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Marc Alexander: Cheer up, the worst is yet to come

3 March 2006

Marc My Words: Cheer up, the worst is yet to come.

By Marc Alexander

The Labour government is unraveling faster than a carpet bound dish of linguini. Handed the Treasury benches by the slimmest of margins, the air of confidence over the last six years now more closely resembles a sustained belch in search of a breath mint.

The fragile support of the underwhelming lapdog Winston must be worrying. If he was to be found lying prostate before the Labour Caucus door with the words "wipe your boots before entering" tattooed on his back I would not be at all surprised! It takes a fanciful leap of faith to imagine this government running the distance. But more on that later.

Suffice to suggest that next time the Prime Minister needs a break she should forgo the icy climes of Scandinavia and head for Lourdes and pray for a miracle. Her hand on the rudder of the S.S. Kiwi is less sure and has about as much conviction as that of a cattle farmer at a DOC sponsored conference on foot and mouth.

The one flagship arena where Labour has trumpeted competence has been the economy. But despite Cullen's whingeing about the panic merchants, we are still losing our most valuable skilled and entrepreneurial workers to Australia at unprecedented levels (around 600 per week).

We have plummeting business confidence; a manufacturing sector struggling under the barrage of imports from nations that are unencumbered by tax disincentives, escalating compliance costs; innovation strangling legislation; and oh.a massive trade deficit blowout that is the worst in thirty years (a $70billion shortfall). Cullen should look to a post-political career as a stage magician having made the success of the New Zealand economy disappear in a puff of over-legislated tobacco smoke!

And the criminal justice system? While the last six years were at least looking (if not actually going) in the right direction, Labour has now clearly all but abandoned such prospects. Remember the Victim's Rights Act? The bright glow of that legislation has waned into a dimly lit pile of ashes - superseded by such baloney as the right of offenders to receive compensation! Now the prison system.oops I mean Corrections, spearheaded by the usually sensible Minister Damien O'Connor, is being touted for a make-over into an 'open' system to those supposedly at the lower end of criminal offending!

Perhaps the next step will be to save a bundle by not having prisons at all! Just this week we find that inmates are watching R-rated movies! The most surprising thing is that the ensuing discussion has revolved around what movies these criminals get treated to as opposed to why they are watching any at all!

These convicted criminals are being given comforts and choice they denied their victims - many of whom probably wouldn't mind a bit of taxpayer subsidized diversion from the effects of the crimes themselves! Have we lost the plot so much that 'punishment' is no longer an appropriate consequence of choosing to commit a crime? You can't even talk about it without some apologist calling you a red-neck. It wasn't that long ago that we held fast to concepts like personal accountability - a time, by the way, when the volume of crime was less, and when a murder still caused the nation to sit up and take notice. Where has that gone?

I would not be surprised if our Minister from the West-Coast (carefully chosen to at least give the appearance of 'toughness') next suggested a menu, wine-list and foot massage as wondrous tools of rehabilitation! Hell, it won't be long before criminals will be re-branded as 'rehabilitation customers' and come to expect a complimentary mint on their feather down cots!

Then we have David Benson-Pope.

It is a fiasco that continues unabated. Frankly much of what he's been accused of is simply looking back two decades with a present day perspective. Find me a teacher who hasn't felt the urge to shove a tennis ball in some unruly snotty kids' mouth? But the latest accusations - if true - regarding hanging around young girls in their nightwear at a camp might well prove more problematic. Even so, it's dragged on well past public enjoyment. If there is any evidence then Rodney Hyde should produce it. If not then he should dine on the tennis balls himself.

The only aspect of this that deserves full investigation is the allegation that Benson- Pope misled the House and Judith Collins is absolutely correct to pursue this. No worthy minister should be let off by claiming he could not remember having a complaint lodged against him. That's like forgetting who you lost your virginity to. Either he can remember but lied - in which case he should lose his Ministerial warrant; or he can't remember in which case he is too mentally impaired to be a Minister and should seek psychiatric assessment.

