}

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Bill English resigns

Bill English (Photo NZ National Party)
Today Bill English, Leader of the Opposition, announced his resignation as Leader of the National Party, effective February 27. He will also leave Parliament at the beginning of March. This move wasn’t expected, but also wasn’t a shock as the resignation of John Key was back in 2016. Clearly it was time, and on his terms.

For the past few weeks, there’d been a lot of speculation in the newsmedia about a leadership challenge. All MPs publicly pledged loyalty, as always happens, but who knows what they were saying behind the scenes? All we know is that they didn’t force him out. But this sort of intense media speculation happened every time there was about to be a change of the Labour Party leader, so I thought there was probably something to it. I was also glad to see the shoe on the other foot for a change.

Be that as it may, English clearly left on his terms, which is the best result any political leader can hope for. I was never a supporter of his because, as a Labour Party supporter I obviously disagreed with National Party policies. I felt that many of their policies, under both Key and English, did terrible harm to the country, and nothing has convinced me to revisit those opinions. Indeed, they’ve been solidified with the publication of information the National-led government did not release.

I well remember when English rolled Jenny Shipley to take leadership of his party. She’d lost the 1999 election to Labour’s Helen Clark, and English sought to reverse that. He moved his party to the centre, and I was very sceptical of his sincerity because I knew he was a social conservative, and I just didn’t trust him. He ended up leading the party to its worst-ever election defeat in 2002.

English was rolled by the openly racist Don Brash, who lurched the party to the hard right before leading the party to yet another defeat in 2005. Brash was then rolled by John Key in November 2006, and he went on to win the 2008 elections—yanking the party back toward the centre, aided by his deputy leader, Bill English.

English then became Prime Minister when John Key resigned, choosing Paula Bennett as his deputy. Despite my suggestion back then that Bennett’s selection “could be an opportunity for her to redeem herself, and to become a better MP—and human being”, it didn’t happen, and she did, indeed, help elect a Labour-led Government.

Today I watched Bill English’s announcement live, and that part was classy and pretty good (even if some of his answers to reporters’ questions weren’t). But after he said thank you and he and his entourage left, Bennet suddenly appeared at the podium, after the mics were already turned off, and offered her thanks “on behalf of the entire caucus”. If there’s been a more self-serving, attention-seeking moment in NZ politics, I can’t remember it. If she really has leadership aspirations, then she’s clearly delusional: Nobody actually likes her, especially not the voters of New Zealand.

What of Bill himself? Despite my initial distrust of him, and my my ongoing disagreement with his party’s policies, he nevertheless never tried to impose his personal conservative (largely Catholic religion-based) social views on everyone else. Put another way, he was true to his word, which is a pretty remarkable thing in itself for a politician of any stripe.

The fact that Key and English led government for nine years is a testament to the fact that they understood that the majority of New Zealand voters are in the centre, something those on both the Right and the Left often fail to understand or admit, as the case may be. Policies notwithstanding, even though their polices were far too conservative and/or cautious for ME, that’s still something worth noting.

I also think it’s important to note that while English was personally socially conservative, he did evolve on some of his views, particularly on marriage equality, as all rational politicians have. Despite everything—his own conservative nature, and the hard push from the Right in his own party, he always held steady on the course of a more centrist National Party. The fact he did that is really pretty remarkable, and it has to be acknowledged as being as being pretty special and unique.

Bill has done his dash. He’s been in Parliament for 27 years, and there really was nothing left for him. If he contested the 2020 election, he’d probably have lost again, given the fact New Zealand voters generally like to give governments at least two terms. His vague hope that the current government would come unstuck are likely to go unfulfilled, just as they were the last time Labour led government. And, given National’s inability to foster strong allied parties on the centre-right (or even right), it would be difficult for them to find a path to government when forming government requires forming a coalition. Given all that, and given all the time and effort he’s put in, why would he stay?!

I wasn’t a supporter, but I nevertheless think that Bill English served his party well. The fact I opposed him in the elections, and his party in government, doesn’t change the fact that he was a good leader of his party, and he seemed to be a decent person overall. I wish him well for whatever his next ventures are.

No comments: