The Nation – Jacinda Ardern on brave leadership

On Newshub Nation this morning: Prime Minister talks about brave leadership as she sits down with in one of her final interviews before her maternity leave

This interview focussed mainly on criminal justice and the 3 strikes strike out this week.

Prime Minister

“Ultimately, we’re all united in the fact that we don’t want to see more victims, and the best way to prevent people becoming victims is to reduce the number of offenders we have in the first place.”

On our prisons being a ‘moral and fiscal failure – “What we’ve been bold enough to say is, ‘What does right look like for New Zealand?’ Because we are not the US, and yet our numbers look pretty close to the United States’.”

On the possibility of being a one term Govt -“We need to bring people with us. That’s the whole point. If you end up being a one-term government as a consequence of changes you’ve made, you probably haven’t brought people on that journey”.

On prison reform – “When we have a static crime rate but an ever increasing prison population, is that the kind of country we want to be?”

Stronger leadership required from Ardern as Government wobbles

It has been a wobbly few weeks for the Government, with problems and embarrassments involving all parties, Labour, NZ First and the Greens. A common factor is what looks like weak leadership from Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who has supported her own faltering MPs and dismissed problems from her support party ministers, saying mistakes will be made and they just need to be learnt from.

RNZ: Govt ‘will try to weed out mistakes’ – Ardern

Jacinda Ardern said mistakes will happen from time to time.

“With all of these cases they are, within context, issues that easily occur when you have an extraordinary amount of workflow coming through”.

“We will try to weed out mistakes wherever they may occur and prevent them from happening.”

“Ministers of all stripes make mistakes we’ve just got to make sure we correct them quickly.”

To an extent she is right, mistakes will happen and they need to be corrected – but too many mistakes are surfacing in a short period of time. The Government (and Ardern) risk an air of incompetence taking hold.

The most prominent mistake maker recently has been Clare Curran, who has featured in a lot of news for two weeks now. And it may not be the end of it yet, if RNZ’s Richard Griffin is forced to hand over a phone call recording.

ODT editorial: Fuller explanation needed from Curran

Ms Curran had nine years of Opposition in which to formulate her strategy in her much-beloved broadcasting and communications roles. Her role in open government and transparency was expected to pave the way for easier access to official information.

However, this has not been the case.

Ms Curran has survived in her job, despite at first not owning up to what was a planned, rather than casual, meeting.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern accepted Ms Curran’s explanation she was not seeking to undermine the RNZ chairman Richard Griffin, a National Party appointee, or chief executive Paul Thompson.

New Zealanders are still in the dark about exactly what Ms Curran was planning.

It behoves Ms Curran to  set the full record straight. She seems to be hiding details, and a senior RNZ executive has resigned. Ms Ardern has been tolerant and could well have made an example of Ms Curran.

Unless she takes some firm action before she takes maternity leave, the situation may become even worse when NZ First leader Winston Peters takes over as prime minister in her absence.

The ODT also points out other problems:

Ms Ardern is being badly let down by those around her. Apart from Ms Curran, New Zealand First ministers Shane Jones and Ron Mark have been called to account for their comments or actions. The Green Party Minister for Women, Julie Ann Genter called for old white men to make way in boardrooms. And the head of the Environmental Protection Agency Dr Alan Freeth was called before a select committee to talk about his interactions with Associate Environment Minister Eugenie Sage.

More from Stuff’s Below the beltway: The week in politics

Down

Clare Curran

The Prime Minister is maintaining she is still confident in Curran, and to Curran’s credit she’s continued to front the media to discuss the ongoing RNZ saga. But calling board chair Richard Griffin – even if the call was as innocent as she claims – about his select committee appearance smacks of political interference. It was also a great way to give legs to a story that was beginning to die out.

Phil Twyford

Twyford is one of the more reliable ministers to deliver wins, but his big transport re-alignment was badly signalled and badly managed. By announcing the excise tax increase as “10c over three years” – instead of “3c a year for three years, just continuing what the last guys were doing” – he handed the opposition an easy attack line. Combining this news with the ambitious transport plan just meant the actual transport plan got lost in the conversation.

