How Ardern, Collins make people feel

I think that most people probably vote more on feelings on leaders than on policies or party lists.

This shows why the Labour campaign is based on the personality of Ardern.

It also shows what an uphill battle Collins has to make an impression (I think that Collins has done ok in ways but has been disappointing).

Interestingly Collins hasn’t fared well compared to Bridges, who struggled against Ardern and struggled to look like a competent leader.

Ardern has slightly reduced the negatives and significantly increased the positives since Covid struck.

Collins says she will “get to the bottom of” misleading advertising

Judith Collins says she will find out who is responsible for advertising that was said to be authorised by her and has been found to be misleading by the Speaker, Trevor Mallard.

Social media campaigns that look linked to the National Party have been controversial, especially those promoted by Collins’ husband – see Collins ‘can’t control husband’ but he’s very unhelpful.

In Parliament yesterday:

PRIVILEGE

Misrepresentation—Reply to a Written Question

SPEAKER: Members, I have received a letter from the Hon Chris Hipkins raising with me a matter of privilege: the alteration and misrepresentation of a reply to a written question posted by the National Party on social media.

The content—altered reply purporting to be from the Minister of Health and is on the face of it misleading. In normal circumstances I would be inclined to find that a question of privilege is involved and refer the matter to the Privileges Committee.

The post purports to be authorised by the Leader of the Opposition, although she has assured me that she did not see it before publication.

The general manager of the New Zealand National Party has taken responsibility for it.

So this has been directly linked to the National Party.

The post involved the manufacture of fake ministerial letterhead to lend authenticity to the misrepresentation. However, the Leader of the Opposition has apologised, I have been assured that the material has been removed from social media, and in light of the impending dissolution of Parliament I do not intend to take any further action.

Newshub: Judith Collins vows to find out who created ‘misleading’ National ad with her name on it

The image, which was posted on party social media platforms, shows Hipkins replying to a written question from National Health spokesperson Dr Shane Reti about testing numbers in managed isolation facilities. However, the text is on a manufactured ministerial letterhead and contains just part of Hipkins’ answer.

Collins told The AM Show on Wednesday morning that she wasn’t behind the faked letterhead – but she would find out who was. 

“Well, not me. I am going to find out today. I am going to get to the bottom of it. It’s possibly someone trying to be clever. I am particularly annoyed that it has happened. It’s not like its $11.7 million for the Green School. But it’s still not acceptable and I will sort it out today”.

The leader reiterated that she did not sign the post off, despite it saying she had done so. 

“No, I did not and I didn’t even see it. That will also be dealt with today. So, you can just imagine, it’s going to be an interesting morning”.

“We will sort it out today. I would say it is possibly an error from someone who is overly enthusiastic, but whatever, it’s not acceptable, and certainly not putting my name on things when it’s not true. I will be sorting it today. It will be sorted.”

It could have been someone in the party’s digital team, she said.

“Well, we will find out. I don’t know so I will find out. I would say it is possibly someone in the digital team. But whatever it is, we will find out. But let’s get it in perspective here. Someone has made an error and I have apologised on behalf of the National Party. I certainly didn’t know about it.” 

Collins doesn’t appear to have committed to doing anything if she finds out who is responsible.

She said yesterday she couldn’t control her husband, but she could stop him spreading around social media attacks if she stops her party creating the attack posts in the first place.

Election date and governing through the campaign

Questions have been raised about whether the election can go ahead next month – probably not if under level 3 lockdown – and how much public governing the Prime Minister should be doing through the campaign – Jacinda Ardern insists her priority is dealing with Covid and the safety of the people.

Jane Patterson (RNZ) – Election date debate: Collins willing to risk antagonising voters

There’s now serious pressure to push out the election date, starting with slowing the next steps taken to end the parliamentary term and trigger an election. It’s in the hands of the prime minister for now but other parties say it wouldn’t be a fair race.

According to Ardern the latest it could be held is 21 November.

The date would have to allow enough time to release the final election and referendums results, and for the formation of a new government, before Christmas.

The main consideration will be: “Is it safe to vote?”

The Electoral Commission has been planning for an election in a pandemic but under current guidelines would only go ahead under alert level 2; an election could not go ahead under the level 3 restrictions in place in Auckland.

That is based on people being able to safely access polling booths with sanitising and social distancing – if they cannot it is up to ministers and political leaders to decide what would happen from there, with an obligation to put the interests of New Zealanders ahead of any political considerations.

This close to a general election the governing parties have a responsibility to work constructively with others when it comes to any major decisions – especially in a crisis – and to make sure the race is as even as possible.

National is calling for the 19 September election to be delayed, with Collins accusing Ardern of not consulting as fully as she should, and withholding key information about this week’s decisions.

Decisions will have have to be made soon, with a set timetable that has to be followed in the weeks leading up the election.

National says it is a health crisis and should be handled by the director general of health, not a politician.

Campaigning has been suspended while all parties watch the developments in Auckland carefully – what happens there will determine not only how politicians take their message to the electorate but potentially the election date itself.

National is fighting to keep itself in the story, by taking on Ardern over her treatment of the main opposition party.

But Ardern insists her right and responsibility to front the Covid crisis.

