Mallard “best and worst of Speakers”

Some of what Trevor Mallard has done as Speaker is innovative and relatively effective, but he remains dogged by his political bias and his personal baggage with some MPs, which seem unlikely to change.

Audrey Young: Is it time for fresh challenges for Speaker Trevor Mallard?

Mallard’s performance as Speaker this week has not done the Government any favours.

He is seen as simply part of the Government and the Government is seen to be throwing out National MPs – leader Simon Bridges and Nick Smith – from Parliament.

It has been so bad, that if Ardern is casting around for a capable minister to add to her ranks for the June reshuffle, maybe she should consider bringing Mllard back into the ministry.

Mallard was one of the most highly valued and competent ministers in the Helen Clark.

Mallard is a problem for the Government as Speaker, and he would add something that labour lacks in the current Cabinet – experience. I wonder how he would do as Minister of Housing, or Health. The current ministers are struggling to perform adequately.

While Mallard also has ample experience for his role as Speaker he also has a history of animosities that he seems unable to separate from the job.

I have covered Parliament under seven Speakers and Mallard is both the best and the worst, rolled into one.

When he’s good, he’s brilliant, but on a bad day he’s a House-wrecker.

The good:

On a good day (and there have been two in the past six sitting days) question time can be brilliant.

Because of the rules Mallard instituted, the flow of questions and answers is seamless and his intervention is evident only when he insists on a fuller answer.

He listens to questions and answers very carefully. he does not give diatribes when explaining why he has made a decision.

With oversight over written parliamentary questions, he has also demanded a better standard from ministers and twice this year has awarded National an extra 12 questions because of sloppy written answers from Shane Jones and David Clark.

The bad:

Mallard at his worst is when he abuses the inherent power of the chair by punishing Opposition MPs and then punishes them for reacting under extreme provocation.

That is how Simon Bridges came to being kicked out.

Bridges was kicked out for calling Mallard “unprofessional”. Under Parliament’s rules it was not an unfair punishment. But Bridges was right: Mallard had been unprofessional.

What is happening is that Mallard is giving himself licence to insult MPs but as soon as they bite back they are punished.

Mallard insulted Bridges several times on Tuesday, demanding he knew show “leadership” at a time he knew Bridges was facing leadership pressure. The apparent intention was to humiliate Bridges.

The absolute worst:

However Mallard was at his absolute worst when he refused to put leave on behalf of Nick Smith to give priority to a Bill next members’ day that provided roadside drug testing of drivers.

Smith wanted to know why and Mallard said that he himself had objected. That is unprecedented for the so-called umpire.

When objected, not unfairly, Mallard ordered him to leave the house.

As Speaker, Mallard has power, and he doesn’t want that challenged even when he misuses it.

When Smith abused Mallard on the way out Mallard ordered him back in and named him, suspending him from all proceedings for a day.

The abuse hurled at Mallard by Smith warranted serious punishment, but Mallard’s refusal to put leave was extreme provocation and an abuse of his position.

In contrast, Mallard is quite lenient with government MPs, like Winston Peters.

At times he also appears to protect the Prime Minister and other Ministers.

Mallard has the experience to be a good speaker, and has made worthwhile improvements to how things are done, but he has always had a problem with his temperament, and that is not easily resolved.

Would Ardern consider moving him from the Speaker’s chair to a ministerial responsibility? Would Mallard want to?

Media intent on popularity politics dump on Bridges

Political journalists are focussing on Simon Bridges – on how well he is doing as Leader of the Opposition, and whether there is someone in the National caucus who could do better. With National polling very well it would be odd for them to dump their leader, but when in Opposition there will always be MPs looking for an opportunity to step up into the top job.

Audrey Young (NZH): Can National’s strong performance survive the strong death-wish for Bridges?

Who wishes political death on Bridges apart from media wanting some headline stories?

…it is extraordinary that a party on 46 per cent in last Sunday’s 1 News Colmar Brunton poll should be ending the year being subject to speculation about who is going to replace the person who got them to 46.

Who is doing the speculating? Journalists. Why?

Under Sunday’s poll result, National was literally one point away from having the numbers to govern. That is a stunning result for an unpopular leader.

