Thursday, May 29, 2008

Cut that out

Are we in an election year or what? In the past couple of
days both Helen Clark and John Key have ruthlessly
cracked down on political embarrassments that might
have got out of hand and damaged their electoral chances.
First, when backbencher Kate Wilkinson implied that
National would not support compulsory contributions by
employers to KiwiSaver, Key bluntly said “She got it
wrong.” Had he tried to defend or excuse her in any way,
or fudge the issue, Labour would have partied merrily at
National’s expense. As it is, the Government got only
limited play out of Wilkinson’s slip—though the suspicion
lingers that National has not been straight with the public
about its intentions for KiwiSaver.

Though she’s National’s labour & industrial relations
spokesperson (who knew?), Wilkinson could hardly be
said to be close to Key, or a major player in her party. On
the other side of the House the same can’t be said of
Housing Minister Maryan Street, former Labour Party
president, long-time ally of Clark’s and, in my view, a
potential leader of the party. On Tuesday she robustly
defended the Housing Corporation’s spending of
$65,000 for a two-day conference for 94 staffers at a
so-called luxury lodge in the central North Island. An
examination of the value for money in this case suggests
that the cost and location were defensible—as Russell
Brown points out in his Hard News blog, $250 per head
per night cost for accommodation, meals and conference
facilities is not exactly wildly extravagant, and not even
in the same ballpark as the infamous WINZ retreat under
Christine Rankin in 1999 (when National was in power),
which cost four times as much. Also, despite the bandying
about in the media of the word “luxury,” you will not find
the venue in question, Tongariro Lodge, listed on any
major tourism websites as a “luxury lodge.” The emphasis
is, rather, on the fishing opportunities it affords.

Nonetheless, Clark rose in the House yesterday and cut
Street adrift, forcing the latter to take a much meeker line
and humbly promise that Housing Corporation conference
venues in future would be more “appropriate.” It was an
unlovely but brutally impressive sight, seeing a perfectly
competent senior politician like Street reduced to the status
of a junior being rebuked by her boss. But that’s what Clark
did, and that, it seems, is what you do when you want at
all costs to win an election. You don’t let any kind of
potential embarrassment get legs; otherwise it will run and
run, whipped on by your political enemies and spotlighted
by a media desperate to beat up the differences between
two major parties that are actually getting harder and
harder to tell apart.

1 comment:

Truth Seeker said...

What annoys me in both those episodes (and many others besides)is that the media, who purport to deal in reporting reality, have instead gone out of their way to aid and abet the triumph of perception over reality. That smacks of propaganda, not news....intended or not. The "scandal" of Housing spending $250,000 for training and conferences over 6 years is absolute rubbish. If you make staf go away from home and family for several days, you compensate them by making sure it isn't in tents on a campground.