Tuesday 23 June 2020

Can Labour Still Win?

Time To Get Tough: What Jacinda Ardern needs to project in the wake of all those embarrassing new Covid-19 cases is a no more Ms Niceperson image. She has tried to be kind, and far too many selfish bastards have taken advantage. Now it is time to kick some idiot Kiwi butt – and kick it hard.

THE QUESTION IS, can Labour still win in September? A week or so ago, the answer would have been an unequivocal “Hell yeah!” Indeed, the general consensus about the forthcoming general election was that Labour would not only be re-elected, but would win enough seats to govern alone.

Never has Harold Wilson’s famous quip: “A week is a long time in politics” been more appropriately applied than to the brief space of days during which Jacinda Ardern transitioned from international poster-girl to clay-footed statue. A decidedly wobbly-looking statue!

It all boils down to trust. What’s required to build it. How easily it’s lost. And how much more effort – not to mention plenty of old-fashioned good luck – it takes to get it back. Jacinda, and the whole Labour operation which she, single-handedly, is holding up, faces a gruelling uphill struggle just to get back to where they were. Todd Muller, who had been looking suspiciously like dog-tucker, is now very much in with a chance.

Jacinda’s situation isn’t helped by the fact that an unhealthily large percentage of the Parliamentary Press Gallery is in the market for her scalp. They hated being seen as the bad guys. Every day that the Jacinda and Ashley Show was playing, they had to endure the public scorn that poured down upon them. The public had no idea what their leaders had to endure from the news media. But there it was, laid bare, live, on national television. The petty point-scoring. The holier-than-thou posturing. The preening “people’s prosecutors” all vying to ask the “gotcha” question guaranteed to make Jacinda squirm.

Ah, but now everything has changed. Overnight, the story of those two unfortunate women and their fateful road-trip to Wellington, has broken the spell. Overnight, what had looked like – and been accepted internationally – as a practically faultless performance on the part of the New Zealand government and its compassionate prime minister began to unravel. Now it’s just one big ball of tangled wool, and all the media kitty-cats’ little claws are giving it hell.

Saint Ashley has had his angel’s wings ripped bloodily from his back. Unfair? Of course it’s unfair! But that’s the whole nature of the political game, isn’t it? Win big. Lose big. And, being brutally honest, he really did need to make sure that the wires connecting his command-and-control levers were actually attached to something ready, willing and able to be commanded and controlled. It’s a bit late in the day, now, to discover that they weren’t.

Oh sure, Jacinda has called in the troops. That was a cool move. People like that sort of thing. But her next move, bringing in Megan Woods, wasn’t so smart at all. Jacinda needed to remain front and centre. No longer paired with a Director-General of Health, but with an Air Commodore. What she needed to project after the detection of all those embarrassing new Covid-19 cases was a no more Ms Niceperson image. She had tried to be kind, and far too many selfish bastards had taken advantage. Now it was time to kick some idiot Kiwi butt – and kick it hard.

Megan looks like an admission of failure. Political tragics living within the Wellington beltway may understand that she’s one tough cookie who gets the job done and suffers fools not at all. But all the public is likely to remember about Comrade Woods is that she was the person Jacinda brought in to clean up the god-almighty fuck-up that was KiwiBuild. Their entirely predictable conclusion: the Nats are right, this is another fuck-up. Their next entirely predictable conclusion: Labour just can’t get anything right – they’re bloody hopeless!

Is it hopeless? No, not yet. There’s still a bit of time to sort out this omnishambles. But, boy-oh-boy, it will require everybody in Jacinda’s kitchen cabinet to reach down deep into themselves and retrieve a whole lot more imagination, competence and courage than they have displayed to date. This government needs a plan – a solid, simple, no-frills, no-excuses plan for New Zealand’s economic recovery. Not a Treasury Plan, but a Labour plan. A plan that looks, smells, tastes and feels like the sort of remedy Mickey Savage, Bernie Sanders, or – oh, what the hell! – that AOC would be proud of. A plan that the Greens will swoon over, and that NZ First will reject outright.

