Friday 24 April 2020

Deposing Simon Bridges Would Be A Mistake.

If Not Him, Who? Surrendering to a run of bad news seldom makes the headlines any better. Opposition Leader Simon Bridges may have many faults, but he is, at least, a known quantity. Of his potential replacements: Paula Bennett, Judith Collins, Mark Mitchell and Todd Muller: those not generally detested by the voters are generally unknown to them.

DEPOSING SIMON BRIDGES as Leader of the Opposition would cause the National Party more problems than it would solve. Yes, Bridges is difficult to like and prone to serious lapses in political judgement, but he is also capable of exploiting the Government’s weaknesses with considerable aplomb. It is this strength that National needs to keep in play as the country counts down to the General Election. Truly bad things are coming down the pike and Labour lacks the depth of political talent required to deal with them. In the same way a tree can hide in a forest, Bridges’ failings may soon become much harder to spot.

Keeping its collective nerve will admittedly be difficult for the National caucus. Very soon appalling private poll results will be confirmed by equally appalling public ones. Bridges’ favourable/unfavourable numbers will test the patience of his colleagues to the limit. And the dazzling halo of public acclaim currently crowning the Prime Minister can only make National’s parlous political situation even harder for its parliamentary team to bear.

But bear it they must. Surrendering to a run of bad news seldom makes the headlines any better. Bridges may have many faults, but he is, at least, a known quantity. Of his potential replacements: Paula Bennett, Judith Collins, Mark Mitchell and Todd Muller: those not generally detested by the voters are generally unknown to them. Worse still, all bar Muller hail from the National Party Right, and Muller’s allegedly “wet” credentials are far from unimpeachable. (In party politics, just about everything is negotiable!) In short, if the National Caucus does lose its nerve, then the public’s most likely reaction will be either “Not her!” or “Who’s he?”

What this dilemma reveals is the party’s failure to equip itself with enough politicians of sufficient stature to meet all contingencies. How differently the party was positioned in 2002, following National’s worst ever electoral defeat. Bill English may have led his colleagues to the crushing repudiation of a 20.9 percent Party Vote, but when the smoke had cleared Don Brash and John Key were seated comfortably on the Opposition Benches. The former was particularly well-suited to lead National back into electoral contention, and the latter had everything it took to carry the party forward to victory in 2008. Scanning the Opposition’s ranks in 2020, it is simply not possible to identify either a Don Brash- or a John Key-in waiting.

Giving New Zealand a National Party leader even further to the right than Bridges would be an invitation to electoral ruin. By the same token, electing a new leader of no fixed ideological abode would immediately prompt the question: “Why did they bother?” It would also prove that National’s caucus lacks the wit to recognise the winning combination it already has.

Bridges has already proved his ability to fasten his sharp little teeth firmly around Labour’s jugular if its representatives and advisers are silly enough to give him the opportunity. One has only to recall his successful exploitation of the Treasury’s Budget Papers foul-up to be reminded of the harm Bridges can inflict when he gets the chance. On that occasion he seriously compromised the Minister of Finance’s “wellbeing”. Grant Robertson has seldom looked so irked!

More seriously, Robertson now has Paul Goldsmith marking him on the economic wing. National’s finance spokesperson may strike voters as a fairly cold fish, but given Goldsmith’s role is to forensically deconstruct the Government’s response to the Covid-19-induced recession with icy detachment and unrelenting severity, his rather chilly persona may be no bad thing. That Bridges and Goldsmith have become close friends and allies only makes the wisdom of keeping both of them at the head of National’s column all the more compelling.

What every member of National’s caucus can do for their all-too-frequently hapless leader is remind him constantly of the fundamental importance of political timing. How different things would have been this week if Bridges had restricted his response to the Prime Minister’s extension of the Level 4 Lockdown by a further week to one of calm, but guarded, support. If he’d followed this with a heartfelt shout-out to all the small businesses struggling to stay afloat in the Covid-19 flood he would also have been superbly set up for what unfolded the following day at the Epidemic Response Committee.

