Are You Still Here? Just like his colleague, Phil Twyford – of KiwiBuild fame – David Clark juts out his chin and shamelessly apportions blame to everybody but himself. Even worse, he has turned viciously on Ashley Bloomfield, the nearest approximation to a competent, decent, humble and accountable public servant that this country possesses.
IF DAVID CLARK hasn’t been sacked by the time you read this, then Jacinda isn’t doing her job. His point-blank refusal to accept responsibility for the multiple institutional failures of his Health portfolio more than justifies Clark’s dismissal.
Ministers of the Crown only have one job: to be responsible. As members of both the legislature and the executive they are a living bridge between citizen and state. A ministerial refusal to accept responsibility for failures occurring on his watch is also a refusal to uphold the essence of our Westminster-style representative democracy. If Jacinda doesn’t get this, then she should be given a swift tutorial by someone who does.
Jacinda needs to get rid of Clark for another, much less high-falutin – but no less politically compelling – reason. He was unforgivably disrespectful of Ashley Bloomfield – and Newshub’s cameraman, Billy Paine, captured Bloomfield’s reaction for the whole world to see.
That should not be a survivable offence.
Week-in, week-out, like Jacinda herself, Ashley has stood behind a lectern in the Beehive Theatrette and kept us not only informed, but also calm. Has he let the ball fall through his hands of late? Yes, he has. But, for Christ’s sake, the guy has been carrying half New Zealand on his shoulders (with Jacinda carrying the other half) for months. That he hasn’t been able to catch every single operational curve-ball, thrown at him by every delinquent player in the New Zealand health system, is forgivable – isn’t it?
If anything is likely to provoke such forgiveness, then it must surely be the callous treatment meted out to him by the guy who thought the Level 4 rules were only there for the “Team of Five Million” to follow. The guy who went mountain-biking during Lockdown. The guy who took himself off to Dunedin instead of insisting that – as the responsible minister – he be allowed to stand at his boss’s side for the duration of the Covid-19 emergency. The guy who owned-up on nationwide television to being “a bit of an idiot”.
That guy doesn’t get to be mean to Ashley Bloomfield – and survive.
Surely, Jacinda, you see that? Surely you’re not guilty (as one outspoken right-wing gentleman suggested to me this morning) of having questioned, in the finest Machiavellian style, whether it might not be advisable, during the heroic phase of the Covid-19 war, to have Clark sequestered in Dunedin; bringing him back to Wellington only when all the inevitable blunders, committed by the exhausted employees of our understaffed and under-resourced health system, started coming to light? I told him firmly that you weren’t that sort of politician. Don’t you dare prove me wrong!
New Zealanders need to be shown, Jacinda, that you genuinely understand how pissed-off they are. It’s not just the sheer, mind-numbing dumbness of the mistakes that the people supposedly in charge have been making that’s got us all yelling at the television. Underneath it all there’s the sneaking suspicion that, once again, we’ve been played for fools. Staying in our bubbles; washing our hands; socially distancing; coughing into our elbows: doing all the things we were told to do; while the people in charge, the people paid more than the prime minister, were fucking everything up.
If you want to remain prime minister, Jacinda, you have to give us some sign that you get all this. Because if you don’t, then we, the voters, might start joining a few dots. You know what I’m talking about. We might just recall the young woman who stood in front of us and asked us to join her in transforming New Zealand through the “politics of kindness”. The young woman of “relentless positivity” and “practical idealism”, who said: “Let’s do this!” – and, God help us, persuaded Winston Peters to give her the chance.
But then what happened, Jacinda? After we had given you our votes, what happened next? Were the promises of transformation fulfilled? Did the people charged with rolling out the changes give us anything that looked even remotely like genuine reform? Or, were the voters forced to endure one disappointment after another? Were the only tangible results produced by the general incompetence of your ministers the derisory snorts and disillusioned sighs from the electors they had let down?
Your government’s consistent failure to deliver might have been forgiven if it had led to a radical shake-up of the entire coalition. If you had gotten tough with Winston and his NZ First colleagues: warning them that if the expectations of the people who voted for the governing parties were not met, then you would simply jump in a government car and make the short trip from the Beehive to Government House. If the numbers aren’t there for real change, Jacinda, then the only right move is to go out and win yourself some new numbers!
Sadly, Jacinda, you haven’t followed that course. Instead, and exactly as happened in relation to the failure of our health services to deliver secure defences against the re-entry of the Covid-19 virus, incompetence and arrogance have gone unpunished. Just like his colleague, Phil Twyford – of KiwiBuild fame – David Clark juts out his chin and shamelessly apportions blame to everybody but himself. Even worse, he has turned viciously on Ashley Bloomfield, the nearest approximation to a competent, decent, humble and accountable public servant that this country possesses.
And still, Jacinda, you do nothing. New Zealand’s self-confessed “idiot” of a Health Minister is still in possession of his warrant.
Why? And for how much longer?
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 26 June 2020.