Friday, June 3, 2016

Patrick Gower Plays Fantasy Cabinet Football. Loses. - A Response From An NZ First Perspective

Way back towards the start of the year, when questions about what role NZ First might potentially play in and around government post-2017 started to be asked internally, I proposed to my comrades the idea of playing what we termed 'fantasy Cabinet football' to try and work out what the shape of an NZ First party in Government might look like.

We batted around a few ideas, but ultimately put the notion on the backburner, as it appeared a hugely complex piece of prognostication whose accuracy would be contingent upon so many factors (including the likely shape of NZF's 2017 Parliamentary List) which were simply unknowable or hadn't been decided yet.

In other words, we chose wisdom over speculation and restraint over rampant excitability.

Predictably, however, Newshub's Patrick Gower shares neither of those virtues; and has generated his own exercise in fantasy Cabinet football ministerial portfolio allocations for a hypothetical NZ First-Labour-Greens government.

Upon first setting eyes on his list, I had but two questions:

First, who on EARTH did he "interview" to get this information - and second, how over the top and absurdist was their sense of humour.

Because seriously. The list he's prepared is, in many ways, a joke - with the inclusion of Shane Jones, let alone Shane Jones rather above Ron Mark as one of its multifarious misfiring punchlines.

We were all (perhaps somewhat irrationally) expecting better from Gower's noted correspondent and inside source, Mr M.Y. Keyboard. Less charitable interpretations might suggest the misinformation in question flowed forth from his close relationship with Mr M.Yass.

But while it's easy to criticize and castigate (fun, too!), it's inestimably harder to actually construct something of worth and value. Particularly in the fraught and effervescent field of political analysis.

So in a spirit of showing Gower where he went wrong, here's a cursory critique and reworking of his Fantasy Cabinet Football team.

The first point of forehead-vein-twitching is whom he's included in the team-pool. Obviously, there are no major issues with Winston, Ron Mark, or Fletcher Tabuteau being listed as prime candidates for Cabinet Ministerial positions. Each are hugely competent MPs in complete command of their portfolios and demonstrably positive records in both Parliament and the Parliamentary legislative process. Two of this number - Winston and Ron - have even been Ministers before, while Fletcher's strong private members' bills this term have shown a clear strength at identifying issues in his portfolio areas - before they become issues - and coming up with creative, innovative solutions with which to tackle them.

As much as I might have crossed swords (and an array of other, slightly more painful implements of dentistry) with Tracey Martin over the last two years, she is also an arguably competent inclusion at the Ministerial level - and has seriously positive relationships with many of the sector and interest groups within her portfolio areas. Her wide array of positive relationships with non-NZF MPs are also a plus, and nobody doubts her often absolutely frenetic work-ethic. When I was working under her for Parliamentary Services during the last Parliamentary term, I was continually impressed by her command of both policy and legislative detail as well as elements of vision in her portfolio areas. There are clearly many worse choices one could make for a spot in Cabinet.

As applies Clayton Mitchell, due to his private sector background there is a logical role for him as a Minister for Small Business. His personal interests and aptitudes might also make him a good fit for Minister for Sport and Recreation.

And now, for the others whom Gower's occasionally inexplicably listed.

First up, what on earth is Shane Jones doing there. He's not part of our Party, and as far as I can tell, rumours of his return have been several shades of conspiracy from various different largely self-interested sources attempting to plant 'words in your ear' with pliant and pliable media mouthpieces. While I can't with iron-clad assurance say "it's not going to happen" ... I *can* say that there's no verifiable information out there which would have allowed Gower to make such an incendiary prediction with any shred of objectively factual basis. This is even leaving aside whether you'd WANT such a proverbial 'loose cannon' as Jones running the arguably rather delicate Foreign Affairs portfolio in the first place.

About the nicest thing I can possibly say about this "prediction" is that it's a pretty passable troll-attempt from Gower to suggest that the TPPA-promoting Jones ought to be included not only in our Party - but at its highest echelons, and a few notches up from our evident leadership heir apparent, Ron Mark. Certainly got MY choler rising, at any rate.

Second, Stuart Nash. While there have been some rumours around Nash's defection as an attempt to go from 'in the red' to 'in the black' previously, I'm unsure how concrete any of the information behind them might actually be. Certainly, in some areas the occasionally somewhat outspoken Nash does align towards NZF over the direction of the previous five years of Labour - but smaller scale disagreements of policy and emphasis of direction do not a defection make. Gower doesn't seem to be particularly sure either - hence why he's posted a "watch this space' next to Nash's party membership in this whole contrivance.

Third, Ria Bond. By all accounts, she's improved rather markedly over her year or so in Parliament - although while meaning no disrespect to her, I would question whether somebody who'd have been an MP for a mere two years by the time this hypothetical 2017 Government got off the ground, would truly be ready for the weighty responsibilities of a Ministerial role. Then again, several of the NZF MPs cited in both Gower's and my own projections have only been in Parliament for a year longer - so perhaps I am being unduly harsh. It would be considerably easier to adjudge her suitability or otherwise if Gower had thought to include *which* Ministerial portfolio she was supposed to be taking up outside of Cabinet. But he hasn't, so I have to wonder whether Gower's sighted future talent in Ria - or whether he's merely indulged in plucking names at random out of a hat to make up numbers.

What was outright curious, however, were some of the omissions.

