3 mins to read

Parliament opens with PM on rebound and Labour on back foot

The Labour leader's shoulder-tapping of Willie Jackson now looks too clever by three-quarters. 

Tue, 07 Feb 2017

Parliament kicks off for 2017 today, with most of the leaders using it as a platform to launch their election-year messages.

It probably won't be as crazed as last election year – or perhaps it will – but we have become so habituated to reckless weirdness from overseas that New Zealanders will just take it all in their stride. 

Certainly, the government is going for not-weird. This is, after all, a fairly cautious conservative government. The main criticism of Prime Minister Bill English so far is for being boring.

He even managed, it seems, to have a boring telephone conversation with US President Donald Trump, something which, in this world, just should not be possible. 

Boring, in current global climate, is good.

The strangeness, for now, comes from Labour Party leader Andrew Little's decision to use Waitangi weekend is the time to unveil broadcaster and former Alliance party politician Willie Jackson as a high-profile Labour Party candidate at this year's general election.

Mr Jackson will have a high list placing, Mr Little says, and there is much, supposedly well-informed talk of his getting the nomination for the Auckland-based Tamaki Makaurau electorate.

Heralded as something of a coup for Mr Little when it was first leaked – the idea being Mr Jackson, by joining Labour, would in so doing scupper the hopes of the Maori Party to hold and indeed expand its support base this election, it now looks like it was too clever by three-quarters.

Mr Jackson is offside with many Labour Party people for several reasons. One is an insensitive line of questioning, on his talkback show, of one of the victims of the infamous “roastbusters” rapists; a second is some publicly unsympathetic comments about gay and lesbian New Zealanders; thirdly, he has been involved in the establishment of two of the government's partnership schools.

To put it another way, he is intensely disliked by Labour women, Rainbow Labour, and the teacher unions. If you take those three groups out, you haven't got much of a Labour Party left, these days.

In what world, exactly, is that a political coup for any Labour leader?

It absolutely beggars belief Mr Little did not foresee the intense opposition from these groups within his own party, and/or do something to prepare the ground for Mr Jackson's proposed elevation above many aspiring candidates – and, let's be straightforward here – some of those candidates coming from those three groups within Labour.

It's a serious misjudgment by the Labour leader: managing one's internal party coalitions is at least as important as managing the external coalitions for any potential government and this is a fairly serious case of political mismanagement.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Bill English – who had, as noted here a couple of times, a  pretty stumbly week – got his balance by the weekend and in fact had that rare thing for a prime minister from either side of politics: a successful Waitangi Day.

Mostly, by keeping away from the chaos at the lower marae. Instead, the decision to visit three different Auckland marae, and talk about the progress that has been made on Treaty issues – and where things might be by 2040, rather than focus on negativity – is looking like a  sound judgment call.

The prime minister, meanwhile, will today deliver the set piece address from the government this afternoon, and that will be followed by responses from the other party leaders. Last year then Prime Minister John Key released his speech to the news media, which, as usual, recited his government's planned programme for the year, before ignoring his speech notes when he got to the debating chamber and instead using most of his 20 minutes speaking time to taunt the opposition. 

Mr English, who is both a better and in some ways a more interesting parliamentary performer than Mr Key, might be tempted to do the same, or at least do a mix of the two. 

New Zealand First’s Winston Peters – who, until getting involved defending the news media at the lower marae at Waitangi-  has had a quiet start to the year, is overdue for an attention-grabbing speech.

He may deliver a curtain-raiser for that today.

© All content copyright NBR. Do not reproduce in any form without permission, even if you have a paid subscription.
Parliament opens with PM on rebound and Labour on back foot