Chris Penk book on how to undermine a leader and an election campaign

Chris Penk, first term National MP for Helensville, has self published a sort of a book called Flattening the Country: the real story behind Labour’s lockdown – but it is more like “How to undermine a new leader and an election campaign”.

Penk praised his ex-leader Simon Bridges, and says that he had discussed his book with ‘the party’s leadership when Bridges was in charge, implying he had approval, but he has made no mention of discussing his book with new leader Todd Muller or getting approval from National’s election campaign team.

Penk also said he was not worried about any potential backlash from the public. Is he naive, stupid, or deliberately dumping on Muller and National’s campaign? Possibly a bit of all of those.

I think that back bench MPs shouldn’t be gagged, and they should put their views out in public so that voters can see what they are like and what they think and believe in. But they also should have the sense to put the good of their party and the good of the country ahead of their own agenda, especially heading in to an election.

RNZ: National MP Chris Penk’s book derides government’s Covid-19 response

National backbench MP Chris Penk has released a 30,000 word missive criticising the government’s “lockdown lunacy” and calling its initial response to Covid-19 “shockingly slack” and “incompetent”.

Penk unveiled his self-published book – “Flattening the Country: the real story behind Labour’s lockdown” – on his National website on Thursday evening, alongside an offer to send out signed copies for $20 a pop.

The book is heavily critical of the Covid-19 response, arguing that a poorly prepared and panicked government “set about destroying the village that is New Zealand in order to save it”.

“It was only supposed to be the curve that got flattened, not the whole country,” the book begins.

The whole country is nothing like flattened. We have come through the pandemic remarkably unscathed, albeit with some substantial economic, business and employment difficulties. But compared to many other countries New Zealand looks to be very well off.

Speaking to RNZ, Penk said he had discussed his plans for the book with the party’s leadership going back to when Bridges was still in charge.

“The positions that I have stated in the book are consistent with the messages that National has been putting out from the start.”

Messages that National had been putting out perhaps. But the leadership change also changed the leadership messaging quite a lot. Did Penk not think to check out his messaging with Muller and the new campaign team?

He said he was not worried about any potential backlash from the public.

“A large number of people are fearful about expressing a view that is anything other than the received wisdom, the single source of truth, and they don’t want to be ostrasised as not being part of the team of five million.

“Frankly, the bullying tactics that have been applied to others don’t hold any weight with me.”

Is that a swipe at Muller and the new National leadership? Even if not intended as such it effectively looks like it.

Penk’s book is closer in tone to that of former Opposition leader Simon Bridges than that of the new leadership team, and it is complimentary of Bridges’ performance.

Indeed, Penk noted that Bridges would be remembered in time “for performing his constitutional role with commitment and courage”.

Is it a sort of a ‘Bring back Bridges’ campaign?

Early on in the book, Penk acknowledged the lockdown was “necessary” and its timing “roughly right”, but he went on to critique “Labour’s particular form of lockdown lunacy”, arguing it was too harsh and was unnecessarily extended.

Level 3 would have been a more appropriate starting point, Penk said.

“Whole industries have been led like so many lambs to a no-longer-non-essential slaughterhouse.”

Penk also reserved some harsh words for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, describing her as a “cheerleader-in-chief” and “one trick pony” for repeatedly imploring the public to “be kind”.

“Compulsory kindness is oxymoronic. And moronic. And insulting,” he wrote.

He includes quotes from social media including Kiwiblog in his book. It sounds like it.

and he may have put himself (and National) in an awkward position regarding donations. Stuff: National MP Chris Penk’s lockdown book raises political donation questions

He’s now published it on the National party website, where people have the choice of reading the book for free or ordering a signed copy for $20 after depositing money in Penk’s bank account, which is listed.

Penk also asks people who read the book for free to “consider making a small contribution to fund the printing and distribution of more copies”.

Otago law professor Andrew Geddis said the donations may have to be declared as donations to Penk as a candidate, although not if the donation was a “like-for-like” fee covering the cost of printing the book.

Penk may not have thought things through.

Penk said all laws relating to the donations would be complied with.

They will have to be complied with, he hasn’t got any choice. He can’t claim ignorance, now at least.

The book has confounded critics. It is critical of the way the lockdown destroyed “the village that is New Zealand in order to save it”.

Yet, in its opening pages, the book also acknowledges the lockdown was “necessary” and the timing was “roughly right”.

It also acknowledges tourism would have been destroyed anyway, and there would always be “considerable” economic disruption.

Not very consistent.

This book may have seemed like a good idea to Penk and perhaps a small faction of National MPs, but it is likely to have a negative impact on his party’s election chances.

I can’t see any reference to the book on the main National Party website, but it is prominently promoted on Penk’s National Party site where you can read the book: FLATTENING THE COUNTRY

Maybe Muller doesn’t feel flattened by Penk’s attack, but it doesn’t look good for the new National leader. the book doesn’t mention him at all, but has 14 mentions of Bridges.

 

Parties arrange early Key/Cunliffe exits

National and Labour have worked together to arrange for the early exit of John Key and David Cunliffe from Parliament. They are both leaving just close enough to the election to avoid automatic by-elections, and with both leaving at about the same time the vote balance in parliament won’t be upset.

Too bad for their electorates that will be left unrepresented until after the election. Neither electorate has a current list MP standing so that leave no one to step in for them.

Stuff: Key, Cunliffe set date for final departures in move to preserve Parliament’s balance

Former Prime Minister John Key will quit Parliament on April 14 after delivering his farewell speech next week.

The timing will allow Parliament to avoid a by-election in his Helensville seat, which can be left vacant if he leaves within six months of the September 23 general election.

Meanwhile Labour’s David Cunliffe has also announced he is leaving early, with a final day of April 23 – ensuring the relative strengths of the Government and Opposition are preserved.

It is becoming more common for MPs and also for local body politicians to leave mid-term at their own convenience rather than fulfil their full term commitment.

Key will give his valedictory speech on March 22 and his resignation will take take effect on April 14.

Cunliffe’s valedictory speech will be on April 11 and his resignation will take effect on April 23.