Eugenie Sage

Sage is another minister one doesn’t expect to see in trouble very often. But emailing the head of the crown entity a critical opinion piece about their chief scientist with the subject line “great article” is a good way to get yourself into trouble, especially if the opposition found out. Giving Nick Smith a chance to look good attacking you is quite an achievement.

Add to that the Young Labour camp sexual harassment allegations – any inquiry into that may be reported on while Ardern is off-duty, with it being likely the Party management will try to handle outside of the parliamentary wing.

So there are a lot of mistakes to be corrected – and there is no clear sign that that is happening. Ardern is increasingly looking like more talk than action.

As has been mentioned, she is planning on stepping aside in June for six weeks when she has her baby. That’s just two months away, with her government’s first budget due out in later May. A lot will be riding on how that is presented and how their spending plans shape up.

And there is no guarantee that the baby will wait until June. Ardern has a busy life, which raises risks of stress, pregnancy complications and possibly an early birth.

One would hope that a Prime Minister could step aside for any reason and the Government would keep functioning without any problems, but it’s hard to have confidence this will be the case.

Winston Peters will take over as Acting Prime Minister. He has been a problem for Ardern over his odd motives over Russia. Three of his MPs have featured in the wobbles – Ron Mark, Jenny Marcroft and especially Shane Jones, plus an unnamed Minister (alleged to be involved in the Marcroft incident). Peters has been just trivialising these problems.

There are more weaknesses in Labour below Ardern. Kelvin Davis has been virtually anonymous as deputy since he made a mess of supporting Ardern during the campaign last year. He also has to make what is likely to be an unpopular decision soon on a new prison to cope with growing numbers locked up.

Robertson will be busy before and after his first budget, and is yet to prove himself.

The only Labour MP I can think of with sufficient experience and credibility to step up is David Parker, and as Minister of Trade he spends a lot of his time travelling around the world.

So Labour and the Government are looking weak, almost out of their depth in turbulent water, and especially given the ongoing revelations of mistakes they are vulnerable to falling from favour.

Ardern needs to show some stronger leadership, and hope that in her absence not too many mistakes are made.

We may get through this ok, but at the moment the Government wobbles are looking worrying, with a real risk wheels may fall off.

 

Green leadership – sickly sweet political correctness versus political realism

John Armstrong still does the occasional column for 1 News. On this occasion he looks at the Green leadership, and assesses Marama Davidson versus Julie Anne Genter.

Co-leaders are chosen by the Green party membership, and I doubt they will take much notice of Armstrong, but he makes some astute points.

1 News: Julie Anne Genter would deliver effective tonic of political realism for Greens as they up weigh who should be co-leader

The playing field would appear to be too heavily tilted against Julie Anne Genter overhauling the front-runner in the two-horse race to become female co-leader.

As a Maori and someone deeply rooted in the party’s “social justice” wing, Marama Davidson’s candidacy ticks all the right boxes.

She is not a minister. She is thus positioning herself as the voice of the party. That is important.

The Greens have long toyed with the concept of one of its co-leaders not being part of a ministry, instead being a two-way conduit ensuring relations between the hierarchy and the wider party do not sour as a result of the compromises and concessions required for a multi-party government to function effectively.

Davidson is second in the rankings of the party’s eight-strong caucus. Genter is third. Were Genter to become female co-leader, it would be regarded as a slap in the face for Davidson.

It may be be a slap in the face of a significant Green faction as well, the ‘social justice’ campaigners.

Moreover, given Davidson is the closest thing to a clone of Turei, it would also be regarded as a slap in the face for the memory of Turei.

Most leadership changes signify a change in party direction, sometimes forced by circumstances. Simon Bridges was not chosen as an English clone. Jacinda Ardern was very different to Andrew Little. James Shaw was quite different to Russel Norman. Metiria Turei was very different to Jeanette Fitzsimons.

Replacing Turei with another Turei-type, especially after Turei’s ignominious exit, might make sense for some within the Greens but it would be a risk given the poll reaction to Turei’s big gamble.

These obstacles will have forced Genter to take a different tack as she seeks to woo members ahead of the party-wide vote on the co-leadership which will be completed early next month.

Her carefully coded message is that installing Davidson in the post would see the resumption of the status quo prior to Turei’s departure.

That might have been okay in Opposition, but it is hopeless in the white heat of government.

Is the Green membership able to see that though? In some ways they don’t seem to have transitioned to power very well.