Stuff: Jacinda Ardern keeps options open as Judith Collins attacks

On Wednesday, Ardern announced the Government would be delaying the dissolution of Parliament until Monday, in order to give itself the flexibility to delay the election or bring the House back into full session.

She did not commit to any delay of the September 19 election date, however, saying more information about the cases was needed.

Collins rejected this later in the day and called for a delay of the election until at least November, saying a locked-down campaign would be impossible and any kind of mass postal voting would not be legitimate democracy.

“It is simply unsustainable to expect there to be a fair and just election at a time when opposition parties and other parties of Government are not free to campaign, but also when people have no certainty about whether they would be able to cast their vote on election day,” Collins said.

Ardern said she was focused on the immediate response, but decisions around election timing would be made before Parliament was set to dissolve on Monday.

Collins also criticised the Government for making the lockdown decision after advising her, instead of consulting her and the Opposition directly.

She said there was a convention in New Zealand that the Opposition be consulted on major decisions this close to the election.

“It is always part of our pre-election convention that a Government does not make major decisions without consultation with the Opposition. Clearly advising the leader of the opposition just before making a public announcement does not count as consultation,” Collins said.

Ardern disagreed with this assessment, saying the “caretaker convention” only applied following an election, before a new Government had been called.

Victoria University Associate Professor of Public Law Dr Dean Knight said the Cabinet manual showed no “caretaker” period applied in New Zealand and the Government was free to make major decisions.

“The Government has full power to take decisions prior to the election and is under no legal or customary obligation to consult the Opposition about major decisions such as Covid-19 alert levels,” Knight said.

Stephen Franks (@franks_lawyer) on this:

Our conventions for the period without a Parliament evolved over generations as bi-partisan commitment to democratic bottom lines. Incumbent rulers in corrupt countries use state resources and power to stifle and overwhelm challengers’ communication with voters.

In NZ election period Govt advertising with taxpayer purse is strictly limited. Conventions confine Ministers, most strict before a handover after the election. But honourable self-restraint is also expected pre-election after Parliament can’t scrutinise for abuses of power.

In NZ incumbent power is restrained to protect values that need bi-partisan loyalty past an electoral cycle, e.g. consulting the opposition on senior enduring appointments. An honourable government recognises the purpose of the principles and applies them to new circumstances.

We have unprecedented issues. The PM is inserting herself daily into announcements that could easily be made by trusted non-politician leaders, like Dr Bloomfield. Meanwhile inflicting on democratic rivals losses of freedoms to meet, and to associate for political discussion.

I wish I could believe her media omni-presence is just to ensure we all get the right info from someone we are most likely to trust, so there is maximum voluntary compliance/cooperation. But now 40% of the population will be tempted to mistrust and oppose or even frustrate.

Worthy public purposes were served by her daily lessons during the first lockdown. I eventually tired of being addressed as an infant, but clearly many more were reassured. Now, however the electioneering purpose looks too blatant.

That might be less counterproductive if she’d scrupulously reassured us by balancing her political spotlight with conspicuous respect for electoral integrity. If she wants full emergency media now she could inject balance by returning the election to its traditional November.

It is unprincipled to insist on her chosen early election while gagging political challengers with lockdown. Abusing the emergency’s saturation attention may suck media oxygen from critics/rivals. But will it look so smart if it prompts resentment/disobedience and failure?

Deferring the dissolution for as long as possible to leave some chance of a period of normal election challenge and freedom, would be a gesture to minimise the numbers who will see and hear only cynical manipulation in her Covid statements from here on. Trust matters.

David Farrar promotes the Collins approach in Collins calls for election delay:

Judith Collins has called for the Prime Minister to use her powers to delay the election until November, or failing that for Parliament to meet and vote on delaying it until 2021.

Collins points out that early voting is due to start in two and a half weeks and opposition parties are unable to campaign or even have their campaign launches.

But it is “Now that the boot is on the other foot he supports delaying New Zealand’s election.”
Well, a few days ago delaying an election in the US by Trump was described by DPF’s headline as “Trump verges on fascism”, so by that standard, today DPF and Judith must also be verging on fascism.
And there was this by DPF, “If you can hold elections during a civil war and a world war, you can hold one now.” That didn’t age well.

“Now that the boot is on the other foot he supports delaying New Zealand’s election.”

Well, a few days ago delaying an election in the US by Trump was described by DPF’s headline as “Trump verges on fascism”, so by that standard, today DPF and Judith must also be verging on fascism.

And there was this by DPF, “If you can hold elections during a civil war and a world war, you can hold one now.” That didn’t age well.

The country is in an unprecedented and very awkward position over Covid and with the complication of the election.

National hopelessness, conspiracy and paranoia

National is in a seemingly hopeless position in the polls, and they are understandably frustrated that this week’s Covid outbreak and lockdowns have stopped them from campaigning in person around the country, and has made it difficult for them compete for media coverage. It is a hopeless situation for them, with little they can do about it.

Unfortunately leader Judith Collins and her deputy and National’s campaign director Gerry Collins are making things worse with some of their policy promotion choices, and seem to be heading into conspiracy territory.

Sam Sachdeva (Newsroom): The paranoid style in New Zealand politics

“We are all sufferers from history, but the paranoid is a double sufferer, since he is afflicted not only by the real world, with the rest of us, but by his fantasies as well.”- Richard Hofstadter, ‘The Paranoid Style in American Politics’, 1964

Nothing wrong with asking questions, is there? Where’s the harm in that? ‘They’ haven’t turned that into a crime as well, have they?

