Yesterdaze: A series of unexpected lashings

Referendum shenanigans and political blindsiding - if this were the 1950s, you might even call it a week of hissy fits. James Elliott does the news of the week. 

Let me share with you some inside intel on how the NZ media works. Every journalist’s laptop or PC is set up with a special keyboard shortcut. Enter 'Control-Alt-W' and the computer automatically generates the headline “Winston Lashes Out at [insert name here]”. There have been tons of these headlines over the years. The staples are “Winston Lashes Out at Media”, “Winston Lashes Out at Polls” and “Winston Lashes Out at Parliament’s Speaker”. Other lashings have been even more specific – “Winston Lashes Out at Race Relations Commissioner”, “Winston Lashes Out at the Turkish President” and “Winston Lashes Out at His Own Reflection”.

This week’s lashee was somewhat unexpected, the headline being “Winston Lashes Out at Labour” and Labour being NZ First’s coalition partner in the Government. The lashing was over the Abortion Legislation Bill which had its first reading in Parliament on Thursday. The relevant sequence of events went like this. On Tuesday morning NZ First MP Tracey Martin said NZ First would not push for a referendum on the bill. Then NZ First had its caucus meeting, following which NZ First leader and lead lasher Winston Peters confirmed that NZ First would indeed be pushing for a referendum on the bill during the Select Committee phase.

Confused? Bill sponsor Andrew Little certainly was. But to be fair he’s been confused before.

Winston claimed in effect that NZ First had been blindsided by Labour’s assumption that NZ First wouldn’t seek a referendum on the Abortion Bill whereas the view from the Labour camp was that they had been blindsided by NZ First’s confirmation that they would seek a referendum on the Abortion Bill. Confused? Bill sponsor Andrew Little certainly was. But to be fair he’s been confused before. And he’s been confused by Winston before. Meanwhile the Prime Minister did her best to avoid getting drawn into the issue, presumably on the basis that it has nothing to do with her next overseas trip.

Winston went for the high moral ground claiming that NZ First had acted in good faith throughout and didn’t “have a hissy fit”. That’s probably right. You have to be living in the 1950s to have a hissy fit.

Anyway I reckon the whole shenanigan has little to do with a possible referendum over the Abortion Bill and a lot do with the other referendum we’re having next year to decide who will be running the country through to 2023. We’re at that point in the electoral cycle when Labour’s coalition partners have to start taking opportunities to differentiate themselves from the coalition Government brand and remind voters who they are. So, just a reminder that Labour’s governing partners are the Greens and NZ First. Then they have to tell voters what they’ve achieved in government, what they stand for and why they should be voted in again next year. This is especially important given that both the Greens and NZ First are hovering around the critical 5 percent threshold in the latest political polls that Winston has lashed out at against.

In having a swing at Simon Bridges this far out from the finish line in late 2020 James Shaw is like the cyclist who breaks away from the peloton far too early, is easily caught and finishes back with the also-rans.

This need to start pushing the party brand probably explains why Greens co-leader James Shaw felt the need to do some lashing out of his own, at the National Party in general and at Simon Bridges in particular. Shaw scotched the notion of a Blue-Green coalition in 2020 saying he “would never empower someone with as little personal integrity as Simon Bridges to become Prime Minister”.

Simon Bridges must be delighted at Shaw’s assumption that he’ll be leading National into the next election given that there are members of National’s caucus who aren’t assuming that. But as far as political strategies go a platform of “a vote for us isn’t a vote for Simon Bridges” is not only premature but also just plain odd. An election campaign is like a cycle race, there’s a lot of strategy involved and you’ve got to time your sprint to the line perfectly. In having a swing at Simon Bridges this far out from the finish line in late 2020 James Shaw is like the cyclist who breaks away from the peloton far too early, is easily caught and finishes back with the also-rans.

Shaw could do with some advice on cycling strategy from an avid cyclist like fellow Green MP Julie Anne Genter. Even the word avid might be an understatement for someone who cycled to hospital to give birth to her first child. However Genter’s probably too busy dealing with her own puncture of sorts to be able to strategise with her party co-leader. Genter is under fire over a letter she wrote to Transport Minister Phil Twyford that may have influenced a decision to delay the building of the proposed second Mt Victoria tunnel. At issue is whether she wrote the letter as Associate Minister of Transport or as a Green MP. She’s refusing to release it publicly and National are pursuing a complaint with the Ombudsman to get it released.

Meanwhile the building schedule for the proposed second Mt Victoria tunnel is being pushed back from 2024-2029 to 2030-2034. And you can expect Phil Twyford to lash out at anyone who points out that the scheduled completion of any building project he’s involved with invariably gets pushed back by years.   

Have a peaceful weekend.

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