The twilight world of Winston Peters & the legacy of the White Witch
When being in government isn't being in government. When being in a coalition isn't being in a coalition. Welcome to the bizzarro reverse-universe of the third term of the fifth Labour Ministry.
The Foreign Minister of New Zealand says he does not represent the government?! He represents... parliament? (Meaning the Trade Minister and PM are going to be the real Foreign Ministers). What country will receive him given he does not represent the government? "Hi, I'm Winston and I represent a one-man parliamentary delegation to your country - and I emphasise that I in no way represent or am part of the government." To which the reply is: "I thought you were the Foreign Minister?" And he will attempt to explain the Clayton's non-role he is filling, to which they will say: "Well, we wouldn't have put up with all those snide remarks you made earlier about being 'over-run' with Asians, especially since we are an Asian nation! Take your duty free cigarettes and Scotch and piss off."
Just like the unique role of "Treasurer" that he created for himself in his short-lived coalition stint in '96-'98 so he could read the budget and make big statements but do no work; so Winston has now taken a post and turned what it means and it's constitutional position into a unique role that means he does little work.
Peter Dunne is apparently in the same category of surreality. A minister, and therefore a member of the Executive Council but somehow not part of the government and not in coalition. (As he is Minister of Revenue that still means Cullen is Minister of Expenditure.)
Also the Green leaders are supposedly "government spokespeople" even though they are abstaining on supporting the government!? This is just a joke.
The government is a Labour-Progressive-United Future-NZ First coalition whether they like it or not. At some point the issue of the doctrine of collective responsibility will arise where they cannot publicly dissassociate themselves with the actions (or inactions) of the government and they certainly cannot cast votes against the government unless they have prior permission from the rest of the government ie. Labour ie. the PM.
For Winston et al. to rely on a flimsy Chinese Wall written into the Cabinet Manual to protect himself from criticism of the government is not tenable in the long term. Winston is not a compliant Anderton, he shoots his mouth off at regular interviews/intervals: yesterday he told reporters (when they were putting all of these issues to him) that they were "jerking off" - and this from the Minister of Foreign Affairs- elect!
If Winston puts people's, foreign people's noses out of joint there will be a chorus of calls for the PM to sack him. Each time it happens the tension will grow and Labour will want a way out. But she can't sack him because that would mean National would call a motion of no-confidence and it will be Lab 50 + Prg 1 + Unf 3 + Grn 6 = 60 versus everyone else on 61. And then it's bye bye government and hello snap election. The only possibility is the Maori Party bailing them out - and fat chance of that cab responding to that shrill whistle.
Clark wanted her "historic" third term at any cost.
She will get that today or tomorrow when the Gov-Gen signs the warrants and all those Tories lose their Centrebet wagers. After that the white witch might like to consider her legacy - but she won't, because - just like Fraser (the PM she most admires) - she has created a party of government and not a party of principles or of people. She has no legacy except that she stayed in power for as long as possible - to her that is successful government; or as they say in Wellington: Governance. The only ideology she understands is one of power, control, and management of the State for the interests of the State not of the people that it only theoretically serves.
Her feminist agenda has long been implemented, her nannying banishment of habits she doesn't like is almost at an end (we hope!!!). Like Muldoon she is willing to divide and rule and be utterly ruthless in pursuit of that power - to make sure everyone fits into the little box that she thinks they should stay in. State tenants can never have the chance to own their home because they would be getting above their station. Maori can never be equal litigants and have their property rights recognised because they would be getting above their place. Businesses can never be given breaks because they represent the class enemy. The State is there primarily to implement her agenda. Talk of the State as a transformative tool to make people's lives better is always conditional on it being in the prescribed manner that she has set forth; and as she proudly runs a party of governance that means taking the flaky, minimalist advice of policy boffins aimed at making the State bigger or doing absolutely nothing because the status quo must be fine if there is no breifing paper to the contrary.
She is a product of 24 years in parliament, straight from the halls of academe with no private sector experience that has forged a born to rule attitude any true Tory would admire - totally aloof. Glad-handing at functions with the patronised recipients of her choosing is not "touching base". So too the deputy.
That is why her loyal henchman, Cullen, can never conceive of a tax cut even if the surplus was ten times as large. Let's call it Cullen's Law: The state must expand to spend any surplus created. He was forced into moving the tax brackets by United Future let us remember. His pathetic, half-arsed salesmanship of the lacklustre budget spoke volumes about the smugness of a man who has come to expect respect and awe regardless of his deeds. It spoke of the attitude prevalent in a party of technocrats, who see themselves as part of the machinery rather than the human who has judgement over and above the machine.
Refusing to fire people unless it is brought to their attention through headlines and a parliamentary grilling is not good management. A product of National's ineptitude on that score not to be an opposition has let then off the hook so often. And for all their bureaucratic worship and assumed mantle of management credibility Labour has been slow-witted and unable to deal with simple crises - biosecurity risks left to fester unattended, leaky buildings continue to leak, community education rorts in the tertiary sector left to spiral out of control, Solomon Islands turning to anarchy because MFAT can't be bothered, lackies running riot - Ross Armstrongs aplenty. If all they ever act on is advice from within the machine about how great the machine is doing and how all the faults are not of the machine's making it is no wonder why they have got things so badly wrong on so many occassions. Where was the vision? Where were the ideas? Confiscating property off Maori was the boldest policy they had. And trying to get rid of the Pakeha students from a Wananga because that didn't fit in with the box they had put them in. Foisting unwanted separate Maori seats on to local councils to put them in their box. What legacy is that? Given a huge surplus the best they could come up with was... I can't even remember. And then a last ditch bribe for students on their loans when they panicked.
And for all these reasons, heaped upon the latest farce of ministerial collective irresponsibility and pseudo-coalition semantics, I have no confidence that Clark and Cullen can tackle our current fundamental economic problems or indeed competently manage any crisis we may face. Their legacy will be their longevity - and I think that's all they're aiming at.