Such was the tone of the National Party’s press conference on new community cases of Covid-19, in an ill omen for the tenor of the campaign for our next election – whenever that proves to be.

National leader Judith Collins offered a small hint of her likely approach when news of the four South Auckland cases broke on Tuesday night, saying the return of the virus would “come as a shock to all New Zealanders who believed what we had been told – that we had got on top of this virus”.

If there were any reservations about going negative, they were not on display as Collins and her deputy leader Gerry Brownlee instead doubled down on Wednesday afternoon.

Asked about the Government’s timeline, Collins said she was “hearing a lot of rumours”.

Several minutes later, her deputy leader Gerry Brownlee outlined – unprompted – an allegedly suspicious series of events in recent weeks, as if joining the pieces of the puzzle with string on an overloaded pinboard.

“The messaging around a possible further outbreak of Covid-19 began … about 10 days ago; on top of that there was the issue of masks, we were encouraged to start purchasing masks to have them available in the emergency kit.

“Dr Bloomfield went a bit further, in one interview I saw suggested that people might wear a mask for one day a week, just to get used to the idea of wearing masks.

“Then you saw the Prime Minister’s visit to the mask factory … along with Dr Bloomfield, after 103 days of no community transmission having a test himself – all very interesting things to happen a matter of hours before there was a notification of the largest residential part of New Zealand going into Level 3 lockdown.”

Pressed on what exactly he was implying, Brownlee replied with a smirk: “I’m just outlining facts … it’s an interesting series of facts.”

Exactly what those facts were meant to prove was left unsaid – although leaving it to the vivid imaginations of tired and scared New Zealanders was perhaps the point.

Then, outlining her desire to delay the election to November or even next year, Collins appeared to borrow from Donald Trump’s playbook in casting aspersions on the trustworthiness of postal voting – despite the fact New Zealanders can already apply to cast a ballot by mail.

“This is a serious issue, it is not a laughing issue, it is not something to joke around, and it’s certainly not something to have just put in an envelope and sent off with no verification as to who anyone is.”

Jacinda Ardern certainly has a big publicity advantage over her campaign opponents, but heading into paranoia and conspiracy territory is a hapless and probably hopeless approach for Collins and Brownlee.

This is on top of tired old policy position announcements like getting tough on gangs and building more roads, as well as the very disappointing National caucus position opposing cannabis law reform.

The line of attack from Collins and Brownlee comes from a darker place, and it is hard to know which is worse – that they genuinely believe in some sort of grand cover-up, or are prepared to stoke such sentiment out of political expediency.

To be clear, there is plenty of ground for legitimate criticism of the Government’s response.

Information about the locations visited by the new positive cases has dribbled out slowly and inconsistently, leaving those who may have been a casual contact on edge.

Ardern’s refusal to engage in “hypotheticals” about the likely extension of Auckland’s lockdown, given the 14-day incubation period that we have all learned about, seems overly cautious and potentially counterproductive in preparing people for a long haul.

But making ominous references to “interesting facts” does nothing to address those concerns, and runs the risk of undermining public buy-in for a longer lockdown, should one be required.

These are very poor attempts to hold the Government to account.

And they are unlikely to be rewarded by voters.

Should the election be delayed?

Judith Collins and David Seymour are asking if the election needs to be delayed due to the new Covid cases.

RNZ: ‘Straight answers’ needed from government on Covid-19 restrictions – Collins

National was delaying its campaign launch, Collins said, and if the situation in Auckland didn’t improve the election might need to be postponed.

“I think it’s inevitable that people will be asking these questions and I actually can’t see how we can have the Government saying well it’s all just fine and we’ll get the Electoral Commission to do some postal ballots or something, that’s not going to be acceptable, this is a liberal democracy and people do need to be able to have a fair go.

“I think it’s going to have to be [delayed] unless it’s sorted out by Friday, so let’s see how Friday goes and I’m ever hopeful that we’ll have a decision straight away, we’ll have something that can tell us we can get back to where we have been.

ACT leader David Seymour wrote to the Speaker last night asking him to postpone the dissolution of Parliament.

“Terrible news tonight. It occurs to me that Parliament does not need to dissolve before the election.

“I strongly urge you to postpone the dissolution of Parliament tomorrow until at least this time next week when a clearer picture of the Public Health situation can be had.

“It is possible that the election will now need to be delayed. If that is the case, I believe the people would want to have Parliament available for an epidemic response committee or perhaps sittings,” Seymour said in the letter.

I don’t know why the election should be delayed at this staged at least.

This is more of a hiccup than a crisis. We have been told to expect more community cases ‘not if but when’. And now we have a few.

If the country rushes into lockdowns every time there’s a new community case we will have a very disrupted few months.

If the election has to be delayed because of these cases, for how long should it be delayed? Until there are no new cases for a month? Then it will take two or three months at least to get the election going – and what if there’s moire cases, as we have been told is likely? Keep kicking the election can down the road?

I think that we should be trying to keep things as normal as possible while dealing with a few Covid hiccups.

