Monday, December 12, 2016

New Prime Minister

Today New Zealand got a new Prime Minister, Bill English. He replaced John Key, who resigned as Prime Minister a week ago today. English’s new Deputy Prime Minister is Paula Bennett, currently the MP for Upper Harbour.

English is kind of, well, boring, which he’s actually been able to use to deflect awareness of how conservative he is. The newsmedia always describes him as an “active Catholic”, usually followed by a mention of the fact that the Englishes have six kids (as if the newsmedia is trying to define what “active Catholic means…).

English’s conservative social views have shown up in several votes he cast in Parliament: He opposed abortion law liberalisation, as would be expected, as would his opposition to euthanasia/assisted death. He has also opposed cannabis law reform. But he’s most notable for me for having voted against civil unions, as well as a bill to give broad recognition in law to civil unions. He also voted in favour of a bill to limit marriage to one man and one woman, and then against marriage equality.

Apparently, times change.

Today he held a press conference (video above), and, among other things, he said that if it came up now, he would vote for marriage equality. He said: "I don't think gay marriage is an attack on anyone else's marriage."

This underscores two things. First, as I've often had to remind even New Zealanders, when New Zealand finishes with a "controversial" issue, it STAYS finished. The country won’t revisit marriage equality. Second, I have always said that we should applaud people evolving on marriage equality, and not always hold them to what they once believed. As I said when discussing this in the context of the US election:
I became an LGBT activist around 35 years ago, and back then it was impossible to imagine that ANY national politician would EVER advocate for LGBT people. Yet we kept pushing for them to do so, and, decades later, look where we are!

If for decades we've been pushing for politicians to embrace the LGBT communities and our issues, then we ought to celebrate politicians' evolution and not make a dismissive rankings list based on who supported marriage equality/LGBT issues first/earliest.
That’s every bit as true here in New Zealand as it in my American homeland. So, for me, this is a non-issue. It’s his other positions I oppose, and it's important to note that this doesn't mean he's a friend of LGBT New Zealanders—there may be other issues where he still opposes us.

His deputy, Paula Bennett, is not one of my favourites. While I praised her elevation to cabinet back in 2008, she has since betrayed the people living on a benefit as she once did, and has become mean-spirited and uncaring. I was profoundly disappointed in her performance.

However, since she has leadership aspirations, this could be an opportunity for her to redeem herself, and to become a better MP—and human being. If she doesn’t, she’ll help Labour and the Greens win the next election, so, from my perspective, either outcome is a win. Personally, I’d prefer both, but the second seems the most likely outcome.

So far, Bill has been softening his image as being hard-right on social issues, and that will be helped by having Paula as his deputy: She's younger and capable of being quite affable in interviews (when she wants to be…), where Bill is stiff, awkward, and dry. Maybe.

Pundits are picking we’ll have an early election—possibly midyear sometime, not the least because there are at least two MPs (one Labour, one National) who will be leaving Parliament before the next scheduled nationwide elections in November, and if that’s more than six months out from the elections, it’ll trigger a by-election that costs about $1 million. That, and the fact that people who gat their Party Vote to National in the last election did so with Key as Leader of the party, means that they really could use a fresh mandate.

When and if we have early elections will depend largely on how the new team fares in the polls. Whether they keep their jobs will depend on the same thing.

In this video, Leader of the Opposition, Labour Leader Andrew Little, has a media stand-up in Parliament after English and Bennett were confirmed.

And, finally, John Key leaves Parliament for the final time as Prime Minister, to applause from his National Party Caucus in Parliament. He was on his way to meet with the Governor General for the formal, legal designation of Bill English as the 39th Prime Minister of New Zealand. This is what the peaceful transfer of power looks like in New Zealand.

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