Summary of the David Clark bike ride

The Minister of Health David Clark was in the news for going for a mountain bike ride between conference calls on Friday. See: Minister of Health Clark drove to bike park for a ride under lockdown

Here’s a summary of what I have seen about this.

Yes, it actually is permitted to (say) drive five minutes to a local mountain bike park where there are few other riders, and then ride up and down a gentle, well-groomed trail at a reasonable speed. It may not be politick or wise to do so if you are the Minister of Health, but for the rest of us “the rules” do allow for it.

  • But it was against the repeated advice of the Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and both she and Grant Robertson (“We don’t want the minister of health out mountain biking” said Clark had apologised, and they both said he shouldn’t have gone for the bike ride as it was too risky.

Robertson: “I certainly think it’s important for the minister of health not to put himself in any risk … We don’t want the minister of health out mountain biking.”

Ardern: “What we need people to do is stay local and also stay away from risk. And that’s really important because ultimately we don’t want our emergency services or other people having to come to your rescue., and that’s why that’s so important right now.”

  • Clark and others have played down the mountain biking by saying ‘The Big Easy’ was a relatively low risk mountain bike trail. But it is on the side of a hill, and Clark was not “available to front anytime” as Robertson claimed.

““He’s available to front anytime … He has a young family, and we all have to understand at this time we’re operating in a very different world. He’s involved in every single cabinet and cabinet committee meeting.”

  • Demands for the Minister to resign or be sacked were little more than the usual knee jerk automatic response from political opponents and appeasing radio stirrers.
  • Criticism of Clark wasn’t confined to those from the right. See David Clark at The Standard:

But what kind of message is being sent when one of the government’s own upper middle class twats imagines it’s fine to do what David Clark did? Do lock down rules only apply to people without four wheel drives and the ability to go for a day out?

If David Clark can get away with a simple “sorry”, then why the fuck would anyone else feel the rules around lock-down are to be taken seriously?

I mean, is this lock-down serious? If so, the government needs to demonstrate how seriously it is and jettison David Clark.

The Government has acknowledged the error (bad PR and politics at least) but otherwise not demonstrated much seriousness, certainly not Ardern in this interview:

Ardern interview – lockdown, eradication, data, duration, business on hold 

This will,probably blow over now with Clark still in his job as Minister of Health, working from home in Dunedin. In a Government where optics are carefully managed as much as possible sacking a supposedly key Minister in the middle of a health crisis would be ‘bad optics’.

But it has highlighted two things.

This is the biggest health issue New Zealand has faced in a century and one of the biggest situations faced by a Minister of Health, but Clark is working from home a long way from the epicentre of the handling of the crisis, Wellington.

Why is Clark absent (in person from the main decision making loop? See Dominant Ministry of Health, weak Minister – and weak Government

Also, a comment from The Standard:

I’d rather Clark spent his time really asking his ministry hard questions about the policy they are demanding the country follow. The Minister is after all the meeting point between that Ministry’s policy and the rest of the interests of the the country. The Health ministry is rightly concerned with Health, but not the overall health of the country as it were. So they’ll just do what they do and with no questions asked how are we to know what the best policy is?

Right now they seem to be ruling the roost and Clark isn’t really visible enough, imo.

If he’s got to go it should be for that reason, not the bike ride. His performance reminds me a bit of Justin Lester’s and we all know what happened to him…

Muttonbird had been defending Clark’s bike ride at The Standard a day earlier.

And maui:

So arguably the second most important person in the country is in lockdown seperated from all the other key people. Great…

I pointed that out in a prior thread at The Standard and was criticised for it.

stunned mullet:

Minister Clark has completely abrogated responsibility to Ashley and the ministry who are now running the show.

And possibly related to that, the general competence of Clark as Minister of Health has been highlighted – quite a lot in fact at the normally defensive of Labour The Standard.

stunned mullet:

On his performance as a Minister as Health he (or the Ministry under his time) has been poor.

