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Wheels have come off the Ardern bus

07/09/2019

Audrey Young writes in NZ Herald – A push here, heave there but Govt wheel still stuck in rut

Something went wrong for Jacinda Ardern and the Government in July and August. This week there was an attempt to restore some equilibrium and reset the political agenda in a choreographed series of announcements on major issues.

It might take a bit more than that.

Yer, think!

Indeed I think it will take more than an attempt, especially given the underwhelming reception to the announcements.

It is not clear what went wrong back in July but it showed up in the major parties’ private polling. Even Labour polling showed a steep decline in favourability ratings for Ardern, almost as steep as the rise following March 15.

Suddenly private polling was no longer being leaked.

So rumours of massive drop are true?

Maybe, lots of people woke up to the fact that Ardern is a lightweight with little ability and totally out of her depth.

Ardern had had an exhausting few months, dealing with the massacre, organising and launching the Christchurch Call in Paris, dealing with the Wellbeing Budget, dealing with the Budget leaks and a Cabinet reshuffle late into June.

Diddums, perhaps she should cut down on the school visits and the photo-ops and do some work. Plus, she has a huge staff – so the implication here is that she has no managerial skills and/or no ability to delegate or lead.

BTW to call that shifting of the deckchairs a reshuffle is nonsense. I fail to understand why it took so long.  Is it true that Ardern has problems with dealing with rational decision making. Barry Soper had a rather negative take on the ‘reshuffle’ – see Soper on the ‘Reshuffle’ – ‘About as refreshing as fly spray’ whereas Ms Young had a more positive take

So she dealt with the Budget leaks did she. Yet I thought she stayed out of it.Hmm!

In addition, the much vaunted Wellbeing Budget quickly died a death as well, as it was essentially a crock.

There was also a three-week recess in July, a short trip to Melbourne and a longer trip to Tokelau, and a brewing crisis at Ihumātao in which natural allies of Labour were putting the boot in.

Oh, so tiring. The brewing crisis at Ihumātao was in many ways self inflicted in my view. She should have kept right out of it. Now she has even bigger issues as a result.

Oh and the recess is to allow politicians to do other work, not just go on jollies.

She certainly kept up appearances but, for whatever reason, Ardern had lost her mojo compared to her energetic start to the year when she told her caucus it was the year of delivery.

Year of Delivery – what a joke

National, through close observation or political polling, sensed something had shifted and it switched up its attacks to a more aggressive mode, where it has remained since.

Even from his trip to India and China over the recess this week, National leader Simon Bridges maintained a relentlessly aggressive presence on social media.

National have been very much on the front foot recently.

Labour used the recess to present a series of initiatives — a better time than in the hurly burly of a sitting week in which a minor transgression by an MP or a creatively worded throw-away line by Winston Peters can hog the headlines disproportionately.

Despite having returned to a fighting-fit state, the Government’s attempted “reset” was not left to Ardern.

Audrey Young is far too kind to call this lot fighting fit, unless she means their normal level of incompetence and stupidity. In addition, is there an inference here that Ardern is not necessarily seen as a totally credible frontperson for the Regime’s policies any more, for example she did not front the KiwiBuild ‘Reset’ which was left to Megan Woods.

Then we get this

She fronted the release of the cancer strategy on Sunday with Health Minister David Clark in a bid to provide more even treatment across the country.

There is still some grumpiness in Government that the strategy was so slow coming, National was able to gazump it with its own policy for a cancer agency.

It was a catch-up announcement.

Labour scrambled to catch up, and I am not certain that they have done. Too little and too late. Was it just like the announcement on new cancer machines which was in large part previously announced policy.Furthermore, the new agency is not independent.

Ardern, as Child Poverty Reduction Minister, had launched the lunch in schools programme the week before. While widely welcomed, it is very limited, starting with 30 schools next year and building to 120 — nothing like the 1000 schools taking part in the Kickstart breakfast in schools programme.

KIckstart being a long-running programme brought in by those nasty people at National who just don’t care. Yeah Right!

I note as well that the programme announced by Ardern is slow to start and looks to be expensive and likely will be very bureaucratic. Her role as Child Poverty Reduction Minister is typical Ardernspeak for we care, and will launch a consultation/study/working group – see we are doing something . When the reality is that her achievement in this role has been zilch.

As Audrey Young noted

It was an unambitious announcement.

Exceptionally unambitious, hardly worth announcing, unless you sense you are in political freefall and thus grasp at any straw for support.

This is in the Year of Delivery, or maybe the Year of Non Delivery would be better.

Then there was the Health and Disability Review

The health and disability review by Heather Simpson, Helen Clark’s former chief of staff, was the next big thing. It was surprising in two respects.

