Hooton leaves Leader of the Opposition office

Well known PR strategist/lobbyist and political commentator Matthew Hooton raised political eyebrows when he promoted Todd Muller’s bid for National leadership – he told RNZ “I gave him personal support as a friend” – and then took on a job in the office of the the Leader of the Opposition when Muller took over on 22 May.

He stayed on when Judith Collins took over from Muller on 14 July, but Hooton has now announced he is going “back to family and other interests in Auckland”

He made this statement on Facebook:

Well, I spent yesterday thinking about whether I could do another seven weeks commuting to Wellington, decided I didn’t want to, slept on it, and called Judith Collins this morning to say I wanted to finish in Wellington and get back to family and other interests in Auckland.

Judith was very gracious. (She’s as tough as I knew she was but I didn’t realise she is also kind and also very funny until she took over a couple of weeks ago.) I thanked her and Gerry Brownlee for the opportunity and support they had given me, especially after Todd Muller’s demise, and said I think they now have a terrific team who has a good chance of winning the election, or at least can ensure the National Party will remain a broad church after 19 September.

But I said it was time for me to move on now. I can’t justify the impact on my family and other personal and professional responsibilities for another seven weeks. Cathy Wood seems quite pleased!

I’m pleased to have contributed to getting some of National’s basic messaging done, including the standard stump speech, and also to have helped kickstart the A-to-Z policy process again. I still think the Te Puna speech I wrote for Todd was pretty good.

I will watch with great interest to see how it all unfolds over the next seven weeks. Ideally what would have been spent on my fees can now be redirected to the much more important cost centre of boosting Facebook posts!

So to all the team down in Wellington, all the very very best for the next seven weeks – and hopefully the next nine years.

And you may be hearing from me here and there sooner than you may think.It certainly has been another very interesting life experience, these last nine weeks.

And I will try to renew the resolution that I made when I got back from London last year never to visit Wellington again!

Response from Cathy Wood:

Thanks for listening to my pleas ❤️🙏🏼 Solo-mumming/full-time work was ok when you were doing philosophy in London but it’s not ok for Wellington politics!


 Probably should have listened nine weeks ago!

Judith Collins:

Matthew, Thank you very much for all your excellent work and sage advice. We are now in a great place. Judith


Thanks Judith. It has been a whole lot of fun in a very bizarre way!

Megan Campbell:

Enjoyed working with you, Matthew. Thanks for your advice, contribution and friendship.


Same Megan. But let’s not quite do this again! 😄

No doubt people of different political leanings will make of this whatever they like, but regardless, this moving on by Hooton is likely to make little difference to the election campaign.

Messy start but Muller still has opportunity to make a mark

Todd Muller’s first week as leader of the National Party was messy and in some ways mucked up, but he still has an opportunity to make a mark as leader of the Opposition, and maybe rescue his party from a downward slide, and just maybe give Labour some real competition in this year’s election.

Some of the maelstrom faced by Muller was due to media getting bored with Covid coverage (“breaking news” of no more cases wears a bit thin day after day) and looking for some controversy and drama. They managed to manufacture some, and Muller and his team made that easy.

But most of it was a lot of noise about bugger all. No journalist is expected or required to be at their best in their first week on the job, it takes a while for them to make drama out of dregs.

Of course some on the left revelled in the ruckus making, that’s they way politics works (unfortunately) – it’s a game of dumping on opponents.

Some of the criticism of Muller came from the right as well, but Mike Hosking and the guy Richardson dissing Muller was hardly a damning indictment.

And Damien Grant, barely a middling journalist promoted several rungs above his level of competence thinks that Todd Muller confirms himself as a middle manager promoted several rungs above his level of competence.

The debacle over the MAGA cap, the lack of diversity in the front bench and Muller’s failure to articulate not just an economic agenda but even an idea confirmed what many of his detractors, this columnist included, had already concluded; he was a middle manager promoted several rungs above his level of competence.

The MAGA cap was largely over hyped crap, I’m surprised Grant seems to think that the front bench should represent everyone who doesn’t vote for National (I suspect he would grizzle about anything seen as ‘token’ appointments), and expecting to Muller have a comprehensive economic agenda ready to publish and promote on day one is just plain nuts.

We have a major problem with lazy journalists wanting instant stories.

Demands for an instant miracle from journalists would be better directed at their own industry, which is in much worse condition than Muller’s leadership and National’s current poll dip.