  • The meningitis vaccine fiasco in Northland
  • The decrease in vaccination coverage
  • The removal of a number of measures to track DHB performance
  • Running out of flu vaccine last year and what looks like a supply chain rupture this year

and there are no doubt additional examples..

If this was one incident in isolation where we weren’t advising the general public to isolate and not needlessly drive away from one’s locale then no issue but he is the Minister of Health and it is not reasonable behaviour from the Minister of Health at the current time.

adam:

As for making mistakes- sure we all human.

I’m just not seeing him do anything of great worth, all I’m hearing is small towns struggling with keeping doctors clinics open, the same amount of homeless sleeping in cars, and I have other concerns about planning and communication from the MoH. And lets leave aside the complete and utter mess around support for disabled, that clark and co (MoH) have once again forced on disabled people and their families. Mistakes I’ll accept a few,  but as you said, what they do after what counts.

The last word is from Corey Humm:

But I’m labour through and through, still , this guys a plonker if the nats did this wed we up in arms about this, but labour supporters are acting like football supporters,Fafoi is useless and Clark has “flouted” the rules, time to go! After the crisis of course, right now  yeah would be crazy, he’s dog Tucker though,I really  hope the pm uses  the time after lockdown to get rid of her entire front bench bar Robertson and little before the election, a new young team, the incumbents are a bunch of hopeless automotons being carried by the PM,  political non entities who not only do the public not know who they are, the ministers themselves couldn’t tell you who they were they have no identity,the front bench of labour shows exactly why we were out of office for 9 years, it’s infuriating as there is so much talent in the 2017 class of labour it’s sad that they won’t get any leadership roles until we’re in opposition. Which will be another nine years out of office because of the power vacuume the pm will leave

Imagine what this pm could achieve with competent ministers.

It’s notable enough that comments like this are coming from The Standard, but at least as notable is the fact that they are barely criticised or challenged, and no one has supported Clark’s performance as Minister of Health, nor defended him.

The problems are twofold – the bad optics of replacing a key Minister in the middle of an unprecedented crisis, and also (and possibly more critical), who would replace him? Clark is also an ordained minister with little background in the health field prior to taking this job on. He is a symptom of a lack of experience and talent in the incoming Labour crop of MPs in 2017.

Someone like Liz Craig looks well qualified based on her health background, but she was a new MP in 2017 and the first term would be a huge challenge for one of the most difficult portfolios.

It seems likely that Ardern and Robertson will have to keep covering for Clark for the rest of this term – and unfortunately, probably the worst of the Covid-19 virus.

If Labour retain power after the September election Clark will probably be moved to less demanding roles. While he simply doesn’t seem to be up to the job few people can manage the Health portfolio without difficulties.

 

Perception of competence

I think a lot of people are having difficulty warming to Andrew Little. He struggles with media, and I have seen him operating in person and he didn’t give great vibes there either.

Brian Edwards has posted Thoughts on Andrew Little

There seems to be general agreement among commentators that Little’s image has improved, that he is ‘coming across’ better. But is it better enough?

Coming across’, particularly on television, is a different matter. And Little does not come across either in interviews or straight to camera.

This is not easy to define. The closest I can come is that, however reasonable, articulate or clever Little may be, there seems to be a lack of engagement between him and his interviewer, him and his television audience.

It can be argued that John Key did Little and Labour a favour by stepping down. Bill English is no orator. But he has a dry, no-nonsense, Southern man quality about him that is endearing. And a wry sense of humour. More importantly, he looks and sounds honest. It would be very foolish indeed to discount his chances of winning the September election.

If Little is to reduce the chances of that happening he must learn to engage with his interviewers and with the hugely important viewer at home.

I agree. And, I don’t know how others see him in person, but he has a problem there too.

But in comments the question of charisma versus competence comes up.

John Northcott:

It’s sad that charisma is the most important quality needed to get elected – witness Donald Trump and John Key. All we know when someone is elected is that they are good at being elected.
If only voters would look at policy.

Kimbo:

“It’s sad that charisma is the most important quality needed to get elected”.

