David Miller: Has Labour’s Slide Started?
Has Labour’s Slide Started?
Anyone who heard Trevor Mallard being interviewed by Linda Clark on National Radio last Friday would have cringed in embarrassment for the man. The Minister had been asked onto the show to explain why the government’s new website designed to educate the public on the Treaty of Waitangi was not yet online. However this proved no easy task because within five minutes of the questions commencing not only was Mr. Mallard completely tongue tied over the non-existent website but he found himself attacking National over their inquiries as to where it was and eventually ended up defending the actions of Lianne Dalziel. One may or may not agree with Mr. Mallard that there is no one more upset in this country at the moment than the former Immigration Minister, it depends on whether your property remains underwater, but it was another sorry incident in what has been the most difficult of few weeks for the government.
The controversy surrounding Ms. Dalziel has poured salt on the wound that National has opened with Don Brash’s speech on race relations and its subsequent surge in the polls. For a government that almost effortlessly brushed aside questions over who painted and signed a certain landscape and sidestepped some irrelevant rabble rousing over genetically modified agents entering a batch of corn, its performance of late is leaving much to be desired and must be of concern.
The asinine element to this latest controversy was that it did not have to happen the way it did and had Ms. Dalziel acted better it could have been dealt with early and without much fuss. Yes, the Minister made an error of judgment in leaking the document concerning the recently deported Sri Lankan girl and an even greater one by lying to the media but her cardinal sin was to try and tough it out. Once Ms. Dalziel’s untruths had been revealed she should have drafted her letter for the Prime Minister, cleared her desk, bid her staff farewell and headed home to Christchurch. Instead she decided, or was extremely ill advised, that attack was the best line of defence and she refused to resign. Instead she had to wait until the Prime Minister decided to act and only then did she agree return to the backbenches. It was all too little to late.
Losing her Ministers job is punishment enough for Ms. Dalziel. After all she is not the first politician to get to make an error of judgement or try to fight for a lost position and it is unlikely that she would lose a by-election if one were held. Forcing one would not help any of the opposition parties. Her political career is beyond repair, although time does cleanse the political sins, but it is unlikely she will hold office under this current government or any in the future. The Prime Minister herself has not emerged from this controversy with any points either. Her failure to sack Ms. Dalziel or ask for her resignation straight away has meant that an opportunity for Ms. Clark to be seen as a leader that acts confidently and decisively has been lost and it will give National more ammunition and possibly traction at the polls. The question now is whether the government itself can halt the damage caused by this incident along with its failure to provide clarity over Treaty issues and concerns that it is losing touch with the general public.
Governments of all outlooks and orientations have a life cycle, save for the ones who banish any opposition, for example, Tony Blair. They arrive, after a period of agitation and sniping on the opposition benches, looking idealistic, fresh and always with a ray of hope that things might improve. Some may introduce legislation that alters the country’s economic or social fabric and even leave some sort of legacy, but no matter how strident they are towards change, the day will come when they are on the wrong side of the ledger when it comes to change. Eventually the voters’ tire of the rhetoric and the promises and so the process begins that forces the change. All governments and leaders at some point in their careers recognise when that time is near although the problem they face is that they must ask the electorate for another term in office even when they have run out of ideas and fresh faces and it is clear there time is up, as was the case in National’s landslide of 1990. We are certainly not near that point yet and while the winds of change have not started blowing there is perhaps a hint of a breeze.