There is time for Muller to find his feet as leader, work out with his caucus and party their key policy priorities to promote in time for the election campaign.

Not much time, but there is time. Muller may still turn out to be a failed muppet, but he should at least be given a chance to prove himself.

Andrea Vance has a much better look at the current situation in Could middle-of-the road Muller come out a winner?

By the end of last week, Todd Muller was looking like one of the losers.

The Wellington commentariat had largely decided his first week as National leader was uniformly awful.

These conversations reverberated around the square mile of Pipitea, and Muller was found wanting.

It is perplexing why Team Muller had such a clumsy start, after plotting for months, and assembling a artful team of insiders that includes PR practitioner Matthew Hooton and dark-arts kingmakers Crosby Textor.

But the subjective judgements of a handful of Beehive pundits on perceived performance flaws, are now more insignificant than ever.

An economic shock has ricocheted around the world. Voters are consumed with worry about their jobs, mortgages and how to pay their bills.

In a political environment where most people would struggle to name the Cabinet, it’s hard to see people getting too exercised about the make-up of the Opposition’s front bench, or which keepsakes a leader displays on his shelf.

Most people would struggle to name the first five ranked Cabinet Ministers (I can’t), or even the first three (I could only guess at number 3 but at least I will know a little of them when I find out).

There was no discernible Muller vision. No priorities for his first few months in office. And no bold, alternative ideas for the post-coronavirus economic recovery.

And there is no reason why Muller should have had this level of detail ready to spoon feed journalists from day one. That’s a ridiculous expectation.

What actually is Jacinda Ardern’s vision?

What are her priorities for the next few months, apart from keeping us in level 2 and winning the election?

What are her bold, alternative ideas for the post-coronavirus economic recovery? If journalists should be looking anywhere for these right now it should be from Ardern and her Government.

While trust in Ardern is high, Labour still strive for economic credibility, after a decade of doubt over their fiscal capability.

So why expect, demand this of Muller in his first week in the Opposition leader’s office?

In the face of soaring unemployment and plummeting house prices, middle voters may pause for thought. People who care passionately about inequality, over-tourism and climate change in the good times, tend to be less progressive when their personal economic circumstances are shaken.

If National can play on that doubt: and convince centre voters they must make a choice between which priority they value the most, then middle-of-the road Muller may just come out a winner.

Unfortunately a lot may depend on how much slack they keep giving the Government because of their admiration of Ardern. And how much nit picking of Muller they over-dramatise.

But that’s the nature of our politics and our media.  Like it or not Muller and National have to find a way of dealing with that semi-successfully.

Simon Bridges responds to criticism of his criticism

Simon Bridges has copped a lot of flack this week, largely over a Facebook post. The response to his in some ways critical assessment of Government actions over Covid were far more than what some have claimed, biased media and left wing stirrers. Polls showing 87% of people support or strongly support Government actions suggest a strong tide to swim against for Bridges and National.

Bridges has responded to social media and mainstream media with an explanation emailed to presumably National supporters.

From Homepaddock: Someone has to ask the questions

The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have left no part of New Zealand untouched.

We see it in our communities, our streets, and our homes. The reality of our situation is present, real and personal to us all, and we are reminded of it on a daily basis.

I’m proud of the way … all Kiwis, have united together in our country’s time of need, by everyone doing their bit in helping to eliminate the virus.

As a team, we are all too aware that we are only as strong as the most vulnerable and at-risk in our communities. We have a duty to be united in our effort for the greater good, but we also have a duty to ensure those that need a strong voice to speak for them have that opportunity.

Every day we receive hundreds of emails and calls from Kiwis in distress. Frustrated at the lack of clarity in the ever-changing information for them, their families, their kids, their friends, their businesses. And chances are you’ll know some of them personally too. They want us to find them answers.

When we ask questions about Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), we’re thinking of the many frontline staff who have written to us going to work every morning, sacrificing their safety, and in desperate need of that PPE to keep themselves and others safe. So, we want answers for them.

When we ask questions about testing capacity, we’re thinking about the many hundreds who’ve contacted us who live in fear that they’re going to infect the ones they love or care about and couldn’t get a test to allay that fear. So, we want answers for them.

When we ask questions about better contact tracing, we think about the unbelievable sacrifice every Kiwi has made over the past four weeks, and if we don’t have full confidence from where or whom the virus is coming, we risk returning to a higher state of lockdown and greater hardship. We want answers for you.