Labour thought itself very fortunate to secure the services of Dr Deborah Russell. Her academic expertise in taxation made her a sitter for Cabinet. That is to say – it did. Because her performance at the Select Committee on Tuesday, 21 April was not the sort that enhances political careers. Russell’s almost total lack of empathy for the thousands of small business owners facing ruin as a result of the Lockdown will not be forgotten in a hurry by the individuals and families involved. Insinuating that their acute financial vulnerability was evidence of business incompetence, was like rubbing salt in an open wound. Symptomatic of the ever-widening gulf between Labour’s professional-managerial recruits and the rest of the country, the New Lynn MP’s condescension recalls Hilary Clinton’s infamous description of Trump’s followers as “a basket of deplorables”.

Had he not buried himself under an avalanche of public (or, at least, Facebook) opprobrium by responding so gracelessly to the Prime Minister’s announcement, Bridges could have pilloried Russell for her insensitivity and ignorance. National’s core supporters among the nation’s small and medium-sized enterprises could have been reassured – inspired even – by their party leader.

“I may not have Jacinda’s star-power,” he could have said, “but I know – because hundreds of you have told me – what it’s like to lie awake all night wondering how to save the business you have poured your whole life into building up. How dare a well-paid academic-turned-Labour-politician criticise that sort of effort and dedication? What did she earn her doctorate for – cruelty?”

With problems whole lot worse than Dr Russell’s insensitivity heading Labour’s way, all Simon Bridges and his Finance spokesperson need to do, is let the Coalition Government’s predictably over-cautious and ideologically-arid policies speak for themselves.

Jacinda only has five months to teach her colleagues to speak the language of empathy and kindness. If she fails, then National’s words of condemnation and reproach will be more than enough to unseat her.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 23 April 2020.


Wayne Mapp said...

Well, you are certainly providing us a good variety of posts. I happen to agree on just about all of this article. We are in different times to 2017. What worked for Labour back then would not work for National now.

In any event the election is not next month, it is five months away. By then the recession will have well and truly bitten. Voters will be looking at who has the best recovery plan, and who has the competence to carry it out. The unity of the country right now will be well in the past. People will be really suffering. Jobs will have gone, businesses will have failed. The light may be only dimly seen at the end of the tunnel, if at all.

So in my view the election is no slam dunk for Labour. It will be a real contest.

Odysseus said...

“There is a tide in the affairs of men. Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune”. Ardern has so far managed successfully to surf the COVID-19 response wave which she caught in mid-March on the back of expert advice. The ebb is however approaching quickly and it will leave exposed on the blasted sands of despair the appalling economic wreckage from shutting down half of the economy. Bridges has a lot of baggage to overcome, including his sycophantic cooing about the PRC, and he also has a dreadful sense of political timing. If he can be saved from himself however and adapt he might just pull it off. The Shakespeare quote (Julius Caesar) seems appropriate on his birthday. He should be prescribed reading for all aspiring politicians.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

I think this is a cunning plan. A bit of "reverse psychology" to make them think – "If Trotter wants to keep Simon Bridges then we must get rid of him straight away!" Good idea Chris, but it's a little too easy to see through.:)

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Why would anyone be surprised at Deborah Russell's lack of empathy? She is an ex-accountant right? Economists have only just started to take the human factor into account in their work. I don't think accountants have got round to it yet. It's all numbers to them.

Kat said...

Simon Bridges is on record a few days ago stating that he prefers an economic response led by the private sector, not by Government. This statement is the line in the sand, the neoliberal battle front. Its all going to be about the economy from National, from end of lockdown through to September. National would be foolish to depose Simon Bridges before the election. I would imagine they will use his scrappy street fighting bluntness to seek out and expose any weak spots in Jacinda and Grant's economic medicine. After the election, well who would want to imagine......

As for Deborah Russell she was merely putting forward the notion that our low wage economy had left small business vulnerable and less resilient. Perhaps she could have timed and possibly phrased her question better in the select committee, however this is the type question that should be encouraged for another forum.