During a head-to-head debate with Davidson last week conducted by Stuff, Genter was surprisingly frank. She indicated an unhappiness that the decision to highlight Turei’s bout of welfare fraud back in the 1990s had followed consultation with only a select few in the Greens’ caucus.

She bemoaned the absence of a viable risk management plan should Turei’s admission backfire — which of course it did.

Turei and her supporters seemed shocked that her admission of benefit fraud might not go down well outside the green bubble. Turei’s political bubble burst, but Green views remain to an extent encapsulated in their conviction of infallibility.

Davidson’s push on poverty would drive the Greens even further down the dead end street which sees them run smack bang into Labour. It would see them competing with the Prime Minister for ownership of child poverty as an issue. That would not be a contest that Davidson could hope to win.

She would be unlikely to get anywhere near the attention or support that Ardern is currently feasting on. If Ardern succeeds with a positive shift in social policy Davidson would continue to be in her shadow. If Ardern fails then the greens will probably be dragged down with her.

Genter made a brutally honest assessment of the Greens’ chances at the 2020 election, saying recovery to the 11 per cent backing that the party received in 2014 would be a “good start”.

Even that will be a hard target to hit unless the Greens can differentiate themselves from the coalition Government they are propping up. Few support parties prosper in Government, most struggle and fade.

To reach that level would require recapturing the roughly 95,000 votes which switched to Labour in 2017 — a task made even more arduous by having to get the better of such a formidable campaigner as Ardern.

That’s presuming Ardern remains as a formidable campaigner in 2020, and the voters don’t tire of woman’s magazine style celebrity politics.

Genter is issuing a big wake-up call. That is sufficient reason why the party needs her as co-leader. The challenge for the party membership in coming weeks is to switch from supping on the sickly sweet political correctness being flogged by Davidson and start imbibing the bitter, but far more effective tonic of political realism advertised by Genter.

Genter certainly seems to have been ready for a governing role, and has fairly wide respect beyond the core Green support base, in contrast to Davidson.

Choosing Marama Davidson would feed into the self admiration within devout Green circles, but it would struggle to appeal to the voters Greens need back, or to new voters.

Julie Anne Genter is likely to have wider appeal – I would seriously consider voting for her if I had the opportunity, but am unlikely to warm to Davidson unless she changes significantly (who knows how someone will become as leader?).

Greens should put the Turei debacle behind them and look ahead, and choose a new leader based on political realism, but I suspect they will side with “the sickly sweet political correctness being flogged by Davidson”.

National leadership poll (sort of interesting but out of date)

A public poll on the National leadership is of limited value, because the leader is chosen by National’s 56 MPs only, and the poll was conducted before the leadership contest began. But it is a bit interesting, especially National supporter results.

The Spinoff Exclusive: Poll gives Judith Collins slim lead as preferred National leader

A UMR Research survey puts the polarising MP in the lead – but only slightly, and her favourability numbers are dismal, an area in which Amy Adams holds bragging rights.

The tussle to lead the biggest party in New Zealand’s parliament will be a tight one, if polling conducted largely prior to Bill English’s resignation and exclusively revealed to the Spinoff is a guide. Of the declared candidates, Judith Collins can boast the greatest support as preferred National Party leader, both among National voters and the wider public, though her lead over Steven Joyce is statistically negligible.

Not surprising to see so many ‘unsure’. The poll is split over eight MPs with a third ‘unsure’.

Notable that Mark Mitchell doesn’t feature, but that’s not surprising because the poll was almost entirely before Bill English announced he was stepping down, so before any candidates put their names forward.

Favourability ratings are also pertinent:

Collins is slightly behind Adams on favourability, but has twice the unfavourability with about half respondents seeing her unfavourably.

UMR Research, whose clients include the Labour Party, returned the results from its nationwide online omnibus survey, conducted between January 30 and February 14 (Bill English resigned on February 13). A nationally representative sample of 1,000 New Zealanders 18 years of age and over are surveyed. The margin of error for sample size of 750 for a 50% figure at the 95% confidence level is ± 3.1%.

The margin of error for National supporters will be much higher.