When we ask questions about the effects on the economy and jobs, we think about the hundreds of thousands of Kiwis employed by small and medium sized businesses which may close, and ultimately lose their jobs, if we don’t get this right. They are the backbone of our economy and they need certainty too.

We’ve got through this well together so far, showing true resilience, grit and determination in the face of great difficulty. However, the fact remains we will still have to ask hard questions about the future health, social, and economic costs of this pandemic.

Some may not like the questions we ask. Some may not like the way we ask them. But we will keep asking them until we get the answers people need and deserve.

I will never forget the personal sacrifice and hardship Kiwis have faced to eliminate COVID-19 from our communities. Everything we say or do will be focused on how we continue to protect our most vulnerable and get New Zealand back on track. You are part of our strength and we welcome your input.

We have faith that with the right approach, New Zealanders and our economy can rebuild successfully after this crisis. We’ve done it before and together we will do it again.

Simon Bridges, Leader of the Opposition.

Posted in full to give Bridges a chance to respond amongst the media noise.

Bridges mildly criticises Level 4 lockdown extension and other things

Simon Bridges has criticised what he claims is a lack of groundwork that has meant the level 4 lockdown needed to be extended. The Leader of the Opposition is supposed to hold the Government to account and criticise them when appropriate, but this looks like a risky play by Bridges.

From the National Party website: Groundwork not done to lift lockdown

The decision for New Zealand to stay locked down in Level 4 shows the Government hasn’t done the groundwork required to have us ready, Opposition Leader Simon Bridges says.

“The public has done a great job of self-isolating and social distancing. The entire country has made huge sacrifices to ensure the four week lockdown was effective.

“Unfortunately the Government hasn’t done enough and isn’t ready by its own standards and rhetoric. New Zealand is being held back because the Government has not used this time to ensure best practice of testing and tracing and the availability of PPE hasn’t been at the standard it should have been.

One can always claim the Government ‘hasn’t done enough’ in dealing with a problem, they will never have done enough in some people’s eyes. But I think many people will see things differently.

“The rate of testing for the first half of lockdown was low, work has only just begun on surveillance testing to confirm whether community transmission is occurring. Tracing is the biggest challenge and experts have identified major shortcomings in the methods being used by the Government.

“This is a real shame as businesses will suffer further damage and that will lead to poor health outcomes as a result of the huge stress this will cause for a lot of people.

“Rapid and easily accessible testing for workers with symptoms will be essential to give small businesses the confidence needed to get back to work.

“I’m sure many Kiwis feel frustration that we still can’t do many things Australians have done through the entire lockdown period, at great cost in terms of jobs and livelihoods, with similar health outcomes.

“I now worry that the harm of staying in lockdown will be greater than if we were to come out. We will no doubt see a rise in mental health problems and stress related illnesses.

“I also have real concerns about the delay in healthcare for some people, like cancer treatment, screening and thousands of operations across the country.

“New Zealanders can be proud of the sacrifices they have made during this difficult time. The Government must now move as fast as it can to sort out the issues with tracing, testing and PPE so we can get our country moving again.”

The lockdown has been extended by just 5 days, and only two of those days are normal business days. That’s not going to make much difference after a 4 week lockdown.

Last week David Farrar was complaining at Kiwiblog that two days was not long enough notice for businesses: We need more than 48 hours notice

I think this shows the lack of understanding of business.

Many businesses will need more than 48 hours notice to properly re-open. There are shifts and rosters to be organised, materials and supplies to be ordered etc etc.

The more notice you can give, the quicker the economy can start to recover.

So businesses have now been given a week notice, but I presume at that stage Farrar wanted earlier notice rather than a later lockdown lifting.

Those who didn’t want the lockdown as it was (some of them may have complained about not doing enough soon enough) might feel vindicated by Bridges’ criticisms, but it’s likely to make little difference to most public opinion. There are a lot of people who want the lockdowns to protect themselves and their families – for example some school principles, teachers and early childhood workers have expressed concerns about reopening too soon and object to being used as baby sitters to allow businesses to restart more easily.