The whole sordid issue has at least cleared up one uncertainty; it answers a question that rates with the mystery of crop circles and the Bermuda triangle: what does Judith Tizzard do in parliament? As the photo on page two of the Press (1/3/06) clearly demonstrates, she provides the shoulder for Labour ministers to cry on. If the past is any indication she will require an OSH assessment for repetitive strain injury!

What has been illuminating is Labour's attempt at retaliation. Apart from sending minister Pope to uncharacteristically feign sorrow and dig into a double helping of humble-pie and a side order of humiliation on Campbell Live and Close Up, were the PM's counter-threats of a big 'reveal' of National MP's ex-teacher's records. As a tactic it is as desperate as it is disingenuous. If they had any information - no matter how slight - they would have used it by now. It is a hollow attempt at bullying with all the sting of boiled lettuce being flung at a vegetarian from 20 paces.

While on the subject of the Prime Minister.

It is an oft used tactic that in order to obfuscate the volatility of what is happening around you, that similar aspersions are cast on your enemy. It is in that light that the so-called instability of the Brash leadership may be viewed. There is no-one in the National Caucus who would be stupid enough to seriously contemplate they could do a better job right now.

Yes there's a lot of potential leadership talent and their moment will come in due course, but it is undeniable that Brash has delivered. Not only by bringing to Parliament a huge boost in National numbers but also an opposition that is starting to test and rattle the Labour front bench. The trick now is to look more and more like a government in waiting.

On the flipside, Labour is looking tired. The Treasury benches look like they're increasingly inhabited by a punch-drunk mob desperately waiting for the bell to end the round. They have the look of the expendable guy who's delivered the last line of his script and just seen the monster.

Labour's power hungry elite are either looking at retirement or jockeying for position in the next opposition. The real power struggle lies with them, not National. The most obvious contest in the post-Clark conflict is between the ideologically 'pure' Maharey, the pragmatically centre Goff, and the compromise by committee candidate, Mallard.

Maharey is an intellectually self-made man smitten with his creation. His world view is conveniently academic and isolated from the real - that's why he appeals to the far left. Anybody who has difficulty in comprehending eternity could do no better than to listen to Maharey speak to see if he ever gets to a point.

In a political climate where the pendulum is swinging towards the centre-right, Goff should be the obvious choice. He doesn't scare middle New Zealand but he might have a bit of trouble from the mad feminist left of Labour. Well, let's face it, he's the wrong gender - something Maharey couldn't be directly accused of without a DNA sample - and he's pragmatic (which, from the barmy left's point of view also rules him out).

Nevertheless he has a nub of support from the Labour boy's club who have been spayed for too long. He has ambition and realizes that if not after Helen, then probably never. He needs to get the invites out for the next barbeque - this time more will show up.

Mallard is parliament's bagpipe. He has the ideology.and just enough of the working class in him to be at least in contention for plan B. Unfortunately for him, even if he was plan Z he would still be unappealing to the majority of Kiwi voters. And who else is there? Clark will sail off to conquer all the international lost causes that no-one in their right mind would give a moments thought to. But at least the UN has one useful function: as a repository for all those socialists too dangerous to leave behind in their own country.

It's a convenient alternative to the loony bin which, of course, Clark had previously all closed down as Minster of Heath and so denied the possibility of an alternative destination. Cullen will smell defeat and put himself out to pasture where his shock of white hair will be an asset to keep him camouflaged with the sheep thereby avoiding awkward questions about his tenure as shepherd of our economy by reporters unable to find him.

Watch for a procession of retirements: ex- minister George Hawkins will go rather than suffer the ignominy of moving from the government backbench to the wilderness of opposition. Sutton will dive back into obscurity from whence he came, and Margaret Wilson will retire into her study and write books about the wonders of political correctness.

It's a truism that some governments create voter happiness wherever they legislatively go; others when they go. Labour should take the hint and take a much needed sabbatical on the opposition benches. After all, nine years is more than enough Labour for any woman.or any country.


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