The first year of Covid rattled confidence in governments round the globe. The 2021 energy price surge is exposing a swathe of vainglory and folly in policymaking.
Yet looking back over the last fifteen years or so, it seems remarkable how ‘hands on’ government has confounded its critics. Global financial panic, Eurozone debt crisis, Brexit ructions, Covid pandemic – in each case the gloomsters were largely confounded.
Worst case scenarios did not materialise. A handful of decisive policy steps and a great deal of ad hoc tinkering have seen living standards, jobs and house prices protected.
The flaws of Boris Johnson, Britain’s jokey PM, have been highlighted through the Brexit saga, and he has many haters. Fine material you might think for Tom Bower, the UK’s pre-eminent investigative muckraker, notorious for coruscating biographies of Richard Branson, Robert Maxwell and Jeremy Corbyn.
But funnily enough he hasn’t made that much of a splash with Boris Johnson The Gambler published in the midst of the UK’s Covid epidemic at the end of last year.
It’s not that Bower shuns the negative. He scrupulously documents the driving ambition, rhetorical evasion, monumental self-centeredness, serial infidelity and inability to buy a round.
But these traits are not entirely absent from many leading politicians. And Johnson managed to emerge through the pages as a ferociously intelligent and curiously likeable character, who pulls off these stunts more colourfully and successfully than most.
Indeed, Boris’s enemies tend to suffer in the comparison. Former PM, Theresa May is portrayed as an over-promoted machiavel; while the head of the Foreign Office, Simon Macdonald, comes across as unctuous and incompetent. The next-door neighbours who snitched to the press on Boris’s domestic rows appear as uptight ideologues, determined to expose “the ugly edifice of capitalist heteropatriachy’”.
Transport Minister Michael Wood is winning a reputation for his bold political initiatives. They include, for example, the announcement of a second Auckland harbour bridge crossing (but only for cyclists and walkers, costing an estimated $780m).
Then came a “feebate” scheme to hasten the transition to electric vehicles.
And earlier there had been a move to “review” the Light Rail project in Auckland, the commitment to which had proved a political disaster for Wood’s predecessor, Phil Twyford.
Wood may regard himself as the chosen one, enjoying the favours of his political seniors. Certainly he appears to have a gift for steering his initiatives through Cabinet.
But to what effect for the political fortunes of the government?
Kiri Allan, the Minister of Conservation and Emergency Management and Associate Minister for Arts and Culture, has issued four statements since March 21. Her tally since she became a minister after the 2020 general election is 30.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced today Allan is taking a leave of absence while she undergoes medical treatment for cervical cancer.
According to his critics, Damien O’Connor may well have contracted a nasty dose of foot-in-mouth disease.
Whether his personal struggle with the condition is good or bad for a bloke who happens to be our Minister of Biosecurity is arguable. The portfolio requires the Minister and his ministry to ensure against foot-and-mouth disease sneaking into the country (among a formidable list of threatening pests and diseases).
Foot-in-mouth, on the other hand, is common among politicians and tends to be more damaging to the afflicted politician and his/her party than to the national economy.
Accordingly, when it is detected, the authorities do not declare an emergency and immediately put down the politician and cull every other beast within a certain distance, as would happen with livestock, although a polls-sensitive PM might be tempted to demote the culprit and put him or her out to pasture on the back benches.
Mind you, a politician might be accused by Opposition politicians or media commentators of having foot-in-mouth disease when others think the accused politician’s remarks were eminently sensible.
Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson’s accomplishments as Associate Minister of Housing (Homelessness) became an issue that aroused our interest during the past week, although mainstream news media seemed more fascinated by Davidson’s playing of the race card when National’s Nicola Willis linked crime with homelessness.
Can she confirm that in the five months since becoming a Minister, she has not taken a single paper to Cabinet committee or Cabinet and has not issued a single press release?
Speaker Trevor Mallard let her off the hook by ruling this did not relate to the primary question.
Davidson was given a chance to answer the question outside the House, when reporters asked her about her achievements as minister. But as Stuff reported –
… when questioned about what she had achieved as minister she abruptly left the press stand-up mid-question.
She said she had been engaging with the community since being in the job, and had continued to oversee the rollout of a homelessness housing plan. “I have continued to progress the actions for preventing homelessness,” she said.
A lot of people – including quite a few in Britain’s Conservative party – don’t like Dominic Cummings, special adviser to PM Boris Johnson and a key figure in the Vote Leave campaign in the 2016 Brexit referendum and the 2019 Brexit-focused general election.
So there was some undisguised joy when it was suggested that he had – like some other prominent and now departed public figures – broken the lockdown rules, in his case by travelling from London to Durham to ensure emergency childcare.Continue reading “Boris shows some backbone”→