[As published in Nov/Dec BayBuzz magazine.]
It was election night and I went down to National’s party to congratulate Catherine Wedd on her victory.
“I really like your moustache,” declared a chunky 11-year-old. “Thanks,” I replied warmly; grateful for any compliment. “Yeah, you look like the Pringles guy.” I googled him, hoping a debonair gentleman represents Pringles. Nope, he was referring to the goofy cartoon on the packaging. I didn’t stay long. Reinventing myself with a Victorian moustache hasn’t been a success, but Winston makes me optimistic about the future. How can a 78 year-old, largely ignored by the press and vilified by most political parties, make yet another comeback? It’s hard enough to survive a couple of terms on the opposition benches, let alone multiple stints in political oblivion.
The oddities of this election make it likely that we’ll have a 122-member parliament, a couple more than normal. The National/Act government will likely need Winston to have a majority and I’m quite content with that.
This election cycle was irritating. David Seymour characterising Winston as “the least trustworthy politician” was a foolish move when he was a likely coalition partner. Similarly, Luxon suggesting a second election may have been required. No politician with one hand on the baubles of office is in a hurry to go back to the ballot box. Even Hipkins chimed in, suggesting the 2017-2020 Cabinet was chaotic with Winston there.
It’s foolish to believe any new story a politician tells you two weeks out from an election. They were all talking nonsense.
Sure, Winston has his failings, but he had so many enemies because he was stealing votes from all these parties. ‘Old school lefty’ and lifetime Labour voter, Chris Trotter, openly admitted he was going to vote NZ First this time around. He’s an advocate for the working class and free speech and frustrated that Labour has lost their way on these things. He couldn’t vote for his arch enemy, National; Act was a bridge too far; and options further left he thought nutters. So Winston was the Social Credit of our age – the protest vote.
The truth is that Winston has been a constructive part of the three governments he’s been part of. Former National PM, Jim Bolger, openly admitted as much recently. Helen Clark worked well with him. And the 2017 Labour government was better than the 2020 iteration as NZ First knocked back their kookier ideas.
So, yes, Winston is a cunning, ruthless, Machiavellian politician, but also a remarkable talent. Also a late-night whisky with Winston is great fun. He’s a naughty boy and I’m pleased to have him back.
No one should be too worried about National being in power either. Usually we flip red and blue every 6 or 9 years and it’s necessary that this happens. Not only does the fresh blood and new ideas shake up the various ministries, but in opposition, the defeated party can lick its wounds, attract a new generation of talent and contemplate why the NZ public sacked them. Labour have been given a brutal message. One day they will come back a touch wiser and we’ll be grateful for it. This lot have been lousy.
Previous Labour-led governments had a raft of decent ministers. Standing behind Helen Clark was Michael Cullen, Lianne Dalziel, Phil Goff, Jim Anderton, Annette King, John Tamihere and the like. The most recent crop let the team down by ignoring the drinking and driving rules, failing to manage conflicts of interest, jumping ship, or neglecting to read the cabinet manual. Can you imagine Helen Clark making any of these errors?
Like most Labour governments, they were irresponsible with money and made everyone poorer. This wasn’t discussed adequately in the election campaign. If you’re unhappy with education, healthcare, law & order, or the potholes in the roads, I have news for you – you’re getting more than your money’s worth. By the time we get to the end of the current financial year, government debt will have increased $100 billion over just 4 years.
I know you can blame some of that on Covid, but the trend is getting worse not better. All this happened in fairly prosperous times. Now we have high interest rates, dangerous conflicts in the Ukraine and Gaza, a potential Chinese property market collapse, or a sovereign debt crisis or GFC2. At best a decent recession is coming.
There are two components needed to fix our financial woes. Deliver government services more efficiently and grow our economy so there is an increased tax take.
The state sector has ballooned and must be trimmed. Ministries like MBIE have doubled from 3,200 employees in 2016 to almost 6,400 in just seven years. Teachers seem to loathe the Ministry of Education, but they’ve still increased their staff numbers by 30% in Labour’s last term. What do all these people do? Apart from adding colonial guilt and gender confusion to the curriculum, education looks pretty much the same as it did 20 years ago.
It’s also time to show our business owners some respect. The last few years have been brutal for farming, horticulture, hospitality, tourism, and now even retail spending is slowing. Owning most businesses is not a license to print money. It’s important to remember that the backbone of our country isn’t large rapacious corporates, but mum & dad SME’s.
A change of government is an ugly business and many will be pleased not to have to endure another toxic debate. It’s easy to forget that when Hipkins and Luxon went at it, it’s no minor squabble. These were two men fighting for the power to govern a nation. Democratic change is a bloodless revolution, and we should be grateful for the absence of a body count.
I’m not a cheerleader for National and quite underwhelmed by Mr Luxon. He has all the political punching power of a single shot latte bowl, but sometimes you have to vote for change regardless. National are not historically the party of change, so we’ll need to be ready to nudge them along.
If there is some reason for optimism, it’s their front bench. Shane Reti is a commonsense doctor and will be a good minister of health. Erica Stanford is a Prime Minister in the making and will work hard on education. The hard-arse ex-copper, Mark Mitchell will be no-nonsense on police. And Nicola Willis is sure to tighten the purse strings.
Locally we have three, new, fresh-faced MPs. I fancy they’ll be hard-working and strong advocates for our region. I wish the Nat’s the best of luck and I hope that those across the aisle hold them to account.
Democracy isn’t going too well in some parts of the world, but here in NZ, it’s doing OK.