Compassionate conservatism trumps good intentions

February 15, 2018

Bernard Hickey writes of Bill English:

. . . He talked of his admiration for his father-in-law’s family ethos and hard work in raising a big family in Wellington, despite the struggles of arriving with little from Samoa in an unfamiliar city. He also talked about a quiet chat he had with a kaumatua on a marae about the problems of Māori youth, and the need for strong communities with their own resources. His point was that he admired the self-reliance and quiet conservatism of family and community life. He saw his role as helping those communities and pulling Government out of the way to let them get on with it. It wasn’t an ugly or dry form of libertarian scorched-earth politics. It was a deeply humane and thoughtful approach where Government was supposed to treat people with empathy and dignity and as individuals, rather than as just another beneficiary locked into welfare for life. His views on helping to lift people out of poverty were a precursor to his championing of the social investment approach, which he was only just starting to roll out through the Government as Labour returned to power in late October.

As he spoke about his in-laws and his wife and the dignity and self-reliance of those conservative Samoan and Māori communities, he stopped for a few moments. The tears rolled down his nose and splashed onto the lecturn. You could hear a pin drop. The audience was with him though. English’s story was utterly authentic and thoughtful and showed a depth of humility and humanity that struck a chord that night. He got a standing ovation when he finished.

Since then I’ve listened to English give countless speeches off the cuff that connect with audiences of all types up and down the land. Some thought he was a dry policy wonk who would struggle on the campaign trail, but I was sure he would connect if he was able to make his case on his feet in debates and in interviews, rather than in scripted speeches. . . 

I have heard Bill speak like this countless times – from the heart, eloquently showing both compassion and intellect.

His essential conservativeness often shines through, particularly on macro-economic issues and in challenging the good intentions of public servants.

“Whatever the fashions, sound economics matter. They might be a bit boring, but if you stick to them that’s what works. People are always trying to find shortcuts and leapfrogs and I’ve seen most of them come to grief,” he said.

He said he had learned that the effects of the public sector on the economy and people’s lives were often under-estimated, and often negatively.

“Good intentions are not enough. They’re not even a start, because there’s been a lot of money wasted and lives wrecked on the basis of good intentions expressed through public services,” he said. . . 

His work and policies showed the importance that more spending isn’t always better.

It’s not what you spend but how that matters, quality rather than quantity.

One of Bill’s legacies is proof that well thought-out policies, based on his compassionate conservatism, backed by effective spending, make a positive difference where good intentions don’t.

 

 

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An open letter to the National caucus

February 14, 2018

Dear National MPs,

Bill English leaves the party and caucus in very good shape.

Please don’t let personal ambition and internal politicking put that at risk.

Party rules leave choosing the leader up to you.

I’m happy with that. I don’t want the projected and public messing about Labour’s rules subjected it to when Andrew Little became leader without caucus support.

Nor do I want you to make any of the other mistakes Labour made for most of its time in opposition.

The National caucus has been united and almost leak-free since John Key became leader. Please keep it that way during the leadership selection and more importantly once the new leadership team is in place.

 

Voters punished Labour’s dysfunction for good reasons.

Please learn from that and get the right leader the first time.

Once you have that leader, give her or him your loyalty and direct all your energy to developing policy and preparing for a return to government.

Stardust might make good copy for shallow media but it can’t magically solve problems in health, education, the economy, welfare and security which is what really matter to people.

One-term governments are rare.

If you pick the right leader and work as a cohesive and united team with him or her, the current one could be.

Yours sincerely and hopefully,

A National volunteer.

 

 

 


365 days of gratitude

February 13, 2018

Bill English sent me an email this evening.

All other National Party members and supporters would have got one too.

In it he said thank you.

I am grateful for that but even more for his 27 years of service, the sacrifices he and his family made, and the good work he did as both a constituent and a list MP and a Minister.

Today we learned that the government surplus at the end of last year was better than forecast. 

That is due in no small part to Bill’s work through the Global Financial Crisis and the better times that followed.

Unlike one of his predecessors Bill aspired to leave New Zealand a better place for his service. He succeeded and I”m very grateful for that.

 


Thanks Bill

February 13, 2018

National Party leader, Bill English has announced his resignation.

I am sorry for the party and New Zealand but pleased for him and his family. He will now have a private life and the opportunity to use his many talents in other ways.

I became active in the National Party around the time Bill became an MP.

From the start I admired his intellect, his sense of humour and his genuine desire to do the best for New Zealand and its people.