The statement from Bridges was also posted on his Facebook page. There have been 17K comments. I’m not going to go through all of them, but the ‘most relevant’ comments were critical of Bridges, like:

 I’m not holding my breath for Simon/Nats to come up with a positive, sensible and workable answer to anything

I think that’s unfair, some of Bridges criticisms are fair enough to question, like the early rate of testing and ability to trace contacts, but that’s unlikely to change any minds. And most of the criticism has blown back on Bridges. This one got 3K likes:

Sorry Simon, you sound like you are scraping the bottom of the barrel. It’s been a pretty good display of leadership by the government. If your aim is to display leadership then that may require you giving credit where it is due.


I did not Vote Labour but what I am proud of is the way Jacinda has lead us through this unprecedented time. Thank goodness Simon your not leading us through this because I’d put my hand on my heart and believe we would be in a worse situation. Jacinda Thankyou for showing leadership , strength , guidance and persistence on what and still is a challenge for us all.

Leader of the Opposition is a difficult enough job in normal times, particularly during a crisis, so it’s difficult for Bridges to be seen to supporting the Government generally but criticising them where appropriate. It’s hard enough picking battles wisely, and even harder to not to sound like you are opposing for the sake of opposing.

This is a fairly mild rebuke from bridges anyway and is unlikely to change any minds, nor change the actions of the Government  – they can’t change how things were being done a month ago anyway, so that’s a lame target.

The job of Opposition Leader and “the difference between responsible and political”

The job of Opposition in a democracy such as ours is important, it is a way of holding the Government to account (along with the media who generally do this).

To do Opposition well a good balance needs to be found between criticising the Government and highlighting failings, but not being seen as petty politics or a constant whine of negativity.

The current Leader of the Opposition, Simon Bridges, has had two problems. He has been seen by many to be too negative too often, and his method of delivery either annoys people or turns them off, making his overdoing of negative attacks sound worse. He has been widely criticised, including by what looks like a majority of commenters on the right tending National linked Kiwiblog.

In times of crisis there is some expectation that opposition parties and MPs will put the good of the country before their own re-election ambitions, so the balance should shift towards more cooperation and less nagging and niggling.

Bridges’ speech in response to the Government economic package announcement on Tuesday was widely criticised as negative, petty, tone deaf and inappropriate in the circumstances (although some National supporters praised it). His speech:

A speech by National’s spokesperson on finance, Paul Goldsmith, was praised for a better tone (he said many of the same things), and for praising good aspects of the package while including reasonable criticisms. His speech:

The argument between Opposition negativity versus cooperation flared up in Parliament yesterday between Jacinda Ardern and Bridges.

Question No. 1—Prime Minister

1. Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by all her Government’s statements and actions?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN (Prime Minister): Yes, especially the package that was announced yesterday by this Government in response to the global pandemic of COVID-19, including the $12.1 billion package that is split between business certainty and continuity—making sure that consumers have enough money in their back pocket to keep the economy going but also that we look after older citizens; and, obviously, the half-billion – dollar investment directly into health to support the response to COVID-19.

Hon Simon Bridges: Does she still stand by her statement in the House yesterday that nobody displaying symptoms has been denied a COVID-19 test when Director-General of Health, Ashley Bloomfield, stated in the media yesterday that “There needs to be a reason why people are tested for COVID-19. This means along with symptoms of COVID-19 they should have either a history of travel or close contact with a possible case.”?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Both the Director-General of Health and myself stand by the case definition for testing of COVID-19, which is exactly both as the director-general described and also as I described yesterday, which adds the ability for a clinician to make that decision. I want to say this again very seriously to the member on the other side of the House: this is a time where New Zealanders need to know that this House—

Hon Simon Bridges: Don’t give me a lecture. I’m doing my job in the interests of New Zealand.

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: —is united. We are politicians, and it is not for us to determine—

Hon Grant Robertson: They don’t think you’re doing your job.

SPEAKER: Order! Order!

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: —when people are tested. It is for doctors to.

SPEAKER: Order! I apologise for interrupting the Prime Minister, but the Minister of Finance should not engage, and I understand that the Leader of the Opposition and a couple of the members were also interjecting. But in his engagement, his volume was coming through the Prime Minister’s mike, and, frankly, it is a matter better not discussed in this House during this serious time.

