Wednesday, November 29, 2006

State of the Nation(al)

I admit to a sense of unease on Saturday afternoon, when, nursing the effects of a fairly erratic spell of short-pitched bowling from the opposition, I heard that Gerry Brownlee was going to fight to keep the deputy leadership of the National Party.

John Key put his name into the leadership ring soon after Don Brash’s resignation. English, who has harboured leadership ambitions since entering Parliament in 1990, had good reason to think that he could give it another pitch. With Simon Power, Judith Collins, and Katherine Rich hovering in the background as possible deputies, it had the makings of a long and protracted shit-fight. I was, frankly, appalled to hear Judith Collins publicly commenting on the leadership and deputy leadership contest during the afternoon.

One of the dubious luxuries of the National Party—one of the legacies of Michelle Boag—is that National has a wide group of potential leaders. By contrast, Helen Clark’s leadership has been secure for the last seven years by virtue of the fact there is nobody capable of leading Labour if Clark falls under a bus. Nineteen of Labour’s first twenty list candidates at the last election have trade union backgrounds. Nine of its first eleven list candidates—effectively the face of the party—are former university lecturers or school teachers. One of the remaining ministers, Parekura Horomia, is a former public servant. The only one of Labour’s First XI at the last election with any private sector experience, Dover Samuels, is little more than a token brown face.

Further, Helen Clark cements her claim by hiring, at the taxpayers’ expense, large numbers of comparatively very highly-paid advisers. Heather Simpson easily earns over $300,000 as H1’s chief of staff. One of the advisers in the PM’s office was recently bragging that when he transferred from one government department to the PM’s office, he doubled his salary to $190,000. As the pledge card saga demonstrated, Labour’s campaign strategy was effectively governed by H2.

Helen Clark has had one potential rival in the last seven years in Phil Goff. She has managed to neuter his power by systematically expunging from the party anybody who is not from a union, public service, teaching, or rainbow background. She also holds Goff at bay by making sure he is overseas for two thirds of his time, first as Foreign Minister, and later as Trade Minister.

So here I was on Saturday afternoon, annoyed that Gerry Brownlee, Judith Collins, and Bill English would engage in a public scrap over the deputy leadership. I could foresee that playing out for a couple of weeks, and then finally resolve itself and die down before Brian Connell re-emerged on the scene to plant a particularly large steaming turd on the dining table and reignite a public storm that had nothing to do with getting rid of the filthy socialists.

I was almost prompted to call various current and former party officials and ask them why the fuck we can’t just be like the Labour Party, and have nobody of any talent, other than the Leader, in the team. Or at least shout at the talent reminding them that public squabbles over the deputy leadership do no bloody good.

The deputy leadership is not the precursor to the party leadership. It is not the celebrated second prize in the beauty contest. The great deputy leaders of National’s past may have had ambitions for the top job—but they have all reached the inevitable conclusion that they will never be Prime Minister. Don McKinnon and Wyatt Creech stand out as supportive, loyal lieutenants to Bolger and Shipley respectively who managed to put aside their desires to reside at Premier House. They focused on caucus management and policy development. The deputy needs to engender absolute trust and confidence of the caucus. Geoffrey Palmer was the master of providing legislative detail to the Lange-Douglas leadership of the fourth Labour Government: he didn’t particularly want to be Prime Minister, and failed dismally when he had reached the post. To his credit, Michael Cullen has been an outstanding deputy to Helen Clark. In doing so, however, he has spayed any chance of taking the top job himself.

So turning specifically to the Nats, I’ll take a look at some of the leadership and deputy leadership aspirants, and what they might bring to an ideal National front bench in the future:

John Key. The Golden Boy. The only possible successor. Outstanding speaker, tightly honed political instinct, National could not have manufactured a finer leader if they tried. He pisses Labour off because he is successful. Labour has already snidely referred to him as a multi-millionaire (with Cullen even going so far as to call him a traitor to his working class roots—a peculiar statement for a man who entered the labour movement after attending Christ’s College and then immersing himself in an academic career. Cullen and Clark, of course, are both multi-millionaires in their own rights, after twenty-five years of parliamentary service.). Key’s response—that if all the Labour Party can attack is somebody who aspired to greatness and achieved it, then that shows precisely why they shouldn’t be in Government—was priceless. Key has already brought a sense of optimism and aspiration to the leadership in his first speech. I suspect he will spend a lot of time in low income New Zealand showing how socialism neglects the very vulnerable people it pledges to support. My one piece of advice to him is to be bold. Don’t try and out-smarm Cullen. When the first reaction is to smirk, reach for indignation. Get pissed off at how Labour is ruining this country, while showing how much hope there is if we make a change.

