Contrasting views on Ardern

With Jacinda Ardern now elevated into the political limelight many contrasting opinions have been expressed on her strengths and weaknesses.

Rachel Smalley: Ardern’s test starts now

What I do think Ardern has that is rare in politics, is authenticity. What you see is what you get.

What I usually see is the pitter patter of political palaver.

David Shearer had it too when he came to the leadership, but he had some poor advice. He was told to roll out the party line at every media opportunity, and he lost his way. It wasn’t him. He lost his realness, if you like. And, well, the rest is history.

I had hopes that Shearer would rise to the position but he stumbled and fell when his minders tried to mould him into something he wasn’t.

Ardern, though, has it in spades. She just needs to hang on to it.

The difference for Ardern is she has already been moulded. Is that all we will get, or can she break the mould and make an impression?

And while I think she already has political credibility, she does need to develop that further. She comes across well in the media as a spokesperson for justice, and a spokesperson for children.

Really? When did Ardern make an impression on Justice or on Children?

Remember, for example, when she appeared on the cover of next magazine? She was described as the country’s prime minister in waiting. And in a tv panel, former rugby league coach Graham Lowe agreed saying she was – quote – “A pretty little thing”.

And columnists went on to analyse her. She was labelled ‘vapid’ by one. ‘Pretty vacant’ by another.

I think that Ardern is yet to prove there is substance behind her carefully crafted image.

Never mind the politics. Lets focus on the aesthetics.

Ardern can’t fight that. She can’t change old minds and an old way of thinking. She’s been in politics for some time now, and has worked as a senior policy adviser in London. She’s got the goods. She’s got the intelligence and the leadership potential. All she can do now is prove herself in the role. Prove to the country that she is a leader.

It’s true. She is untested. But that test starts now.

I don’t think it’s possible to say whether Ardern has “got the goods” or leadership potential, something that has been talked up with little to substantiate it.

Smalley is correct saying that Ardern is untested as a leader and as a party promotional figurehead.

That test starts now, and it won’t be easy for Ardern, especially if she doesn’t measure up to media expectations.

Ardern needs to shed her moulders and minders and sell herself, not her pitter patter package. That will be a major test of her abilities.

Little on leadership and English

This is the ‘latest’ on the Labour Party website (they post more often on Facebook), a critique of Bill English’s state of the nation speech by Andrew Little:

My thoughts on Bill English’s State of the Nation speech

This afternoon, Bill English delivered what was supposed to be his first major speech as Prime Minister. But instead we got a skinny version of a Labour policy, and no new ideas for the biggest challenges facing New Zealand.

That’s rather ironic given that Little announced no new Labour policy in his state of the nation speech.

And it reaffirmed to me that he is no leader.

A real leader wouldn’t ignore the housing crisis, the single biggest issue facing thousands of Kiwis struggling to buy their first home. There wasn’t one mention of it in his entire speech.

Leadership is about looking out for the future and braving the big decisions – not ignoring problems because they’re hard. I know there’s a housing crisis, and Labour has a comprehensive plan to fix it.

And a real leader would’ve announced the funding of extra police officers last year, like I did. Instead, Bill English signed off on a four year freeze on police numbers – and less than a year later, he’s backtracked. He’s a follower, not a leader.

One can easily see this as cynical timing in an election year, but calling it a backtrack by a follower sounds quite odd.

Labour has known there’s a crime problem for a long time and we’ve come up with a solution. Making the right decisions at the right time, not months afterwards – that’s what real leadership is about.

It’s time for a Government with vision, energy and a real plan to make New Zealand a better place.

Let’s change the Government. You can read my State of the Nation speech with our vision of New Zealand here.

That’s the speech without any new policy.

Real leadership would show more vision than a fairly lame attack on the current leader. Rather than putting so much emphasis on trying to belittle his opponent Little should, well, act like he can be a leader.

PM changes “do not bode well”

Today’s Herald editorial says that history shows that leadership changes while in Government do not bode well for Bill English and National – but the current situation is quite different to past failures.

Leadership changes do not bode well

The National Government today takes the greatest risk of its tenure – a leadership change. This has happened many times in our political history and not with happy results.

They list:

  • Holyoake lost an election after taking over from an ailing Sydney Holland in mid-term.
  • National was defeated after Sir Keith Holyoake finally handed over to Sir John Marshall (Holyoake was effectively forced out).
  • The Kirk-Rowling Government did not survive the change forced upon it by Norman Kirk’s death.
  • David Lange stood down for Sir Geoffrey Palmer in 1989 and he gave way to Mike Moore the following year (Palmer was rolled), six weeks before the election which it lost.
  • The National Government replaced Prime Minister Jim Bolger with Dame Jenny Shipley (Bolger was rolled by Shipley) and was defeated at the next election.