Are you beginning to see where I’m going with this? No? Well let me make myself crystal clear.

To get out of the awful predicament in which she and her party now find themselves, Jacinda needs to goad Winston and Shane into doing something really dumb. Like refusing to back Jacinda’s and Grant’s democratic-socialist plan. The moment he does that the Prime Minister can justifiably pay a visit to Dame Patsy Reddy, advise her to dissolve Parliament and issue the writs for an early election.

When she’s done that, she can return to the Beehive Theatrette and deliver the speech of her life. A speech calling upon New Zealanders to give her the majority she needs to steer the country out of danger. A speech that asks the voters to set the principles of MMP aside for the duration of this once-in-a-generation national emergency. An emergency that New Zealanders dare not leave to the free-market instincts of the National Party to fix. A “give us the tools so we can finish the job” sort of speech.

As a garnish to this blood-rare steak dinner, she might then tip the wink to Labour voters in Auckland Central to cast their Electorate Vote for Chloe Swarbrick. You know, just to rub salt in Winston’s wounds!

In the meantime, while all this political drama is unfolding, Jacinda needs to make it very, very clear to Air Commodore Darren (Digby) Webb that she expects him and the NZDF to make this country’s borders tighter than a tin drum, and while it probably wouldn’t be a good idea to shoot anyone, a few cuts and bruises wouldn’t unduly bother her – or the rest of the country.

So, get to it, Jacinda. Strap some steel around those clay ankles of yours. Shut this omnishambles down. Change the conversation. And, for Christ’s sake – for all our sakes – win the bloody election!

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 23 June 2020.


David Stone said...

The revelations that surfaced in the immediate wake of the story of the two ladies from the UK , one showing symptoms, traveling to Wellington without ever having been tested , that the implementation of the systems the government and the health ministry thought they had in place might have been a timely and with luck a fortuitous discovery.
The system for controlling the disease so far has worked because we all totally bought into it. For it to have failed after all because a few people with vastly more responsibility for it's success than the rest of us to have failed the way they have raises the question in my mind as to their motivation. This is not going to work without trust. We have to trust the govt to be acting in our interests and we have in this case. The government in turn has to trust the people charged with implementing their response.
But the potential for one or two individuals in the system to wreck it all with so many needing to be brought in is nearly impossible to prevent.
I think that if Jacinda now sees to it that the loopholes are closed, that people are tested when they should be , and we have escaped a mass outbreak, she will not loose much support.
I'm going to say the election is in the bag. Jacinda will remain the most popular national leader on earth for a good while yet.
That is not to say I think that anything has happened to support the concept that she and Grant have transformed into becoming the leading advocates for social democracy though. There is some hint that Grant may be contemplating a move away from extreme neoliberalism but far less than any undertaking , and to construe labour as now representing a move to the alternative against the will of new Zealand First seems to me to be a perversion of reality.

Flaneuse said...

That is a very interesting scenario there! What you describe in your last paragraphs could happen, I suppose, and it may be something that might be being considered. But personally I think the appointment of Megan Woods was a very good one. She is known as a capable "fixer" and it has given me, and others I have spoken to, confidence that the action required to get back on track has been done quickly and decisively. We have a wee way to go, but I think we'll be back on track by the end of a couple of weeks once all of the testing of contacts of the two women are confirmed, and the following up of anyone who left quarantine without having a negative test first - and hopefully all found to be negative. Someone on another blog site I read over the past day or so says there have been no emergency admissions to hospital with Covid-like symptoms, so if there was community transmission it is likely that we would know about that by now. Labour know they need to have the border/quarantine fiasco wrapped up very quickly so that they can maintain their lead in the polls right up to the election and I believe they have done this. I could be wrong. I hope I'm not. We will be watching this space, of course!

Unknown said...

I completely agree. If only everyone in NZ could read this. An educated view plainly spoken.

David George said...