Bill English. Had significant caucus support for the leadership, but just wasn’t cutting it in public. The Herald poll last week, which saw Key with 17% of Auckland voters preference for preferred Prime Minister, was the final nail in English’s coffin. In many ways, English should have inherited the social and economic conservative mantle from Jim Bolger. English has been National’s best performer in the House over the last two years, and his Cabinet experience gives him an unrivalled mastery of political and bureaucratic processes. The 2002 defeat was by no means English’s fault—that was the inevitable consequence of nine years of Government prior, and Bolger’s conservative reluctance to renew the Party. The Nats were never going to recover by 2002; in hindsight—although many of us thought it at the time—English should have left Shipley to take the Party into the 2002 election. Hard for him to accept that he won’t be leader again in the foreseeable future, but a commitment to fronting as deputy leader will put many of his skills to exceptional use. Paired with John Key, with a commitment to supporting him, he will make an outstanding contribution to the next National Cabinet. English will get Finance, and will master it as he has all his portfolios in opposition and government.

Gerry Brownlee has surprised me with how well he has performed as deputy leader. Gerry has done very well in the House, against Cullen’s formidable debating expertise. He has been unreservedly loyal to Don Brash. He has won the respect of caucus. Over time, he has refined his management skills, and is a solid operator. He has shown maturity in stepping aside, and realises that a long term as a government minister beats a short one as deputy leader of the opposition any day of the week. If Gerry keeps State Services, he should focus entirely on making dramatic cuts to the size of the core public service, which has ballooned in the last seven years with no increase in state delivery. Far too many bureaucrats chase their own tails creating unnecessary work for themselves. A 20% reduction in the core state sector would be a bloody good start.

Katherine Rich. Currently Economic Development spokesperson, where the Nats have a mind-boggling twelve associate portfolios in that role. Bloody overkill for a portfolio that has only been established to monitor Labour’s stupendous waste under the guise of “economic development”. The Ministry of Economic Development is a bureaucratic monolith. One of the best early means of achieving economic development is to scrap the department entirely, and force the bureaucrats to find productive employment.

Simon Power. Smart, engaging guy. Has leadership potential in the next ten years. Needs Cabinet experience, but has the abilities to make serious impact. Doing very well in law and order, but there’s not actually much scope for structural reform in that portfolio. Should probably get his teeth stuck into labour, industrial relations, and ACC, where he can make a serious difference.

Judith Collins. Hasn’t performed particularly well in the last year, with some lacklustre presentations at Party gatherings. Very strong personality who doesn’t tolerate bullshit. Can be a bit of a ball-breaker, and made an unfortunate comment about David Benson-Pope in the House earlier in the year. Channeled in the right direction, she should be a power-house in the Party. If she can get her shit together next year, she will be a key part of the dream team at the next election. Collins is a natural reformer, and is doing a lot of good work around minimising welfare dependency. I want to hear her come out and advocate time limits on unemployment, mandatory parenting, drug check, criminal screening, housing, health, and school attendance requirements to provide minimum standards of care for children of long-term beneficiaries, and plans to identify and actively manage at-risk children.

Tony Ryall. Needs to focus on the massive waste in public health. Has performed very well in the House, landing serious hits against Hodgson. Needs to formulate a plan to get rid of at least half of the health bureaucracy, rationalisation of public health services, and reframe public expectations as to what the public health system can deliver. This is the major inconvenient truth of Government: Labour has always recognized that public health spending is limited, but refuses to say so publicly. The outrageous consequence—that health expenditure has risen more than fifty percent as a proportion of GDP in the last seven years—with no increase in health outcomes, has led to massive waste in public health. Ryall needs to front the public education campaign. Many public expectations of what the public health system can provide have never actually been provided, and are not ever affordable. Unless Government has the balls to clearly articulate what it can deliver in public health, and focuses on what it can deliver, the taxpayer will continue to flush vast sums of money on health activities that achieve no result.

Don Brash. Would be a bloody shame to see this guy go completely. The only serious portfolio left for him where he can make a major difference, is education, vacated by English. Brash has the ability to pick through the crap and deliver strong, sound policy here. The public education sector has also enlarged to unsustainable levels in the last seven years, to the extent that young school-leavers are encouraged to become journalists and professional photographers, only to find there is no work for them at the end of the process. Brash has the unrivalled authority to set clear standards in the tertiary education system, and weed out the politically correct shite that passes itself off for university teaching. With Brash applying himself to the tertiary education sector, he can hand over to Allan Peachey the task of setting standards in the compulsory school sector.


Anonymous said...

Forget Allan Peachey for Education. Have you forgotten already the e-mail to Carol White, Principal of Selwyn College. Something about a knife in the back as I recall. He is known for nothing else, and on the hole, seems well over the hill. Boring too.

What about a fresh thinker in the role. Katherine Rich sounds promising.

Insolent Prick said...

