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Scandal Swirling Leadership Bids, And Race-Baiting


Paulo Politico: Scandal Swirling Leadership Bids, And Race-Baiting

At a time when the opposition parties are at a low point, consumed by scandal, infighting and embarrassing gaffes, the government appears able to continue almost unchallenged. It is a scenario that one might expect during the first year of the first term of a new government, not during the fourth year.

No doubt Labour MPs have been toasting several holiday gifts during the month of January – Donna Awatere-Huata, Gerry Brownlee and Bill English.

Awatere-Huata has been subject to allegations about the use of taxpayer’s money allocated to the Pipi Foundation – set up to help implement her reading programme. It is alleged that money was instead spent on things such as a stomach-stapling procedure to help the MP to lose weight.

Such allegations destroy political reputations, severely damaged parties, and they certainly force this opposition onto the back foot. Worse still for ACT, the allegations have gone largely unanswered by the embattled Awatere-Huata – much to the chagrin of her parliamentary leader.

National ‘wanna-be leader’ Brownlee’s brazen call for the return of nuclear-powered warships in New Zealand raised not only eyebrows but also tensions inside the National Party. His call for reform is a direct challenge to Bill English’s leadership.

Bumbling Bill, who has been hobbled by poll after poll showing support for his party draining away, has struggled to maintain the facade that he is a strong leader. Brownlee’s public support for a change in policy direction is a clear signal that English has to watch his back.

Actually English didn’t need reminding that his leadership was under threat. During 2002, Labour MPs constantly reminded him that his detractors were sharpening the knives. No doubt their calls will come more loudly and more frequently now that Brownlee has publicly fired a shot over his leader’s bow.

To add insult to injury, Brownlee’s bid received widespread media coverage, including coverage on 3 News. This led to the publication of a poll that showed less than a third of National supporters actually supported English’s leadership.

The hit must have hurt English personally. The apparatchik of spin-doctors in his tormented office must have gone into overdrive, painting the Brownlee statement as misguided and ill advised. But the damage is done. English isn’t a casualty of Brownlee. He is a casualty of his own failure to convey a positive alternative to the Labour government.

Scandal and internal squabbling in the opposition must surely have been the source of summer pleasure for Labour MPs. They can return to Wellington knowing that public satisfaction with the government remains extremely favourable, and the New Zealand economy continues to be one of the best performing in the OECD.

The Prime Minister’s job approval ratings remain meteoric. By contrast, English languishes in a distant third place. This difference is due in part to a difference in style. Helen Clark’s priorities are a strong healthy economy, investment in public services, and improving living standards. In stark contrast, English’s priority is trying and outbid New Zealand First on race and Treaty issues.

Readers should look for a minor reshuffle within the National caucus in an attempt to strengthen the party’s performance in the House. Simon Power is a candidate for the defence portfolio, which will mean the hapless Richard Worth losing out.

Power is regarded as quite a star within his caucus. By contrast, Worth is seen as a wayward plodder. His poor judgement, passing up the opportunity to attend a 28th Maori Battalion commemorative service in Egypt in favour of a touristy sightseeing saunter on the back of a camel, didn’t do him any favours.

The irony of that proposed change in portfolio management would mean English demoting one of his few remaining Auckland-based MPs. Worth’s demotion would mean only Wayne Mapp and Murray McCully holding senior portfolios. National’s other Auckland-based MPs (Worth, John Key, Pansy Wong, Maurice Williamson and Judith Collins) all hover on the backbenches, exactly no influence on the party’s leadership or policy direction.

Speaking of Judith Collins, she is an early candidate for a bad judgement award. Having only been elected to Parliament in July 2002, the National MP for Clevedon reportedly nominated Nazi General Erwin Rommel as her personal hero. What possessed her to nominate a Nazi leader who was at the vanguard of the Nazi invasion of Europe and North Africa during WWII?

It is that kind of poor judgement that leaves National vulnerable to the charge that it is out of touch with the views, concerns and feelings of middle New Zealanders. The last thing that an unpopular opposition wants is to be even more out of touch with the views and concerns of the electorate.

At a time when the opposition parties are at a low point, consumed by scandal, infighting and embarrassing gaffes, the government appears able to continue almost unchallenged. It is a scenario that one might expect during the first year of the first term of a new government, not during the fourth year.

The Christmas and New Year holiday period is a time when the warm sun and festive holiday cheer reflects a sense of optimism. Optimism about the future is an emotion that incumbent government’s are keen to encourage.

The current government received a big Christmas present, with voters overwhelmingly optimistic about the year ahead. The government has received additional presents courtesy of Awatere-Huata, Brownlee and English. Success in 2003 – potentially the most challenging year so far – creates a strong foundation for Labour to press on towards a third term in office.

The issues that are propelling the government towards a third consecutive term in office are the same issues that won it the 2002 election – economic growth, good management, job opportunities, investment in public services, and opportunities for young people. It is a winning formula.

New Zealanders are enlightened people. They are also optimistic and progressive people. They are fairly content with the general direction that the government is heading, and the overall state of the New Zealand economy.

Add the current scandal swirling around Awatere-Huata, Brownlee’s leadership bid, and English’s foray into the sinister world of race-baiting politics, and the status quo (popular government verses unpopular opposition) looks set to continue.

Welcome to 2003.


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