It’s not. it helps, but the perception of competence is the primary requirement.

Perhaps it’s a mix of both – how competence is presented by political leaders.

 

As Edwards says, English can hardly be called charismatic but many see him has competent and knowledgeable.

Little seems to struggle with all three.

And Labour continues to sgtruggle as  well, going by this from @MatthewHootonNZ

@AndrewLittleMP’s @nzlabour is 28% (-2%) in latest @umr_nz poll, just 1% behind @jeremycorbyn’s @UKLabour in latest @YouGov poll. #nzpol

Honesty, competence, internal polling

Swordfish frequently posts on poll related matters at The Standard and elsewhere. They seem to have detailed knowledge of internal Labour polls and also imply knowledge of internal National polls.

First, comments on honesty and competence.

Certainly the detailed breakdowns of leadership polls over the last few years suggest that Key’s/National’s popularity has revolved not so much around public perceptions of honesty as around perceptions of basic competence.

The New Zealand Election Study of 2011 found that Valence issues – especially perceptions of Leadership Ability and Economic Competence – played the most important role in vote choice for those not already firmly aligned.

And furthermore, despite the assumptions of some on the Left that Key’s image had remained entirely untarnished up until the Dirty Politics scandal erupted, his Honesty ratings had, in fact, been slowly but steadily eroding for quite some time – at the time of the September 2014 General Election, they were down more than 20 percentage points on 2009.

And yet the Nats still managed to win in 2014 and they’ve remained relatively high in the polls.

Why ? Largely, because a crucial segment of swing-voters were holding their noses and pragmatically placing perceived competence above concerns about dishonesty. (I’m putting aside the fact that the collapse of Colin Craig’s Conservatives has also played a part in keeping the Nats ratings at a respectable level and partially disguised a broad Nat-to-Oppo swing over the last 12 months).

But…

…it’s just possible that the Panama Papers affair may be hitting both Key and the Nats in the polls as we speak. As Pat (comment below) implies, we’ll need to see what happens over the next few polls – but arguably we already have some evidence.

First, I know of 3 Polls that have been carried out since the Panama Story broke: 1 Public Poll (Roy Morgan) and 2 Internal Party Polls (Curia for the Nats / UMR for Labour).

Both Roy Morgan and the UMR have National down on 42% – its lowest rating in any poll since the last Election (with the Govt Bloc also on its lowest rating and the Oppo Bloc on a 54% high in the Roy Morgan).

The Nats are down 5.5 points on the February Roy Morgan

Swordfish’s Roy Morgan numbers for National aren’t accurate. They are:

  • February 1-14, 2016: 48.5%
  • February 29 – March 13, 2016: 46%
  • April 4-17, 2016: 42.5%

This may foreshadow a slide for National, but their previous low of 43% in June 29 – July 12 2015 was followed by a bounce back to 50.5%.

… and down a very similar 5 points on the previous 2 Internal National Party Curia polls (conducted before the story broke).

Interesting knowledge of National’s internal polls. I don’t know how widely those results are circulated.

Second, a mid-April UMR found strong concern (even among erstwhile National voters) about New Zealand’s reputation as a tax haven, about the way the Government had handled the fallout, and about the inadequacy of the proposed Shewan review.

Time will tell whether tax and trust issues will persist or whether they will fizzle out due to a lack of substance.

And third, as I mentioned in earlier comments in April, the latest UMR puts Key on his lowest ever Favourability rating of just + 2 (compared to + 16 in the final quarter of 2015, + 27 in 2014, and + 58 during his first year in power).

That looks significant but it would be interesting to compare with Curia results on favourability ratings. I know Farrar rates favourability as an important factor.

Swordfish either doesn’t have those details from Curia or chooses to not mention them.

So, too early to tell for sure, but there are at least some initial hints of a slump in Tory support. Even if they have taken a hit, though, past experience does suggest that it could be temporary. We won’t know until we know.

Yes, too early to tell if National is suffering lasting poll damage.