His detractors will always hold the 2001 election defeat against him.

I prefer to concentrate of the way he, in his own words, got up again.

He remained loyal to the party and showed caucus a loyalty he hadn’t enjoyed from many of them. He kept his head down and directed his attention and intellect to understanding the challenges facing the country then determined how best to get long term solutions to many of them.

I was delighted when he succeeded John Key as party leader and Prime Minister. I knew that when the warmth and wit that he showed away from the television cameras came through people would warm to him, as they did.

To get nearly 45% support at the end of three terms in government was a huge achievement.

The people didn’t reject Bill and the party, Winston Peters did and that’s the reality of MMP.

That the Labour Party still couldn’t pass National’s support in the first poll this year shows many people still back the man and the party.

He can leave with his head held high in the knowledge New Zealand is in a much better state than it was when he first entered parliament and that much of the improvement is due to his work and his policies.

Thank you Bill. You’ve earned your retirement for politics and success in whatever comes next.

 


A day to celebrate being able to do what we want

February 6, 2018

Some countries do national days with a spirit of unity and cohesion.

Neither of those have been features of Waitangi Days past.

The decisions to by-pass the lower marae at Waitangi this year has also by-passed a lot of the political posturing and protest that have marked, and marred, celebrations before.

The national media focus will be on Waitangi, and maybe Opposition leader, Bill English will get a little attention at the other end of the country.

He’s attending the Ngai Tahu Treaty Festival at Te Rau Aroha Marae in Bluff.

In between there will be various official celebrations in various places and most people, who don’t have to work today, will be doing what they want to do – sailing, swimming, tramping, picnicking, partying, reading . . .

Unity and cohesion have their place but I’m more than happy with a country where for most, celebrating the national day gives us the freedom to do what we want.


Empathy no substitute for effectiveness

January 31, 2018

The child poverty legislation introduced by Jacinda Ardern yesterday is long on intention and very short on substance:

The Government’s proposed child poverty legislation is predictably full of positive intentions but contains no substance to address the drivers of deprivation, National Party leader Bill English says.

“The Prime Minister has announced plans to introduce legislation that requires Ministers to report publicly on the number of children in poverty, to set targets, and to develop a strategy.

“National shares the Government’s goal of reducing child poverty. But you don’t need new legislation for any of this. In fact, the public service is already reporting publicly on the exact measures the Government is proposing.

Thanks to National’s economic stewardship, the Government has had the luxury of being able to allocate surplus cash to lift family incomes, picking up National’s Family Incomes package, with some additions.

“But what is much harder is changing the lives of our most vulnerable families trapped in deprivation by long term benefit dependence, low educational achievement and recidivist crime. Poverty isn’t just about lifting incomes.

The causes of poverty are complex and solving the problem takes a lot more than giving families more money.

Inexplicably, the Government last week announced it will abolish the Better Public Services targets we designed to tackle these issues, seemingly for no other reason than they were National’s initiatives.

“The targets we designed focused the public service on reducing benefit dependence, increasing educational achievement and reducing crime, to name just a few.

These measures addressed the causes rather than just treating symptoms.

“During our tenure we found the ability to eyeball the specific Minister or public servant responsible for delivering a particular target drove significant change. I’m enormously proud to say we reduced the number of children living in material hardship by 85,000 over the last five years by taking that approach.

“By getting rid of these targets, the Government has thrown away the very tools to attack these drivers of poverty.

“But the Government’s new proposals are so high level and general that they refer to no one in particular, and no one will be held responsible for any lack of progress.

“A plan that will really, truly tackle child poverty must address the drivers of social dysfunction and hold the public service accountable, not just rely on the Government’s good intentions.

“The National Party is committed to reducing child poverty, achieving tangible results and promoting evidence-based policies that actually work. . .

The Taxpayers’ Union says the Bill will deliver socialism rather than better lives for children:

Taxpayers’ Union Executive Director Jordan Williams says, “Tying poverty measures to the median income is simply a target for socialism. It means that as long everyone is equally poor, Labour will have met their goal.” . . .

“The saddest thing about these proposals is they suggest Labour’s claimed concern for kids in hardship was fake all along. This is leftist ideology with no mention of economic growth, getting people of welfare, productivity, employment, and entrepreneurship.”