There may be something on this from Jacinda Ardern soon, she is having media conferences with Ashley Bloomfield at 10:30 am and 4.o0 pm.


Ardern says they are considering the timing of the election but it’s in the early stages of discussion and no decision has been made or looks likely in the next day or two.

Judith Collins rules out NZ First, rules in ACT

National leader Judith Collins has already confirmed that National will not consider doing a governing deal with NZ First after the election, but has now strongly endorsed the ACT party and specifically David Seymour in the Epsom electorate.

ODT (NZH): Collins rules out working with NZ First

National leader Judith Collins appears to have ruled out working with NZ First after the election – and says Winston Peters and his party are probably on the way out anyway.

…Collins has slammed the door shut on the chances of reversing the decision not to work with NZ First.

“We have made that very plain as a caucus and as a party, and I know a lot of our party supporters and voters certainly wanted us to do that,” she said today.

“I’m pretty clear – the caucus has decided it. That’s the caucus view.”

“It’s really important to understand the caucus has said that they don’t want to do a deal with Winston Peters. There is no reason that I know that we are going to change that.”

Yesterday from Stuff: Judith Collins calls for Epsom voters to back ACT’s David Seymour

Judith Collins has explicitly asked voters in Epsom to back the ACT party’s David Seymour, sidelining her own finance spokesperson as part of a longstanding arrangement with the libertarian party.

Collins, the National leader, on Monday said she was asking voters in the Auckland electorate should to vote for Seymour for their electorate MP, saying she would “welcome him being part of a National-ACT Government”.

“I don’t need to have little cups of tea or anything, because everybody knows that David Seymour and I work very well together”

“I’m asking the people of Epsom”.

“I think it’s always important to be respectful of people and their votes, and I’m very, explicitly saying that I believe that a National-led Government is going to be best served with ACT as our partner.”

“I’m very happy to say that we want the party vote, please, in Epsom, please, and in this particular electorate you can give the first tick, for the electorate, to David Seymour.”

This was fairly obvious but at least this is explicit and open National support for Seymour in Epsom and for the ACT Party as a governing partner, far better than the charades and signalling of past elections.

National’s passive Epsom candidate since 2011 Paul Goldsmith said:

“It’s the party vote that counts. That’s my focus”.

He has always had to avoid campaigning for the electorate vote while seeking the party vote.

There has been reports that electorate polls show Seymour looks comfortable and should retain the seat.

Seymour, leader of the ACT party, said the media could focus on such endorsements, but he was “listening to the voters”.

“What they’re telling me is that the world has changed and we need a plan for a faster recovery with lower taxes and less debt,” he said in a statement provided by a spokesman.

Asked if Collins’ endorsement guaranteed ACT would work with National, Seymour said: “National is the only party ACT could work with right now.”

That’s stating the obvious. None of Labour, Greens or NZ First would consider doing a governing deal with ACT.

“We can’t work with a Labour Party that has the most disastrous public policy record in living memory.”

Seymour has feuded with Winston Peters through the term, who a couple of weeks ago challenged him to a fist fight – it was lame and never going to happen but Seymour has kept getting under Winston’s skin. It won’t help that ACT is getting double the support of NZ First in polls.

So as expected one option for the next Government is a two party National + ACT coalition. ACT are currently doing well in polls and should get several MPs in Parliament this time, but National are struggling, polling 20-30% behind Labour.

I think that is likely to close up a bit but the gap looks far to big to close for National unless there is some significant development, like Ardern resigning and Phil Twyford taking over the Labour leadership.

National’s party list

National have announced their party list for the 2020 election in September. There is nothing remarkable about it. The top 20 are fairly similar to their current rankings.

National’s 2020 Party List:

1Judith CollinsPapakura
2Gerry BrownleeIlam
3Paul GoldsmithEpsom
4Simon BridgesTauranga
5Dr Shane RetiWhangarei
6Todd McClayRotorua
7Chris BishopHutt South
8Todd MullerBay of Plenty
9Louise UpstonTaupo
10Scott SimpsonCoromandel
11David BennettHamilton East
12Michael WoodhouseDunedin
13Nicola WillisWellington Central
14Jacqui DeanWaitaki
15Mark MitchellWhangaparaoa
16Melissa LeeMt Albert
17Andrew BaylyPort Waikato
18Dr Nick SmithNelson
19Maureen PughWest Coast-Tasman
20Barbara KurigerTaranaki-King Country
21Harete HipangoWhanganui
22Jonathan YoungNew Plymouth
23Tim MacindoeHamilton West
24Kanwaljit Singh BakshiPanmure-Otahuhu
25Paulo GarciaList
26Nancy LuList
27Dr Parmjeet ParmarMt Roskill
28Agnes LoheniMangere
29Dale StephensChristchurch Central
30Alfred NgaroTe Atatu
31Matt DooceyWaimakariri
32Stuart SmithKaikoura
33Lawrence YuleTukituki
34Denise LeeMaungakiekie
35Simon O’ConnorTamaki
36Brett HudsonOhariu
37Simeon BrownPakuranga
38Ian McKelvieRangitikei
39Erica StanfordEast Coast Bays
40Matt KingNorthland
41Chris PenkKaipara ki Mahurangi
42Tim van de MolenWaikato
43Dan BidoisNorthcote
44Jo HayesMana
45Katie NimonNapier
46Catherine ChuBanks Peninsula
47Hamish CampbellWigram
48David PattersonRongotai
49Lisa WhyteNew Lynn
50Rima NakhleTakanini
51Liam KernaghanTaieri
52Bala BeeramKelston
53Lincoln PlattChristchurch East
54William WoodPalmerston North
55Nuwi SamarakoneManurewa
56Mark CrofskeyRemutaka
57Jake BezzantUpper Harbour
58Mike ButterickWairarapa
59Tim CostleyOtaki
60Nicola GriggSelwyn
61Christopher LuxonBotany
62Joseph MooneySouthland
63Penny SimmondsInvercargill
64Tania TapsellEast Coast
65Simon WattsNorth Shore
66TBCAuckland Central
67TBCRangitata
68Adrienne PierceList
69Senthuran ArulananthamList
70Sang ChoList
71Rachel Afeaki-TaumoepeauList
72Trish CollettList
73Ava NealList
74Katrina BungardList
75Shelley PilkingtonList

