National Leader Simon Bridges escalated his confrontation with Speaker Trevor Mallard yesterday and now appears to ready to defy a Speaker’s order for a second time.
The stakes are huge.
A worst case outcome could see Mallard’s actions leading to National being banned from using Parliament TV in all its advertising till after the next election. Or, alternatively, Bridges could be suspended from Parliament.
Mallard has ordered National to take down social media ads which contravene Parliament’s Standing Orders on the usage of Parliamentary TV.
Clips from the TV feed of the House cannot use MPs without their permission.
National uses the feed to send up Labour MPs.
Mallard has received a complaint about a National Party edit of a speech by Deborah Russell using Greek philosophy to explain the Wellbeing Budget.
Mallard yesterday described the case as “trivial” but even so, he had ordered the takedown of the videos.
POLITIK has previously reported that the National Leader’s office not only refused to obey his order but arranged for every National MP to have the video posted on their Facebook page.
That was an obvious challenge to Mallard.
So yesterday he told Parliament it was the duty of the Speaker to uphold the authority of the Chair, “which in fact, is the authority of the House itself.”
He said Bridges had defied his ruling to take the video down.
“I cannot choose to selectively enforce the Standing Orders agreed by the House any more than the Leader of the Opposition can choose to ignore the Standing Orders he does not agree with,” he said.
The Speaker pointed out he could “name” Bridges which would mean he was suspended for 24 hours or he could refer him to the Privileges Committee for some form of censure.
Instead he has restricted the Opposition Leader to five supplentary questions during Question Time a day this week.
If the videos are still up next week, that number will go down to four and so on until either the videos come down or Bridges gets only one question a day.
But last night he appeared to be remaining defiant.
A spokesperson for him told POLITIK that the party would not be complying with the Speaker’s ruling.
National’s Shadow Leader of the House, Gerry Brownlee, has told POLITIK that he questions whether Mallard had the power to order that the videos be taken down in the first place.
But Mallard has now changed the ground on which the argument is taking place; it is now a question of Bridges defying the Speaker.
Bridges appears to have had it in for Mallard for some time now and initially (incorrectly) blamed him for leaking details of his travel expenses which he now accuses Jami-Lee Ross of doing.
The origins of what looks like a vendetta are obscure.
But what is at stake is what has become National’s main campaign weapon; social media.
POLITIK has obtained staff lists from Bridges’ office for the past two years, which show that now the biggest team working for him is his social media team.
There are more people working in social media than in policy and research combined.
It seems that Bridges, since becoming Leader, has had a cleanout in his office and 16 of the 31 staff employed there a year ago have now left.
In essence, his office is now a social media studio with a traditional press office and a handful of political operatives on the side.
However, even the press secretaries have been reduced by one over the past year.
But Bridges is not the only Nat seeking to build his profile on social media.
Judith Collins runs, like many MPs, a conventional Facebook page and an intelligently argued post she placed there on Sunday questions the doom-mongering of the recent climate change protests.
By last night that had drawn 948 comments which is the sort of numbers that the National Party as a whole draws on some of its big posts on its own page.
Mallard has agreed to fast track a review of the Standing order which National has fallen foul of, but he was at pains to point out yesterday that in 2017 when the rules were last reviewed, he had supported a liberalisation on the use of Parliamentary TV footage, but Naitonal had opposed that.
The Standing Orders Committee is to meet (in secret) this Thursday to consider changing the rules.
But Mallard hinted yesterday that even if they did, those rules might not apply until the end of 2020 which would mean the National Party would not be able to run their social media ads as part of the campaign in the run-up to the election.
“ It is a matter for the current Standing Orders Committee to consider whether it proceeds with any further changes and whether they apply from the start of the next Parliament or by sessional order,” he said.
Labour has a majority on the committee and could easily prevent any change to the rules from applying till after the election.
That is why National, with its clear intention to run a big social media campaign, is fighting this issue so hard.
And evidence that the party is in campaign mode already came with an email last night to members from Party President Peter Goodfellow seeking donations.
“Over the past two years, our National team have been holding the Government to account for its actions, exposing their mistruths and broken promises, writing our new policy, and building the foundation for the most comprehensive and decisive campaign we can deliver in 2020,” the email said.
“We’re going to give it everything we’ve got, will you help us?”
That sort of fighting talk is hardly likely to de-escalate the current row.
© 2019, FrontPage Ltd. All rights reserved.