Not too early to tell which side of politics Swordfish is inclined towards, and it’s not ‘Tory’ (which is not a very New Zealand term).

“Labour is the party of economic competence”

Anthony Robins makes a case at The Standard that Labour is the party of economic competence.

The old myth that National are good managers of the economy should now be well dead and buried. By any realistic assessment of the records of the last two governments, Labour is the party of economic competence.

Labour: 9 surplus budgets, paid down net government debt to zero, established the Cullen fund, KiwiSaver, KiwiBank and emissions trading scheme, low unemployment, negotiated a successful free trade agreement with China, and so on.

National: 7 deficit budgets (so far), ran up record government debt, sold productive assets, made significant losses by cutting Cullen fund contributions, gutted the emissions scheme, got taken for a ride by Hollywood, Sky City and Rio Tinto, higher unemployment, is negotiating a disastrous TPP, and more.

There’s some valid points there, but also some questionable ones. And some significant omissions, for example Kiwirail, and the fact that the New Zealand economy was heading into difficult times while Labour was still in Government, having committed the country and the incoming National Government to significant increased spending.

There’s certainly things National can be criticised for, but “made significant losses by cutting Cullen fund contributions” is nonsense, and the Hollywood deal can be credited in part for improving tourism which is one of the countriy’s biggest earners now.

Labour needs to highlight the issue of economic competence next election (with any luck the media will do their job too and fairly present the facts). It is supposed to be a core National strength, but any clothes that emperor ever had are long gone now. National is vulnerable.

Robins looks back to the Labour Government led by Helen Clark and Michael Cullen. They were voted out in 2008, seven years ago.

National aren’t judged on the Bolger Government, or the Muidoon Government.

Of course National is vulnerable, especially if the economic situation worsens or doesn’t improve much.

But Bill English is widely seen as a very sound Minister of Finance who has managed the economy through very difficult times. If he remains then National may still look economically reliable. If not it National will have to look like they have got a comparable replacement.

Sure “Labour needs to highlight the issue of economic competence” – but Andrew Little and Grant Robertson have to do quite a lot of convincing yet about perceptions of their economic competence. If they are still leader and Finance Spokesperson at the election.

And absent any poll recovery miracle Labour still have to grapple with how economically competent Labour+Greens looks, or Labour+Greens+NZFirst looks.

They’ve got plenty of time. It’s two years until we head into the next election campaign.

But they’ve had plenty of time. It’s nearly seven years and four leader/finance spokesperson combinations since Labour lost power.

Before Labour is seen as ‘the party of economic competence’ they need to be seen as a party that can competently manage itself.

Overconfidence versus undercompetence

Are National getting overconfident? And does it matter?

There’s always smatterings of overconfidence and arrogance with any government. There’s a notable smattering right now in the way Judith Collins and John Key have dealt with the Chinese milk company visit.

Is it more prevalent in a Government’s sixth year compared to their first year? That’s hard to judge.

It’s a long way out from the election, there’s months in which National can tweak their confidence levels and present themselves as capable enough to do another term running government.

Voters like confidence, they like backing winners.

National will be well aware of the dangers of appearing too cocky, even if they are justifiably feeling cock-a-hoop over their current obvious advantage over their opposition.

It’s how National appear compared to Labour that’s the key. This will be most important in the two months leading up to the election, in five or six months time.

Tweaking confidence levels a bit over a few months looks far less difficult than overcoming undercompetence that appears to be getting worse by the week.

I expect National supporters will be very confident that John Key can front up with the necessary demeanour during the election campaign, when it really matters, and when nine tenths of the focus will be on party leaders.

At this stage of an election year I know what I’d want to have if I had a choice between a bit of overconfidence and a cancer of undercompetence.

It’s sad when something like this is viewed more in sympathy than as an attempted put down.

The National supporters circulating that have good reason to be feeling very confident.

Confidence can dissipate overnight, but getting confidence back can take too long, especially if influential members of your caucus have no confidence in you and seem to be only confident of one thing – saving their own sorry seats.