Hon Simon Bridges: Does she accept that GPs have received the clear message from Ashley Bloomfield to stick to the case definition for testing symptoms with a history of travel or close contact with a case, given the letter he sent to all GPs on Sunday, which stated, “I ask you to continue to apply the case definition when considering who you should test, and to use testing supplies and personal protective equipment with prudence.”?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I don’t think anyone would disagree with giving advice that applies some criteria to who is tested, because at a time like this, there will be people who have, for instance, cold symptoms that are unrelated to COVID-19 who simply won’t need a test. It is of course prudent that we allow clinicians—not politicians, not members of the public—to make that decision. My final point is that the best thing we can do is not create an environment where everyone who has a symptom that may be a cold or may be a flu believes they need to be tested for COVID-19. That is not responsible either. Yesterday, 620 tests were undertaken—620 tests. We are testing and, as you’ll see from those tests, those cases continue to be linked to overseas travel.

Hon Simon Bridges: In light of that answer, will she simply accept, then, that if it is simply symptoms and no other criteria as set out in the definition for testing, there will not be, automatically, testing in this country today?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: There has never been a situation where every single people who asks for a test would receive one, and nor would that be a responsible response. That is not what countries anywhere in the world are doing. That is not the way the World Health Organization is asking countries to respond, and nor should it be the way we are. I am listening to experts, clinicians, and doctors. I ask the member to do the same.

Hon Simon Bridges: Isn’t it quite clear from both her answers and Ashley Bloomfield’s that we have a rationing of testing in New Zealand?


Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can I ask the Prime Minister: has there been universal support from the professional medical fraternity with respect to Ashley Bloomfield and the Prime Minister’s criterion on this matter?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I’ve read some of the writing on this by experts in the field, and there is absolute agreement with the approach that is being taken. I again want—

Hon Members: It’s the Prime Minister’s criteria.

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: That is an outrageous suggestion. I again want to make clear to the other side of the House: this is a national issue. There is no politics in testing; there should only be expert clinician advice. I ask the member again: if you would like to receive a briefing on this, I am happy to provide it, but the member is becoming borderline irresponsible.

Hon Simon Bridges: In light of that last answer, what does she say to the half a dozen doctors who have contacted me by email and other means in the last 24 hours to express their frustration, given the difference between what she’s saying in this House and what Ashley Bloomfield and the Ministry of Health are quite clearly directing?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Again, I ask the member to read for himself the case definition I advised in this House yesterday. Whilst, yes, it does set out specific circumstances, it then makes a note: given the changing global environment, if the clinician believes that they should be testing, then they are able to. But what we do not want to do for doctors is create a pressure environment where every person demands a test, regardless of whether or not there’s any likelihood of their symptoms even being COVID-19, when there isn’t a need for one.

Hon Simon Bridges: Are media reports correct that until Monday, there had been an average of just 11 COVID-19 tests conducted a day?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I’ll do the same that I did with the journalist who asked that question: that was, I believe, an inaccurate way to display what’s happening with our testing. As you would expect, when New Zealand had no cases, there weren’t many tests. Over time, they have increased. We had 620 tests processed in one day yesterday.

Hon Simon Bridges: Isn’t the reality that it’s not that there weren’t any cases; it’s simply that there wasn’t much, if any, testing?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I think the member will find that when there are no cases, it’s hard to spread, and therefore there is no rational reason to be testing everybody. Again, I ask the member not to listen to me if he does not choose to but listen to the experts.

Hon Simon Bridges: What does she say to the 76-year-old Wellingtonian woman who got off a cruise ship and had symptoms but wasn’t tested this week because the GP said, “We’ve been told not to test unless we absolutely have to.”?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: She would’ve fallen within the criteria. Obviously, the doctor believed that there weren’t symptoms there that meant that they should. I am not going to second-guess a doctor, because that person would have fit within the case profile. Again, my final plea is to the member: think about the audience he is speaking to right now. This doesn’t have to be political.

Hon Simon Bridges: Does she accept that it is my constitutional duty to ask her questions and try and get answers on the most significant issue this country has faced in many, many years?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I have been in that seat and I know the difference between responsible and political. [Interruption]

SPEAKER: Order! Order! It ill behoves the Leader of the Opposition to react. As I’ve warned the Minister of Finance earlier, sometimes people have to take a deep breath when people are winding them up.

A weak of headlines for the real leader of the Opposition

James Elliot at Newsroom – Yesterdaze: And the gong goes to …

And with Simon Bridges resolutely fixated on trying to wring as much political capital as possible out of Budget-hack, it fell to the leader of the opposition, Mike Hosking, to take the Government to task on the more substantive issues of the day. If you synthesised his editorial headlines this week you’d be forgiven for thinking we have a car-hating, out of touch Government of bullies led by a weak Prime Minister that is butchering both motorists and the economy.