Dr Johnson said...

Parachute Luxon in at the last minute. I really enjoy your writing Mr Trotter, but the last few weeks has been rather " The lady dost protest too much "... Sorry but all those discredited socialist ideas mean nothing in the present. Left and Right are meaningless. Ardern has been the right person at the right time twice this term, but her backup is incompetent and people with business experience will be needed back in charge if NZ wants to ACTUALLY reduce the unemployment rate again, and rebuild the country.University educated middle class pseudo " socialists " ( whatever that even means ) simply won't cut it. Like Churchill some politicians are great war leaders, but need to be let go of in peacetime. Sadly we may have to endure another term of damage, but then the grown ups will inevitable be voted back in. Your time machine is broken, the world has moved on from discredited ideologies and no amount of spurting out meaningless terms like " Neo-liberal " will change that....

Anonymous said...

GS - is Dr Russell an accountant, let alone an ex-one? Didn't she do her PhD in political science? According to her biography, she worked as an auditor for Deloittes 30 years ago. She spent more time as a public sector analyst.
Chris Morris

Anonymous said...

Luxon will defeat Ardern in 2023.

sumsuch said...

Like the last two paras. I just mentioned on Facebook, linking it to my namesake Uncle who died for 'freedom and democracy' in WW 2, the govt must continue to be pre-eminent in the economy afterward to deal with the equal urgency of climate change. Cold sick gets more response in our de-politicised population -- or, our suicide 10 years out. My bac sis removed the comment. Christ help us. Or, all it requires is this govt to live and learn as they seem to be doing remarkably quickly. We can all now see a strong government can be appropriate. Jacinda can speak truth about the present, why not the ( near to the power of infinity)future.

Anonymous said...

I have read a fair bit of commentary about Simon Bridges' supposedly awful Facebook post, but I hadn't read the actual post itself.

So I took the time to read the post. It's not that bad, and he's not wrong. The government is not properly prepared for tracing etc, and the economy is in serious trouble. He has got a point!

I am very concerned that you guys on the left are in a bit of a bubble... You've got your own narratives, and your own media created consciousness, but that doesn't necessarily resonate with the rest of us. I worry that you guys have forgotten that Twitter is not real life, that Facebook is not real life, and that the political blogosphere is not real life. Normal people form their opinions through conversations with their peers, BUT most non-leftists do it face-to-face, not publicly online..

Just be careful that you don't get Corbyned at the next election through the vilification of anyone who doesn't take part in your particular flavour of groupthink.

GJE said...

By the time the election rolls around the National party will be begging Simon Bridges to take over..No one else will be prepared to take the poisoned chalice Jacinda will be handing over..

greywarbler said...

I am sure that it is possible to make a long list of mis-speak from Labour politicians showing how far they are from the needs and aspirations of people who are struggling with the lack of ladders for social mobility. Labour was set up to help 'the workers' and vulnerable, but the male model was followed by unions, and the desire by the strongest, for money and power grew to a point where union leaders looked down on the workers, seeing themselves in management roles above mere physical labour.

And they went to uni which is very mind-widening and got good jobs, and then melded with that class, instead of helping the workers further down the ladder to attend workshops and expand their competence of their value and skills, and gain a practical and meaningful say in their jobs and conditions. The attitude was that movement should be upward from labour and if they didn't want to climb the rungs, then be it on their own heads.

The powerful unions learned to be as greedy as the bosses, until the bosses stopped playing, co-opted the upper class twits in Labour and pop went the weasel. Jim Anderton broke away but couldn't carry enough workers' votes with him, and was afflicted with male traditional thinking, the all-knowing, which required changes to respond to changing times.