Darroch Ball has been an absolutely stellar performer in the Social Development portfolio already this term - with visionary legislative proposals, and such an adroit command of the detail in his area that he's managed to force Minister of Social Development Anne Tolley to apologize to the House for misleading with misinformation on quite a number of occasions. Darroch has also recognized and made use of the natural synergies between the Social Development and Youth Affairs portfolios to deliver strong policy for change inestimably superior to pretty much anything the actual Minister's come out with. He is somebody whom I'd absolutely back to the hilt for a Ministerial warrant and Cabinet position, and his lack of inclusion on a list of NZ First ministerial prospects is absolutely criminal.

Another thing which leaped out at me about Gower's Fantasy Cabinet Football lineup was just how ... white-and-Maori it was. With the sole exception of Labour's Carmel Sepuloni (whom Gower's tipped for Pasifika Affairs), there was nobody in there with a migrant-community background. Instead, Tracey Martin was put forward for the Ethnic Affairs role. And while Tracey's work with the Shakti Trust has been admirable and shows an ability to interface with communities and backgrounds not her own ... there seemed to be another, far more obvious candidate in the form of NZ First's Mahesh Bindra. Who, apart from meeting the minimum standard of actually being from one of the communities covered by the portfolio (and therefore better able to relate to and represent the concerns of same), is also - as applies the Indian community at least - in a word, ubiquitous. Seriously. Every Mandir [Hindu Temple] I go to, they know Mahesh. If you follow him on social media, you'll see that literally all his spare time outside of Parliament is taken up with engaging with this community, occasionally clocking up four or five or more events per day. He is quite simply the hardest-working MP outside of Parliament in this area I think I've ever seen. His pre-Parliamentary background in Corrections gives him a strong insight into that portfolio as well, and would make him a natural pick for an (Associate) Minister role there too.

Ultimately, there are many NZ First MPs whose competencies have been ignored in Gower's piece - and I only have space to directly address a few of them.

But the other major issue with this list of hypothetical ministerial allocations are some of the ... curious mismatches of talents and aptitudes with portfolios.

Several of Gower's picks are half decent. Winston Peters' staked Ministerial responsibilities make decent sense, allowing him to build upon career-defining strengths in regional development, immigration, racing, senior citizens, foreign affairs and Pacific relations. Ron Mark is a natural fit for Defence , and given his strong record against Amalgamation as well as direct experience in the area as Mayor of Carterton - could also pick up Local Government (although I'm left scratching my head slightly about him running the Christchurch Regeneration portfolio - it's not that Ron can't do it ... if he can build things in Oman, then Canterbury should present no trouble. I just find it a little inexplicable that a Christchurch-based MP like Labour's Megan Woods wouldn't be given the role).

And, in a hypothetical, totally imaginary world wherein Shane Jones becomes an NZ First MP and Minister, I could well see the logic of handing him a Fisheries portfolio. Tracey Martin's ardent feminism - while a bit of an acquired taste in some circles - would certainly contribute to a strong Minister for Women's Affairs; although some might question whether a single term as a Local Board Member is the best qualification for a position overseeing the Local Government portfolio - particularly when NZ First's Denis O'Rourke has fifteen years' experience as a Christchurch City Councillor to draw upon.

Matters arguably worsen when we see whom Gower's plonked in Primary Industries - Fletcher Tabuteau.
While nobody denies that Primary Industries is an important portfolio for New Zealand's present and future export growth and development, the plain fact of the matter is that it would be a questionable use of Fletcher's considerable talents as both an MP and a former academic/economist. A position such as Trade would be a much more logical fit, particularly considering the excellent private members' bills he's put forward in this area. His strong background and longstanding involvement in both tourism and education (secondary and tertiary) would also suggest potential Ministerial competencies in those areas.

All in all, Gower's attempt at playing Fantasy Cabinet Football is ... not even an especially competently written fantasy. The level of seriousness with which it ought to be taken is clearly elucidated by the fact it's littered with obvious attempted-witticisms like referring to David Cunliffe as "Under-Secretary to the Co-Vice-Deputy Prime Ministers on miscellaneous issues".

And yet, whether born out of ignorance, laziness, or actual malevolence, the greatest jokes in the piece appear to be the arguably unintentional ones. Things like omitting some of NZ First's best and brightest new MPs in favour of making a stirring troll-point by including Shane Jones on a pedestal.

Some might argue that such an obviously highly speculative if not outright onanistic piece of pay-by-the-word political "journalism" hardly merits a response.

And yet going off the numerous ranks of my friends and associates on social media and elsewhere who've either taken this piece at face value as a potential shape for a hypothetical post-2017 NZF/Greens/Labour government ... or who, despite recognizing its shortcomings, still believe there's a few grains of truth in it here and there ... we are left with little choice other than to seek in some small way to correct its more manifestly misaimed assertions.

The trouble with vacuums, in both nature as in politics (which can often be decidedly unnatural), is that they have a nasty habit of being filled. Whether you want them to be or not.

By refusing - thus far, at any rate - to put forward any serious speculation or projections as to who might do what in a Black/Red/Green alliance, we have thus consciously invited figures such as Patrick Gower to cast their own stones and assertions into the void and play some level of role in shaping the public's perceptions of what this prospective future government might look like and function.

About the only positive to be said for Gower's piece (other than the fact that it will help boost name-recognition for some of our MPs and get people used to thinking of them rightly as Ministerial-caliber), is that it has kicked off dozens of discussions on a more serious level about who and what might actually do the heavy lifting in a three-way coalition partnership.

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