It’s almost as if the media has been under a magical thinking spell that led them to believe that the Chris Hipkins who is now Prime Minister is not the Chris Hipkins whose legacy as a Minister in the last five years was anything but stellar.
That same spell somehow blinds them to the fact the public don’t see him through such rose tinted glasses, a point made by Heather du Plessis Allan :
I’m surprised that voters don’t really seem to like Chris Hipkins that much.
We’ve spent quite a bit of time discussing Chris Luxon’s poor popularity, but take a look at last night’s poll: Hipkins’ is really poor as well.
His personal popularity in last night’s TVNZ poll: 25%.
Last week in the Newshub poll, only 23%.
That means three-quarters of us don’t want him as PM.
That’s bad for an incumbent prime minister, . .
So why don’t we like him?
I suspect it’s because voters aren’t quite as dumb as politicians assume, when they think a quick switcharoo at the top changes a party’s fortunes.
I suspect it’s because voters haven’t forgotten the stuff that frustrated them about Labour.
They gave Chippy a chance, but they haven’t seen him prove that his Labour is all that different.
Tell you what, Labour should be worried about that.
This spells trouble for them because Chippy is the only asset they’ve got.
They’ve got rubbish policies, they’ve got a rubbish track record in the last 5.5 years, they’ve got rubbish ministers, and they’ve got rubbish coalition partners. . .
Hipkins is partly responsible for that rubbish track record as Graham Adams points out:
The Prime Minister must be keeping his fingers crossed that the mainstream media continues to largely ignore the fact he was an influential minister in Jacinda Ardern’s government. He’s got away with it for the four months since he took Labour’s leadership — and there is less than five months to go before the election. His luck may well hold.
By anyone’s reckoning, it is an extraordinary indulgence to overlook the five years Hipkins spent as part of Ardern’s kitchen Cabinet, especially given his mediocre record in portfolios that included education, health and police.
From the moment he stepped up to be Prime Minister in late January, most journalists have been happy to cast him as a new broom. This can only be true in the very limited sense that he has lifted a corner of the carpet and swept policies such as hate-speech laws and the social insurance scheme under it, from where they can be retrieved after the election.
How often do journalists remind the public that the disastrous push to centralise the nation’s 16 polytechnics under the Te Pūkenga umbrella was Hipkins’ baby as Minister of Education? Or the compulsory history syllabus foisted on school children this year that views New Zealand’s past almost entirely through a lens of colonial oppression? Or the transgender ideology of sex being a “construct” having been inserted into the Religious and Sexuality Education guidelines for primary school children — in the science section?
Let’s not forget his mismanagement of the MIQueue of misery, his lying about the women who crossed into Northland during the Auckland lockdown and his treatment of Charlotte Bellis.
On Tuesday Hipkins deplored the alarming number of ram-raids, but few, if any, journalists have pointed out that he was the Minister of Police from last June to 25 January this year.
With such determined amnesia by the media, Hipkins can continue to pretend to be a special envoy parachuted into the Beehive’s ninth floor to clean up the nation’s problems as if he had nothing to do with the policies that helped produce them. . .
His performance as Prime Minister has hardly been stellar too.
He was slow to deal with Stuart Nash, his response to Kiri Allan’s criticisms of RNZ was weak, and there have been no consequences for her acceptance of donations from Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon and one of his Ministers has defected to the Maori Party.
Then there’s his gaslighting victims of Cyclone Gabrielle over criminal activity and what Ben Thomas describes as the decline in the overseas image of our PM from sought after to sausage rolls :
. . . Her successor, Chris Hipkins, resembles more a child who has been dragged somewhere boring by their parents. His recent international meetings all seem to begin with world leaders politely offering the prime minister a little treat: a plate of sausage rolls from the UK Prime Minister, a can of Coke Zero from the US Secretary of State.
The same Kiwi touchstones that made Hipkins a relatable breath of fresh air on his ascension to the top job suddenly seem, in the bulb flashes of the international media, at best cliched and at worst contrived and cringeworthy.
Most New Zealanders will not care too much that our image in world affairs has gone from “the anti-Trump” to “the sausage roll guy”. But political assets in any area can become liabilities. Like sausage rolls, even those from the royal kitchen, politicians have a shelf life.
It may seem ridiculous to talk about Hipkins’ best-before date only four months into the job. But next week will mark almost the exact halfway point between his elevation and the election, and like a can of Coke Zero, the fizz of a new leader can dissipate over time. . .
While the media focuses on the popularity of National Party and Opposition Leader Christopher Luxon, many ignore the poor rating of the man who is PM.
