After 3 more days in parliament, our MPs have a month off

Next month’s lengthy recess is the talk of Parliament. No one can remember a mid-year break quite this long before. It starts July 8 and carries right through to August 9, when MPs return to Parliament.

Those dates coincide with the school holidays, which is usual. But the school kids only get two weeks off. MPs are getting twice as long.

The word is that members of Parliament’s business committee – which comprises every party – all agreed on the lengthy break because it would help MPs recharge their batteries. Apparently there was discussion along the lines that it was a time of year when everyone got sick, so they should all take a long break. So it’s a preventive measure, a bit like a flu jab, but more fun.

But did the Opposition get the wool pulled over its eyes?

Because Oppositions tend to lose momentum when Parliament goes into recess. And mid-year through a Government’s third term is often when that momentum starts to build.

If only it was true.  Whenever there is recess, the Media Party are so in need of anything to fill space, the minor party press releases suddenly get a chance to shine. 

No wonder ministers were flocking in droves to Hamilton’s annual farming celebration, Field Days. It seemed like Paula Bennett was there for days. Stomping around Mystery Creek in their job-lot of red band gumboots, MPs could shake off the troubles of Wellington and console themselves they were out there in the real world, where none of that stuff was resonating.

The problem for Labour is that based on National’s poll defying feats of the last eight years, they may be right.

Twitter will talk itself hoarse on how it all adds up to the beginning of the end for National. But if Twitter is reflective of majority opinion Red Peak would have won the flag vote hands down and we all know how that went.

The problem is that for want of any better barometer, National’s opponents take Twitter’s opinion seriously, while National knows it’s water off a duck’s back.

Twitter is just another thing on the job description for most National MPs. Judith Collins, who delights in baiting her critics, even treats it like sport.

Because when it comes to finding out what real people think, National has a much more sophisticated machine behind the business of keeping its ear to the ground. It polls the bejesus out of everything – issues, personalities, whole cities, or even street by street.

This makes life tough for us pundits as we try to second guess the Government’s decisions. It makes life even tougher for National’s cash-starved opponents, who don’t have the same level of constant access to public opinion.

On paid parental leave, for instance, it seems like using the veto just makes the government look mean. It could have blunted that by meeting Labour half-way and adding a couple of extra week’s parental leave in the May budget. So why didn’t it? We have to assume its polling told it that wasn’t a big priority for voters right now.

Labour must have come to that same conclusion. It’s ruled out having a third crack at getting the measure through, even though that would mean embarrassing the Government into using the veto again.

But even assuming that’s the case it looks untidy for the Government, particularly when its own support parties voted against it.

On homelessness, meanwhile, we can read between the lines of Paula Bennett’s panicked response and assume National’s polling shows the issue is getting traction.

Bennett has announced ad hoc policy on the hoof; reports from her office about car dwellers turning down a proper home blew up in the prime minister’s face; and a key aide, press secretary Lucy Bennett, felt compelled  to offer her resignation after leaking details of a police investigation into an iwi leader helping out the homeless.

As the normally affable minister looks increasingly strained and tight-lipped you can already see the drawbridge going up.

That’s a classic sign of third term-itis but National has dug itself out of these holes before by methods which are now well practiced. It burns the midnight oil, it wheels out policies and speeches, it reheats old news, anything to seize back the initiative. It’s the rugby team that runs on to the field determined to dominate on offence.

But there is a four week recess coming up. Beehive staff will have planned a break. Some of the key ministers will likely be overseas.

Potentially, it’s a political vacuum. A hungry Opposition would try to fill it.

So will it?

Yep.  It will.

And it will continue to be the most painful, non-engaging, beltway crap that nobody that has a vote to change will care about.  It wasn’t lost on pollsters that when Labour stopped whining about stuff and yapping at every passing car over the Christmas holidays, that Labour’s numbers actually went up.

You see, Labour’s natural support is actually higher.  But every time Little, Twyford and King open their gobs, their voters are reminded that nothing has changed, and it’s still “anyone by Labour” for the time being.


– Tracey Watkin, Stuff

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