Now we are stuck with fast-talking lawyers, technocrats and accountants who know the value of everything but don't realise or care how much they have cost the working class. Their move to higher education, hasn't included a macro view gained from social anthropology. Labour is fractured and Deborah Russell's remarks and returned UN manager Shearer commenting unfavourably on poor people trying to manage at low budget level and facing relative poverty, are examples of the fracture. Shades of why don't they eat cake then? (The Chinese noticed the distance between professionals and the rest and sent intellectuals to the fields to learn what life was like for the vast majority. But that didn't seem to work out well.)

Guerilla Surgeon said...

1.According to the biography I read Doctor Russell trained as an accountant and worked as an accountant before she became any sort of political analyst.
2. I'd have thought that the Trump debacle might have disabused us of the idea that business people are necessarily good at running countries.
3. Why is it always conservatives that maintain that classes these days meaningless without providing any evidence to that effect. Is this just another PIDOOMA?

Kat said...

I read a comment on a reply to a recent Sir Bob Jones article on how he likes Jacinda Ardern but that she has no idea on how to run an economy. The comment focused on a young mother who in a TV One news report stated she was going to follow what PM Jacinda Ardern and Dr Ashley Bloomfield were advising because they are in a position of knowing whats best for the country at this time. This young mother was pilloried for her beliefs and made out to be a typical young Jacindamania supporting ignoramus.

Now I know that certain members of the public like to spew their bile out in the comments sections of daily newspapers, talkback radio and blogs, this site being no exception. However, a word of caution to the Luxon brigade with regards the next few elections, the so called young Jacindamania supporters are voters as well, are easily mobilised and are out there in ever increasing numbers. You may not agree with them or political outcomes but you will have to live with it.

David Stone said...

Most voters don't make much of a study of either the economy or politics. they either vote the way they always have, or if they are very disappointed in the performance of the lot they voted for last time they don't bother to vote. As he approached voting age my son said " don't vote , it only encourages the bastards" .
People change their political allegiances almost never. Even when their long supported beloved party pulls an extreme right wing treachery on them that the so called right wing party would never have dreamed they could get away with, or would themselves have sought.
But having it put in place by stealth and deception many of the traditional right wing establishment and politicians embraced it wholeheartedly , as did it must be said the majority of the country rather along the lines of like with an unplanned pregnancy ,"Oh well it's done now, better wait and see how it turns out".
I realised within a year of talking to people in the labour party , which I even joined in order to talk to the folk in the party not the political wing just what they were thinking, and inevitably joining up with the NLP when it was set up, That the politicians and community leaders who had come round to publicly embrace the changes , so profound a departure they were from everything New Zealand had hitherto stood for, that it would be at least a generation before the changes would be reversed because those that facilitated and advocated for it would never in their lifetimes be able to admit to having been a party to such a colossal mistake and such destruction. And on this page is much testimony to that, even as the world is staring into the face of the consequences of those changes.
The next few years , maybe quite a few, will indeed be difficult to say the least. But those who really are paying attention will see that Bridges' team is the team that has by now most resolutely adopted a continuation of the neoliberal settlement. There is some hope that there are among the present administration some other ideas more akin to a practical approach to managing the countries affairs in the interests of the majority of the present population. This is what those who pay attention to the world's economic developments will see, the majority of voters who don't pay attention will only see the extraordinary example of a leader who seems absolutely genuine and honest, is throughly likeable , and clearly extremely competent .
Bad luck all you national party adherents , Yo'r going to be watching from the sidelines for a long time.


sumsuch said...

I regretted the lack of communication in my youth but now it's an endless storm above with less and less relation to actuality. As actuality gets proximiter and proximiter. So politics has become an abstruse hobby, looked at with humorous raised eyebrows. My own youngers are so far from politics and reason they equate my predictions about the more or less end of our species by the century's end with the same regard as for my crazy siblings' conspiracy theories. Comfort in our back-minds is a right, but comfort can't fight for comfort. Ardern must and can lead, if she addresses the fat in her own thoughts.

David Stone said...

Anonymous said...