The trouble is that Ardern and her team have been shown to be woefully incompetent, you can't re-write that record with one speech. Credibility, faith and goodwill have been stretched and are now broken.

willy_wopper said...

In NZ governments are seldom chucked out after one term only. Since 1935 it has happened only twice
Both were Labour 1957-1960 1972-1975

Boris said...

You are right about the attitude of sections of the news media, whose performance over the recent week has been shameful. Various writers have outdone themselves in catastrophising the situation, reaching for a full range of negative superlatives which completely exaggerated the significance of what happened. Nor did they balance their writing by investigating and commenting upon the shamefully cynical actions of Woodhouse and his National cohorts. One might have thought that they would be pilloried in the press for taking advantage of a national health emergency to try to extract political advantage. But not a word about this - providing further weight to your assertion that some writers are biased against the government doing their best to manage a fluid national crisis. It seems to me that many political commentators in our MSM suffer from the delusion that it is their role to "hold the government to account". This is properly the role of the Opposition, whereas the media's role is to observe and explain, not to be an active participant in the political process. They should pull their heads in.

greywarbler said...

Boris Important point about media role and Opposition role - that I presume is why they have Question Time in Parliament, when they arise and ask the PM or someone, whether they have confidence in their Ministers? That is asked almost daily, just like I check the thermometer outside every day to inform myself on how things are going, and get all the information I need to know!

Perhaps Question Time is just a cover for the fact that the Opposition don't know enough about governing to ask any pertinent questions, only impertinent ones.

pat said...

Over reaction big time....and engineering an early election is possibly the most foolish idea I've heard in the past week...and theres been no lack of competition

Anonymous said...

I wasn't sure if this was entirely satire. Seriously, "Now it’s just one big ball of tangled wool, an all the media kitty-cats’ little claws are giving it hell"
and "Saint Ashley has had his angel’s wings ripped bloodily from his back"

Really? I did read the breathless 'Hero to Zero' story on Bloomfield some days back. (Actually, more brainless than breathless). Watching Bloomfield's presser today - the first time for weeks - just made me aware how complex some of his answers must seem to the assembled scribes. Because their comprehension skills certainly were not up to it, judging by the questions being asked.

Perhaps your article is a call to arms.

Nevertheless 'Some in the media need to calm down' as Jack Vowles notes is this counter-factual.


"This is no time to lose faith in the Government’s response. Political criticism from journalists and the Opposition is all well and good. It does not serve the country well if it undermines the trust, confidence, compliance and cooperation and ‘kindness’ necessary for New Zealanders to work together against Covid-19.
Let's all calm down, and carry on."

Andrew Nichols said...


You are so right. There are sections of the sad NZ media bubble that 1., have never accepted the legitimacy of the Ardern Govt and/or 2. See NZ as the centre of the universe where the rest of the 6bn inhabitants of Mother Earth look on with bated breath to see and comment on how we do stuff like Covid.. Well.. it aint so. it's time NZ media prima donnas recognised that NZ's insignificant on the world stage with the only mentions we ever get here in Aus even solely relate to the Massacre, the Cop killing and the reopening of Rugby. The results, however NZ has achieved them in these plague times are to be celebrated not whinged about.

Kat said...

Jacinda Ardern is such a competent leader she is recognised as such world wide. However in the small minds of a certain local political tribe she apparently is the opposite. Don't you just love our very own tribal wars, beats Netflix any day.

Roll on election day I say and all that blueish blood splattered on the screens.

greywarbler said...

When you get to the golden gate of heaven you will still be complaining.
I hope you get out in your community and do stuff that will improve things for all the people around you. I get p'd off at those sitting on the fence and passing judgment - too many chiefs and not enough indians seems to be the NZ way. Too many people knowing how it should be done, and not enough both making sure the methods are changed, and helping to do the tasks as well, to ensure things are done better. It usually requires the two actions together to get things right.

sumsuch said...

I suppose so.

Being a politico-head I've been, as I often am, ignorant of the surface media. Climate change is pretty irrelevant up there. This decade being the last year before WW 2 for the species.

