WASN’T IT ALL TOO SMOOTH? The official explanation for the textbook transition from Jacinda Ardern to Chris Hipkins – “nothing left in the tank” – is beginning to strike more and more political journalists as inherently implausible.
What sort of political party manages the acutely volatile business of swapping one leader for another so seamlessly? Was the sole nomination of Chris Hipkins’ strictly kosher? Why did no challenger step forward? Ambition, in Shakespeare’s words, should be made of sterner stuff. Contrariwise, if this leadership change was a stage-managed affair, then Labour’s stage-managers are second to none!
Before conspiracy theories take root and spread like briars across the political landscape, it is worth recalling that Labour has pulled-off such a transition before.
Hadn’t the woman who, on 19 January 2023, announced her intention of stepping-down from Labour’s leadership stepped-up and into that role with an equal absence of fuss and bother back in 2017? Relying, once again, on Shakespeare: is it not true that nothing so became Jacinda’s leadership like her elevation to it? And should we really be all that surprised to discover that the Labour MP who did the most to ensure Jacinda’s effortless ascent was none other than Chris Hipkins?
How interesting it would be to read the reports of Labour’s focus-group convenors and to study the confidential data of its pollsters. Because, if the transition from Jacinda to “Chippy” really was a premediated and carefully-planned affair, then the chances are high that the story the experts were telling the three people at the top of the Labour Party – Jacinda Ardern, Grant Robertson and Chris Hipkins – was a grim one.
In the two-and-a-bit years since the Prime Minister’s electoral triumph of 2020, virtually every decision she made had gone politically awry. In the minds of many thousands of voters a chilling metamorphosis had taken place. The Faerie Queen had become the Wicked Witch. From a resplendent balloon, carrying Labour effortlessly to victory, Jacinda showed every sign of becoming Labour’s Hindenburg – a disaster waiting to happen.
It is a measure of just how tight Labour’s leadership troika had become during their 15 years in Labour’s caucus that they could contemplate the grim psephological data set before them and conclude dispassionately that the “Jacinda” brand – once Labour’s most important asset – was now its most significant liability.
It was time for her to go.
That Jacinda did not demur is explicable largely in terms of the extraordinary burdens she had been required to carry between 2017 and 2022. Very few Prime Ministers are called upon to lead their nation through events like the Christchurch Mosque Massacres, the fatal eruption of White island and the most deadly pandemic to strike New Zealand in 100 years. In the post-war period, only National’s John Key has weathered storms of equivalent severity. Interestingly, he also decided to make an early departure.
With equal stoicism, the Finance Minister Grant Robertson declined to meet the expectations of the pundits by stepping into Jacinda’s shoes. He would stay exactly where he was – a key figure on the Bridge of the Ship of State, his safe pair of hands welded to the economic tiller. Like his two closest political allies, Robertson’s mission was a simple one: to steer Labour to a third parliamentary term.
Which left only Chippy to slip his feet into the stirrups of power. With weeks to think through and war-game every aspect of the transition, as little as possible was left to chance. In the finest tradition of Hengist and Horsa, not to mention Game of Thrones, Hipkins made sure that all the crucial players were gathered together in one place (Napier, for Labour’s annual “retreat”) before allowing Jacinda’s axe to fall.
Shocked and disoriented, Labour’s stunned caucus offered scant resistance as the Troika’s most trusted allies went to work, furiously spinning the narrative that the smoothest possible transition was an absolute electoral necessity. Anyone attempting to make a fight of the succession would be seen as a traitor to the party. Constrained by a lack of time, outmanoeuvred by Team Hipkins at every turn, potential rivals sensibly opted to fight another day.
Chris Hipkins wasn’t elected – he was crowned.
Once sworn-in as Prime Minister, everything would turn on the public opinion polls proving Hipkins’ colleagues had made the right choice.
On Monday night (30 January 2023) they duly obliged.
This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 3 February 2023.
Another solid piece. The only slip into unwarranted admiration is that the handling of the White Island eruption was an onerous task and evidence of Ardern's deft leadership
On monday last week there were:
Three (at least) ministers -including the PM- in auckland, there were 4 ministers in Gisbourne meeting with forestry, iwi and the council and there was the minister of health in dunedin meeting with the council re dunedin hospital.
This was unprecedented since 2017. Ardern effectively banned ministers getting out and doing things.
Then hipkins was asked a question about poverty and children was he going to be minister of these areas. His reply included him saying that he was interested in virtue signaling.
At that pount I concluded that there had been a silent coup in labour. Some how a message got to Ardern that she either got out or there would be a challenge at the first caucus. If that happened it would have been disaster.
