Mike Williams on leadership of Labour and of National

Mike,”Fat Tony” Williams was Labour’s best fundraiser. He was also the president of Labour under Helen Clark and resigned shortly after the 2008 election loss.

He writes in the “Hawkes Bay Today” about Labour’s leadership problems:

THE week in politics graphically underlined the knife-edge result of the 2014 general election.

A parliamentary majority was recently assembled by the Labour Party to extend paid parental leave from 18 to 26 weeks, and Finance Minister Bill English was forced into the rare use of a “financial veto” to defeat a measure that would have otherwise passed into law.

This demonstrates just how close the National-led government came to defeat in 2014, and caused me to contemplate our political parties’ succession plans and to speculate on who will be National leader in a few years’ time.

One of the few weaknesses of the Helen Clark government was that no such plan was developed and this meant that Phil Goff, her successor, got off to a weak start from which he arguably didn’t recover.

We acted as though Helen would be there forever, even though we all knew that anything more than three terms was historically unlikely.

Goff was effectively selected over the heads of the party and the caucus as a whole by the outgoing cabinet, which delivered a fait accompli via cabinet solidarity.

He would have won a contested ballot, but the contest would have engaged the media and given him a three-dimensional profile which he never really achieved.

As he contests the Auckland mayoralty, people are getting to know him in ways that simply didn’t happen when he was Labour Party leader. He’s interesting, he’s funny and he’s grounded.

But New Zealand didn’t want him as Prime Minister so why should Auckland want him as mayor?

Though we are told that John Key intends to lead his party into next year’s general election, nobody hangs around forever and he has been developing his overseas interests by accepting the chairmanship of the International Democrat Union (IDU), an international alliance of right-wing political parties headquartered in Oslo, Norway.

You can bet that he’ll be looking at a job on the international stage in the fullness of time, just like his predecessor Helen Clark.

So who comes next when Key moves on? One obvious contender, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Bill English, is ruled out on the grounds that he led National to an all-time low of 20 per cent of the party vote in the 2002 general election.

My personal opinion is that nobody would have done any better leading National in that year, but English will not be in contention when the vacancy happens.

English is getting close to retirement. His back is rooted too and very painful. The reality is, however, that Bill English will never lead National again. That means we need to identify a successor to John Key. Mike Williams talks about two contenders.

The widely accepted potential successors to Key are women, Judith Collins and Paula Bennett, and both featured in the cut and thrust of politics this week.

Since her return to Cabinet as Corrections and Police Minister, Collins has softened her image, smiles a lot more and is making some real strides in the penal reform field.

This week Collins made a major announcement, which was largely lost in the media din, around funding to help offenders with mental health issues.

If you visit jails on a regular basis as I do, it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that jails have become dumping grounds for many people who 50 years ago would have been in one of our now largely closed mental institutions.

A Corrections research paper found that prisoners have high rates of mental health and substance abuse disorders.

This report found that 62 per cent of prisoners had some form of mental health or substance abuse illness in the last year, and 20 per cent had both of these disorders. Mostly these were undetected and therefore untreated.

In what was a tight Budget, Collins has scored nearly $14 million to help offenders with mental health issues.

Most of the new money, $10 million, goes into mental health professionals who will work with offenders in jails and in the community, and there will be increased access to mental health services in the jails.

Smaller sums will go on supported accommodation, social workers and counsellors supporting female offenders, and wrap-around post-release services for prisoners and their families with multiple mental health needs.

In a nearly billion-dollar Corrections budget these are not huge sums, but the symbolism is crucial.

Rather than the “lock them up and throw away the key approach”, which has dogged penal policy, what we see here is an evidence-based approach aimed at striking at the underlying causes of repeat offending.

Those policies should deliver long term. Mike Williams is the head of the Howard League for Penal Reform and so should know his stuff on these matters. If he is rating a former political foe then it would seem that Judith Collins is on the right track. The same can’t be said for Paula Bennett.

Collins had a good week, but my other contender as Key’s successor had a shocker of a week.

Bennett, having surprised English with her offer of $5000 for homeless people to leave Auckland, was embroiled in a “dirty tricks” bout when a member of her office staff leaked some negative “facts” about the head of a Mangere marae which generously opened its doors to the growing legion of homeless Aucklanders.

This episode spoke volumes about the atmosphere in Bennett’s ministerial office, and will not have advanced her ambitions.

Paula Bennett lurches from one disaster to the next. The atmosphere in Bennett’s office is toxic and reflected by the revolving door whirling like a giant fan as staff come and go.

Bennett will never lead National; she isn’t at all liked by the caucus and not many in cabinet like her either. She is a toady of McCully’s and close to Bill English but both of them have waning clout.


– HB Today

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As much at home writing editorials as being the subject of them, Cam has won awards, including the Canon Media Award for his work on the Len Brown/Bevan Chuang story. When he’s not creating the news, he tends to be in it, with protagonists using the courts, media and social media to deliver financial as well as death threats.

They say that news is something that someone, somewhere, wants kept quiet. Cam Slater doesn’t do quiet and, as a result, he is a polarising, controversial but highly effective journalist who takes no prisoners.

He is fearless in his pursuit of a story.

Love him or loathe him, you can’t ignore him.

To read Cam’s previous articles click on his name in blue.