GS she worked as a member of Delloites Audit team for three years after getting her B Com. That is a job for glorified office juniors. No doubt she graduated from getting the coffee to doing some accounting work, but she would always have been closely supervised by others. On her resume, she never mentioned getting chartered or the like. That is what real accountants do.
But if that work 30 years ago is the sole basis of her expertise (lecturing in the subject isn't) and her CV shows no other, then you calling her an ex-accountant is ridiculing accountants who actually are competent. Or is she the only one Labour have got?
Chris Morris

Dr Johnson said...

" young Jacindamania supporters are voters as well " Let's see how comforted they feel when the food runs out and unemployment is at 25 percent. You can't eat a teddy bear...
Ardern has done a great job as a comforting cheerleader, but so far there is no obvious economic plan being talked about publicly - this would comfort me. Also sorry to be a doomsayer but overseas all the stats point to a " second wave " This Govt is shallow and reactive. Watch those votes and praise evaporate when the rubber hits the road. I hope I'm wrong and we are not on the verge of the Grapes of Wrath pt 2. Actions speak louder than words - and I am terrified for working people that when the words run out there is simply no adequate action plan, nor the talent to make one . It's all very well to see Fyfe let out from his marble mansion to bring in masks , and some people I've never heard of that make crap plastic toys are apparently doing something ( ?!?! good on them but it's PR not substance ) , but given the antipathy and high handedness of this coalition towards business if I was in a position to help, I would think twice before helping the Govt, and instead concentrate on personal efforts to prop up families and jobs. Average wage workers need business talent to provide jobs for them and put food on the table. If this is " neoliberalism " then I can't see a downside to it. It's going to be a scary few years for many. We need good old fashioned market traders with nous and connections to help us all navigate through, not well meaning mandarins with wafty ill thought out ideology.

Jens Meder said...

David Stone - are you able to describe briefly or elaborately a way of life without capital;ism, bearing in mind, that so-called Socialism , being also subject to exactly the same laws of physics and biology as each individual - is just govt. monopoly capitalism ?

Or explain please, that it is not ?

greywarbler said...

sumsuch that's deep, wide, truth. Thanks for revealing the reality that I know in my own life. Honestly, I blame it all on television. Since we have had it not only at night but with breakfast serially, we are really in Alice's land along with the White Queen who says - 'Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."'

I advise that you amaze them by your erudition in mathematics knowing all the branches:
The different branches of Arithmetic -- Ambition, Distraction, Uglification, and Derision.

Alice in Wonderland.

David Stone said...

I believe that capitalism is human nature. That it is impossible to eradicate it from society even in the countries that make it illegal for individuals to buy and sell to each other. And that it is not necessary or desirable to try to stamp it out. But our society needs for capitalism to be the servant of society and not the master. During the last 35 years it has become the master.
Consistant with the instinct to trade for profit is an instinct to protect our trading position and there is no natural limit to the enjoyment and pursuit of of ever greater accumulation of wealth. And left without regulation the successful gain ever greater and greater advantage over would be competitors until they control so much that there is no longer an advantage to them doing anything useful for the rest of society with the resources they control.
The philosophy of neoliberalism that has been pursued by the western world has brought in laws and regulations that far from moderating and limiting the trend to this monopoly and monopsony has legislated to protect and secure this pattern especially in New Zealand.
This has been greatly advanced by treating banking as if it were any other business instead of recognising that the money supply is a unique facility that needed closer controls than any other, and should not carry the ability to engage in other parts of commerce as it has a unique advantage being in control of the creation of money. This has also been abandoned rendering your constant recommendation to save save save as an outdated strategy as the money you are saving in dollars is being created at will by other players by the trillions of dollars.
Cheers D J S

sumsuch said...

I feel comfortable in this new govt regime. Unlike the last 36 years. If you don't know what I'm referring to you are not member-carded to talk about Godzone.

The people must be in charge. Or, democracy. And a party that believes in that force. Not a paid-off happy elite. See the great demo-crat, Sanders.

On that basis The Standard frequently threatens to see me off. Labour : apparatchniks all the way down to the last turtle.