But the political death-wish for Bridges is so strong, especially among some media, that one colleague declared that National’s 41 per cent in the party-commissioned poll was the “real” rating, not 46 per cent.

Young admits that it’s ‘some media’ wishing for a political funeral to report on. Perhaps they want someone more celebrity-like to report on.

The notion that a party could be polling high while its leader is polling as low as 7 per cent is unusual, so unusual that there seems to be a move to “correct” it.

If Bridges is finally forced to step down before the 2020 election, it won’t be because of the large gap between the party and leader but because the campaign against him has forced down the party vote.

After a hiatus, the campaign against Bridges has resumed.

It certainly looks like someone or some people are feeding the media morsels to try to dump on Bridges. And journalists like to feast on leaks, especially ones they get ‘exclusively’.

Tracy Watkins (Stuff): National’s dilemma – can someone do better than Bridges?

Is it a dilemma for National? Or do journalists have a dilemma over who to promote as an alternative leader? Do they want someone more colourful (or at least less bland) than Bridges?

I haven’t seen any media consider how someone like Bridges might perform as a potential Prime Minister. Capability for the job seems to be unimportant compared to reporting either scandal or celebrity.

After an extraordinary, and turbulent, few months there are more brutal calculations to be made – such as whether Simon Bridges can carry them back into power. And if the answer is no – which seems to be the growing consensus – can anyone else do better.

Growing consensus amongst whom? Journalists? It shouldn’t be up to them to make decisions on future political prospects and dump on those they judge to be not up to their requirements.

This is what Bridges’ MPs will be weighing up between now and February.

Some opposition MPs will no doubt always be on the lookout for ways of advancing their political careers, and a few will no doubt think they could be doing better than Bridges. That’s normal with politicians with egos and ambition.

Does it matter if Bridges isn’t popular?

Yes of course. Politics is a popularity contest, after all.

I’m alarmed by that. Of course popularity matters, to an extent.

But isn’t politics supposed to be a contest of ideas, a contest of policies that will affect the well being of the nation and of the people?

Isn’t competence important?

Have journalists been caught up too much in conducting popularity contests – where their popularity with politicians in order to be fed stories (that politicians want to promote) is what matters, and where independent analysis and investigation doesn’t matter any more?

The job of Opposition is of course to oppose. But doing so while giving hope that you offer something better? That’s the hard bit.

Key nailed it. Ardern nailed it. Bridges is running out of time to nail it.

That’s nonsense. Bridges has another year at least to ‘nail it’ (as a potential Prime Minister) – except his problem right now seems to be not his lack of nailing it, but rather getting a hammering from media who seem to have dumped on Bridges.

Is the real problem here that Bridges is not popular amongst political journalists? Do they prefer destabilising leaks – they certainly seem to be encouraging them, if not be design by their actions – more than the honest toil of someone trying to lead the Opposition?

When Bridges became leader it was assumed the chances of his making it to the election were slim. It’s the way the cycle works. But those chances are getting slimmer all the time.

That’s alarming crap – alarming because journalists seem to be trying to build a case for slimming Bridges chances nearly two years before the next election.

It’s impossible to predict what will happen in that time. Personally I’m not a fan of Bridges, but I’m less of a fan of journalists trying to influence what may happen in party leadership. I think that’s a far bigger problem than who is leader of a party not in Government.

 

Some journos still promote Peters in his absence

Winston Peters chose to stay away from last night’s minor party leaders debate because Bill English and Jacinda Ardern weren’t taking part. Peters was subjected to a lot of criticism.

But even though he didn’t front up some journalists still promoted him.

From NZH  Minor Party leaders’ debate: The verdicts are in

Audrey Young:

Winston Peters’ boycott denied the public a chance to see that he is still well up to it and denied himself the chance to answers Shaw’s attacks.

Peters wasn’t up to participating in the debate, so this is a strange promotion of him in his absence.

Old school journalists seem to be obsessed with Peters and keeping his election chances alive.

A significantly younger Toby Manhire had a different view:

The NZ First leader might have wiped the floor, but he spurned the prime-time invitation, as he did in the last similar televised debate. He’s a “bad date”, said Shaw, in the funniest line of the night, but Peters wasn’t there to bite back.