First, any hope that the fearless and fearsome Simpson was slaving away to produce a blueprint for a radical reform of New Zealand’s Heath Robinson health system were dashed because it was an interim report only, with no recommendations.

Second, given that she had six others on the review group and another six on the Māori expert advisory group, it turned out to be a 300-page report. That made it a disappointing announcement.

Essentially there was nothing to hype. It was a very damp squib.

The next big thing was the KiwiBuild reset by new Housing Minister Megan Woods. It was the final public humiliation for former Housing Minister Phil Twyford who had done much of the work to try and knock the policy of 100,000 affordable homes in 10 years into a more realistic shape.

Again to give credit to Twyford here is really not credible, as my series of posts on the KiwiBuild Fiasco make clear. Twyford’s hubris and arrogance were prime factors in this monumental policy omnishambles.

About the only thing that survived was the name. All accountability mechanisms, the target-setting, were removed.

It was less of an announcement than a flag-raising — a white flag.

The decision by the Government to remove the targets altogether was more a waving of a white feather. The proper thing to do when targets are deemed unrealistic is to adjust the policy and change the targets, not blame the targets as a policy failure.

To blame the targets is nonsensical, especially when you set the targets and nailed yourself to them repeatedly. See posts KiwiBuild Fiasco #2 and  KiwiBuild Fiasco #3

Then as we have seen elsewhere, the Ardern Regime dislikes targets and measurement.

But this is The Year of Delivery!. Ms Ardern told us this, so it must be true.

As the article notes:

The KiwiBuild renovation will give National fodder right up to next year’s election but the changes are being taken badly by the left, who see it a betrayal.

Ubiquitous left-wing commentator and Victoria University academic Bryce Edwards said: “Having won power in 2017 on the basis of promises like KiwiBuild, it would be apt if the Labour-led Government lost that power in 2020 because of their failures to deliver.”

Bernard Hickey at Newsroom wrote

New Housing Minister Megan Woods did her best on Wednesday to put a brave face on what was easily the worst day politically in this second Labour-led Government post-MMP. Labour deployed Green Co-Leader Marama Davidson and the Green’s rent-to-own plan to try to distract from the complete capitulation of abandoning the 100,000 over 10 years target. It also tried to dress the broken promise by making it easier to use more KiwiSaver money for home deposits and to be able to borrow more to buy a first home. Neither will sweeten this dead rat much. It’s more of a rotting and hairy cat.

The KiwiBuild target and name was a core plank of the Labour Party’s bid for re-election in 2017, and had been for five years. It was the one hard and measurable policy that was large enough to make a difference, if achieved, and voters knew it. For those holding out hope that the grown-ups in charge of the country would do the right thing and engineer a big enough surge of new housing to push back at another doubling of tripling of prices, this was yet another sobering moment.

Clearly not impressed at all.

Then from Audrey Young again

The last big announcement of the week was David Parker’s plan to clean up lakes and rivers by setting land intensification controls, higher standards for freshwater, and moves to accelerate the timetable for local authority compliance with national standards from 2030 at present to 2025.

The suggestion that it amounts to an urban-rural divide is going too far. It is more like a Government-rural divide.

The announcements are being seen as another declaration of war by those who predict it will push some farmers off the land.

See for example this post

Ms Young commented re Parker

But Parker has a sense of political rectitude about him that suggests he is a man not for U-turning.

In other words he is an arrogant hubristic know it all. Just like Phil ‘The Builder’ Twyford and look what happened to him with KiwiBuild.

Then

Pursuing the new standards will test New Zealand First, the so-called champions of the provinces.

They have already approved the water proposals but will have to sign them off again as firm decisions in Cabinet before they are passed as regulation.

Yeah so much for Shanes Jones in his self appointed role as Provincial Champion and so much for Winston Peters.

The one part of the proposals that requires the daylight of parliamentary scrutiny is the part requiring local authorities to have adjusted their plans by 2025, instead of 2030. That might tempt New Zealand First to wobble.

Consultation will be brief and will finish on October 17, just before Shaw’s Zero Carbon bill is reported back to Parliament on October 21 with another target that will reinforce the sense of assault being experienced by the farming sector — to reduce methane emissions in 2050 by up to47 per cent of 2017 levels.

So we are in for yet more economic vandalism just when we see major economic warning signs globally and domestically.

If getting attention for progressing or changing one’s policies is resetting the political agenda then the Government has done that this week.

But in this year of delivery, it was far from being a week of results.

She certainly kept up appearances but, for whatever reason, Ardern had lost her mojo compared to her energetic start to the year when she told her caucus it was the year of delivery.

Clearly Ms Young is not impressed, nor should she be.

Ardern does not manage, she does not lead, she does not do details but she does do dress-ups, photo opportunities and tells lies.

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