David Farrar pointed out that when she was in opposition Jacinda Ardern had two members bills, neither of which got anywhere for very good reason:

. . .Her first bill on adoption was a press release pretending to be a bill. It merely instructed the Law Commission to go write the real bill and have the Government introduce it. The bill was so bad even the Greens voted against it. It actually undermined the real work done cross party by Kevin Hague and Nikki Kaye who met with all the stakeholders, with law professors, adoption groups and wrote a detailed law reform bill.

Her latest bill is much the same. It is labelled the Child Poverty Reduction and Eradication Bill. It basically sets up a a Child Poverty Reduction Board! That’s it. It’s a sound bite not a serious law.

In no way do I think Jacinda doesn’t care about gay adoption and child poverty. She does. But the consistent pattern in her career has been that she prioritises empathy over effectiveness. . . 

With all the resources available now she’s Prime Minister, she ought to have done much better with the child poverty bill.

Instead it looks like she is continuing to prioritise empathy over effectiveness in government.

 

 


Is pregnant PM a world first?

January 19, 2018

Is this another world first for New Zealand?:

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her partner, Clarke Gayford, have today announced that they are expecting their first child in June.

“We’re both really happy. We wanted a family but weren’t sure it would happen for us, which has made this news unexpected but exciting.

“Yesterday I met with Deputy Prime Minister, Winston Peters, to share the news and to ask him to take on the role of Acting Prime Minister for a period of 6 weeks after our baby is born.

“As is the case when I am overseas, Mr Peters will act as Prime Minister, working with my office while staying in touch with me. I fully intend to be contactable and available throughout the six week period when needed.

“Mr Peters and I have a great relationship, and I know that together we’ll make this period work. I will make arrangements for appropriate Ministers to act in my other portfolios over the six weeks I am away from Parliament.

“At the end of my leave I will resume all Prime Ministerial duties.

“Clarke and I are privileged to be in the position where Clarke can stay home to be our primary caregiver. Knowing that so many parents juggle the care of their new babies, we consider ourselves to be very lucky. . . 

Several women have become mothers while they’re MPs but this is the first New Zealand Prime Minister to be pregnant in office.

Jenny Shipley’s children were in their teens when she became PM and Helen Clark didn’t have children.

Someone with a better knowledge of New Zealand political history than mine might correct me, but I can’t name a New Zealand Prime Minister who became a father while in office. *

My knowledge of international political history is even more scanty. I can name several women Prime Ministers with children but none who gave birth while holding the office.

My generation was probably the last to be brought up thinking we’d marry and have babies, in that order, and that at least while the children were young would put mothering before paid work.

Younger women have been brought up being told girls can do anything which is often interpreted to mean not just everything but everything at once.

That is of course impossible. But younger men have also been brought up with the expectation they will play a much more active role in parenting than the men of earlier generations did.

Providing the pregnancy, birth and childhood go smoothly, it is possible for a woman to grow and deliver a baby, take some leave, then return to work and for the baby’s father to take on the role of stay-at-home parent.

As Liam Hehir says the country should keep running while she’s on leave.

. . . This is good news. Children are a blessing. But apart from happiness for Ardern and her partner, there is another reason to be glad. This is an opportunity for New Zealand to demonstrate its bona fides as a mature and stable liberal democracy.

The good governance of this country should not depend on the constant availability of any one person. If a system breaks down over the temporary absence of a single individual, then that system is not fit for purpose. The prime ministership is not, and should never be, be a single point of failure for the country as a whole. . . 

Mark Richardson was roundly criticised for asking Ardern about her plans to have a family.

The criticism wasn’t entirely fair. The couple’s family plans are their own business but a question on the impact that might have on the country is legitimate.

At the time I thought the critics were underestimating the demands of both roles – that of Prime Minister and parenting. But others can deputise for the PM.

Women have been raising families while their children’s fathers were in demanding jobs for aeons. That is still more common but men are increasingly taking on parenting to enable their children’s mothers to pursue their careers.

Before he was an MP, Bill English was a stay at home parent while his wife Mary worked as a GP.

New Zealand’s systems should be robust enough to ensure there is no cause for concern about the running of the country while motherhood takes priority for Ardern and the running of their home and family is not our business.

I wish them well and I hope that everything goes as planned.

Whether or not it does, I hope that the baby will come before the country.

There are plenty of other people who are able to put New Zealand first. All babies deserve parents who will put them first.

* Update: The Herald says: Benazir Bhutto, then President of Pakistan,  gave birth to her daughter Bakhtawar on January, 25 1990,  while in office.

 

 

 

 


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