Over at Kiwiblog, David Farrar ranks 14 PMs and Opposition leaders:
. . . So in May of election year Christopher Luxon is the 4th highest polling opposition leader and Chris Hipkins is the 4th lowest polling prime minister.
Yet the media generally report the poll as terrible for Luxon. I can only assume they don’t know history.
Whether or not they know history, many don’t recognise that Hipkins, in Damien Grant’s words, fails the moral and competence test to be PM:
. . . Hipkins fails on his own moral test. So be it. Politics is about tough decisions, and maybe Chippie has demonstrated a willingness to make the hard calls.
So long as he is competent, perhaps an element of ruthlessness is a good thing in a prime minister.
Except, he isn’t competent.
Hipkins was the Minister of Education from the start of this government until his ascension to Premier House, and under his guidance the only achievement has been his decision to close charter schools.
In a foreword to a recent study by free market think tank the NZ Initiative, Professor Elizabeth Rata articulates the decline in our education system: “The emptying out of academic knowledge and its replacement with discredited student-centred, cultural identity, and competencies approaches are the drivers of the decline.”
Under Hipkins we have seen an acceleration of the rate of descent, best reflected in a steep fall in the level of attendance.
In his last year as minister, Hipkins presided over a sector where half of all students failed to achieve regular attendance, defined as being present 90% of the time.
It was, to be fair, 63% in the year he became minister, but that had been a fairly stable figure.
Some 5.8% of students were turning up less than 70% of the time when he took over, but 12.4% when he left the portfolio. The data for Māori is worse; 10% were hitting the 70% or less figure in 2017, more than 20% by 2022.
A report in March 2022 by the Education Hub revealed that literacy rates had declined to the point that a third of 15-year-olds struggle to read and write. And this under the guidance of a politician who, in his maiden speech, declared, “if we are to realise our full potential as a nation in the coming decades, education will be critical”.
More was to come. Hipkins took 16 institutes of technology and polytechnics and forced them into one morass of dysfunction called Te Pukenga, that has managed to lose 10 percent of its student body and $63 million in 2022 alone, and asked the Crown for $330m to bail it out earlier this year.
The failure in that one portfolio should have ended his political career. He has demonstrated that he either cannot drive performance from the civil service, or he does not care what is happening in his portfolio.
Either would be disqualification for further promotion if the Government’s talent pool wasn’t as shallow as the fawning access-junkies of the parliamentary press gallery.
Then we come to Covid 19 and his central role in events.
Hipkins resolved we would be at the “front of the queue” when it came to getting the vaccine, then botched the ordering process.
In late 2020, in a report critical of aspects of the Covid response, Heather Simpson and Sir Brian Roche made a number of key recommendations, including the rapid introduction of saliva testing. Hipkins, the relevant minister, failed to sort this out and we were still groping around with the slow and expensive PSR tests nearly a year later.
The premiership of Ardern should have taught us that electing leaders on the basis of likeability isn’t optimal. Competence matters. So does experience.
Hipkins had achieved almost nothing by the time he entered Parliament, and in the 15 years since has left nought but a trail of mistakes and missed opportunities.
In his brief tenure in the top job he has managed to unwind a few unpopular agenda items of his predecessor and preside over another $7 billion budget deficit in the middle of an inflationary cycle. And yet he remains stubbornly popular.
Christopher Luxon isn’t a down-to-earth bloke who likes sausage rolls. He comes across as someone who is trying too hard to be liked because he is trying too hard to be liked.
But Luxon does not have five years of repeated incompetence and failings in government, laced with a hint of malice, on his resume.
Even if you believe in the policies of this government, it is impossible to credibly believe that they have the competence to implement anything other than a campaign to encourage the poor to have shorter showers because the electricity infrastructure has deteriorated to the point that rolling blackouts are a real prospect.
Luxon isn’t my first choice for prime minister, but he has the managerial competence and intellectual curiosity to actually govern.
There has been too much focus on whether Luxon can win the election when we should be asking if he has the skills to competently perform the duties of the office, because it appears evident that the incumbent cannot.
Luxon had a successful business career before entering parliament and since he has been leader he has re-established discipline in the National caucus, uniting what was a fractured team, and working with them to develop good policies.
He has far more of the experience and ability necessary to turn the country round than the incumbent Prime Minister who failed as a Minister and is achieving little as Prime Minister.
It will take a lot more than magical thinking to solve the many problems the country faces and who is better qualified to do that – the man who has achieved a lot in business and in leading his party, or the man who fails the moral and competence test to be PM?