Most list candidates and quite a few electorate candidates will be struggling to get in unless National’s support improves support markedly. An on polling National will do well to get half of that list into Parliament.

This term they got 56 MPs elected with 44.45% of the vote, but recent public polling ranged from 25-32%.

On current polling a number of candidates have no show of getting in unless they win their electorates.

Interesting to see Chris Luxon at 61. He is sometimes toured as a leaderr of the future, but after the Muller experience future caucuses should be cautious about parachuting in someone with little political or political media experience.

RNZ Leader interviews: Judith Collins – ‘I’m always very confident, particularly when I know I’m right’

Collins is still shy of a month into the job but in her media blitz she and her arched eyebrows are everywhere, along with the party slogan “Strong team, More Jobs, Better Economy”.

Is the tagline “strong team” verging on the comedic though, when you look back at the past few horror months for National: a rolling maul of resignations, sackings and leadership changes?

“Look at our front bench. Look at it,” Collins says in defence.

Stuff: National Party announces list of MPs and candidates for upcoming election

On National’s current polling, many of the party’s existing MPs could lose their seat in Parliament. MPs Alfred Ngaro and Jo Hayes appear to be at particular risk after being ranked down the list.

Two candidates – Nancy Lu and Dale Stephens – have entered the list above existing MPs. Lu, a high-flying accountant who was born in China, has been parachuted into 26 on the list.

National Party president Peter Goodfellow said that Lu had been placed so high on the list because she had the capabilities the party was looking for.

Collins said many of the promising new candidates in safe seats, such as Luxon, had been grouped together down the list.

Ngaro, who is running against Labour minister Phil Twyford in Te Atatū, has dropped from number 19 in the caucus list, to 30 on the list – the only MP to drop from the top 20.

“Alfred has a seat to win, and it is important that we also have renewal,” Collins said.

That’s hardly a vote of confidence in Ngaro. He was 3,180 votes behind Twyford last election. Twyford has been poor as a minister but should benefit from Labour riding high.

Most people will know little to nothing about most candidates on the list. Elections are won and lost on leadership and the top handful of known MPs and candidates.

Covid, politics and the election

The Government have been criticised for some time for using regular Covid media conferences to promote themselves leading up to the election.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern fronted important announcements, which was a significant reason for widespread public support of the lockdown. She earned strong public support of Government actions.

She was helped by the very competent media skills of the Director-general of Health, Ashley Bloomfield.

But for a while Ardern continued to do the media gigs with little of importance to say but an update of the daily totals and reminders of care that needed to be taken to minimise the opportunity for Covid to spread.

Criticism of her promoting herself and her Government and her party started to grow. Some of the news was not so good as new cases started to add up and a number of people escaped from isolation. Coincidentally or not she removed herself from the Covid front line most of the time.

At the same time Ardern replaced the inept Minister of Health David Clark with the far more competent and media savvy Chris Hipkins, who has been the regular Government Covid spokesperson since the beginning of July, along with Megan Woods.

It can be difficult to differentiate between dealing with Covid and competent government, but there is no doubt Labour’s election chances have been substantially enhanced by both their handling of Covid and their frequent public performances.

The major Government party has always had a significant advantage in election campaigns. They have far more media exposure – even more so during the Covid pandemic – and they have money to dish out to appear generous too voters – and there is a lot more of that at the moment dealing with Covid and the economic impact.

So Labour are benefiting, and are no doubt milking it a bit with the election in mind. It has been suggested that there won’t be any Pacific Island bubble until after the election so as to not risk adverse publicity during the campaign. This may be a bit cynical but is fairly normal politics, albeit in abnormal times.

Polls show that Labour has benefited from Ardern’s popularity and the relative success of keeping control of Covid – and the publicity for doing that.

This has put Labours main opponent, National, in a difficult situation (made quite a bit more difficult by their leadership changes and MPs behaving badly). It has been hard for them to criticise the Covid response, and hard for them to promote anything better as an alternative.

National have been effectively been sidelined by circumstances, self inflicted wounds and by Ardern in particular doing so well in the eyes of most of us.

Judith Collins has had a mixed start as leader. She is better than Bridges and much better than Muller, but those were low bars.

She is much better handling media – but she is far from perfect with that. Both her occasional flippancy and trying to appear to be tough don’t come across very well.

And she hasn’t been helped by a bit of bumbling by her deputy, Gerry Brownlee. While the Government Covid response is inextricably linked with politics, Opposition politicising of it has major risks for National.

Covid is too important and poses too many risks political point scoring.

Today’s ODT editorial warns both Labour and National: Leave health response to experts

The ongoing public health response to the global pandemic must not become fodder for the election campaign. It is far too important for that.

Clarity and certainty are paramount as our communities meet the Covid-19 threat. Mixed messages from all and sundry may make us vulnerable.

The election campaign has started. Now, we should expect to get all the information we need about the Covid-19 health response from the public servants managing it.

Director-general of health Ashley Bloomfield, unsullied by the need to seek re-election, remains the primary source of key health messages. He is the most qualified to explain where-to next.

So particularly now the campaign proper has kicked off politicians should butt out unless something out of the ordinary needs to be addressed.

National Party Covid-19 border response spokesman Gerry Brownlee cast a light on the potential for mixing messages with his latest foray into the practical response.

Yesterday, he pondered the Ministry of Health’s latest guidance urging people to have masks ready in case the country has to return to Level 2.

The announcement came out of the blue and he had ‘‘seen very little evidence that would back up the reason for it’’, he said.

‘‘Why is it now when we have 94 days now with no community transmission and apparently secure borders that they’re suddenly wanting to bring this up,’’ he asked.

‘‘I think it’s a bit of a squirrel running up a tree so that we’re not looking at the teetering employment situation.’’

That and other things Brownlee has said don’t help Collins or National’s cause. National could learn from Labour, who mostly keep deputy Kelvin Davis out of the spotlight.

Dr Bloomfield this week warned community transmission was inevitable — our border may eventually be breached — and people should not be complacent. Epidemiologists continue to say the same thing. This all meant the guidance had to change, eventually.

Such readily available information helped explain the ‘‘why now’’ of the announcement, but if it caused distraction, it was generated by politicians.

Not just by politicians. Political axe grinders have claimed Bloomfield and particularly the Government are ‘scaremongering’ and trying to raise fear in the public for political purposes.

Our health advisers are apolitical public servants. It is a very serious thing to suggest they would issue an important health advisory to benefit the Government.

But in this case, health advisers were not left alone in the advising. As has been the case since lockdown, a senior minister shared the daily announcement spotlight. Minister of Health Chris Hipkins amplified the advice, in a simple act that some considered enough to infer a political motivation.

Whether it was right or wrong to do so — though we suggest it was wrong — is almost beside the point. The point is, politicians must opt for absolute care during the election campaign.

They must spend the next few weeks letting health officials make and restate official health announcements. They should defer to them, and let them explain the need for masks, sanitiser and quarantine.

But will they? Ardern focussed on the Covid response in her Adjournment Debate – Jacinda Ardern speech, and appears to be openly campaigning on Covid competence and control.

And all that leaves Collins and National is to try to attract attention with alternatives but without appearing too negative. They have a way to go to work that out, and a long way to go to suggest they deserve to run the government.

Otherwise Ardern and Labour will cruise to victory virtually untouchable, as they appear to be doing now.

Adjournment debate – Judith Collins

Hon JUDITH COLLINS (Leader of the Opposition): Thank you, Mr Speaker. Firstly, I’d like to turn to acknowledge those who are here today and I wish to start—not to end—with thanks. Those thanks are to yourself, Mr Speaker, for the job you do, even though sometimes I’m sure it’s quite difficult—we certainly find it quite difficult, actually. Can I also thank all the other parliamentarians who are here and for those who have decided to leave us at the end of this term, thank you for your contribution—

Hon Chris Hipkins: Too many to name.

Hon JUDITH COLLINS: —and to helping making this such a good place. Of course there’s a lot of members of the Labour Party, as the Hon Chris Hipkins is just mentioning, who will be leaving. They may not be planning it, but they’ll be going their way home. Thank you very much.

Can I also thank all of the National team. Thank you, team; it’s about time. It’s about time. Thank you for putting your faith in me and thank you, particularly, to the Hon Simon Bridges and Todd Muller for the support that they have been able to give me in helping us through to this transition. Your efforts are greatly appreciated.

Can I also take the opportunity to thank all those who work in Parliament and around the precinct. Can I particularly thank the Clerk of the House, the Office of the Clerk staff, the Table Office, the Bills Office, Hansard, select committee staff, the messengers, security, the catering and, particularly, the cleaning staff who often work in hours when we are not here. Can I thank the amazing team at the library and all of my staff who I must say recently have grown to such an enormous number I can’t remember everyone’s names, but that comes with the office.

Can I thank everybody who has kept Parliament running through the COVID-19 lockdowns making sure that we could actually have some form of democracy, even though it seemed extremely limited at the time. And a big thank you to the National Party team, then led by the Hon Simon Bridges, who made sure that there was actually an Opposition voice despite the best efforts for there to be otherwise. So thank you for everybody for doing that.

I’ve just heard the Prime Minister make what I think is going to be one of those speeches that we’re going to look on and we’re going to say, “Well, that was very interesting, wasn’t it?”, because she is going to be more famous than usual and that is going to be because she will be a one-term Labour leader. And that is what I’m here to tell her today. I’m here to tell her today that the last one was Bill Rowling and, good for her, she’s about to join him.