If Bill English is contemplating this history as he prepares to be sworn-in this afternoon, he may take some comfort from the fact that none of New Zealand’s previous Prime Ministers left office in the same circumstances as John Key.

All quite different circumstances.

The Key Government was most certainly not heading for defeat when its Prime Minister announced his retirement a week ago.

That’s very debatable. It looked unlikely that National would get in again without at least getting NZ First support and that’s far from a given. And polls have at times had Labour+Greens competitive with National.

Key is handing his successor a party still polling high in a third term of office, a growing economy with low unemployment and rising budget surpluses that offer possibilities for additional investment in productivity and infrastructure at the same time as more rapid debt reduction and income tax cuts for the lower paid.

English has been well set up to win the election due later next year, which gives him plenty of time to establish his leadership too.

Not really. English has been given a fairly good opportunity, but a lot depends on how he manages the transition to leader, how the voting public views him in charge and the changes he makes to Cabinet, and many possible outside influences.

There is no direct comparison in history of a handover of leadership that we are just seeing – nor of how weak Labour currently is, requiring at least the Greens or NZ First to get back into power with  a reduced proportion of the majority.

A lot can happen between now and whenever we have the next election (anywhere between March and November next year).


3 days versus 93

In the first leadership change in ten years, since John Key took over from Don Brash on 27 November 2006, the National Party took 3 days to choose their new leader, Bill English.

On Twitter Peter Dunne as described it “as quick and slick a contest as I can recall”.

In contrast Labour have had four leadership contests that have taken a total of

Helen Clark stood down on 8 November 2008, immediately after losing the general election. Phil Goff took over unchallenged 3 days later, on 11 November.

Goff announced he would stand down as Labour leader on 29 November 2011, 3 days after losing the general election. David Shearer won leadership contest against David Cunliffe and took over on 13 December, 14 days later.

During Shearer’s time as leader the Labour party changed their rules on leadership contests, stipulating a voting arrangement involving a mix of caucus (40%), party members (40%) and unions (20%). This has extended the time taken to choose leaders.

Shearer resigned as leader on 22 August 2013. After  contesting the leadership against Grant Robertson and Shane Jones, Cunliffe became leader on 15 September, 24 days later.

After Labour lost the next election Cunliffe resigned as leader on 27 September 2014.  After a contest against Grant Robertson, David Parker and Nanaia Mahuta, Andrew Little took over on 18 November, 52 days later.

That’s a total of 93 days of leadership contesting in a decade, but the time taken has become increasingly long

Going effectively leaderless for a month or two stalls progress while in opposition but they can get away with it. If Labour get back into Government and have a contested leadership under their current rules the time taken to change Prime Ministers could be more of a problem.

Greens also have a membership vote in their leadership contests but they have co-leaders so don’t go rudderless, and they are not likely to have a Prime Minister.

Which may be just as well – Russel Norman announced he would stand down as co-leader on January 2015, and James Shaw eventually won against Kevin Hague on 30 May, over 4 months later.

NZ First and United Future have never had their leaderships contested.

Rodney Hide resigned as leader of the ACT Party on 28 April 2011, and Don Brash was appointed leader by the party board 2 days later.

When ACT did poorly in the 26 November 2011 election Brash resigned on election night.  As their only MP John Banks was de facto leader until being appointed officially by the board on 16 February 2012.

English favourite but not confirmed

Last night Patrick Gower called English as the next Prime Minister, citing a ‘senior MP’ claiming 45 MPs backed English.

I’m very sceptical about this – anonymous sources with vested interests in leadership contests, trying to push a majority five days before the caucus vote takes place, shoukld be viewed with extreme caution.

Yesterday afternoon:

Ok, no mucking around, Paddy Gower will name the new Prime Minister tonight on live at 6.

And Gower went full bore on his big scoop of 45 for English. Matthew Hooton has just called this ‘a big lie’.

RNZ is more factual and feet on the ground in Bill English appears front-runner in National leadership contest:

So far 14 MPs, including Mr Key, have publicly declared they are putting their weight behind the finance minister for the top job.

That’s about half what English needs – but there is no guarantee they will all stick with that public position.

National Party MPs will meet at Parliament on Monday to vote for a new leader and deputy.

It’s a secret vote.

Barry Soper remembers some history involving English in Support for English could easily become daggers of defeat:

Ironically it came when they were doing the numbers after his disastrous election defeat of 2002 when the dapper doctor Don Brash was sharpening his knife the following year.

Holmesy asked me if English was a dead man walking and I said no, more like a twitching corpse. Within minutes the phone was ringing and the invective flowed. When the torrent eased, he was told the numbers for him holding on to the leadership were stacked against him, but for a man who is obviously good with numbers, he insisted they weren’t telling him the same thing.