Winner: James Shaw
Loser: Winston Peters

Soper and Young might try to vote for Peters even though he isn’t in their electorate.

They and others keep giving Peters a free media ride, including promoting him as ‘kingmaker’. Given that it’s possible that Peters ends up with far more power than he deserves from voting levels, where is the media examination of his key policies, and what he might demand in a coalition?

Peters has the worst reputation of reliability of any MP under MMP, but old journos perhaps with an eye to their own gold cards keep giving him disproportionate coverage and grossly inadequate holding to account.

Parliament’s winners and losers

Audrey Young on This term’s winners and losers as Parliament winds up for the election

Winners

Chris Finlayson…

…has been a highly productive minister, getting 16 treaty settlement bills passed in the Parliament this term, out of 287 passed altogether.

Judith Collins…

…can be classed a winner…she has been on her best behaviour, showing no outward signs of ambition (other than a faux challenge of English for the leadership) and has applied her bent for populism to tax issues.

Julie Anne Genter…

…has enhanced her reputation, needling away daily at Simon Bridges on transport, which earned a promotion from No 8 on the party list to No 3

Marama Fox…

…began the term as a new MP and with huge shoes to fill as co-leader, replacing Tariana Turia. She has well and truly been noticed, with a larger than life personality, and her willingness to work with Opposition parties.

Chris Bishop…

…has been one of the outstanding backbenchers.

Michael Wood…

…has been an impressive figure in Labour’s backbench after winning the Mt Roskill byelection in December.

Losers

The failures this term, especially in the past few weeks, have been pronounced with the resignation of two party leaders, Andrew Little as Labour leader and Metiria Turei as Green co-leader.

Andrew Little’s…

…failure to connect with voters had such as impact on support that he stood to lose his own list seat.

Todd Barclay…

…trashed his own career…

Chris Hipkins…

…has damaged his credibility by claiming to have asked questions about New Zealand citizenship to minister Peter Dunne (one of the 42, 239 written questions) without knowing anything about Australian Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce.

Winners and Losers

Health Minister Jonathan Coleman…

…did a great job in getting the Cabinet to support the historic $2 billion pay equity settlement for aged-care and support workers.

But health has started to become a problem area for the Government this year and Coleman’s combative style has been a hindrance, not a help.

Nick Smith…

…has a grasp for detail but no longer for politics. He has trashed his reputation on a series of housing and environmental issues this term.

Sue Moroney…

…made a big impact as a Labour backbencher, particularly in paid parental leave, but failed to build sufficient relationships in her own party to retain a winnable list position.

Bill English…

…originally claiming he didn’t know who had told him that Barclay had recorded his electorate agent.

Young didn’t mention it but English won the top prize, Prime Minister.

Confidence issue for Andrew Little

Audrey Young suggests that Labour’s treatment of Willie Jackson has become a confidence issue for leader Andrew Little

Rating the start to the political year, Bill English scores 8 out of 10; Andrew Little 2.

Little started higher, after his state of the nation speech, held jointly with the Greens.

He spruced himself up, and delivered a good speech at an event that went off flawlessly as a piece of political theatre to show a sense of cohesion on the centre-left.

But the rebellion over Willie Jackson has damaged Little and Labour in a way that won’t blow over in a week.

Little’s greatest accomplishment as leader – successfully instilling the need for party discipline – counted for nothing, and the chips weren’t even down.

The rebellion has three consequences: after all that hard work, Labour again looks like a party divided, Little looks like a leader who cannot lead his own party – which is all the more damaging when his attack line against English this year is that he is a prime minister but not a leader…

That was always going to be a risk attack line by Little.

Little and his advisers were shocked by the rebellion. They knew some people would be unhappy. But they expected it to be dealt with in private.

It shouldn’t have been a surprise there would be publicly expressed unhappiness, but MP Poto Williams triggering the furore shows that potentially the Labour caucus is a disaster waiting to happen without strong leadership, not the strong-arm leadership Little tried with his promotion of Jackson.

This has rocked confidence in Little’s ability to up his and Labour’s game this year.

