Mark Blumsky Speech: President, United Future
Mark Blumsky Speech: President, United Future A Centre Party's Political Realities United Future, Auckland Regional Conference Saturday, 8 May, 2004
I came to the presidency of United Future earlier this year - mid-term in this utterly fascinating electoral cycle, at the organisational helm of a party of eight MPs, with a confidence and supply agreement with a minority government.
So, let's face it, that's a pretty interesting world to walk into.
And let me tell you, as a veteran politician of the local government variety, I am viewing matters with considerable interest and not a little anticipation.
And I would like to share a little of both of these with you this morning. I would like to talk issues, but I would also like to talk opportunities, potential and scenarios.
And as a centrist party in an MMP environment, United Future has all three in abundance.
In my role as president, I have been heavily involved in the continuing process of party-building - quite literally working on the structure to get it fit and ready for the next election.
And in the life of any young and small party, that is indeed a huge task - and one that I am delighted to tell you is progressing remarkably well.
We need a war chest for the battle ahead, and we are working on that. We have in place our first chief executive, Gina Woodfield, who will be known to all of you, and she will be a vital part of our stepping forward as a party.
You know as well as I do that politics is an unusual game, where perceived wisdom is so often the most foolish thing of all. Where expectations are regularly turned on their heads.
Before the 'worm' debate, Peter Dunne and United Future were given a snowball's chance at the last election.
And if you listen to chattering classes today, the word is that the worm won't turn twice.
Never mind any deeper analysis of that night and the votes cast at the last election. Never mind that middle New Zealand was making a forthright statement about its values and its hopes.
Those values and those hopes remain and will only continue to grow as a force in New Zealand politics.
The tacit proof of that is the grudging manner in which every other party in Parliament has suddenly discovered the family - and given junior members the task of seeing to it, such is their sincerity and concern.
Well let me tell you now, we're not in the business of waiting for a worm; we're in the serious business of building a political force.
And if I have just one message for the critics of United Future, who so wishfully say we will not be a force again, it is this: We brought home eight MPs last time out in a low-budget and necessarily last-minute campaign.
For those of our opponents foolish enough to think that was a fluke, then let me put them on notice now - United Future is deadly serious about its position as a party of influence.
Eight is not enough. We want more MPs because we have a job to do.
And we won't be running a 'hit and hope' campaign.
There is a burgeoning party structure, an increasingly effective organisation, with a fine chief executive, fund-raising campaigns, membership drives, and an outstanding relationship with Outdoor Recreation New Zealand, now under the United Future banner.
We take on the issues other parties are too out of touch to handle or to recognise, and we will continue to do so more and more successfully, with an increasingly seasoned political team.
Quite a part from my party-building brief, my role has also allowed me to attend the United Future caucus meetings - an experience that I have valued greatly.
And let me tell you it has been quite an eye-opener. I have seen the way this group of eight operates and, frankly, I've been very impressed.
Being a small group has some very real advantages, and one of those is that it forces a certain 'tightness'; a singularity of purpose. As the saying goes, if you do not hang together, then you will most certainly hang separately.
Seriously, I have been hugely impressed with the quality of the debate within Caucus.
And I have been completely struck by the realities of parliamentary life for our MPs.
Being such a small party means that there is an immense weight of port folios not widely spread.
In bigger parties if you have a port folio you are lucky; if you have two, you're one of the stars.
Try and do the job with just eight MPs, and its more likely each has five, six or seven huge areas just to cover the bases. And let me tell you that is a lot of reading and a lot of getting to grips with issues.
And on each and every piece of legislation these eight MPs guide us to a common sense position; a position eschewing extremes; a position to take the country forward.
And these are not all Civil Unions Bills. They are not all foreshore and seabed legislation.
At times we are talking about the Auckland War Memorial Museum Site Bill, or the Agricultural Compounds and Veterinary Medicines Amendment Bill or the Masterton District Council (Montfort Trimble Foundation) Bill ...
Now don't get me wrong: all fine and upstanding pieces of legislation impacting on New Zealanders somewhere... but also adding to the paper war of a party of eight MPs!
There is nothing 'sexy' about these bills. But they are not dismissed or treated flippantly. They cannot be. They are read, they are studied and a considered position is taken.
They are part of the behind-the-scenes good governance of this country to which United Future has committed itself.
However, the risk becomes obvious: the mechanics of the parliamentary process; the sheer oppressive grind can so easily capture MPs within its crippling embrace.
The Big Picture principles can give way to the myopia of the overwhelmed.
