All I want for Christmas? Sure, less bad sing-alongs, but mostly I want less cynical politics than the December Dump we've seen this year
It's the time of year for lists. The best and worst of the year lists. Summer DIY lists. Lists to write to Santa. But here's a not so nice list created by National in these warming weeks leading into Christmas – the cynical dumping list.
Since the week that parliament wrapped up for the year, the government has been rummaging through its drawers for anything worn, torn or otherwise hard to explain and tipping it in the bin.
Once again this government has used a long-running tradition of political cynicism and taken it to an extreme. In the same way the Dirty Politics stories were all examples of old fashioned political tactics taken to rare lows (I won't say 'new lows', because of some of the things governments in the 19th century got up to), this December Dump (TM) is an unusually cynical cast-off of bad news and shifting tactics.
- Moving aside failed Corrections Minister Sam Lotu-Iiga and reinstating Judith Collins into Cabinet
- Announcing plans to ditch Serco
- Changing its stance on economic management
- Closing a failing Charter school
- Pushing the date for restarting Super Fund contributions out to 2023
- Admitting National got it wrong funding Herceptin in 2009
The last was an example of something that just came along, but the government had control over the timing of all the others and chose the post-parliament period before Christmas for their release. It's poor form and a cynical manipulation of power.
Why does it matter that something is released at this stage of the year? It's not so much that things don't get reported and questions don't get asked in almost all the usual places (although these have all happened since the weekend TV politics programmes have ended their seasons); it's more that audiences have switched off and even the biggest political junkies – including those in the gallery – are burnt out. So the tone is different, the public less engaged (and less enraged).
The economic management point deserves a little explaining. Just a week ago I wrote that the "missed opportunity' of the year was the unwillingness by government to borrow and build while the price of borrowing was so low, the country in such dire need of infrastructure and the economy and labour market in need of a shot in the arm. Now, Bill English says he's suddenly found another billion dollars for capital expenditure and a bit more borrowing and deficiting don't matter so much. Which is a wild political and fiscal u-turn from his position in recent years and undermines stern words – even promises – on debt.
As Vernon Small has pointed out, this is quite a new approach... quietly and casually tossed out just before Christmas. It's also probably a sign just how scared English really is about El Nino and China.
But, in case you think this is a whole new chapter for National... I also damned National for its short-termism, but sadly the decision to delay contributions to the Super Fund... again... is a sure sign some things haven't changed. And that billion dollars? Rather than be spread around Auckland rail and other more virtuous projects, it seems to be mostly aimed at roads and defence. Sigh.
This is a list I'd really rather not have had to write, one that's against the spirit of good government. So bah humbug to you National. That's a lump of coal in your socking from me.