Broken down plane

The RNZAF plane taking John Key, a business delegation and journalists to India has broken down and stranded them en route at Townsville, where it has stopped for refuelling.

And stranded journalists have to write about something, so there has been a lot of moaning about the breakdown.

If the Air Force 757 is relatively unreliable then there is good cause to complain. Otherwise it may be just one of those things that can happen with international travel on tight schedules.

Audrey Young writes Key should be seething over Air Force breakdown.

Key should be seething. The break down was unforgivable.

It’s embarrassing for New Zealand’s reputation as a can-do country.
Can’t even arrive.

It is not just one of those things that should be accepted an unavoidable.

Every breakdown can be avoidable just as every crash is avoidable.

The Air Force has failed at the absolute basics, to keep its planes in reasonable working order.

I think that it’s remarkable how many flights happen around the world every day with relatively few problems.

Sometimes problems occur. Young may be seething, but that won’t achieve anything except generate a headline.

It’s impossible to avoid every breakdown.

If the Air Force planes are less well maintained than normal airline practice then there are grounds for complaint.

Otherwise fuming in Townsville is pointless pontificating.

Will Key stand again in 2017?

Audrey Young muses ahead about 2016, including on whether John key will decide whether to continue as National’s leader to contest the 2017 election or not.

Except for a calamity in 2017 if Key is going to stand down he needs to do it next year to give his replacement time to settle in and be up to speed by the time of the election.

Next year will be the year John Key has to decide if he wants to run for a fourth term in 2017. The good money is that he will.

The only reason not to do so would be boredom by him, a dive in popularity, scandal, ill-health, the economy going to hell, or a fear of failure.

None of those apply yet. There is nothing to suggest failure is a certainty. And the prospect of success has always been a stronger motivating force for John Key than fear of failure.

The New Zealand public is more conservative than Labour in Opposition has calculated, and Key will pin his hopes on Labour continuing to miscalculate that.

For all his idiotic appearances and antics with Auckland radio shock-jocks and, probably because of them, his Teflon has barely started to peel.

It’s unknown whether Key’s antics will trigger a tipping point of support loss or whether many voters forgive his idiocy because the Government seems to be managing ok.

Voters prefer stability generally.

Key continues to be helped by the lack of an opposition leader that comes close to matching his ability or appeal.

Andrew Little has managed to do something unexpected, present what at least appears to be a relatively united Labour caucus. But Little has not yet found a way of attracting the swing voters.

Key is also helped by the right/left combo mismatches.

Key/English with some minor party support versus Little/Turei/Shaw/Peters with no guarantee Peters would side with Labour/Greens.

Key needs to continue with more of the same plus trying to avoid too many or too major embarrassments.

Little needs to appear as something quite different. As does Labour.

Unless Labour can appear as mostly positive and capable of stepping up into government Key’s decision to have another crack in 2017 may be very tempting.

Young on Key’s refusal to apologise

Audrey Young writes in the Herald that Key attack leaves him offside with women. 

Key has certainly risked getting offside with some women, but I think it’s far from universal.

PM’s refusal to apologise harms him and future of Speaker.

Almost certainly yes on both counts, but it’s very difficult to quantify by how much.

The refusal of Key to apologise after accusing the Opposition of supporting murderers and rapists suggests he is willing to squander his reserves of political capital – in particular with women.

Any Prime Minister gradually bleeds their reserves of political capital.

Key damaged himself this week because we no longer know what to believe.

He said for weeks he was concerned about the plight of Kiwi criminals locked up in Australia awaiting an appeal of their immigration status.

He took a more moderate tone than the Opposition but that was acceptable as long as the Government was actually on the case, keeping up pressure on Australia to expedite matters and to make fair calls on Kiwis who call Australia home.

Justice Minister Amy Adams was dispatched as the hard cop to demand answers from Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton.

Then as we know, under pressure from being called gutless, Key attacked Opposition MPs, accusing them of supporting murderers and rapists.

His refusal to apologise is inexplicable. There is no advantage to him not apologising for a slur that was aimed at Labour MPs but was felt by a much wider constituency.

I don’t think his refusal to apologise is inexplicable. He has dug in doggedly under attack before.