I don’t usually take much notice of Mike Hosking, but decided to have a look at his weak in headlines.

Mike Hosking: Labour Government in danger of plunging into deficit

Already the doubts over what Grant Robertson was telling us last Friday are spreading.

If you missed it last week, what I was trying to explain to him (and he wasn’t accepting) is that he is running his books dangerously close to the margin, that the forecasts are optimistic, and that it would take next to nothing for them to be out – and his $1.3 billion surplus would be gone.

Do most New Zealanders or voters care about deficits or surpluses? Do they care about being in the red? Do they join the dots between a government’s books, economic growth, the tax take, jobs, and their stability? If they don’t, then Labour might get away with this.

But if they do, which is my bet, and they do because since Roger Douglas in 1984, we have woken up to simple economics, the value of efficiency, common sense, not to mention success, and we like it.

Roger Douglas is a real hero of the people, second only to Hosking.

So if that’s the case and Robertson and Co are leading us into an election in the red for the first time in years then they’re getting rightfully punished.

The election is next year.

Mike Hosking: AT is dangerous, inept and out of control

Auckland Transport must be the most hated of all organisations in the region.

They have earned their reputation by basically running roughshod over communities, councils, councillors, mayors – and anyone else who dared ask questions about just what it is they’re up to in their seemingly systematic plan to wreck the country’s biggest city.

From parking, or a lack of it, to pedestrian crossings by the thousands enraging locals, to closures of endless streets for months on end for seemingly pointless reshaping and realigning, to their obsession with buses and bike lanes – in my opinion they are dangerous, inept and out of control.

Here’s my top tip: find the councillor or mayoral candidate that’s going to stop this, and vote for them.

Mike’s Minute: Car-hating Govt is out of touch with the public

Most people are reasonable, most people see logic, most people want to help, but in the war on cars and speed, this is ideology, this is car hate, fossil fuel hate, and it’s driven by a tiny minority that think bikes are a multipurpose means of transport, if you can’t get a train.

Meantime, in the real world, we are behind the wheel in record numbers.

Hosking is the spokesperson for the real world. His world, anyway.

Mike’s Minute: Cabinet reshuffle will expose Ardern’s weakness

Turns out we can expect, in the reshuffle, basically nothing.

Turns out, yet again, the Cabinet reshuffle is a classic example of the Labour Party – or in this specific case, yet again, the Prime Minister – saying something will happen, then it doesn’t.

How do you reshuffle when your greatest fear is actually making a decision, and you can’t send it off to a working party?

Turns out, the reshuffle announcement isn’t until next week. Mike can have another minute acting like leader of the opposition again then.

I wonder if Newstalk ZB are going to have a reshuffle.

A pretty disappointing Leader of the Opposition

I’ve been busy on other things so have only seen bits of the political circus this week, but my impressions of the Leader of the Opposition, Simon Bridges, tend almost all towards cringe.

He has done nothing to give me any confidence in his ability to be a credible leader. Actually, this week he has reduced my confidence (it was already quite low).

Sure Bridges and his team and some supporters may think he has scored some political hits, but I don’t think he will have impressed many voters, especially voters who matter for electoral success. I think more likely the opposite.

There is an often quoted saying that the Leader of the Opposition is the hardest job in politics, but I think that’s a cop out. It can’t be that hard to not keep looking like a childish jerk.

A positive new Parliament

After the swearing in of the new Government today we will have a popular but untested Prime Minister, and an experienced and respected leader of the Opposition who also looks to be stable and has a record now of reasonably successful campaigning.

Ardern tries to be relentlessly positive, a good attribute for the leader of a fresh new Cabinet. If it transfers into her performance and the performance of her government then it will be good for the country.

Even most of those who didn’t vote for one of the governing parties will accept the democratically formed new government and give them a fair go.

Bill English is also trying to sound positive in the wake of a disappointing outcome. It’s important that he continues to be mostly positive, for the good of his party. It will also potentially substantially increase the impact when he or his colleagues find good reason to hold the Government to account.

I think that most of what the incoming Government has indicated it wants to do will have wide public support as long as they don’t overreach and things change relatively smoothly.

With the country in a reasonable state and positioned to do well, and with a positive Prime Minister and a positive leader of the Opposition, there is good reason to be positive about the future of the country.