Joyce makes it 5 leadership contenders

So that gives the National caucus five candidates to choose from for their next leader:

  • Judith Collins
  • Amy Adams
  • Simon Bridges
  • Mark Mitchell
  • Steven Joyce

Mitchell is just being interviewed by Duncan Garner. Some time has been spent on the Marriage Equality bill – Mitchell voted  against it. He explained that on conscience votes he goes to his electorate to get their views, polls the electorate, and votes according to the majority conscience of his electorate.

When pressed he made it clear he supports the Marriage Equality legislation and would personally vote for it. So that suggests he voted against his own conscience and for what he thought his electorate preferred.

RNZ on Joyce:

Steven Joyce has confirmed he is in the mix to be the next National Party leader.

Mr Joyce said last week he had been canvassing support among the caucus and party members before deciding whether to take a tilt.

He was National’s campaign manager and a Finance Minster in the previous government.

So not much other than confirmation that he has joined the contest so far. I think Joyce is very capable and astute, and speaks well, but represents ‘same old’ for the National Party, risking being stuck in the past, by perception  at least.

Update:  Joyce confirms National leadership tilt

Steven Joyce has this morning confirmed he will contest the National Party leadership.

Joyce told Newstalk ZB’s Mike Hosking he would become the fifth candidate to replace Bill English.

Joyce said he had lots of colleagues and regular New Zealanders telling him to put his name forward.

“My view is it has always been about the National Party, it’s not about me personally.”

Joyce trusted that he would have support in caucus.

“There are some people that are going to absolutely support you and some people that will probably support you, it all depends on how it goes out.”

Joyce believed the race was more important than any individual.

“It’s all about the future of New Zealand. It’s not about me,” he told Hosking.

“I worry about the current crowd. I don’t think they have a plan and where they have got a plan it will take us backwards.”

“It’s time to step up, if I believe in what I do believe in.”

Joyce called the generational change argument “entertaining” – and noted that there was only 15 years between the five candidates for leader.

Joyce said he got on well with rival candidates Simon Bridges, Judith Collins, Amy Adams and Mark Mitchell – and said that they would all bring different strengths to the role.

He would probably do ok, but National need more than ok, they need to forge a new future for the party.

Bridges hopeless off-script

Simon Bridges stood for the deputy leadership of the National Party after John Key stepped down in December 2016, and failed.

He has now put himself forward for the leadership position being left vacant by Bill English.

RNZ: National leader vote: Bridges touts ‘generational change’

Simon Bridges has made a pitch for leader of the National Party, and tells Guyon Espiner he’s the most experienced candidate who can also usher in generational change.

A comment via email:

It’s a must listen if you haven’t, it’s a complete cluster whenever he’s taken off script. I find it bizarre that he can’t even give a crisp answer to what his biggest achievement in politics has been to date. They are basically free hit questions. Very reminiscent of Shearer I thought.

The interview begins:

Espiner: What is your pitch?

Bridges: I I suppose it’s you know as an individual, that I’m a a the right blend if you like of generational change I’m forty one I’ve got a young family, ah and experience um you know I’m not green as grass if you like, I’ve held a raft of very senior portfolios Labour Energy Transport Economic Development and so on, so you know I I I understand Government very well. I think it’s also um you know if you look at me broad, more broadly I think  I’m someone with broad appeal ah for New Zealanders I’m Maori um ah I’ve given you some of my background in government I’ve said before that I was a criminal lawyer, a prosecutor, do very serious work there…

And he went on, and on, and on. His opening sentence ran until 1:43 into the interview.

That pitch is unlikely to appeal narrowly let alone broadly. Bridges has repeated Jacinda Ardern’s generational change approach, but there is a stark contrast with Ardern’s effortless ability to speak positively and clearly.

He was then asked about the significance of being the first Maori leader of National. He waffled, admitted his te reo was not as good as Espiner’s, and waffled. Then:

Espiner: I’ll make it easy for you – are there any Maori issues that you want to talk about now that you would push if you were leader?

Bridges: Look, I I I couldn’t give you one, I couldn’t say it’s going to be X Y Z. I think what I can say to you though, is that…

Espiner: Ok, I’ll make it easier still. I’ll make it easier still eh? Is there any policy that you would push if you were leader? Any new policy?

