Yesterdaze: James Elliott on a week of honours, dishonour, apologies and the birth of a Brixit for the National Party

Last weekend was a long weekend for some, and a gong weekend for others as the Queen’s Birthday Honours list was announced. Topping the list this year was Bill English, knighted under a Labour-led coalition government for, possibly, services rendered as National leader in the general elections of 2002 and 2017 that resulted in the ushering in of Labour and Labour-led governments in those years.

And the newly minted Sir Bill was pipped again, this time in the knighthood news stakes when it was announced that Sir Bob Jones had commenced defamation proceedings against film maker Renae Maihi stemming from her petition to have Sir Bob’s knighthood stripped. That petition arose out of Sir Bob’s final column at the NBR. Indeed it’s quite the trend now for final NBR columns to result in legal proceedings. Stephen Joyce is suing the NBR for Matthew Hooton’s final NBR column. Even the NBR itself is suing Matthew Hooton for his final NBR column. Meanwhile Whale Oil published a new column from Sir Bob in which he took a few swings at the NBR causing NBR publisher Todd Scott to fire a few shots back at Sir Bob. Scott did that on Twitter because it’s obviously too risky to do so in an NBR column. All of which reads like the plot from a rejected Netflix series, Game of Drones.

Perhaps the best solution would be to have this lot sort out their differences in Parliament’s new playground, announced this week by Speaker Mallard. The inspiration to create a dedicated space in Parliament’s grounds specifically sanctioned for childish behaviour is fairly obvious. Having been criticised for his disciplinary practice of docking questions during Question Time, Speaker Mallard is creating a dedicated space where petulant Parliamentarians can be sent straight from Question Time to Time Out.

Someone who’s had a fair amount of time out of the public consciousness is former PM Jim Bolger who was appointed this week to head up a working group to design Fair Pay Agreements. You might be tempted to assume that he’s Sir Jim and you’d be wrong because he’s a member of the Order of New Zealand, the highest honour we have, made more important when we didn’t have knights or dames between 2000 and 2009. Knighthoods and damehoods were then reintroduced somewhat cannily by Sir John Key’s government. However as a member of the Order of NZ, Bolger is eligible for a knighthood so it’s okay to think of him as Sir Jim-in waiting. And it’s also a canny move to appoint a former National PM to head up yet another working group to implement a cornerstone of Labour policy. This government is very keen on working groups to the point where staffing them is becoming quite a challenge. The next former National PM-in-waiting to head up a working group will be the ghost of Sir Robert Muldoon who was also knighted back in the day.

There’s no word yet on whether there will be a working group looking into the meth mess at Housing New Zealand. There probably won’t be a working group and this issue will likely be swept under the carpet, just not the carpet of one of the many homes needlessly demolished due to the bogus testing. Andrew McKenzie the CEO of Housing New Zealand fronted this week to offer an apology to about 300 former HNZ tenants who were evicted following the flawed meth testing. It’s just unfortunate that you can’t seek shelter under an apology. National leader Simon Bridges also offered an apology of sorts, apologising for the ‘dud advice’ the then government received about meth testing. As far as apologies go that’s pretty much at the feckless end of the spectrum.

Perhaps the risk of getting dud advice was on the Government’s mind when it decided to get no advice at all from Treasury in relation to the fiscal or economic risks from its offshore oil and gas exploration ban. Questions are being asked about just what advice the Government did or didn’t take in relation to that major decision and what the political motivations for that decision were. You can read all about it in a column by Matthew Hooton. It’s in the NZ Herald and it won’t be his last column particularly as there’s the results of today’s Northcote byelection to analyse next week.

The hottest take will be that the Northcote byelection isn’t so much a contest to select an electorate MP as it is a referendum on Simon Bridges’ long-term prospects as leader of the National Party. If the results in Northcote don’t go well for National there could be a soft launch of a campaign to oust Bridges as their leader, and if there is I’m claiming the dubious honour of coining the meme ‘Brixit’.

Have a peaceful weekend.

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