With less than a year to go before the next election, things are getting down and dirty. It’s a busy time and, in more ways than one, the PM, honest broker that he is, is taking care of business.
Getting re-elected is perhaps his most pressing piece of business to care of. His current mandates, Act and United Future (aka John Banks and Peter Dunne) step closer everyday into the twilight’s last gleaming (for Banks that could include a spell in the slammer) and many could mistake the Maori Party for a wake. Luckily, or not, all is not lost. In the form of Colin Craig and the Conservatives, hope is at hand, as if heaven sent.
Although the newly released electoral boundaries didn’t quite deliver Colin a seat on a plate, he still has the money and the means (if not the motive and the policies) to make it into Parliament next year and take his place on the right hand of National. As this improbability metastasises into a distinct possibility, Colin has been out on the traps, meeting and greeting, flesh-pressing, shopping at Pak’N’Save and generally beguiling all he meets. ‘Who is this Colin Craig?’ has been the question on the lips of many. Well, here are a few answers.
According to the Herald on Sunday “If Colin Craig is the answer to John Key’s problem, then National is in trouble.” “Troublingly dim”, Craig “doesn’t believe in evolution, doesn’t accept anthro-pogenic climate change, and blames New Zealand’s woes on its “promiscuous young women. It is this man, this limp, anaemic excuse for a leader, whom John Key is grooming as his new coalition partner. Key is desperate to find anyone to take the place of the foundering Act, United Future and Maori parties – but really?” Yes, really. An earlier Herald editorial has read the chicken entrails and apparently “the stars are aligning for Craig and his untainted party brand.” In this context, ‘untainted’ could mean anything from ‘untested’ to ‘unsullied’ to ‘unburdened with scientific evidence’. Nevertheless, although Colin and the Conservatives may not be ideal, they would certainly be ‘serviceable’. In this context, ‘serviceable’ could mean anything.
Be that as it may, it looks like Colin is here to stay. Under the headline ‘Conservative Party – Crazy or Credible’, the Sunday-Star Times notes that “in politics, you know you’ve made it into the national consciousness when someone creates a webpage of animals that resemble you. Now there is a “Weasels That Look Like Colin Craig” tumblr page, it’s clear the Conservative Party leader has arrived.” Perhaps a dubious honour but such is life in politics. Anyway, some people like him. ‘Senior citizens appear to like Craig’s morally conservative views combined with an anti-asset sales stance. “A lot of them think I’m a lovely young fellow, and I get told I’m a good boy! I don’t mind, if they want to think of me as some sort of adopted son.” When it comes to winning votes, who wouldn’t want to be thought of as lovely, young, good and, if it helped, adopted? Perhaps Colin isn’t so crazy after all.
As Andrea Vance puts it, ‘Nice and nutty’ might be the better phrase: “Colin Craig in the flesh is markedly different from the barking mad, fundamentalist portrayed in the media. He’s mild-mannered, ridiculously polite, curiously endearing and geeky in a Don Brash way. He does say and do rather daft things. Like when he referred to powhiri as a bare-bottomed native making threatening gestures and the legalisation of gay marriage as a failure of democracy. Or that time he had 20,000 leaflets sent to John Key’s Helensville constituents claiming locals said the Prime Minister was too gay to be their MP. The thing is, these outrageous gestures and statements get him on the telly.” And let’s face it, that’s what it’s all about. If over 100 000 Aucklanders could vote for John Palino, pure name recognition could get Colin over the line, irrespective of the calibre and quality of his policies and fellow Conservative candidates. There are still a few hoops. “So far, all the signals point to him being nuttier than squirrel poo. Craig must now prove that he can firstly pull in the votes, and secondly, won’t make unreasonable demands when in Government.” That strength of pull and the reasonability of demands of a man who is nuttier than squirrel poo could shape the future of a nation. It wouldn’t be the first time in history.
Meanwhile, the PM, true to form and honest broker that he is, has been taking care of Business and, if your business happened to be Air New Zealand, Anadarko or New Zealand Oil and Gas, you might or might not felt taken care of.
For their failure to compensate the Pike River families “a measly $3 million”, Key and his Cabinet have been widely and soundly condemned. For Colin Espiner, “it’s more than astounding. It’s a gross insult to the families and an admission that the Government really hasn’t learned that much from the whole tragedy. Cabinet’s excuse – that it would be setting a precedent by paying out court-ordered compensation on behalf of a private company – is risable on several levels.” On this issue, the PM’s much-lauded ‘political radar’ or ‘political antenna’ appear to have deserted him and all commentators concur he has displayed an ‘uncharacteristically tin ear’ . Some might dispute how uncharacteristic Key’s meeting the needs of big business over (in this case, bereaved) people really is. In fact, some might say this is completely consistent with the morals of an investment banker. If only morals had entered in to it. As Fran O’Sullivan pointed out in the NZ Herald “The extent of Mr Key’s disconnection has been underlined by Labour Minister Simon Bridges’ revelations about the Cabinet discussion on the compensation issue. It had been brief and the moral argument for a payout had not even been raised, he said.” .
Simon Bridges also features prominently in Gareth Morgan’s blistering piece on the Government’s oil exploration programme, which Anadarko begins in earnest this very day: “The supercilious assurances from the Minister of Energy and Resources that the public need not be concerned and that the economic bounty outweighs any worries about environmental destruction have been derisory and have served only to highlight the Government’s unwillingness to be held accountable on the deep sea oil issue. There has been a trend with the Key Government to push for economic windfalls from resource extraction while winding back environmental protection, and this is just the latest demonstration of that preference.” The “deep sea oil adventures of the Government” should be opposed until the Government provides an honest and transparent business case. The cheerleading from Bridges, wherein the wonderful benefits only are espoused, is an intellectual embarrassment and constitutes a direct, up-your-nose insult to the intelligence of New Zealanders.”
Having offended the morals and intellect of the nation, one would hope that at least the Government has got a handle on our business affairs. After all, isn’t that this Government’s greatest claim to fame? But alas and alack, the disappointing performance of the first three asset sales programmes, including Air New Zealand, may prevent the Genesis float: “Brian Gaynor, executive director of Milford Asset Management, said the performance of the three asset sales was “terribly disappointing” and not helpful for encouraging investors into the sharemarket. Gaynor said he did not believe there was a “hope in hell” of the Government going ahead with the sale of Genesis Energy – the last asset left it its sales programme.”
Speaking of hope in hell, Bernard Hickey’s NZ Herald piece ‘A Faustian Pact We Cannot Accept” makes for sobering reading. “Even with best practice mitigation, the large-scale conversion of more land to dairy farming will generally result in more degraded fresh water,” the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Jan Wright, released in a must-read report this week on land use and nutrient pollution. Hickey goes on: “Think about this. No matter how many waterways are fenced off and how much effluent is spread on paddocks, the problem gets worse. Even 100 per cent compliance with Fonterra’s Sustainable Dairying Accord signed this year does not solve the problem. This is saying New Zealanders must accept the permanent poisoning of our rivers if we are to grow our economy through dairy exports, which is our main strategy at the moment. It is a Faustian bargain with four legs, a tail and whole lot of cud-chewing. It says New Zealanders must accept that dairy farmers are going to privatise the profits of permanently damaging our rivers while the losses are socialised.”
A Faustian Pact? Or just taking care of business? After all the assets are sold, after all the Casino Conference Centres have been built, after all the oil has been extracted, after every blade of grass has been eaten and all the fresh waterways have been polluted, what then? In this scenario, who is nuttier than squirrel poo? You, the voter, must soon decide.