By sticking to his cause, we are left wondering what he truly thinks.

Had his previous concerns been a sham – had he just said what he thought the public wanted him to say?

Was his moderate tone a reflection of a lack of motivation by the Government to do the right thing by its citizens?

Inflaming a furore and then stoking it along certainly risked bleeding a bit more support, and it distracted from and sign of sensibly addressing the Christmas Island detainee issue.

If he had apologised in part and then turned to explaining his efforts and stance on detainees he would have limited any damage. But he chose to escalate the stakes.

One day, and particularly one election, Key will come unstuck.

Certainly his comments undermine faith in the convention that it is a fundamental obligation of government to look out for its citizens in trouble abroad – not by seeking special treatment but by seeking fair treatment.

Watching Key’s behaviour over this week has been similar to watching him during the Teapot tapes in 2011, which he still believes was deliberately set up to tape his conversation with John Banks.

He has moments of absolute doggedness.

Key has disappointed me in the way he has handled the issue this week. About the only thing in his favour is that other leadrs, MPs and parties have been diasppointing as well.

Many will still staunchly support Key but it is inevtiable that he will have lost some voters over this. Too often for Key sorry seems to be the hardest word – even strong leaders should use it occassionally. In this case it would have been appropriate.

It’s sad that we seem to be choosing our Government on a ‘least bad’ basis, and too often judge their performance on a ‘least disappointing basis.

Andrew Little: from euphoria to reality

Andrew Little will probably have been greatly encouraged by the euphoric response to his Labour Conference speech in the weekend. But beyond the party faithful and hopeful, reality has set in with some brutal assessments.

I thought Little’s speech showed some hope and promise. It contrasted with his unimpressive interviews in The Nation and Q & A. But one speech does not a leader make.

It was an important speech for the party. but going by media reaction it will have done little to lift Little’s credibility as a potential Prime Minister, or lift Labour’s credibility as a Government in waiting.

Audrey Young gave a positive report in Little smashed it – literally.

Andrew Little smashed it.

He has two years to win over the public before the next election.

His speech to the Labour conference this year needed to win over the members, who afterall, did not support him in the leadership contest a year ago.

Job done, as they say.

It was one of the best speeches by a Labour leader in recent years, in both content, delivery and production.

It succeeded in showing a fuller picture of Andrew Little the person and give a clearer idea of what sort of Prime Minister he would be.

Andrea Vance had a mixed report in Dreams are free – but the electorate knows ambitious policies aren’t:

Little’s first duty was to announce the grounds on which Labour will oppose the TPP.

The deal is a touch-paper for the left and Little is walking a tightrope between the pro-free trade and the anti-corporate elements in his party.

His position is confused – and he’s probably going to spend the next week defending it.

And the reality:

The past year clearly hasn’t been wasted. Little’s team have been learning from past mistakes. But one factor remains a constant – for Labour to win they must persuade the electorate they won’t be profligate.

Little’s asking for patience over spending plans and won’t say if he’ll raise taxes. Dreams are free – but the electorate knows ambitious policies aren’t.

That’s a future challenge for Little. Labour’s conference talked about health, education and jobs, jobs, jobs, to be created by a Labour Government. It’s easy to take spending, spending, spending out of that with little sign of hiow that will be paid for.

But Little’s Sunday euphoria has been crashed to reality in today’s Dominion editorial – Andrew Little is not the man to lead Labour out of the wilderness.

Little had moved long before last weekend’s annual party conference to kill off the remnants of the Leftish policy Labour touted last year.

Little now stands on a bare platform with no significant policy. The fact that nobody much cared when he threw out the old policies might be taken as a sign of a newly unified Labour Party. Or it might be a sign that Labour is a corpse. It doesn’t have the strength to fight or even to disagree with itself. So the attempt to hide everything behind closed doors wasn’t even needed.

Having no policy to sell, Little tried to sell himself. His “impassioned” speech was in fact awkward and unconvincing.

Bellowing about the Kiwi dream and promising “Jobs. Jobs. Jobs” is empty posturing and oddly out of kilter with the national mood. So is the pledge to “turn the page” on the last seven years.