It can happen; it does happen. But I report to you today with no little satisfaction, that it has not happened to our MPs.
To use footballing parlance, they have kept their eyes well and truly on the ball.
And we're all political animals, or we wouldn't be here today.
And I am sure that if we thought for one minute that that wasn't the case, we would be letting them know about it today and on any other occasion that we had the opportunity.
In pointing out the huge workload, the diverse and at times obscure legislation to which our MPs must turn their minds, there is no doubting the absolute focus they put towards the main game - the issues that count for us as a party and for the people of New Zealand.
Now, there is issue-by-issue and getting bogged down, and there is issue-by-issue in fighting a tight fight.
United Future does the latter.
>From the beginning of this parliamentary term, under the astute leadership of Peter Dunne, this party committed itself to issue-by-issue analysis, within the context of the confidence and supply agreement to provide stable government for New Zealand.
Don't let that slip past you. It's important. Issue-by-issue analysis.
Is there a position of greater integrity that can be taken by a political party?
On each issue, our eight MPs do their utmost to get the solution that is best for New Zealand.
We don't support any piece of legislation because it's the Government line; equally we don't indulge in the brain-dead resistance of habitual opposition.
Our MPs look at an issue and weigh it; they look at the pros, they look at the cons. They apply both intellectual rigour and down-home common sense.
And I can tell you from knowing them as individuals that they do so with very considerable personal integrity.
And let me tell you where this leaves me as President: it leaves me determined to help build this party's structure, not as an end in itself, but as something that New Zealand needs in its political system.
New Zealand needs politics conducted the way United Future conducts itself.
A party of honesty and integrity; a party of values ... I'm sure you've heard it all before - the difference is we're delivering it. And I've seen it with my own eyes.
These things, as we all know, don't happen by accident. Basically, you need to have something special.
United Future has that something special: Peter Dunne.
Peter is seen for what he is - the rarest of creatures: a politician held in the highest regard across the political divides; across government and corporate worlds - and most importantly - in the homes of middle New Zealand.
Peter is the honest broker of New Zealand politics, and from him, the party truly takes its lead.
And it is in that context that I would like to put an issue before you today - Peter versus Peters.
Peter Dunne and Winston Peters.
It is a topic worth canvassing if we are serious about talking about the centre of New Zealand politics, what can be achieved there, and what attitudes will prevail.
Let me be blunt, in Peter Dunne we have a man of principle and a man who at his very essence is of the act of constructive governing.
In Winston Peters we have the very opposite - opportunism and the most negative aspects of the true opposition politician.
Harsh, you might say, but true.
One constructs, the other destroys; one builds, the other tears down; one offers hope for the future, the other, merely feeds on fears.
These contrasts should not be lost on us, as New Zealanders - who are in so many respects a truly centrist people.
Do we want a future built on hope, or one built on fear?
It really is a very simple question. But it is a vital one, and it must be answered.
It is a question that New Zealanders are increasingly likely to be facing at the next election, as either Labour or National, mandated by the public, again go in search of a coalition partner.
We have proved that we can work with Labour. And we continue to prove it day by day.
And in the process, United Future is directly responsible for what has to this point been the most stable MMP government New Zealand has experienced.
United Future has simply gone about the work of providing New Zealand with stability.
When United Future entered its agreement with Labour just over 18 months ago, MMP was on its knees.
We came to the plate with the public counting two strikes down. You know the drill: three strikes and you're out.
United Future is the party that has made MMP work. The credit may take a while to come, but Kiwis are a fair-minded and reflective lot, and come it will.
Particularly when they face the possibility at the next election of New Zealand First as a potential coalition partner for any future government.
When the shiver finishes running up your spine, give a thought to that old piece of employer wisdom that says that the best indicator of future performance is past performance.
Well Winston has thrown so many toys out of so many cots that the nation has lost count.
He is a past master of turning government into opposition, walking out or being thrown out of every manner of situation.
In short, he is the ultimate opposition politician.
Winston likes to be where he doesn't have to deliver, and on the rare occasions when he finds himself in the position of being accountable, he makes sure the wheels fall off the apple cart so he can return to his natural home - opposition.
He has turned grandstanding into an art form with his lone wolf 'Winston against the forces of darkness' routine - and each and every time it has been at the expense of New Zealand.
And, frankly, each and every time it has proved to be little more than a load of self-indulgent, vote-focused tripe.
And Peter Dunne?
Well Peter's walked the talk.
He has been a Minister - and a damn good one - under both Labour and National governments.