Yes it was clearly premeditated, and yes I give them credit for a smooth transition. But I still believe the five percent poll surge will prove to be Labour's dead cat bounce. First there are the underlying economic realities which are grimly intractable: the cost of living crisis and the doubling/tripling of mortgage rates while house valuations collapse.
Second, there are the deeply corrosive contradictions of Three/Five Waters and other legislation privileging the iwi elites and laying waste to the fundamental concept of equality of all before the law. I recently made my submission on the replacement legislation for the Resource Management Act. That draft legislation is profoundly racist, even worse than Three Waters. If enacted it could ignite racial division across the country like wildfire, as local iwi for example are given the unchallengeable and unaccountable power to reconfigure the allocation of freshwater for their own purposes.
This country has been steered onto the shoals by a collection of incompetent and ideologically driven poseurs and rank opportunists. New Zealanders are beginning to wake up to the dire situation they face, no matter what new euphonious Maori euphemisms Hipkins may be gifted at Waitangi to camouflage the totally unpalatable proposition that is "co-governance".
In your article, you write "Before conspiracy theories take root and spread like briars across the political landscape..."
You then go on to describe how figures within the Labour Party did exactly what you just warned readers to refrain from thinking: they conspired amongst themselves (i.e. they acted in concert to effect a commonly-desired outcome) to substitute Hipkins for Ardern. What's more, it turns out that the circumstances surrounding Ardern's ascent were as much a conspiracy as those surrounding her exit: "And should we really be all that surprised to discover that the Labour MP who did the most [by inference, the most among others] to ensure Jacinda’s effortless ascent was none other than Chris Hipkins?"
What is the point of these observations? Simply that, rather than being anomalous exceptions and something that only a deranged person would posit, conspiracies (as defined above) of all shapes and sizes are now, and have always been, the norm. They are the way that things get done within and amongst those who inhabit power structures.
Therefore, the tactic of dismissively writing off people as "conspiracy theorists" for having the temerity to suggest, not only the fact but even the mere possibility of the existence of opaque and unacknowledged relationships of mutual interest that are cloaked with public relations campaigns and denials to misdirect the public, is contradicted by reality – conspiracies are common. Is everything a consequence of a hidden conspiracy? Of course not. But do conspiracies frequently occur, even if they are vehemently denied (as you would expect they would be denied)? Of course they do.
For this reason, purporting to "rebut" claims of a conspiracy simply by uttering the phrase "conspiracy theory" or using the label "conspiracy theorist" (and in so doing invoking certain connotations) seems to be wholly inadequate. At best, the person throwing out these terms as "rebuttals" is simply being descriptive. Like so much of the language in political rhetoric, particular words and the concepts they represent are carefully infused with certain connotations that are designed to avoid engaging with the arguments of people to
whom the words are applied. Use of the label is considered sufficient to prevent any further discussion, and because the masses have become so dumbed-down and unable to think for themselves, this tactic is very effective.
Psephological? One of the attractions of your blog is your addiction to the bon mot.
But let's be honest. Current Labour epitomises the historic characterisation of effecting social change but crap at management. They are so bad at actually doing stuff it is ironic. It is so bad that even the plebiscite who do minimal investigation in to politics outside of the Pravda like media such as NewsHub have started to notice. Yes, I exaggerate but the lack of political balance is becoming obvious. “You can fool some of the people all of the time...."
This is a continuation of an exceedingly capable image management from Labour over the last five years. Shame such capability actually did not translate to be able to actually achieve something.
I suspect Hipkins for whatever reason chose to step up, not to win the election but to save the Labour Party itself, to give it a chance in the coming years to be an option. Things had got that dire!
Because by the time the dust settles from the departure of the radioactive Ardern, and Hipkins surrenders to the temptation of tinkering rather than decisive changes and he fiddles (i.e. Nash as police minister), it'll be all over for this government anyway. Not because Luxon suddenly got a personality but because voters finally accept, even with Chippy, voting Labour is not worth the effort and it's way too high risk with basic constitutional matters like co-governance.
I guess he has been racking his brains, wondering how such a universally popular prime minister could go from hero to villain in such a record short time. He only has to look at four things to get the reason:
1- Getting way too involved in peoples lives. Lockdowns, but especially 2021, telling us who we can see, who we can't, what we can eat and drink, (cafes and restaurants), when we could cut our hair, where we can go, and how close we can get. The overreach, especially in the grinding months of 2021 in Auckland was, beyond comprehension. Add to that speed limit lowering, what we should drive, what we can say and you get the picture! Any minute trespass into the lives of the public are now met with anger.
2 - Don't make promises you have no competency to deliver.