We’ve yet to see whether the country (or polls refeklecting the mood of the country) sees it like this – or even say anything of Little’s speech.

Little will claim that it’s too early in the electoral cycle for policy details, and he’s right. But it’s never too early to create a buzz or the impression that the old party is coming back to life.

Labour can’t even take the step of injecting new blood into its leadership with the fresh face of Jacinda Ardern.

Her qualities are modest, but she is a sign of life. Labour has few other such signs.

‘Same old’ Labour without any policies is going to be a hard perception top turn around.

Neither as a union politician nor as a parliamentarian has Little been a bold or lively reformer. He has little charisma and a lack of new ideas.

It’s hard to believe he will lead Labour out of the wilderness.

That’s harsh.

But it’s a dose of reality. Little should get some confidence from the party reception of his speech but he needs to appear strong and positive regularly, without the double speak he has resorted to over the flag change and the TPPA.

The Otago Daily Times editorial today is also on Little and Labour – Little needs voter momentum.

By all accounts, Labour Party leader Andrew Little made a strong showing at the party’s annual conference held in Palmerston North at the weekend.

Snippets of his speech shown on television news reports, and comment pieces published in this newspaper, indicated Mr Little has managed to crack through the veneer surrounding him since his narrow election as leader.

Reading through the speech at leisure, there are hints of a man with deeper thoughts than previously indicated.

Mr Little gives a sense of direction, something lacking in Labour since the defeat of the Helen Clark-led government which brought in former financial trader John Key as prime minister.

National have managed to win three elections with sparse policy platforms, but they have had John Key who was immediately popular when he took over leadershiop of National and he remains popular.

Labour have lost three elections and turned over four leaders. They have been busy u-turning on a number of policies so now have very little.

Mr Little is seen as humourless, dour and part of the fun police of the Labour Party while Mr Key is shown schmoozing with All Blacks, royalty and crowds of his supporters.

What Mr Little needs to do now is get out into the electorates in which Labour lost the party vote and start securing voter support.

It will not be an easy task.

Many voters have been turned off by Labour’s list of recent leadership changes and a lack of change in MPs.

Even now, there is an ongoing back-of-the-mind thought Mr Little will not lead Labour into the next election.

What is disappointing is Labour feeling the need to hold all but a few high-profile speeches at its conference behind closed doors.

It will not be easy for Mr Little to convince even the party faithful in places such as Dunedin he is the one to take Labour back into power.

He languishes in the polls, gaining little traction with voters.

And, despite a front bench reshuffle, Labour MPs are still seen as too far out of touch with real New Zealand.

Little has failed to excite the polls.

National-lite with a charisma deficit and limited and aged line-up is going to be a hard sell, especially when Labour are also going to need Greens and probably NZ First.

Little lifted his game in his conference speech. But he will need to lift his and Labour’s game consistently and substantially to build on that.

Parliamentary All Black team

Audrey Young has selected an political All Black team – Here they are – All Blacks of NZ Parliament.

She has given details but here’s the team line up.

  1. Loosehead prop – Judith Collins
  2. Hooker – Trevor Mallard
  3. Tight-head prop – Gerry Brownlee
  4. Lock – Amy Adams
  5. Lock – Phil Twyford
  6. Blind-side flanker – Andrew Little
  7. Open-side flanker – John Key
  8. Number 8 – Grant Robertson
  9. Halfback – Ron Mark
  10. First five-eighth – Bill English
  11. Left wing – Jacinda Ardern
  12. Second five-eighth – Paula Bennett
  13. Centre – Annette King
  14. Right wing – Winston Peters
  15. Fullback – Steven Joyce

Who would want to try and coach them?

That’s 7 National to 8 Opposition and ten male to 5 female, which approximates Parliaments current proportions.

  • Reserves: Simon Bridges, Chris Hipkins and Te Ururoa Flavell.

The Greens may or may not appreciate being left out of the rugged team but Turei and ACT’s Seymour are on the sideline:

  • David Seymour has nominated himself as the water-boy but he has roped in Metiria Turei to be his special assistant to sniff test each bottle for alcohol.

Peter Dunne is the only one not represented, and he doesn’t really look like referee material.