Later that day Don Brash was installed as leader and Bill English rightly felt cheated, he’d been lied to by some of his colleagues, and gave serious thought to calling it a day and going back to the farm.

The point is, those running for a political job determined by their colleagues can never know for sure of the support they’ve got until the scrutineers do the count, and even more so if the winner’s in the position to determine their future, like a Prime Minister contemplating his Cabinet.

More than half of National’s caucus are looking for favours, they haven’t had the call up for Cabinet and they’ll be sounding out the candidate who can offer them the most.

So it’s not a done deal until the votes are counted next Monday.

English is the front runner for sure, but there’s time for back bench discontent to grow, especially away from Parliament over the weekend.

There could be a backlash over what looks like a jack up – English as Prime Minister, Paula Bennett as deputy and Steven Joyce as Finance Minister looks like a small cabal at the top of National manipulating the leadership.

While they would probably be a competent rearrangement of the same old minus Key it is hardly a fresh new look.

And Brexit/.Trump – there is growing discontent with the political establishment in other parts of the world. Is there any chance of rebellion in the National caucus?

Collins: “I am polarising”

Judith Collins has just been on Paul Henry. It was a friendly environment for her because Henry is openly a fan of hers. She has promoted “I am polarising” but her performance suggested otherwise.

I have to say that Collins presented herself very very well.


Her visuals have deliberately softened her image, quite feminine which I guess is to contrast with the two blokes, Bill English and Jonathan Coleman. Smart.

But most impressive is the calm clear determined way she speaks. No bull.

Ironically she says she is polarising – I guess she could be to an extent – but has done a lot in this appearance to appear non-polarising and non-threatening.

Henry put her on the spot once, asking what she would do about Pike River. She didn’t avoid the question, she stated that she thinks it is too risky to enter the mine and it should be closed up as a permanent tomb.

There’s no doubt that Collins offers the biggest change for National and for Government. Coleman and English will struggle to differentiate themselves from each other and from the same old.

Collins would be a risk for National. John Key was a risk.

There is probably a bigger risk if National appears to be much the same but minus Key. They could easily lose the public next year.

I think that Collins looks up for the challenge and a real prospect if National wants real renewal.

Collins versus Andrew Little, Collins versus Winston Peters, Collins versus Metiria Turei, that would make next year’s election a really interesting contest.

I’m not backing Collins, just saying that she has impressed (and I don’t get to choose anyway). I’ll evaluate how Coleman and English present themselves too.

If you are interested in the National leadership check out Collins’ interview when it’s up on Newshub.

English, Coleman and Collins

So Bill English has decided to have a go at being Prime Minister, but he has to be chosen by National’s caucus first. Jonathan Coleman and Judith Collins have also put themselves forward,

It is excellent to see a good contest on offer. It would have been a real shame to see English get the job unopposed, but after  a decade of no contest it is not surprising there’s interest from multiple contenders.

There could be more to join  the contest, but Amy Adams and Simon Bridges have ruled themselves out.

The three already in offer a good variety of options, from much the same  minus Key to something quite different, a distinctly new phase in Government and for national.

English is the early favourite with about 8 Cabinet Ministers pledging support but there are 59 National MPs who get to chose their new leader.

Coleman was regarded as an outside chance but it’s now up to him to make a case.

Slater has still been plugging Collins and rubbishing the rest, indicating his personal interests have a higher priority than being an objective political commentator. Whale Oil is a device to push his interests more than a right wing blog.

I don’t care who wins this battle. It’s a fascinating time in politics, and a critical decision required from the National caucus.

Question Time could be interesting today

Question Time could be fascinating today.

It will be interesting to see how John Key handles it, presuming he will turn up.

How the contenders for leadership handle it, if given a chance to speak.

How the Opposition leaders handle it.

Today’s questions:

Questions to Ministers

  1. DAVID BENNETT to the Minister of Finance: What reports has he received confirming New Zealand’s sovereign credit rating?
  2. METIRIA TUREI to the Prime Minister: Ka tū ia i runga i te mana o tana kōrero “I honestly wish I could have changed the flag”, i te wā i pātaitia ai, he aha tana tino pōuri nui?

    Translation: Does he stand by his statement that “I honestly wish I could have changed the flag”, when asked for his greatest regret?