Swinging voters, swinging dicks

Winston Peters came out swinging over the weekend as the contest for swinging voters (and the contest for media attention) hots up, and Andrew Little hit back, calling Peters a blowhard and a swinging dick.

Peters in an interview on The Nation on Saturday

Patrick Gower: Yes, well, Labour’s internal polling, which has been leaked, does show actually New Zealand First heading above the Greens, and in fact, eating into Labour’s vote big time. Is this what’s causing these attacks on you, in your mind – the fact that they’re panicked, both Labour and the Greens, that they are scared of how much vote of theirs you’re taking? 

Winston Peters: Well, what you’re hearing is a failure to accept that this is a democracy, that we’re going into an election. It’s what the people say that actually matters come the 23rd of September, not what they say, what I say – what the people say. And yet you’ve run these alternative— the leader of the opposition.

You’ve run, for example, Andrew Little as being the leader of the opposition. Now, just three more points down – and this is dramatic – and Mr Little doesn’t get in. So why are you saying those sorts of statements? And why are you persisting with this sort of first-past-the-post mentality?

Let me tell you, there’s a huge change in the air. Not just here, but in other countries. But it’s in New Zealand as well. And politicians are going to have to respond to it. People out there are sick and tired of being told, ‘Look, all this is fantastic. The economy’s going great,’ when out there they know it’s not for them going great. And they know we can do far better.

Patrick Gower: What polling are you talking about where if Andrew Little drops by four points, he’s not the leader of the opposition any more? Is that your own polling? Where is this coming from?

Winston Peters: That’s the poll you had last night.

Patrick Gower: So you’re saying if the Labour Party drops a little bit more and New Zealand First goes past them, you are, what, effectively the leader of the opposition in this country? 

Winston Peters:  No. Well, no, I’m just saying to you— Look, this is a political show. And I’d expect you to understand – and without being critical of you, personally – but if you go from 26 down to 22, that’s it. Andrew is not in Parliament. So why would you make these statements that he’s the next leader of the country? Or the leader of the opposition?

Little is the official leader of the Opposition, and will be up until the election.

But he is vulnerable. He is standing on the Labour list only, and if Labour’s party vote drops to somewhere in the low twenties (depending on how many electorates Labour wins) Little is at risk of not making it back into Parliament.

In a weekend where Peters and Metiria Turei battled for the most media attention (on last night’s TV news Greens led NZ First) Little tried to get some coverage as well.

NZ Herald: Labour leader Andrew Little slams ‘blowhard’ Winston for doubting his re-election chances

Labour leader Andrew Little has dismissed NZ First leader and potential coalition partner Winston Peters as a behaving like a “blowhard” and a “swinging dick” after Peters doubted Little’s re-election chances.

Peters said yesterday that Labour’s vote could fall as low as 22 per cent, which would mean Little, a list MP, would not get back into Parliament.

He made the comment after a leaked poll by Labour’s pollster UMR showed Labour had fallen to 26 per cent and NZ First had risen to 14 per cent.

Speaking to the Herald this afternoon, Little responded strongly.

“Listen, Winston is a very colourful character in New Zealand politics and he’s got some principles too.

“But he is a blowhard and this is blowhard politics.

“In the end this election isn’t going to be fought on the basis of swinging dicks it is going to be fought on the basis of what party has demonstrated that they are listening to the real concerns of New Zealanders.

Listening to people who turn up to political meetings doesn’t seem to be doing Little any good.

The real concerns for Little must be that he has generally failed to impress people as Labour leader and the current Leader of the Opposition, and that NZ First may be surging in popularity (according to the UMR poll).

Despite all the try-hard blowing, I think this all may give an indication of Winston’s actual aim.

In an interview with media yesterday Peters talked about “great political upset coming” and said:

“We will be, most definitely, the Government.”

NZ First won’t be the Government if they go into a coalition with National, they would only be the junior party (it’s hard to imagine an upset on a scale of National’s support halving and NZ First support trebling).

Winston’s best chance to be Prime Minister is if NZ First’s vote increases substantially, Labour’s vote collapses, and Little misses the cut.

This means Labour would be left leaderless for coalition negotiations, and due to party rules unable to select a new leader quickly. That would put Peters in a very strong position – with perhaps enough clout to become Prime Minister.

That would also likely require the support of the Greens, in coalition or from the cross benches.

But will voters be prepared to deliver this sort of scenario?