Benedict Collins’ gaping open mouth breathing on Q+A yesterday morning wasn’t new. His dopey expression – worn like the credulous simpleton he is – hid nothing of his unbridged intellectual deficit. He has the face of a boxer, and the brain of a boxer who has taken more shots to the head than Rocky Marciano, but without ever having won a match. At the conclusion Jack Tame slow-balled him a sitter, something he could hit, and he stumbled and choked his way in the live cross like a half-witted, vacant teenager.
Collins was in Wellington, overlooking the jumble of cultural cringe that is the parliamentary forecourt, reporting on the fact the coalition troika were doing their tango in Auckland, and not in that bleak hell hole. The question was: what do you expect the process to be? This was after they had already discussed and agreed exactly what the process would be. Collins expected that once the real business was taken care of in Auckland, they would come to Hellington and perform the ceremonials. He implied it would be soon. But he gave no timeframe. No indication. Everyone wants to know when and he offered no insight at all. Telling that Tame wasn’t asking him that considering that’s all anyone cares about – when. Not the process – not that he could satisfactorily describe that either – but when. When exactly?
The reason they avoided the swinging pendulum of Big Ben in the room was, I think, because Collins had said confidently on the Friday before last (yes, before last, wasn’t it, over a week ago) that the Three Armed Egos could wrap it up on Monday – as in over the weekend of two weekends ago. And he said it so blithely. He was nodding his head as he said it like it was a done deal from my recollection. I remember it was him because he had a dopey, simpleton credulity about him. The breakfast panel (I think it was, a bunch on sofas around a coffee table is what I remember – and I’m so not checking it) seemed assured by the confidence. A skinny AQIARONYM+ white guy in a t-shirt and jacket trying to be cool and failing was there I think, a group on the spectrum between woke and token were there interviewing the straight guests, that’s the general impression. None of the woken people had enough personality to recall them as individuals, so I am guessing it was the TV1 breakfast show. But it was definitely Collins. So confident was he.
Collins is a political reporter, so – at least in the old days of television when it did journalism – a reporter like that should have some insight, at least some instinct, as to what and how things go down on his manor. But instead, he said – this is two weeks ago, OK – gave as his best guess as the coalition deal would be announced last Monday. Laughable. Contemptible. Moronic. If that was a moronic thing to say last Monday how does that moronic thing to say look now? The top team at the King’s Arms quiz night was always, always, the table of journos from the INL headquarters (now Stuff) down New North Rd; they were guaranteed to collectively know more than any other group of people on any subject. If Collins is any yardstick of the profession the current crop would now be the wooden spooners – displacing the school teachers’ table.
Of the three million punters enrolled to vote in New Zealand almost everyone knows how Winston Peters plays the game. The 6% who voted NZ First, most of them the fossilised remains of Rob’s Mob, knows how that game is played and Winston’s “handbreak” refrain applies to process as much to policy. Only slightly less of those millions understand Luxon is green as. They can see that his CEO tempo-setting won’t work with Winston’s statesman/brinkmanship. They can and have seen that a million miles off. Of the millions who could see Luxon’s optimistic rhetoric was a recipe to undercook the dinner, of those millions Collins is not one. The panel had to defer to his wildly mistaken opinion, because, well, he is the politics guy – right? A professionally fatal lack of judgment to get it so wrong, to misread it so badly.
Why listen, let alone take seriously, anything he has to say on the topic of politics… ever again. John Armstrong’s column as part of the partisan hit job on Cunliffe in 2014 severed any respect the Left had for him and Collins now sits somewhere adjacent after hearing his faecal musing. He looks like a dummy, he is a dummy, a slack-jawed rope-a-dopey dummy. Maybe he knows how to throw a jab and body shot combination against a south paw, maybe he knows a bit about ringside medical treatment and the slow and incomplete recovery from sporting head trauma and brain injury, but he doesn’t know shit about politics. Tame knows he doesn’t know shit about politics too, that’s why he didn’t ask Rocky the obvious question. Tame showed some class in not humiliating his punch drunk colleague. But he deserved to be ridiculed and forced to give another prediction – that would have been entertaining, a running gag that should have started last Monday. “Over to Benedict at parliament, what’s your shit take today? If he had admitted he was clueless back then, back in say round five when he didn’t know what day it was and still thought he would knock them out in the next round, then good, but rather we are at round ten – with another five to go – and Jack’s in his corner with his hand in his face shouting how many fingers can you see!? I wouldn’t have mentioned it, but soldiering on with pity interviews where the ultimate question is unanswered is letting down their audience. Wisdom has come a bit late, the incentives for two parties to hold out is the prevailing factor and so a firm prediction on dates – especially imminent dates – was always a fool’s errand.
We’re close… a few things to wrap up… in the final stages, etc, etc. Luxon was saying that almost immediately the finals were in, before any face-to-face meetings had taken place, before any all-party conference had taken place. His baseline is therefore artificially high. Most people understood this because it was obvious. Luxon’s problem, of his own creation, was framing public expectations that were in the control of someone else, or rather two others – not unilaterally by him. How disrespectful of the other parties… eh, Winston. Luxon trying to hurry along an intransigent, entitled septuagenarian has got him everywhere he doesn’t want to be. Luxon says he is fixated on outcome, but it seems to be the confrontational realities of politics is at odds with his style and that he values positive vibes in the “team” as the end in itself (a David Brent mantra). Not totally shallow, just simplistic fantasy like Jacinda insisted upon, but bald and with smaller upper front teeth. Luxon is out of his depth, Hooton inferred he was a slow learner, we giggled, because it was true.
At the risk of perpetuating Pakeha mythology: Seddon is reputed to have replied to the department head who was objecting to the appointment of one of Seddon’s cronies to a position in the public service for which he had no qualification: “well, learn ‘em!” Luxon is that ingénue and the public, the voters, are demanding he be learned. Indeed schooled, by Winston. At one debate Winston laughed at Rimmer, told him to calm down and that he would have to be learned. A lot of learnings that will closely resemble reckonings. And that learning process is what Winston + Rimmer are doing to the Nats.
So… (Rocky, Rocky, hey, hey, Rocky, c’mon, listen, get a cut man in here, get him, listen to me now, spit it out, spit, listen Rocky, you gotta listen to me now Rocky) Luxon is essentially David Brent with a lot less hair and a lot more money – that’s all. Winston is a wily lawyer. Rimmer is a little c*nt. They are both going to try to fuck him. The more they can breach Luxon’s timeline the weaker he looks, and the weaker he is, and the more they can get. This is power politics first – policy and portfolios second and third. (You got it Rocky, you got it, OK, OK, get up Rock, spit, spit, c’mon Rocky, look at me Rocky, put em up, remember what I said Rock, ha, OK. Go Rocky!)
My predictions (for future humiliation): it could drag on. Many reasons it would, inter alia wiliness and c*ntiness in that order. There may be bespoke portfolios: Constitutional Affairs/Development might be one, perhaps a Nat Attorney-General as lead Minister with associates from both NZF and Act working towards a referendum that may reference the Treaty of Waitangi. A Provincial Growth Fund 2.0 – that would have to exist in one form or another, surely a NZF bottom line. Winston as FM, Gerry would then be Speaker. A razor gang will be formed – as all Tory governments have in the past following elections – but both NZF and Act would have to be in it for that to work. Dysfunction augers in the vacuum. I doubt NZF will do much to prevent the assault on working and beneficiary classes despite Shane Jones’ occasional protestations of concern. If there is real friction later on they will be following the polls closely for snap election opportunities – one of either three tipping will test Luxon’s acumen and the limits of his Brentian slogans.