During the Christmas break, which everyone else takes but I generally don’t, I was overcome with self-inflicted pity. How oh how, do I write an article during the slowest news week in the year. I got there in the end, with Wee Winnie’s Smoke Signal. As the Coronavirus pandemic sees New Zealand in full lockdown from Wednesday, it is difficult for a different reason. Coronavirus is essentially the only thing in the news. So there is no shortage of angles to apply, but ‘scoring political points’ using a virus that has killed thousands of people is a really shitty thing to do. The problem is, the pandemic is being managed by politicians so inevitably whatever comment I do make on it is going to be political. The New Zealand space project to land humans on Mars is not being managed by politicians, therefore any criticism for it being a complete failure cannot not be criticised as ‘playing politics.’
You’ve probably gathered somewhere along the way that my main paid occupation is working in the supermarket industry in which I’m probably approaching the end of a three month temporary stint as a Store Manager. I don’t think it is ending because I’m crap, rather because it has gone on for two and a half months longer than initially intended. Some people will feel sorry for me, but I see it as a positive, that the Government Coronavirus response rising to level 4 won’t have much impact upon my day to day life. Supermarkets are an essential service, so I’ll continue working as per normal… aside from working in an environment I have never witnessed in my 22 year career.
Some might describe it as stressful, but with the right mental attitude, it is possible to choose not to be stressed. Accept that which you cannot change, manage the factors you can and put your game face on as you enter the store each day. I’m not trying to minimise the impact depression and anxiety can have on those with mental health difficulties in saying this; I’ve been fairly open about my lifelong battle with anxiety. However I have found that however shitty I might feel, behaving in the manner I want to feel can make a genuine impact on the rest of the day. I’ve also found that sometimes I can’t be f***ed being nice and that’s the day I have.
The rumours about what may come have come to my attention over the last couple of weeks and the most common is about the upcoming “lockdown.” Most people are familiar with my other occupation which costs me money (politics) and flatter me with the hope that I’ll know what’s really going on or have some inside knowledge. I don’t.
It has been a little bizarre responding to those who ask me about whatever rumour they have heard, “It’s only true if the Prime Minister has said it. If she hasn’t then it is nonsense.”
It is an odd feeling having confidence that your Government can be relied upon to tell the truth, giving me a weird insight into why people from across the spectrum are not just backing the Prime Minister in her effort to manage the Coronavirus pandemic but enthusiastically demanding greater restrictions on their freedom be implemented as soon as possible.
It’s a feeling I never want to feel again.
Political analysis should not become taboo or scolded in any situation, even in the context of a viral pandemic. The method by which the Government is responding is the implementation of severe restrictions on liberty for at least four weeks. That statement alone shouldn’t be interpreted as indicating my opinion on this action, simply recognising that the actions being taken by the state are unprecedented in their magnitude and the speed in which they have happened. Even those who fully endorse these actions should analyse them in detail, repeatedly and every time there is a change. A deadly virus is frightening, but so is totalitarianism – and thus far, the body count racked up by 20th century totalitarian regimes is literally millions of times more than that of the Coronavirus.
One must feel a bit for the position National Party Leader Simon Bridges has got himself into. National has taken a bipartisan position on many issues during the Parliament. Rushed changes to gun laws in 2019 passed 119-1. The Zero Carbon Bill, despite Bridges stating it was flawed and a National Government will make changes, passed 119-1. The fluffy and misguided Child Poverty Reduction Act, which largely measures equity, not poverty, passed 119-1 following some tiny concessions to National which nobody will remember. In this situation it probably would have been better politics to emulate Sir John Key’s olive branch on the Anti-Smacking legislation, rather than continue to criticise the Government’s approach in the house.
I didn’t say he was wrong. I said it would have been better politics.
Increasing all benefits by $25 a week permanantly, at a cost of $2.4 billion is stupid. Doubling the winter energy payments, which are not means tested is wasteful. Going ahead with the minimum wage increase on April 1 would be economically devastating if we weren’t locked down and wage subsidisation increased to $8.7 billion. Increasing health funding by $500 million when collectively, DHBs have a $700m deficit is odd to say the least.
It didn’t take long for a National Party flip-flop to flop. Finance Spokesman Paul Goldsmith’s rhetoric was quite different when he called for the Government to employ an economic bazooka and spend, spend, spend. “We’d support an economic package which is bigger and faster than what has been delivered so far. The reality is, however, that only around half of that package can possibly be spent in the next two or three months. When we need it. That is around two per cent of GDP.”
Finally, in the last few days National has begun saying they will not “rule out” joining a grand coalition of national unity. The last time this happened in New Zealand pre-dates Labour and National, as a result of the Great Depression from 1931-1935. Bridges isn’t ruling it out but Labour isn’t suggesting it. This reeks of desperation to claw onto some shred of responsibility to take back to voters as evidence of his ability when campaigning for the September 19 general election resumes.
I suspect that managing the Coronavirus crisis will bring a political windfall for Jacinda Ardern. There are still no fatalities in New Zealand and a strong, decisive leader holds a considerable amount of mana. Added to her brand of kindness and compassion, what pre-virus looked like a one-term government teetering on a knife edge in the polls is now really difficult to call. She may regret not being tougher on Winston Peters following the investigation of the NZ First Trust by the Serious Fraud Office and the window to do so has long closed. Ending the final year of this Parliamentary term with NZ First cast aside, in coalition with National would have guaranteed the death of New Zealand First.
Since the first 1996 MMP election, junior coalition partners have always lost support at the following election. A grand coalition model makes that sort of trend impossible to predict. Indeed, it is hard to decide just who the junior coalition partner would be. Labour, as the current leading Government party or National with 55MPs? Alternatively, such a move could have been disastrous for both mainstream parties, in the same way the establishment parties of Europe are seeing their support implode and smaller parties on the left and right grow rapidly.
The biggest risk of all may be simply proving what I’ve said for most of my life: there really is no difference between National and Labour at all.