If there's a politician who can look you square in the eye and tell you he can work with either of the major parties, then it's Peter Dunne.
And he has guided United Future to keep faith with the wishes of the largest portion of voters at the last election - the voters who put Labour in the driver's seat to form the current government.
He has openly stated that, all other things being equal, United Future will respect the choice of the voters in allowing the party with the most votes to at least have the opportunity to form a government.
Again we are talking a principle here - but not a blind one.
That path should not be automatically and doggedly followed. The test of common sense and compatibility needs to be applied at all times.
Peter Dunne and United Future would do that; Winston would move as the whim takes him, and his party would fall quietly in behind. And New Zealand would pay the price yet again.
We intend to make sure that that record of stability and good government; that record of holding Labour to account and reining in its 'pink think' excesses is high in the public consciousness at the next election.
We will not be backward in coming forward to put before the New Zealand voter three years of stability; three years when the future well-being of this country was never held to petulant ransom.
I recently met with my National Party counterpart, Judy Kirk. And let me tell you, it was a most interesting conversation at the level of ideas and potential.
And I know that such a conversation would be well received by many of you here, United Future's grassroots supporters - people who voted for a centrist party and expect centrist behaviour from it.
They don't want it aligned forever to one major party or the other.
And let's be honest here, a considerable portion of our constituency would be more than happy for a centre-right coalition next time out.
And with the Peters principle of opportunism, and ACT increasingly looking like dispirited electoral dog tucker, the scene is set for a family-friendly centre party capable of working with either side of the political divide, and keeping them focused on serving middle New Zealand.
When I said that United Future takes on legislation on an issue-by-issue basis, that is exactly what I meant.
When we took on the foreshore and seabed over eight months of protracted negotiations with the Government, we did so on its merits and with a view to what was best for New Zealand.
It is history now that political numbers and Government expediency saw a last minute, slap-happy deal done with New Zealand First.
Why? Simply because Labour didn't have its act together sufficiently to control its own caucus.
The long and the short of it is that we took the Government to task on this and it would not be going too far to say that it has been put on notice that United Future will not allow this to happen a second time.
In being able to turn to a reliable partner such as United Future, as against the chaos and inconsistency of Winston or the Greens, Labour has been sharply reminded that it needs to get its act together - and keep it together - in terms of the confidence and supply agreement.
As I said, lessons have been learnt and messages clearly delivered. Now we move on.
And United Future, true to its role and true to its promise to the electorate, will contribute constructively to the foreshore and seabed legislation as it goes through the parliamentary process.
That is the way we do business.
And another way we do business is to put political correctness right in the line of fire.
United Future is doing that today with the Civil Unions Bill.
This is a bill born of Labour Party 'pink think'. It has no resonance in middle New Zealand.
There is no outcry from the average Kiwi for what is effectively gay marriage.
This legislation is being pushed by a determined minority and it is being imposed upon the majority. It is social engineering of the type that the average Kiwi has no truck for. Promoters of the Bill are trying to portray United Future's campaign to have the Bill thrown out as some sort of anti-gay position. That is complete and utter nonsense. But what it is is an unashamedly pro-marriage, pro-family position. And marriage in its broadest context - as has been recognised across cultures and across time - is sanctioned for the raising of families. It is unique and set apart from all other types of relationships and has consistently been recognised as such. In the final analysis, the Civil Unions Bill is not about a need; it is not about fairness. There is accompanying legislation to address inequities in areas such as next-of-kind and inheritance for all couples. And United Future will support that. But it will not support legislation that has no deeper base than to make couples feel good about their relationships.
That is not the job of government; it is not the job of law-makers.
And increasingly our role in reining in Labour is to do just that - to bring them to book; to say loud and clear 'you have no right here, butt out'.
Today it's Civil Unions, but tomorrow it will be another issue. And we will be there - loud and clear!
United Future is going head-to-head with ideologues and we are staring them down.
We will continue to fight the corner of middle New Zealand - and we will never apologise for that.
It is at the core of what we were elected to do; and Labour at its very heart has an elitist minority who need to be slapped into line at regular intervals - we will never back away from that.
We are doing it consistently, and for a party of eight MPs, we are doing it remarkably effectively - and that should be noted by all.
We are a force and will continue to grow quite simply because we answer to the average Kiwi and their concerns, their hopes and their wishes.
So, my friends, as you can see at the party level and at the political level, there is change, growth and hard work.
The foundations are
being laid for a great future. We do indeed live in exciting