Carol White is a liberal pinko who has driven a good school in a good area to the dogs, for no reason other than warped ideology. By comparison, Peachey led a mid-performing school to the most popular in the country, with very impressive educational outcomes. He is right to target that kind of bullshit in the compulsory school sector. Carol White is more concerned about visiting Scandinavia to pick up tips on school architecture than she is preventing kids from bringing knives, or actually achieving anything at school. 60% of parents in the area choose to send their kids to other schools. Every other school in wealthy and middle-class Auckland has an enrolment scheme. Selwyn doesn't need one because it's undersubscribed.

Peachey has applied precisely what works in compulsory education. If every school had a principal like Peachey, we would be on a far better footing both here and internationally.

Peachey is Public Enemy Number 1 of the PPTA, as was Phil Raffils before him. Forget the PPTA bullshit. Peachey was precisely right about Selwyn College--the only complete failure in his electorate--and it is only the pinko liberals of the Labour Party who want to protect Selwyn.

Anonymous said...

Can this possibly be right? Perhaps others from Selwyn scene may comment - but there has been no national publicity on knives there that I can recall.

Also look at growth of private school capacity in Auckland. If you were living in a multi million dollar mansion in Mission Bay - why would you even think about state system at all? Lots of kids in Epsom and Remuera go private as well - even though Grammars are available.

I thought that anon was talking about Peachey threatening a school principal. Is that acceptable?

Also school principals can be professional no matter what their party preference - if any. Come to think of it, how many National supporting principals would you expect to find if their history has been as members of the PPTA? Also Principals' Federation has taken heavy stick from National.

Does an aspiring minister of education need to deal with individual schools "hands on" in this way? I thought education legislation was there business.

In any case .. John Key is now set on a vision for a tolerant society and being inclusive. How would Peachey (and many other Nats) fit into that.


Insolent Prick said...


My information on kids with knives at school for personal protection is based on recent discussions with recent former pupils.

Peachey's interest in Selwyn College is as the local member of Parliament. It is a failed school.

Consider this. Every other secondary school North and East of Selwyn College has a strictly enforced enrolment scheme. St Kentigern's College is barely a stone's throw from Macleans College, yet Macleans is still oversubscribed.

Neighbouring Glendowie College has a far better reputation than Selwyn.

I don't think being "inclusive and tolerant" means accepting failure in the name of liberal ideology. If Selwyn College, as a liberal school, actually produced successful outcomes, then fine. But it doesn't.

Anonymous said...

Yeah Right .. And Otahuhu College is next door to Kings College, Penrose High School is next door to One Tree Hill and Ellerslie suburbs .. and Macleans serves a huge local population just like Rangitoto.

You are still operating in hollow man mode - referring to reputation, failed school and the like.

All these state schools are part of a single network with a single national curriculum. MOE and ERO are charged with ensuring legislation is abided by. They get their lead from the government - there is no need for MPs to go direct!

There is no need why any state school needs to promote extremely right wing philosophy, taking its cue from Richwhite, Gibbs or the like. In fact after so many years of a Labour govt, we should not be surprised if their philosophies are in evidence - and they will be from 2008 with the new values curriculum.

Back to the original question:
Even though he is local MP, does that give him the right to threaten a school principal?

Is there any precedent for his boorishness? If so, I would have thought schools like Melville in Hamilton would be suffering similar treatment.

I think of students at the school -what must they have thought? Oh sorry IP I forgot - the extreme right wing thinks education is about impressing parents, not focussing on the kids!


Anonymous said...


Lets leave it there. The NZ Herald predicts Katherine Rich for Education and they usually base it on something. Peachey is too simply too junior to get the primary spokesmanship - if he performs better in the next few years, we may see something of him.

Don Brash has said that he will only stay if offered a senior role. That is virtually an invitation to Key to send him to the back benches. He can then leave with the excuse that he did not get a senior enough role.

His claims of lies by Hager have been replied to .. by the tabling of yet further emails. Nowhere to hide.

Insolent Prick is right about Simon Power = he would have been smart choice for deputy. Good presentation, good homework, good debater. Maybe timing not right for him.

Luv and kisses
NZ First Babe

Anonymous said...

Latest news is that Brash retired from Parliament half an hour ago.

IP .. Time to face the brutal facts. Don Brash was TOTALLY overrated as a politician. Sure he led National to a near-victory but at considerable cost, but...

What we had was different from 1000s of farmers backing National and 1000s of unionists backing Labour. No .. in this case a very small number of people with enormous wealth and power hijacked the National Party through Don Brash in order that their tiny minority attitudes could carry influence well beyond their numbers.

The mind boggles to think the mess we would now have if Brash AS A PRIME MINISTER had been performing as poorly as he has since that election.

His credibility has been shot to smithereens by the ultra cool Nicky Hager. Brash denies, and Hager produces another e-mail! Great sport.

Just as remarkable is the gullibility of New Zealand voters. Everyone should have smelled a rat with the Tax Handout promise and nothing else to go with it.

Both Hager and Brian Connell should be in the New Year's Honours List.