A year later, Ardern gets her victory parade
Source: http://www.stuff.co.nz/news/108312537/-

2018-11-23 04:45:46

OPINION: If there is a killing fields at Parliament it's the black and white tiles on the way to question time. It's where ministers and MPs are stopped by journalists every day at 2pm when the House is sitting.

It can be a swirling chaotic mess where the risk of collision is high. And it can be carnage for under pressure ministers. Some will dodge the melee altogether and take a back route into Parliament.

When Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway found himself stranded there this week he took a different approach and hid behind a pillar.

Lees-Galloway's bizarre decision to grant a Czech criminal residency while still behind bars looks naive, incompetent and incomprehensible.

It may, of course, be none of those things but Lees-Galloway has so far refused to explain his reasons for exercising his discretionary powers of mercy on such an undeserving case.

Labour's demons, in no particular order, are being perceived as too politically correct, too spendthrift, and too soft on criminals and law and order.

As the case for Karel Sroubek to stay unravels, Lees-Galloway's colleagues won't thank him for bringing the law and order clobbering machine down on Labour in such full force.

The minister's sins are even worse than that though. Lees-Galloway also hung Jacinda Ardern out to dry, asking her to burn up some of her political capital on a convicted criminal with - it turns out - incomplete information. That is not the face of kindness her Government has been trying to project.

But don't expect any of that to dampen the mood of the Labour grassroots as they gather in Dunedin for the party's first annual conference since the election.

These are the problems that all prime ministers have to deal with in government. Ministerial cock ups, incompetent officials, blunders, and scandal - as we saw time and again with John Key, it's how you manage these problems that your government will be judged by, not that they happen.

The last time the rank and file gathered under the Labour Party banner they would have killed for a dozen Karel Soubrek-like headaches if that was the price of getting out of Opposition.

So much water has gone under the bridge since the election it's with a jolt you remember Ardern is still clocking up some firsts - like addressing her first Labour Party annual conference as leader.

The last Labour conference was its election year congress, Andrew Little was still in charge, and the party was on its knees, staring down the barrel at another three years in opposition.

When Little started his speech telling delegates "we can do this, we must do this" it sounded hollow and desperate.

When Ardern rallied them a few short months later with the cry "let's do this" it changed everything.

So this weekend's conference will be Ardern's delayed victory parade. If there are any ripples - over industrial relations, for instance, which has come under the NZ First blow torch - the novelty, and the promise, of being in Government after nine years in Opposition will likely subdue them for now.

Labour has another two years to fight those battles after all.

But the Labour machine has been nothing if not cautious; it has been in overdrive making sure nothing gets in the way of the air of celebration in Dunedin this weekend.

Ardern flew down a day early for a series of soft media events well away from the conference floor to give the media pack heading down there something to chew on.

But the photo ops do nothing to hide the very big hole in the programme over Saturday and Sunday when most events are closed to the media.

It might be a government that campaigned on openness and transparency, but Labour long ago discovered these two things can be a nuisance at party activist level after some particularly fist pumping blood baths during the years of leadership turmoil.

The perception of a divided and factional caucus dragged Labour down for years.

The last thing it needs this year is a fight on the conference floor exposing divisions between the party's union activists and its MPs over selling workers short on industrial relations reforms.

The media management around this year's conference suggests a determined plan to bring back the legendary discipline of the Helen Clark years when the Labour machine was considered every bit as formidable as the National machine that replaced it.

Labour's nervousness may be understandable.

It's first 12 months often looked like a government trying to keep its head above water as it made the transition from Opposition to the shock of being in Government.

But that hasn't hurt it with voters. A year on, Labour is more popular now than it was on election night. And for the first time, Labour is more popular than National.

That suddenly raises the stakes.

Because the prospect of a second term in power is suddenly looking a lot more likely than a year ago when Labour was the butt of jokes about an accidental government.

Once the perception of victory takes root, it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

There is a new and harder edge to National's attacks in the House since the Jami-Lee Ross fiasco which suggest they know it too.

But National is far from a spent force, cowed into accepting years in Opposition.

They will fight back and hard.

So Labour should make the most of the victory parade this weekend.

All the signs point to a torrid end to the year.

Back to the top ^

Related Articles (30)