Now, I think it is really important that when we look at our energised and extremely, extremely united team, which is full of extraordinary talent—

Hon Phil Twyford: Where are they? Where have they gone?

Hon JUDITH COLLINS: I look instead, I look instead—Phil Twyford’s asking, “Where have they gone?” Well, Phil Twyford, he’s clearly one of the best performers of Jacinda Ardern’s Government, now promoted to No. 4. Well, what does that say about the rest of them? What does it say about the rest of them when they’ve got Phil Twyford at No. 4 and he’s ahead of Dr Megan Woods and Chris Hipkins and just about everybody else. What does that say and what does it say about the excellent work of the Hon Kelvin Davis at No. 2. Isn’t that amazing, wonderful—when there’s so much talent, so much talent.

Let’s just have a look at what, though, is facing New Zealand. This is going to be an extremely important election because it’s about who is going to be best able to manage what has been described by the New Zealand Reserve Bank as the biggest economic downturn in 160 years. That is even older than our dear friend Rt Hon Winston Peters. That is 160 years and what did I just hear from the Prime Minister, the leader of the Labour Party? What I hear from the leader of the Labour Party: a whole lot of pixie dust and talking about how everything’s just going to be fine. That’s what I heard. An awful lot of dust; dust—that was all it was.

Let’s just look at this. Let’s look at the numbers that Jacinda Ardern did not wish to say. Let’s look at the 212,000 New Zealanders who are now receiving the unemployment benefit—212,000 New Zealanders. Surely they need a bit better than being told, “It’s all fine. We’re in charge.” They need something better than that. And how about the 450,000 New Zealanders who are having to receive the wage subsidy? There are 450,000 New Zealanders whose jobs are being kept in place because of the $13 billion that the Government has borrowed in order to keep them in employment.

We agreed with it. We agreed with it because we had to do something. We had to do something. But in that time, in that time, a good finance Minister—a good finance Minister—would have thought of a plan to take us out of it, because it’s really easy to close the border. It’s really easy to close the border and to say to people, “Well, we only live so far away for the rest of the world.” Of course, it’s easy to close the border. It’s easy to close down the economy.

The hard thing is to get that economy back going again, particularly when two of our biggest export markets, like international tourism and international education, have been, effectively, closed down. And who have got in charge from the Government to look after international tourism? Well, we’ve got the Hon Kelvin Davis, so what could go wrong? What could possibly go wrong? I can’t even remember who’s in charge of international education from that side because we’ve never heard of them.

So we’ve got the one shining light in the New Zealand economy, which is agriculture—agriculture, an industry that has been in a sector that has been bagged for years by that Government. They hated agriculture. Remember that? They put Damien O’Connor in charge, which shows you how much they thought of it. Absolutely hated it. Remember that, how the farmers with the dirty dairying—dirty dairying, all this sort of stuff. Now, suddenly, farmers are back being trendy. Now, suddenly, farmers are woke. Actually, thankfully, farmers will never be woke. They’ll always be on trend. And the trend is National. That’s where they’re going to be.

I want to say to this Government, “Resource Management Act (RMA) reform.” We’re getting rid of it. Now, suddenly, after three years, they say, “Oh, a working group told us it was a bad thing.” A working group told them it was a bad thing. I wrote to David Parker last year about this time and I said, “The two biggest parties in Parliament should agree on RMA reform. Let’s sort it out together.” He sent me back a letter on his letterhead with, basically, a one-fingered salute. That’s the sort of response you get from a Government like that—a nasty, nasty little response. So we will be getting rid of it. We will get rid of it. We will be putting in place an environmental standards Act and we will be putting in place a planning and development Act. And they will not be the same that that lot would—they’re entirely different.

I would like to say too, let’s just think about some of the shovel-ready projects we’ve been hearing about. Where are they? Where is this list? Poor old Phil Twyford—Hon Phil Twyford—and Shane Jones put out a letter, a press release, on April Fool’s Day this year saying out to the local councils, “Give us your shovel-ready list and we’ll get you the funding. We’ll be there with you. We’ll help you.” What’s happened to that shovel-ready list? Not much at all. Seventy-five percent of them haven’t been announced and dear old Shane Jones has gone and announced to us all the reason they’re not announced is it doesn’t quite work with either his schedule or the Prime Minister’s schedule. Well, that’s a bit of a shame, isn’t it?

How about getting people back into work? Not only do we have 212,000 people on the unemployment benefit at the moment we’ve got 200,000 highly skilled people, most in the construction area, who are underemployed. That means there’s not actually enough work for them. Why wouldn’t we have those people in work? They should not be reliant on a ministerial visit to tell them they’ve got a job. That is not good enough. That is absolutely washing your hands of the situation, Mr Jones.

And what are we going to do? Well, I’ll tell you what, we’re not going to stick up taxes, not like that party will. Why didn’t the Prime Minister talk to us about her secret tax list: the asset tax, the wealth tax, or, dare I say it, the death tax. I mean, having to pay a tax just because you die, that’s a terrible thing.

