As Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood pointed out back in 1971, “every picture tells a story.”
And this one by Getty Images photographer, Hagen Hopkins, from November 2017, more or less tells the story of the 52nd Parliament that rose yesterday.
It was a Parliament that began with an Opposition convinced it had been cheated out of power by a discordant coalition of three parties with little experience in Government.
Hopkins’ photograph was triumphantly waved by National as evidence of this.
The new Leader of the House, Chris Hipkins, had miscalculated how many MPs they had in the House as it came to vote on the new Speaker.
Theoretically, National therefore had a majority which they could have used to block Mallard.
Instead, they did a deal with Hipkins and Labour’s de facto deputy leader, Grant Robertson, to get more National MPs on to Select Committees.
But look at the picture. The victors have now been humbled and the supplicant newcomers look firmly entrenched in power.
Since it was taken, the key figure in it, National’s then-new Leader of the House, Simon Bridges, has risen, fallen and now appears to be adopting a new kinder, gentler persona presumably with the hope that like John Howard or Kevin Rudd in Australia, he may rise again.
At 43, he has plenty of time left.
In the meantime, he is bringing his formidable intellect and political instincts to his foreign affairs spokesperson’s role. He is not finished yet.
And he has a point when he defends his leadership of the party and argues that no-one could have beaten the Government over Covid-19 and the near deification of Jacinda Ardern.
But that wasn’t the only reason he lost the leadership.
His opponents have quietly leaked polls which they claim show that he had a net personal likeability rating of negative 40 per cent; lower even than Jeremy Corbyn.
And it wasn’t only the public who seemed to see him as an isolated figure.
His caucus critics and both Todd Muller and Judith Collins were among them, argued that he had become remote from the caucus; surrounded by a small clique of loyalists.
Only three really remain on the front bench particularly Paul Goldsmith who seems to be engaged in a running debate with Judith Collins over when and whether National intends to get net debt below 30 per cent of GDP.
As recently as six weeks ago, Goldsmith remained committed to that target.
“We need to demonstrate a path back below 30 per cent, in the first instance, within a decade, give or take a few years,” he told a financial sector audience.
He said it would be set out clearly in National’s first Budget.
But three weeks ago the new Leader, Judith Collins, dismissed the target.
Collins told Stuff she wasn’t wedded to the target, saying “it’s not set in stone”.
Goldsmith seems to have reluctantly accepted that.
“The difficulty with being too definitive is that the sand is moving under your feet all the time,” he told POLITIK on Tuesday.
“That’s why we always talk about trying to get back to a reasonable level within a decade or so.
“We’re not wedded to being at a certain place on a certain date come hell or high water.”
But along with Bridges are two other fallen figures from the National party.
Amy Adams, who made a grab for power when Todd Muller took the leadership and briefly ranked at Number Three in the caucus with oversight of all policy resigned (for the second time) when Collins took the leadership having to confess that there was actually no completed policy.
And Jami Lee Ross, having resigned in disgrace over a series of scandals and misdemeanours, is now firmly in bed with the conspiracy-believing fringe right in the Advance NZ Party. It is a massive fall for someone, who as this picture shows, was part of National’s leadership team.
But though he would seem unlikely to return to Parliament for the next term, he may not be done yet.
If New Zealand First fails to make it back (and no public poll suggests they will return) then two per cent of the total vote will have nowhere to go; One News Colmar Brunton currently have the New Conservatives on one point two per cent, and we don’t yet know what Ross’s Advance vehicle will get. That all adds up to somewhere between three and four percent; not far off the magical five per cent threshold.
But among those parties is the genesis of a socially conservative, populist right-wing party. Watch that space.
And then, finally, among the Nats, is Gerry Brownlee. More or less ignored by Simon Bridges he has returned to chair the National campaign.
As is consistent with anything that involves Brownlee, there are already tales leaking out of his cantankerous moods, but few National MPs know and understand the National Party base as well as Brownlee.
That knowledge may be critical as they try and hold the party together during this campaign.
So National’s triumphant four are now reduced to two, and they have ended up in somewhat reduced circumstances from the triumph they displayed on November 7, 2017.
But Labour’s two, Chris Hipkins and Grant Robertson, for whom the incident was humiliating, are now the uncontested power centre of the Government.
Robertson was always going to be important; as Finance Minister that was a given.
But maybe what has surprised people is how effective he has been.
In the Half Yearly Fiscal and Economic Update from last December, before Covid-19 made a nonsense of most Treasury projections, he was looking at a surplus of $5.9 billion in 2023/24; $12 billion of new capital expenditure over that period and an increase in the debt to GDP ratio to 26.4 per cent.
He was doing precisely what Labour party members want their Finance Minister to do, which is to pursue an expansionary fiscal policy as he builds schools and hospitals and possibly even roads.
Robertson’s is Labour’s de facto deputy-leader and through his close relationship with Jacinda Ardern half of what some irreverent Ministers call the “Gracinda” show.
But if Robertson is the Prime Minister’s alter ego, Hipkins is known to be a Minister with an independent frame of mind when it comes to dealing with her.
As Leader of the House, Minister of Education, Minister of State Services and Minister of Health he is the working centre of the Cabinet; part of the inner circle with Robertson and Megan Woods.
It was his mistake when the picture was taken.
But yesterday in front of Parliament’s Health Select Committee, as he explained how Cabinet made decisions to go in and out of alert levels, he gave a clue to how central he now is to the Ardern’s Government’s decision making process.
“The process that we’ve operated over the last eight weeks is where Cabinet has been making these sorts of decisions the Director General of Health has sent me a briefing which has indicated what the health advice is,” he said.
“Now, all of that advice is typically tentative because right up until the moment that cabinet meets, we’re always gathering new information.
“I then feed that information through to the Prime Minister’s office who prepare the advice that comes to cabinet, because the advice that comes to cabinet doesn’t just include the health material, but also includes other advice, including economic advice and so on.”
And so it was perhaps appropriate that the Labour MP who had to eat humble pie back in 2017 was left yesterday to close the general debate and thus the 52nd Parliament by setting the agenda for the election campaign.
“A party on this side of the House, the Government on this side of the House, that believes in an active role for Government in rebuilding New Zealand, rebuilding the economy after one of the greatest economic shocks that we have seen in any of our lifetimes, versus a party on the other side of the House that wants to cut billions of dollars in Government spending,” he said.
And there you have one of the core themes of the election campaign to come. But maybe Ronnie Wood and Rod Sewart put it all in perspective in their song.
“I couldn’t quote you no Dickens, Shelley or Keats
‘Cause it’s all been said before
Make the best out of the bad, just laugh it off, ha
You didn’t have to come here anyway.”
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