The forlorn case of Steve Joyce

Matthew Hooton looks at the forlorn case of Steve Joyce:

This was the first time Mr Joyce has stood for any elected office, avoiding even National’s formal list selection process in 2008. His utter humiliation came as a complete surprise to him, being the first time his colleagues have felt safe to express what they think of him. The National caucus will only fully reunify when the divisive Mr Joyce is out of Parliament altogether.

For nine years, Mr Joyce has stood before his colleagues claiming to be the great political genius and policy guru while belittling all their ideas. They despise him for it.   

The ‘Save Joyce’ campaign is still well underway but took a turn for the worse when Bridges was elected leader. Amy Adams would have had him standing beside her if she could.

His legacy as transport minister is Auckland’s traffic chaos, after he fought against public transport initiatives while interfering in the rollout of the Hop card. The rude and abusive way Mr Joyce dealt with officials and local people alike following the Rena disaster shocked the local MP, one Simon Bridges.

As economic development minister, Mr Joyce’s main legacy is his creation of MBIE, which acts as a brake on business, innovation and employment; his highly suspect all-of-government procurement system; and his out-of-control corporate welfare machine. Using Ms Adams as a proxy, he tried and failed to introduce the so-called copper tax to subsidise his friends at Chorus. He turned the good-news story of Auckland’s new convention centre into a political debacle, including an adverse Auditor-General report.

As finance minister, Mr Joyce’s legacy was a fixation on a post-election tax-cut package at the expense of infrastructure and social spending, widely credited with losing National a crucial couple of points in the polls. He turned legitimate questions about Labour’s budget projections into the fiasco of his fake $11.7 billion fiscal hole. He then demanded a lead role in the failed negotiations with Winston Peters, despite knowing the NZ First leader then suspected his involvement in leaking his superannuation details.

By not locking in the tax cuts earlier Labour were able to get rid of them with little more than a peep from National. Had they been locked in place then Labour would have a much harder time in removing them and would have faced angry voters knowing that their taxes had just been put up under a Labour government. Because no voter had yet seen the cuts no one has noticed.

As a long-term party strategist, Mr Joyce’s record is no better. He is responsible for National’s 2003 constitution which removed democracy from the party apparatus. He has lost every election and by-election he has run, except the three with the politically unsurpassable Mr Key as his candidate – a detail Mr Joyce seems to regard as irrelevant. His approach to political management is simply to reflect back to the most ignorant voters their own views. It appears never to have occurred to him that the purpose of political strategy is to advance a policy agenda of one kind or another. If there really is an example of Mr Joyce’s techniques rather than Mr Key’s talents materially improving the party’s fortunes, the caucus couldn’t recall it when he sought to be their leader.

Worse than that, Joyce has always insisted the dreadful Jo de Joux run every campaign and MPs are sick and tired of being yelled at by her. Joyce is suffering from constantly putting her forward.

Mr Bridges has promised change in National’s lineup. With Paula Bennett confirmed as deputy leader and Gerry Brownlee expecting reward for his strong support during the leadership race, Mr Bridges will fail quickly if he entertains keeping Mr Joyce in the finance role or even on the front bench. At most, he should present Mr Joyce with the same offer made in 2006 by Mr Key to Don Brash: tertiary education, mid-way along the second row.

Party president Peter Goodfellow and his fellow board members fret – not without insight into Mr Joyce’s character – that their campaign strategist would respond to such a slight by throwing in the towel altogether.

So be it. If National’s board has left the party so vulnerable that it is entirely dependent on one man to manage its core business of running election campaigns, that is an utter failure of governance and all of them should resign.

There has been precious little change in the National party board, they have become as moribund the old Soviet Politburo and changes only seem to occur when one of them pegs out. Whenever changes to the board were mooted the party would go into overdrives using one of three excuses: that they’d just won an election so no need to change, that it was mid-term and the party needed stability, or that it was election year and the party couldn’t have ructions lest the media sniff disunity. As a consequence, the party organisation aged along with its board, the only changes occurring when promotions came along, rarely, under the Key/English government. The board became a creature of the parliamentary wing with a lame-duck president who only stopped to ask how high to jump when John Key or Bill English ordered the board to jump.

Mr Bridges has exceeded expectations in his first days as leader and already has the unequivocal support of many of the MPs who backed Ms Adams. He has an outside chance of limiting Ms Ardern to a single term. It will be a terrible shame if he lacks the mettle that Mr Key showed in so brutally despatching Dr Brash and instead bows to blackmail by Mr Joyce.

We shall see. It will be either the making or the unmaking of Simon Bridges as leader. The old political saw goes that you need to take a few heads when you take over. Joyce’s head on a pike would slow down the knife sharpeners.

When he goes he will be yet another MP who thought they could outlast me. Readers might wonder why I’ve always called him Steve Joyce and not Steven Joyce. That is because he got several staffers to contact me telling me that he didn’t like being called Steve and that I should desist from doing so… or else. Still waiting for the ‘or else’, Steve.



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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.