I don't think for a sec anyone beyond the ring road, if they are as insulated as me (in my different way), cares much about this media kerfuffle.

But why do we have to 'hope' still about the parties we vote for?

Not being bright enough to 'work the numbers' I will continue to speak my idea of truth straight as per my socialist G. grandfather, which denied him a place in the first Labour Govt's upper house.

GJE said...

The problem is she's not really a steel capped boots sort of girl..and anyway gross incompetence is sort of hard to ignore. You're right taking the fight to Winston and calling an early election is now her only chance..but she can't do that as she may still need him after the election

petes new write said...

We know David Clark is incompetent but it is too close to the elections to bring in a new minister, just get a fixer to look after him.Megan Woods is that type of person. But just think, Von Muller as prime minister? Jeez!

David George said...

Thanks for the comments Greywarbler, to be clear I was relating, in keeping with the theme of the post, to what I see as the public perception.
Since you're interested I will give you my own thoughts on the performance of this government; no fence sitting.

The decision to shut down charter schools was foolish and ideologically driven, these schools were providing real help for kids falling through the cracks in the state system.
Shutting down oil and gas exploration likewise with no tangible benefit and creates serious looming problems for households, industry and overall energy security.
The failure to implement the Kermedec marine reserve and proper surveillance of our inshore fisheries is bad news for our marine life, I'm not happy with that.

The failure to complete even a fraction of the promised Kiwibuild programme, the tree planting and child poverty failures, Shane's nephs off the couch and the just announced mothballing of the light rail I'm less concerned with as they were probably unrealistic or were just bad ideas to start with. A lot of folk will just them as complete failures.

The planned anti-speech legislation and continued appeasement of radical separatists I'm very concerned with on a fundamental level of principle.
So no, I'm not impressed with this government and hope we see the back of them at the next election, I feel genuinely fearful for the future of our country if Labour have another three years.

I'm not impressed with the comments above for the press to back off on criticism of the government. They seem remarkably tame when compared to most other countries as it is.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"The trouble is that Ardern and her team have been shown to be woefully incompetent"

But more competent than conservative governments in Brazil, the USA, Germany, Britain, a centrist government in Sweden with right wing influences, and any number of right-wing governments in Eastern Europe. But no, someone has to politicise it. And they let a couple of people through the net, maybe someone should lose their job over that, but the leader of the opposition wants to import 10,000 students. And they won't be from places where Covid 19 has been overcome.

Honestly you hear some really stupid things on this blog at times like "it's a pity someone like Susie Wiles got the Prime Minister's ear" gosh yes it's really sad that a microbiologist should be asked to advise the government on viruses. Who should we be asking about this, diesel mechanics? Are microbiologists and epidemiologists all communists or something? Why are they being demonised? It's this sort of mindset that leads to things like the anti-vax movement and all sorts of quack medicines. It's a sad reflection on modern society that we prefer to trust some eejit on the Internet with a big mouth rather than actual experts.

Anonymous said...

Chris , interesting your comment re Auck central split voting cos I wondered if that might come up .
Now a bit of personal insight regarding myself and how I see Jacinda .
Last election I almost voted labour for the first time due to the arrival of Jacinda , however took the middle ground ( which defines me as a voter ) and went with Winston not caring who he went into coalition with seeing his balance needed either left or right .
During the first few weeks if lockdown I thought I'm going to vote for Jacinda this time ,,,,then redefining elimination , not showing leadership with incompetent ministers , not owning anything with the border fuck ups , and all the time Dog Tucker Muller as you referred to him gaining traction , so now it's looking like I might vote national cos as much as I admire Jacinda s communication and empathy , there still needs to be competence and good judgement

John Hurley said...

A labour party is supposed to be looking after the working class (not the woking class)


Charles Bagnall said...

Great column. Bang on.
Early election - Winston is as destructive force - she could call it any time by saying she's lost confidence in Wionston and his lack of support.
Charles B