combative nature will work against her at this time, because when Ms Bennett, like her boss, should be eating humble pie most probably she will be digging her heels in.

There will be a few National M.P.’s who will be leaving with their heads held high, dignity intact, but not for any reasons to do with the miserable muck raking of the last two weeks. They will be leaving intact because they kept their heads down, got on with their jobs and did not partake in the manufacturing of the mud that was subsequently flung to the farthest parts of the Party. Namely former Attorney General and Treaty Negotiations Minister Chris Finlayson, as well as former Speaker of the House David Carter. Neither are seeking another term in 2020.

They are two M.P.’s that the rest of National would well do to look at for ideas on the sort of standards New Zealanders expect and which they had better achieve if National want this Government to be a one term wonder. Because should Mr Bridges fail to clean up the mess that his party has dissolved into, the 2020 election will be decided before it is even fought.

Learning from an appalling week in New Zealand politics

To say that the week just gone in New Zealand politics was an appalling sight for both Kiwi’s and non-Kiwi’s alike to be watching and/or participating in, is an understatement. It was a week which in the beginning looked like being colourful, if not a little dirty – I thought that Mr Ross would be reined in by National Party leader Simon Bridges and given a right dressing down. I thought that it would be quickly shut down and the public told “Nothing to see here: Move along”.

How wrong I was. Perhaps as a result of being away for four weeks and paying as little attention as possible to New Zealand domestic affairs in that time, I lost track of what was brewing. Perhaps I held – and I think now that this is the case – a too high an estimate of the National Party’s ability in the post-John Key era to shut down rogue M.P.’s.

Whatever the case, the results have been truly disgusting. From Mr Bridges and Mr Ross slinging poo across the expanse of the internet and via the media at each other, to his admittance of affairs, of potentially very dodgy handling of political donations, to Mr Ross’s admittance into a mental health facility, it was a desperate, dirty and underhand week.

So, what are the lessons that we can learn from this? There are a few:

I think one of the bigger ones is the age old lesson about not throwing stones in glass houses. In this case some rather large stones got thrown and they seem to have broken a lot of glass. National, Mr Bridges, Mr Ross have all come away with damaged glass houses.

The discussion around the state of Mr Ross’s mental health has varied hugely. From those trying to show a degree of understanding and rightfully calling for decorum to those throwing more fuel on the fire, such as Whale Oil blogger Cameron Slater, we have seen a voting public fascinated and repelled at the same time. Perhaps the lesson out of this is to learn to show a degree of dignity and class when discussing mental health – if you cannot say anything constructive, don’t say anything at all.

The third one, which at this moment probably applies most to Mr Bridges, is damage control. His was not the best and it might in part explain his dismal poll rating in the latest 1 News Colmar Brunton poll. It showed that an election today would give Labour and the Greens a comfortable majority and with New Zealand First 68 seats in Parliament or 56% of the seats. National would have 51 seats and the A.C.T. Party the remaining one seat. On preferred Prime Minister, Mr Bridges is well down, having slumped to 7% whilst Labour leader Jacinda Ardern rises to an all time high of 42%.

As the second week of this saga progresses, with more announcements surely to come about any other leaks – damaging or not – the National Party will be in full on damage control. A.C.T. will be watching on disgruntled and hopefully disgusted with what they have seen in their ally, whilst the governing benches will be getting on with the task of running New Zealand.