Yesterdaze: States of emergency

From the National leadership rumour mill to backflips on medical marijuana, James Elliott takes a look at the news of the week

This last week we’ve had all kinds of weather. And Winston Peters kicked off the weekend by tapping in to that all-weather vibe. Wearing his Minister of Racing hat he opened the Karaka yearling sales by promising the horse racing industry an all-weather track. That promise then prompted a stewards’ enquiry as to whether it was a very quick post-election payback or a very early pre-election promise. 

And in the spirit, and speed, of horse and cart many Aucklanders marked their own anniversary weekend in time-honoured and time-consuming fashion by driving slowly to and from the Coromandel. Very, very slowly. Like a funeral procession for the death of affordable housing in Auckland.   

But wherever Kiwis were over the weekend we heard the annual whining – “I don’t want to go back for another term. It’s too hot. I need some more holiday.” Despite all their bleating, Parliamentarians nonetheless sat for their first day of the year on Tuesday.

PM Jacinda Ardern outlined the Government’s many and varied achievements in its 100-Day Plan, from the establishment of child poverty reduction targets to a mental health inquiry. Her theme of ‘Let’s Do This’ has now become ‘We Did This’. Keep an eye out in the coming months for ‘What Are We Going To Do Now?’, ‘Why Are We Doing This?’ and ‘I Told You We Shouldn’t Have Done That’.        

Meanwhile things were also getting done across the aisle. Well, across the aisle, up the road and out on the back deck where several National MPs were reported to have attended a BBQ at Simon Bridges’ place to “do the numbers”. It turned out that wasn’t code for practical 'research' on Chlöe Swarbrick’s Medical Marijuana Bill, but rather the source of rumours about a move to smoke Bill English as National leader.

Bill moved quickly to quash the speculation as mere gossip. He said he was focused on leading National back into Government. And he said it with all the conviction and assurance of Monty Python’s Black Knight picking the Warriors to win this year’s NRL Grand Final.

Spare David Seymour a thought because summer must be a tough time. Any time he raises his hand anywhere, land or sea, a lifesaver probably appears out of nowhere to try and pull him to safety.    

The next pssst in the whispering campaign came in the form of more rumours, this time that there was discontent within National ranks about Bill’s deputy Paula Bennett. However most of that was sourced back to Bill himself, being discontent at Paula making herself susceptible to rumours about others being discontent with her.

No doubt Bill was grumpy at the leadership speculation detracting from his impending State of the Nation speech, which was already being criticised for its lack of ambition in the wake of James Shaw’s State of the Planet address the week before.

And he was probably also grumpy that he wasn’t even ‘Bill of the Week’. That honour went to Chlöe Swarbrick’s Medical Marijuana Bill notwithstanding that it was voted down 73 to 47 on its first reading. The size of the defeat was disappointing to some given the number of National MPs who had indicated they would support the Bill, then didn’t. 

That every National MP voted against Swarbrick’s Bill was indeed surprising. You’d think that a party that had experienced Nick Smith as a senior minister for so many years would be more than supportive of other people experiencing chronic pain. None more so than National’s Chris Bishop who said on Wednesday morning that he would support Swarbrick’s Bill only to then vote against it less than 12 hours later, demonstrating that backflips are much easier to pull off without a spine. Bishop’s backflip also deflated the balloon he had just floated that Bill and Paula enjoyed the full confidence of the caucus and were doing a great job.

NZ Herald commentator Claire Trevett read those terminal signs of endorsement as evidence that Bill found himself “condemned to the sentence of being able to leave on his own terms” – ironic for someone who spoke out so staunchly against David Seymour’s Euthanasia Bill just before the Christmas break.       

This side of Christmas David Seymour has probably been keeping a close eye on the new waka-jumping bill. Because if anyone’s got cause to abandon their party it’s got to be him. Do spare him a thought because summer must be a tough time. Any time he raises his hand anywhere, land or sea, a lifesaver probably appears out of nowhere to try and pull him to safety.    

By week’s end the summer scorching was a distant memory as the entire country was being lashed by the remnants of Cyclone Fehi. States of emergency were declared in Dunedin, Buller and Paula Bennett’s electorate office. The temperature dropped even further on Friday morning when Judith Collins said a leadership challenge was something she “wasn’t contemplating at all” sending a shiver down more than a few spines.    

Wishing you a dry weekend.

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