Boris Hampton: Diary of a Wellington insider

NBR Staff


Boris Hampton is Wellington’s most respected government relations adviser and all round political fixit man. A wise counsel to those with power in the land, and those who would be powers in the land, he knows who’s who, what’s what, and who’s up who’s whosami whatsit. Boris knows where all the bodies are buried, and still has the spade. And the hammer and the stake.

Monday 10 August

To an urgent meeting at the State Services Commission, called when all ministers are safely in the weekly Cabinet meeting thinking about the economy and jobs and Afghanistan and climate change targets and not their accommodation or travel costs in any way at all.

We have a bit of a situation developing, sadly, one which calls for a bit of a re-think.

There is nothing, unfortunately, in the Public Service Manual that covers what to do when your minister hurls obscenities at you. Officials who have to deal with Gerry Brownlee on a regular basis have been asking for guidance but there’s not much in the way of precedent. That is not to say previous ministers did not curse their officials. Of course they did.

What Muldoon called his energy officials, when they told him their previous advice to spend a billion dollars on a dam was wrong, has gone into Wellington legend. In fact, the words were blistered into the woodwork in Rutherford House, until it was revamped for Victoria University.

But back then officials were able to handle it. These days the schools are just not turning out people who can deal with that sort of thing.

One hears tales of Ministry of Economic Development officials coming back in tears. Treasury officials sent across have turned it into a competitive game, and try to see who can collect the worst insult. The game spluttered out, not because of the officials, but simply because Gerry’s vocabulary is not all that wide, even the swear words.

The best reply so far seems to be “I don’t agree, Minister.”

State Services Commissioner Iain Rennie simply says “tell the officials to get over it” which sounds like advice he has offered before.

Tuesday 11 August

I love it when a plan comes together. Labour’s reconnection with the provinces is starting to work.

Not without the odd hiccup, when TV3 wanted to film MPs on the bus in Taranaki. Clare Curran wanted Phill Goff to sing AC/DC’s ‘Back in Black’ for the cameras. Connect with the bloke vote and all that.
I began to get worried when we had to tell Phil who AC/DC are.

When we told him they’re a heavy metal band, we then had to explain what that meant. He was starting to come around but then Cunliffe put him off.

Cunners loved the idea, got very excited, dug out his old school uniform and was running up and down the aisle of the bus like Angus Young. Playing air guitar and kicking his hairy white legs up and down in his schoolboy shorts.

That all ended in confusion after Chris Carter saw him and took an interest and it took a while to calm everyone down again.

Never mind. AT least it stopped Carter sulking.

So it was Plan B. We got the caucus on tv singing ‘Take Me Home Country Road’ in the bus. Looking like a bunch of 1970s school teachers on a staff outing.

Connecting with the base.  You can't beat it. 

Wednesday 12 August

I was worried, a couple of weeks back, when the DomPost had a headline about the new National Party – and a photo of Bill English. You never know how the PM is going to react to these things. Indeed, we still don’t know. But, well, hmm….

Thursday 13 August

I am called into the offices of a large sector lobby group; they are concerned they haven’t been listened to by the new government. In fact, they feel quite shut out of things. Ministers are going over the heads of the group and talking to some of its largest members instead, and even then, only when they feel like it. I ask to see the sort of material they are submitting to ministers and spot the problem straight away.

Oooh, boy. This is going to take quite a bit of work. They have pages and pages of submissions, reports, and analysis on how they and their members can transform the New Zealand economy in a sustainable way. I put the 1000- odd pages of documents onto a flashdeive, take it back to the office and open up the documents in Microsoft Word.

Now. Fire up the ‘Find and Replace’ tool: go through and replace “sustainability” with “productivity”. Then “strategy” gets replaced with “plan”. Then I re-write the opening and closing paragraphs of the executive summary. That ought to do it. Leave it on the desktop for a couple of weeks, then send it back with an invoice for a five figure sum.

Off to meet a bunch of fellow government relations advisers for our weekly four hour lunch at Boulcott St. Together, we must raise this country’s economic productivity. We pledge ourselves to this as we open the third bottle of Marc Bredif Vouvray.

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3 Comments & Questions

Commenter icon key: Subscriber Verified

Great post.

"...go through and replace “sustainability” with “productivity”.

Philosophy of sustainability


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Unless it was an intentional reflection on the Beehive being a "Fawlty Towers", the reference to Public service Manuel (paragraph 2) conveys clearly how many of our MPs act. They all say "I learned it from a book".

Now if MPs needed a 5 year job in commerce or industry before nominating themselves, they could instead say "I learned it in the real world". As John Campbell would say then "marvellous".

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