Thursday, February 15, 2018

Karl du Fresne: I reckon eventually, something will blow

Barry Soper made a surprising statement on Newstalk ZB yesterday. I didn’t take down his exact words, but essentially he said nothing was going to happen in the next three years (he meant politically) except that Jacinda Ardern was going to have a baby.

Perhaps it was intended as a tongue-in-cheek comment on the media’s fascination with the prime ministerial pregnancy. But if not, it was an astonishingly bold pronouncement from someone who has covered politics as long as Soper has, and who must surely know the risks of making predictions.

Just hours later, Bill English announced he was retiring, and immediately the political landscape looked very different. Presto – just like that.

Now Wellington is buzzing with speculation about who will succeed English and what difference it might make. The consensus seems to be that National must look to the 2023 election rather than 2020 to regain power. This is based on the conventional wisdom that National’s fatal strategic mistake in 2017 was that it lacked a strong coalition ally, and that it’s going to take longer than three years for one to emerge.

This is an entirely plausible scenario, but it overlooks one possibility. No one can predict with any certainty that the present Labour-led government will hold together for a full term. Its internal contradictions and tensions are such that it could easily tear itself apart, in which case all bets will be off.

The greatest challenge will be reconciling the strains between New Zealand First and the Greens, who represent polar opposites on the ideological spectrum. There will be ample opportunity for this fault line to rupture, and I think we got a glimpse of one this morning with the announcement that the government might scrap plans to put video cameras on fishing boats to monitor bycatch (albatrosses, seals and so forth) and possible illegal dumping of fish.

This is hardly likely to play well with Labour’s Green allies, whose attitude toward fishing companies was summed up by former Green MP Kevin Hague’s statement that the industry couldn’t be trusted. This puts the National Party – which supports the video cameras proposal – in the unusual position of being able to claim the moral high ground with environmentalists, which won’t go down well with the Greens.

For conspiracy theorists, there’s a delectable note of intrigue here because of Winston Peters’ well-documented association with fishing industry interests. Fishing companies have been generous donors to New Zealand First and Peters was instrumental in the Labour-led government’s decision to kybosh the Kermadec marine sanctuary, which was initially championed by Green MP Gareth Hughes.

That backtrack ruffled Green feathers, and so will the retreat from the video cameras proposal. It will be nigh impossible to allay suspicion that Peters wielded his baneful influence behind the scenes.

There is potential for many more such irritants in the fraught relationship between New Zealand First and the Greens. We’ve seen a few already and the government is only four months old. Green MPs, who are driven by idealism and like to think of themselves as highly principled, will be able to button their lips and play the pragmatic game for only so long. I reckon eventually, something will blow. 

Karl du Fresne blogs at


Unknown said...

So true - and now Sue Bradford has opened up another front - it looks suspiciously like Labour and NZF have snookered The Greens over their whaka jumping agreement and legislation.
The Greens are in a very powerful position to pull down this coalition - a fact that seems to be overlooked.

DiDi said...

Surely National's fatal strategic mistake in 2017 was reverting to "dirty Politics" regarding Winston's over payment of Super. He dropped from 14% in the polls to 7%. Had that not happened, he may have gone with National instead. Bear in mind it was then discovered that 20,000 pensioners had been overpaid in the same period. Either way, the Greens would have been out of Government.

Ron said...

So - we need to AGITATE - stir-up the NZ1/Green dichotomy - and guess who is best suited to do this? The OBVIOUSLY best candidate for the Nat leadership - Judith Collins - go for it Jude!

Don said...

@RonWe need to give the Coalition all the support we can. It is light years ahead of anything the previous no-hopers could manage.

Don said...

Nuts! The Coalition deserves our support since it is light years ahead of the previous bunch of no-hopers.