Yesterdaze: Secret ballots and secret bullets

The National leadership, Jacindamania, and Winston - this week's political news thanks to James Elliott

It was a big week for shout outs to the regions. It started with PM Jacinda Ardern saying that maybe because she’s from Morrinsville she wasn’t fazed by a creepy interview from Australian journalist Charles Wooley. “Not fazed” is rapidly becoming her version of John Key’s “not bothered” which is fine, just as long as she doesn’t ever need a variant of Steven Joyce’s “pretty legal”. 

The next regional shout-out went to Rodney. Mark Mitchell withdrew his candidacy for the National leadership just before the vote having learned that the selection process was by secret ballot not secret bullet. However Mitchell goes back into the pack with a memorable bio byline having been profiled in one newspaper as having “a relatively low profile outside Rodney”.  

Military man Mitchell’s short-lived candidacy strategy came straight from Sun Tzu’s ‘Art of War’ - “appear where you are not expected”, “appear strong when you are weak” and “if your enemy is in superior strength evade him”.  

Meanwhile the real battle for the National leadership was taking place behind two glass doors that had been covered up with blue paper. Because being secretive is no excuse for being off brand.  

In the end it took just two ballots for Simon Bridges to be elected the new National leader. And Paula Bennett was re-elected as deputy which surprised some. OK, it surprised me. Bridges & Bennett sounds like a suburban funeral parlour but others were keen to point out the potential power of their common heritage - two young leaders from the House of Bouffant in Westieros now primed to lead their legions, and Nick Smith, against the Red Queen of Morrinsville. 

Simon Bridges, homeowner in Tauranga, said it was a crisis for those who didn’t have a home. That’s like sitting on the beach waving back to someone caught in a rip. 

And so it was that on Wednesday morning the new National leader ventured forth into the field and was pressed as to whether new homes should be built on said field because of the, you know, “housing crisis”. How would he cope dealing with two of the four words that were banned from National Party vocabulary for nine years? (Clue: the other two words were a combination of poverty and child.)   

Could he bring himself to say the c-word publicly? Well, sort of. Simon Bridges, homeowner in Tauranga, said it was a crisis for those who didn’t have a home. That’s like sitting on the beach waving back to someone caught in a rip. 

And his day did not get better.  

His attempted gotcha question time question about government funding to a company caught up in an SFO investigation backfired when it turned out that the same company had received funding under the watch of the previous government’s Economic Development Minister, Simon Bridges.    

It was a performance that got Barry Soper lathered up enough to describe Bridges’ first day on the job as rubbish. Maybe the next question to Bridges should be whether he’s got a new position on the 90-day trial period for people who are new to the job.       

Bridges’ botched gotcha was part of a concerted opposition attack on the Government’s just-launched Provincial Growth Fund which is going to pump a billion dollars a year into regional development. No word yet on when Fletcher Building and Sky TV will be moving to one of those regions. 

The Provincial Growth Fund was promptly labelled a New Zealand First slush fund by some critics quick to jump on Northland’s most favoured region status. Winston Peters was quick to deny that, just as he was quick to deny that he’s abandoning legal action for breach of privacy over his own Unintentional Growth Fund, the superannuation overpayments he received (and repaid). It might be true that he’s not abandoning legal action but it’s also true that there’s no legal action to abandon yet as he hasn’t commenced substantive legal proceedings having only abandoned his pre-commencement discovery application. Confused? Yes, he appears to be.    

But being another week there was naturally another Ministerial moniker for Winston when he took over the newly reinstated role of Minister of Disarmament and Arms Control. I assume an important part of that role is to not accidentally abandon our nuclear-free status. I’m not concerned. We’ll be fine. We should be fine. It’ll be fine. 

One thing about reviewing the news in 2018 is that you can never be certain of what the key moments are going to be or even whether those events are fake news. Like how I was convinced that Barbara Streisand cloning her dog Samantha was going to be the weirdest genuine news of the week. But no. That distinction went to the ACT Party when he refused to welcome home our Winter Olympians in protest against the Government voting down his motion to condemn the South African government over a controversial land redistribution policy. And you know that has to be a real news event because you just can’t make that stuff up. 

Have an untroubled weekend.      

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