3. Don't sneak around hiding agenda's and I'm not talking tax havens here, I'm talking constitutional take overs. That is massive, far too much to pretend away.
4. - Don't pretend to fix problems with appearance management. It's like paying bills with credit cards. The mess (interest) worsens and you've still got to fix the problem that is killing you or your government.
Ardern failed not because of misogyny but because she had lost all her credibility, her results spoke far louder than her hollow words. On that front, Chippy must be night and day different!
I should check better.
"Hipkins said he was NOT interested in virtue signaling "
In the post-war period, only National’s John Key has weathered storms of equivalent severity. Interestingly, he also decided to make an early departure.
Well, no. Key inherited a sound set of finances from Cullen, and a banking sector not tied to the chaos in the USA. All English had to do was a bit of Keynesian stimulus, and problem solved.
The post-war crisis comparison isn't Key. It's Kirk, Rowling, and Muldoon. Britain's EEC entry and the Oil Shocks.
Very good chance in my book she could have got back. 2005 is my reference. Tripe of the Right was defeated then too. The Right has no solid argument. Just discomfort from the pandemic closure. Luxon and Seymour are creatures of the privileged, which we still spit out.
Yeah, crowned. Now that I've actually read the article. Cunliffe's foe. Near to Phil Goff's coronation. Doesn't make much diff either way, between him and anyone else.
Oh, for the Alliance. Thanks for imploding it egomaniac Anderton --you put yourself above the Movement, like so, so many.
The Cause of the People seems to breed egotists. Like the Right breeds easy, idle rulers.
All Good Fun.
Thanks Madame Blavatsky, another great contribution. It's a much more serious problem than many appreciate.
It's part of a wider weaponisation of the pejorative to silence and dismiss points of view regardless of their actual validity - though I think (hope?) Chris didn't intend it that way. A cynical and corrosive othering. We are being gaslit into believing that opposition to race based legislation is "racist" for example. That War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, and Ignorance is Strength can't be far away.
Key and English inherited " a sound set of finances".
Do the words "we spent the lot" ring a bell.
"Imagine the outcry from Dr Cullen and the left if Bill English as Minister of Finance did the following:
1)Run a cash deficit of $13.7 billion over four years to fund $10.6 billion of tax cuts
2)Ran the OBEGAL operating surplus so low that it will not be large enough to fund the Cullen Fund contributions until 2016
3)Reduced the contingency expenditure provision by $2.5 billion over four years (or $250 million a year)"
Taken from a Kiwiblog post in May 2008, before the election.
"Dr Cullen could hardly contain his glee at having spent everything. Basically the fiscal margin for the next five to six years is close to zero. A further downturn and you have have significant problems. He has happily thrown away his previous fiscal discipline."
Still, I guess if you're a fan a little creative history adjustment isn't a problem.
And as for ardern having a chance of winning later this year, you obviously have zero access to labour's internal polling but if your hatred of the right is so great you'll grasp at any straw regardless how tenuous.
The faults were egregious. The ministry of truth alone, but so much more than this.
What upsets me is the idea that the electorate in general, particularly the working class ever lost sight of the fact that Ardern was a politician. In my experience, if there were people who did, it wasn't us.
Those at the coal face just don't have that luxury.
What was missed in the MPC just talking to each other in their fantasy bubble, was the breadth of the anger. That this unacknowledged anger contained a great deal of fear for our present and the viability of our futures. It was, and still is, (though slightly mollified - for now -with the Hipkins regime on notice), entirely justified. For us, this government constituted an unprecedented betrayal from Labour.
In addition, it was also alarming that those granted a voice by our society mostly failed to notice that Ardern was careering way out of control. Ordinary people were asking each other ''what the hell does it take - will it take for them to see the bleeding obvious?
History is always too damn late, but it's words will not match the photo-op pictures of these times, relentlessly chosen by the media.
"It's part of a wider weaponisation of the pejorative to silence and dismiss points of view regardless of their actual validity "
Tell me David how you have been silenced. Because whatever happens in this country pales when you compare it to what's happening in places with right-wing governments at the moment. And yet not a peep out of you people about any of it. One can only assume you approve?
I suggest a new game for here to bring some light hearted sparring into the column. Get Eric Berne's 'The Games that People Play' and dissect others burblings and allow others to do so same with one's own so see around corners with periscopes? to where the sun don't usually shine. Berne died 1970 but the malady lingers on.
Core Approaches in Counselling and Psychotherapy
https://books.google.co.nz › books
Fay Short, Phil Thomas · 2014 · Medical
... ego-states or games Brief biography of Eric Berne (1910–1970) 'Awareness ... of interactions between individuals and the games that people play within ...
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