Bridges: Ye… ah ah I I’m I don’t think I’m going to say to you today, because actually I’ll give you the reason why, because I think…

Who cares why he doesn’t want to give an answer giving some idea of what he might stand for. He waffled for some time with a non-answer.

Espiner: Can I ask you what’s your biggest achievement in politics?

Bridges: To date. Um I I I think you’d say there are a raft of things I’m proud of. I mean I…one particular thing that made a real difference I think it was being Transport Minister um overseeing a very large uptick in infrastructure investment that has really made the difference. Significant projects around the country…zzzz…

He says he has really changed how transport is done in New Zealand. Road deaths rising, dire congestion getting worse in Auckland? He didn’t specify.

It’s fair to say that Bridges was hopeless in this interview.  Perhaps he speaks much better in the National caucus and can convince a majority of the MPs to back him, but on this performance he should have dashed any hope of becoming leader.

It was awful.

It looks like it should be a contest between Amy Adams and Judith Collins.

 

 

 

National leadership – safe option or risk?

National support stayed remarkably high throughout their three terms in government, barely changing when John Key stood down and Bill English took over. This was partly due to the performance of National – voters tend to prefer steady, sound and predictable governance – and partly due to the weakness of the Opposition, especially Labour’s failure to find a leader who appealed, until Jacinda Ardern took over.

Labour chose steady but uninspiring Phil Goff after Helen Clark lost in 2008 and resigned, and made no real progress for three years. They then flirted with more radical options, David Shearer then David Cunliffe, but the former failed to rise to the occasion and the latter was too flawed (and disliked). They went back to steady but uninspiring with Andrew Little and were tanking leading into last year’s election, until Ardern took over and turned things around dramatically.

Now National is in Opposition ‘steady as she goes’ may not be such a good option.

They may feel that ‘same old’ will maintain their support and get them back into government in 2020, but Ardern has changed to whole political vibe. Unless Ardern and Labour stuff up badly National with ‘same old’ may find it very difficult to appeal sufficiently.

Running a ‘same old’ style leader and party against a first term government is high risk for National. The last time a government only lasted one term was 1972-75, when Labour failed to survive after Norm Kirk died in office.

Steven Joyce hasn’t put his hat in the leadership ring yet, but as he worked closely alongside Key and English, he would be seen as ‘same old’. He is reasonable competent but is unlikely to inspire, so I think he would be a high risk option.

There are a couple of ‘change a bit’ options standing, Amy Adams and Simon Bridges. Both promise to be a change, Bridges claiming to be a generational change to try to compete head to head with Ardern. Both would probably be safe-ish choices for National, but safe is going to struggle to compete. Neither looks likely to wow the voters, and that would be a problem for a first term Opposition struggling for attention.

As big a risk as Joyce, but for a very different reason, is Judith Collins. She would be likely to change the look of National significantly, and she would get much more media attention, both positive and negative. She has already got much more media attention than Bridges and Adams, and on top of that seemed to be prepared and is running with a social media campaign as well.

Collins promises to shake up Ardern and the Government, and she would probably succeed to an extent. However she would also shake up the National caucus and party, something they may be reluctant to allow. It is reported that Collins isn’t in favour with senior National MPs, still. It has also been reported that she has been working the back benches, but may not have swung many of them yet. There are also a big unknown, the allegiances of their new MPs.

Collins is in the category of high risk and possible high reward or crash and burn. I’d be tempted to give her a crack to break to first term opposition hoodoo, but the National caucus that chooses a new leader may be too cautious and too timid.

Labour took risks with each of their five leaders in Opposition, and finally hit the jackpot with Ardern in a high risk leadership switch just before the election (albeit aided in a significant way by Winston Peters and NZ First).

Any new choice of leader is a risk. As always the actual leadership qualities of each of the candidates is unknown until one of them takes over.

It is also unknown in advance how united or factionalised the caucus will be under a new leader. Successful leaders minimise factional friction by looking decisive, by being successful in scoring hits against the Government, and scoring good poll results.

National MPs have to make a choice on the level of risk they are prepared to take. Being too conservative is probably as big a risk as being too radical, if not more, because conservative Oppositions tend to be ignored by voters in first term.

National leadership speculation in full swing

There hasn’t been much change to the list of National leadership contenders – Jonathan Coleman has confirmed he won’t stand, Steven Joyce and mark Mitchell are reported to be interested but haven’t yet confirmed either way, so Amy Adams, Simon Bridges and Judith Collins remain the current confirmed contenders.

