Sir Bill has earned his title

June 4, 2018

Former Prime Minister, long serving MP and genuinely good man, Bill English has more than earned the title conferred on him in the Queen’s Birthday honours.

Wallace, the electorate he first won, and Clutha Southland the biggest general electorate in the country, which it grew into under MMP were blue seats.

But it takes hard work, a genuine interest in people and the determination to make a positive difference for them to earn the loyalty and respect from constituents he did.

In the run up to the 2001 election and its aftermath he showed a lot more loyalty to his colleagues and some in the party than they did to him, but as he told us during the election campaign last year, he got back up again.

He did that through hard work, determination and focus not on ideology but on what was wrong and how to make it better.

Soon after he became Finance Minister he called a meeting of senior people from the welfare ministry.  One question he asked was who was responsible for getting people off benefits.

The answer was no one. Bill said that had to change and under his leadership of the social investment approach it did.

The way New Zealand came through the GFC, the focus on the quality of spending rather than the quantity, and the willingness to spend more upfront to reduce long term costs are a very positive reflection on him.

So is the very healthy state that his government left the books in.

The position of Finance Minister demands gravitas. When he became Prime Minister he showed his warmth and wit, and also,the strength of his family.

He isn’t only a good politician, he was an exemplary boss.

One way to judge a politician is by the way they treat their staff. Joanne Black wrote this of Bill:

On my worst day in the Beehive, I inadvertently emailed a sensitive document to someone outside the building with the same name as the intended recipient, who worked for another minister. The person who received it behaved honourably and nothing came of it, and the next day it became public anyway, as intended.

But I will never forget my torment when I realised there was nothing I could do that could fix my error. That was the only occasion I have ever deliberately banged my head against something – my desk, in this case. (It hurt, and it didn’t bring back the email. I do not recommend it.)

Key’s chief of staff, Wayne Eagleson, came in to work out what to do. I went to Bill’s office and waited for a meeting to end so I could tell him what I’d done. He listened, looked down at his papers and said, “Bugger.”

Although my actions must have disappointed him, he did not raise an eyebrow, much less his voice. You need to be more than just a decent person to succeed in politics.

A minister and a Prime Minister who were not only politically on top of their game, but also believed in public service and were calm and humane in that high-stakes environment, inspired great staff loyalty. . .

Another way to judge a politician is by the way they value volunteers.

The grapevine told Bill that I was facing a very difficult situation. He was Prime Minister at the time and there were several particularly challenging matters he was dealing with but on a morning when he had many much more important matters to deal with, he took the time to phone me.

When I thanked him, I said we were immensely grateful for the practical and moral support we were getting, that it really did help to know people cared and that friends all round the world were praying for us. He said, “I will be too,” and meant it.

He is a good man who served his people and his country well. He is no longer in politics but he will still be in service.

For all that and more he has earned his knighthood.

The full Honours List is here.


Greens camapign for state funding continues

May 10, 2014

The Green Party campaign for the state funding of political parties continues:

Some of Wellington’s most recognisable names paid $3500 each to meet Prime Minister John Key at a National Party fundraising dinner also attended by his taxpayer-funded chief of staff, Wayne Eagleson.

As Opposition allegations continue to swirl around National’s so-called “Cabinet clubs” for wealthy donors, it has emerged about 15 people, including former Wellington mayor Kerry Prendergast and Weta Digital co-founder Jamie Selkirk, attended the dinner at the Museum Hotel, which raised $45,000 for National. . .

The Museum Hotel event was held in 2011, and organised by hotel owner and National Party fundraiser Chris Parkin.

He said yesterday the event was nothing to do with the Cabinet clubs but was his way of helping to support National.

He joked that at least $2000 worth of each donation was for the food and wine. He did not believe anyone attending fundraising dinners expected to be able to “influence” the prime minister. “They are more there to ask questions.”

Goodness me, a party supporter organises a dinner and donates the proceeds to the party.

I can’t see a problem in that but Norman does.

Green Party leader Russel Norman said the fundraiser showed wealthy people could get access to the prime minister when poorer people could not.

Such fundraisers “may be technically legal, they’re not right”, he said. “If you have a lot of money, you can buy exclusive access to the prime minister.” . .

They aren’t just technically legal, they are legal and they don’t mean that wealthy people get access when poorer people don’t.

It means wealthy people are willing to pay to have a meal attended by the PM when others get to meet and talk with him for free, every day.

A spokeswoman for Key said the Greens were welcome to highlight legitimate fundraisers by National, but Key was more interested in the job of governing.

National had frequently pointed out that all the funds it raised were declared as required by law. She did not respond to a question asking if it was Key’s usual practice to take Eagleson to fundraisers.

Otago law professor Andrew Geddis said National had obeyed the rules around donations by declaring the aggregate of those who donated.

People who donated to political parties liked to see where their money was going and to have contact with those they were giving money to, he said.

People also like to see the government concentrate on governing and issues that matter.

All but the very few who are members of the left-wing parties which want state funding of political parties would also prefer that their taxes were spent on things that matter, not propping up parties which can’t persuade enough people to fund them voluntarily.


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