  3. ANDREW LITTLE to the Minister of Finance: Does he stand by his statement that “the prices you pay for a house are ridiculous”, given New Zealand house prices have risen by over 50 percent since he made that statement?
  4. SARAH DOWIE to the Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment: How is the Government ensuring New Zealanders gain the skills needed in a growing economy?
  5. Hon ANNETTE KING to the Minister of Health: Does he expect an estimated 533,000 New Zealanders who did not visit a GP due to cost in the last year to continue to wait for primary care reform which might “form part of a future Budget”, possibly under a different health Minister as stated by him?
  6. MATT DOOCEY to the Minister of Transport: What progress has the Government made on repairing damage to transport infrastructure following the Kaikōura earthquake?
  7. PHIL TWYFORD to the Minister for Social Housing: Does she stand by her statement, “look I can’t guarantee that”, when asked if anyone living in a car can go to a Government agency today and get a roof over their head tonight?
  8. RON MARK to the Minister of Finance: Does he stand by all his statements?
  9. DAVID CLENDON to the Minister of Finance: Does he stand by his statement to this House that “having surpluses does not mean that the Government can go spending more money on ineffective public services or infrastructure that may not be needed”?
  10. CHRIS BISHOP to the Minister of Education: How is the Government helping students use the internet for learning?
  11. STUART NASH to the Minister of Police: Does she think there is any correlation between the closure of over 20 Community Policing Centres and the 13,000 increase in victimisations in the last 12 months; if not, why not?
  12. MELISSA LEE to the Minister for Women: How is the Government encouraging more young girls and women to pursue career opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and maths?


Does English want the job?

John Key has made it clear his preference for the next National leader and Prime Minister is Bill English.

But does English want the job? He said he will indicate today whether he wants to go for it.

In the past he has indicated he was not interested in stepping up, but loyal deputies are supposed to say that.

In March Jarrod Gilbert interviewed English – Bill English: ‘I specialise in being boring’ – and wrote:

English has reached his political ceiling. He has no desire to have another shot at the leadership. He is as high up the ladder as he wishes to go. He doesn’t have to make a fuss to make his mark.

Yesterday Gilbert posted:

The transcript from my interview with Bill English not wanting to be leader.


Things have changed substantially now.

English first entered Parliament when he won the Wallace seat in 1990, so he has been an MP for 26 years. Under MMP that electorate expanded into Clutha-Southland.

English took over leadership of National in 2001, and led the party to a record defeat in 2002. A year later he was dumped and Don Brash took over.

Brash lost the 2005 election and a year later resigned. John Key took over with English as his deputy and Finance Minister. They won the 2008 election and since ten have run a (mostly) solid and dependable Government.

In 2014 English gave up his electorate to become a list only MP. Twenty four years of commuting between Southland and Wellington may have been a factor.

This raised speculation the English may be positioning himself to retire – it’s a lot easier to slip out as a list MP rather than precipitating a by-election.

Was this what English wanted to do?

Regardless, Key’s decision will have given English a lot to consider. And reconsider perhaps.

English may hanker for a stint in the top spot to atone for his 2002 embarrassment. He may think that a term or so as leader will help the party transition top a post-key era.

But that is very risky for the party – a new leader in a fourth term will have the odds stacked against them.

But English could also consider his job almost done. He may see that National may benefit more if it switches to fresh new leadership and perhaps even a new Minister of Finance.

A fresh new leadership team may revitalise the Government. They would have a solid base to work from. The Opposition is in poor shape, despite renewed hope from Labour now that Key is going. So a major change now would be a good gamble for National.

We’ll find out later today which way English decides to go. If he wants to take over his chances must be very good, given the advantage and promotion Key has given him.

Helen Clark passed on to Phil Goff a waning party with a leadership vacuum.

Key is leaving National in a much stronger position, a large caucus with no doubt a number of ambitious MPs.

English may fancy his chances, or he may be prepared to play a longer game for the good of his party.

The job is probably his if he wants it, but that may not be in his best interests, nor National’s.

Courage doesn’t seem to win elections

Courage doesn’t seem to win elections.

Or is it that courageous leaders don’t even try and become politicians, so we are left with pandering political strategies?

Jonathan Milne also writes about political lying in the Sunday Star Times: Our leaders need some steel in the backbone, not just in their roads and building projects

But for the the New Zealand public, the question remains: are we willing to turn a blind eye to untruths in the Beehive and council chambers?

Regardless of how they may rationalise the means to the end, lying is not a legitimate political strategy; it is the recourse of those who lack the courage to tell the truth.

But it seems to be an increasingly common political strategy – political strategists don’t think that courage wins elections.

‘Pandering’ to the majority does have an element of democracy to it.

But real leadership sometimes requires courage, and with it strong leadership. People tend to actually like strength in a leader, as long as it is generally for the greater good.

Strong leadership should go hand in hand with the courage to tell the truth, at least the truth as the leader sees it. If that’s a plausible ‘truth’ surely voters will reward it?

But alas. Trying looking for the strong truthful leaders in the current crop of politicians (and candidates for mayoralties).