There’s a lot of pundit positing for various candidates, which is unlikely to influence the MPs in National’s caucus who will make the decision, so is more like attempts to be seen as able to guess who the winner will be before it is announced.

Bryce Edwards tweeted:

A notable omission from the endorsement list is himself, given his clearly stated preference:

I’m not going to endorse or pick any of them, I’m still quite ambivalent about who I’d like to see lead National, I don’t care very much who gets the job. But here’s some musings.

Amy Adams – seems to have been a very capable Minister who managed a large workload in the last Government. I’m not sure she has the media appeal that, unfortunately, seems to be demanded by media.

Simon Bridges – he is rated by some, and his relative youth may help against Ardern, but I haven’t seen he has what it needs yet. Perhaps he could rise to the position, but that is a risk.

Judith Collins – I really think she looks the best prepared and most capable of the bunch, and could be a very good contrast to Ardern, but she will need to get the support of the caucus, something she has failed to do in the past, and one of her biggest impediments is the rash of dirt mongering against her opponents and promotion of her at Whale Oil – the risk of her being connected to that, justified or not, may be causing some MPs some concern.

Should they stand:

Steven Joyce – in some ways he has been a very capable lieutenant to Key and English, has made misjudgements in the last two campaigns (Northland and general election). If National want to rejuvenate and set a new course into the political future Joyce is not the one, that will count against him unless National MPs think more of same old is what they want.

Mark Mitchell – seen as a dark horse candidate that few of the public will know. He has seemed ok to me in the little I have seen of him, but too little to judge. He would certainly be a breath of fresh leadership, and would contrast with Ardern, but will be hammered for his military contracting past, just like Key was hammered (to little effect) on his money market past.

Whoever takes over will have two years to build their profile and support before heading into the 2020 campaign – presuming the current lasts that long (the odds must be it will).

It’s worth keeping an eye on Kiwiblog. So far David Farrar has done individual posts on Collins and Mitchell. They could make a good looking leadership team, and Labour have shown that two geographically imbalanced (Auckland or north) leaders doesn’t seem to matter any more.

Three National leadership contenders so far

So far Judith Collins, Amy Adams and Simon Bridges have put themselves forward for leadership of the National Party (and therefore Leader of the Opposition).

As well as that, Mark Mitchell, Jonathan Coleman and Steven Joyce have indicated they are considering standing.

They will all no doubt be canvassing for support – National leaders are chosen by their caucus, so the National MPS, some of whom have just become MPs, will decide on their leader (and deputy leader).

It’s good to see a number of people offering their services.

A number of others have ruled out standing.

Personally I don’t care who takes over the leadership. I have an open mind about it, and it’s up to the party to take a punt on it’s future.

From my experience it’s very difficult to judge how someone will measure up as a leader until they have been a leader for some months. This was apparent in the procession of leaders that Labour had. Bill English also showed that someone who failed as a leader can learn from that and have another go and do a very creditable job.

All I hope is that whoever National chooses to lead them does a good job, revitalises National and provide a good Opposition to the Government without getting bogged down by petty partisan bickering. Picking fights wisely is important.

It may be next week before we know the full line up of hopefuls. May the best person come forward and win.

National Party leadership

Now that Bill English has resigned National will need to find a new leader. They aren’t mucking around:

There is now a process to go through to select a new Leader, which we expect will take place over the next few weeks, with a vote to be held at the Caucus meeting on 27 February.

That’s just two weeks away.

In comparison, Metiria Turei stepped down as Green co-leader on August 9 last year, six months ago. Two weeks ago the Greens announced a time line to replace her – the Ballot counting and winner announced on 8 April, so over two months to choose a leader.

Also in comparison, Andrew Little stepped down and Jacinda Ardern took over just about immediately – it was conformed a few days later, but there was a need for urgency then.

Pundit pondering and speculation has already started on National’s leadership. This is an opportunity to rejuvenate and rebuild for National. They will be well aware of Labour’s years of problems after Helen Clark resigned and will want to avoid anything similar.

I’ll wait to see who puts themselves forward. I don’t care who takes over, but I do hope that National continue as a strong opposition.