Now, let’s have a look at this little track record that she’s talked about: KiwiBuild. Wasn’t that good—KiwiBuild. She went to the last election promising 100,000 houses in 10 years, 16,000 the first term. How many have they got—380, oh, 385, apparently. How about roads? What happened there? They stopped. Electric cars—remember, they were going to electrify the fleet, the Government fleet. I understand they’ve got 45. They’ve got 45. And then we had light rail. Remember where that is—somewhere stuck on the ghost train up Mount Roskill.

And talk about New Zealand First—I know the Rt Hon Winston Peters wants to talk. He’ll tell you he’s a handbrake on them. No, he’s not. He’s the enabler. There’s only one reason the Greens are in Government, and that’s because Mr Peters went their way.

So let’s just say this. The Prime Minister may wish to give us all a “sweetness and light” talk, but actually it’s time for reality. The New Zealand people need to know they have a Government that needs to know what to do. And this Government on this side does. And my message, my final message, to the people of New Zealand is this: there’s one way to take charge of life—two ticks blue.

Ardern – from ‘transformative’ to conservative

In the 2017 election campaign and after taking over as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern promoted herself as ‘transformative’, she promised a major focus on climate change describing it as ‘the nuclear free issue of her time’, and she promised to put a priority on dealing with child poverty.

This election Ardern is promoting as little as possible apart from her record as a manager of crises, in particular the largely successful management of the Covid pandemic.

NZ Herald: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern warns voters not to expect big Labour Party policies this election

Speaking to RNZ this morning, Ardern said voters should not expect a “large-scale range of policies” from Labour this election.

“What we will be doing over this election period is adding some additional aspects [of policy],” she said.

“But I would flag to voters not to expect to see the large scale manifestos that are a significant departure from what we are doing.”

Instead, she said her “big focus” was on the Covid-19 recovery.

“Ultimately, what needs to be done, we are already rolling out.”

At the last election, Labour campaigned on a number of big-ticket policies, such as building 100,000 KiwiBuild homes in 10 years, fees-free tertiary education and extending paid parental leave.

Ardern this morning suggested that new policy ideas on this type of scale were off the table for Labour this election.

Politically this is understandable – going buy recent polls Ardern and Labour could sleep walk to victory next month, and it’s quite possible they will be able to rule alone.

Last election Ardern and Labour made ‘promises’ they couldn’t keep.

This election they seem determined to make no promises despite them having a much better chance of keeping them.

Her main opponent, Judith Collins, is goading Ardern on her lack of policies.

Stuff: Judith Collins slams Jacinda Ardern for lack of election policy

National leader Judith Collins has attacked Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern for announcing almost no policy ahead of September’s election, accusing the prime minister of “hiding”.

Collins said Ardern was “incapable of delivering anything but slogans” and promised to have a “rolling maul” of policies herself.

“What we’re seeing [from Labour] is no policy at all. We’re going to have a rolling maul of policies ahead of the election,” Collins said.

“Hiding away is never a way to win an election.”

Ardern was asked about the relative lack of policy at her post-Cabinet press conference on Monday.

She said the next three years had been somewhat “predetermined” by Covid-19, meaning her Government’s plan to get through the economic impact of that crisis would form much of Labour’s policy.

“We have already laid out a very significant plan, including a very significant investment regime, as part of our plan on Covid recovery and rebuild,” Ardern said.

Labour’s approach is working for now, but will it sustain high levels of support through the campaign?

They have been criticised,with some justification, for not delivering on major policies this term, like housing, tax (CGT), social welfare reform, child poverty.

Now criticism of their lack of policies is gathering steam.

And most genuine concern about her approach is not coming from political opponents on right.

Bernard Hickey at Newsroom: A second term PM for crises and the status quo

Where once she campaigned as a transformer, Jacinda Ardern will ask for a second term as simply a manager of the post-1989 tax and welfare status quo, and of the Covid-19 recovery. That’s despite having the potential political power to govern without the moderating ‘hand brake’ of New Zealand First leader Winston Peters.

In political circles, it is known as the ‘low target’ strategy: offer little obvious change from the status quo to give your opponent few clear pain points to target you on the grounds you want to ‘hurt’ one part of the electorate or another. It is essentially a conservative strategy, often employed by conservative parties in government. 

This week Jacinda Ardern revealed herself as a small ‘c’ conservative, focused on maintaining the current shape and (historically and comparatively small) size of government, but with a friendlier face. She confirmed Labour had no plans for major new spending or tax or welfare reform in the last full post-Cabinet news conference of her first term. Instead, voters should look at the Government’s current achievements, its plans for Covid-19 recovery and Budget 2020’s debt track as an indicator of ‘steady-as-she-goes’. There is no more. That is it. 

After months of wondering if she was about to flex her new and larger political muscles to pull a big policy rabbit out of the hat, she tapped the hat, turned it upside down, asked us to peer inside at the emptiness, and put it back down on the table: a popular magician without a trick who doesn’t harm rabbits.

Ardern’s only obvious ambition is winning, despite being in a strong position to promote progressive transformation type initiatives.

It is giving Collins and National a chance of clawing back some support so they don’t lose too badly.

It is giving the Greens the most opportunity. They say that for real transformation and significant change, especially on climate change and social issues, a decent Green vote will put them in a strong balance of power position.

Time will tell whether this campaign strategy will hold up through the campaign.