I castigated the Herald last week for a front page full of crap. John Armstrong is back there today with more of the same.
"The logic" for Key choosing English is "inescapable," says Armstrong, whose opinion on this is presumably on the front page because it's thought to be wisdom. It's not. English as deputy is neither logical nor inescapable, despite what Armstrong might appear to think.
"[Key] needs English working for him rather than operating in isolation," advises Armstrong. Why? What skills or talents does English have that haven't already been examined and rejected overwhelmingly by both the electorate and his colleagues. Armstrong overstates both English's supporters, of which he has few, and his talents, of which he has even fewer -- and none of any quality.
Key needed English's support as deputy to avoid "the impression [on whom?] the caucus is highly factionalised." This is the sort of nonsense that Armstrong used to write about Brash, suggesting that Brash's strong views "factionalised" the caucus, and was thus A Bad Thing. But what's wrong with strong views and honest opposition? It's what happens when you actually have ideas. No problems now, since neither new leader Key nor new leader English have or can articulate a strong view or any ideas of any sort. Just mush.
But I digress.
"Had Brownlee won the vote for deputy] by a narrow margin," continues the Herald's front-page pundit, "[Key] would only have been weakened." How? If Brownlee's supporters are more numerous than English's (which by all accounts they are), then why wouldn't the factionalism created by these Nats be something to consider? And, frankly, how could Key possibly be weakened by side-lining or making opponents of the likes Nick Smith, Tony Ryall and the other dripping wet electoral liabilities known to be English supporters. The earlier those losers are side-lined, the better.
"An English victory," suggests Armstrong, would "[make] it appear he now had a deputy he did not want." But he doesn't want him. We know that. Key is only taking English for the same reasons of faux-solidarity that Armstrong espouses here -- but no one is fooled for a moment.
There are concerns about Key, notes Armstrong, who ignores the most important concern that he stand for nothing.
There are concerns about him "getting the front bench to weigh in behind his leadership," says Armstrong, and "his relative inexperience but abundant cockiness." "Getting English on board in an oversight capacity goes a long way to dispelling those concerns," says the sage of the front page. This is just nonsense, isn't it. That's a front bench that needs sacking not sucking up to, and English's "experience" is no more than a long history of failure and mush-peddling. Seeking "oversight" from such a man would be like seeking it from the current England rugby coach.
And here's the kicker for Armstrong as a pundit: "Another driver is English becoming deputy is Key's need to harness [English's] policy grunt in the crucial shadow finance portfolio... " Policy grunt"? From English? You can lay all English's "discussion papers" from end-to-end (and you could almost wallpaper a waterfront stadium with the pages full of bilge you will find there) but of either grunt or a conclusion in any of them there is none. Grunt? Oh, please! And to place English in that role is to exclude from it a man described by Professor James Allan this morning (correctly) as "probably the most economically literate political leader in the world."
This is not "logical," it is dumb.
The media are talking up English now in this fashion in the same way they talked him up before his own disastrous reign as leader, and it's quite simply because he's one of them in a way that Brash never was. Unlike both Key and English, Brash actually stood for something, and that he did and was prepared to stand up for it frightened his advisers, his caucus and his political opposition -- but it was something the public embraced in a way they never embraced the mush of English, or the muddled-speech of Shipley.
In the end, for me this is the chief concern I have about both English and Key and the leadership coup they've helped effect. They stand for nothing except "management," which is to leave open the question, "Management, to what end?"
Both English and Key have spent much time and energy undermining Brash, trying to roll Brash, or to have him rolled, all in order that one or other of them can be leader -- but now we must ask what did they actually want to be leader for?
It's clear enough that it wasn't to put in place their vision (they have none). It wasn't to have their party stand for something (they stand for nothing). It wasn't even that they had particular objections to Brash's policy prescriptions (only objections as to how "the public" might "perceive" those prescriptions).
No, they both wanted to be leader and did what they could to make it happen (including undermining their previous leader) for fairly simple reasons -- reasons enough to get Key out of his not-so-humble career in business, and to keep English in parliament after the electoral flogging he received in 2002 : They both want power. They both want their egos stroked. This is the next-to-top job and they want it, not for what they can do in the job, but for what the job can do for them.
Which leaves the question of where exactly this leadership duo will "lead" National, and the answer is that neither yet knows. Key will sense the way the wind is blowing -- along the lines, probably, of how he reacted to Al Gore's nonsense, of which Key said airily after Gore's Auckland lecture, "it pushed all my buttons" -- and English will write more vapid "discussion papers," and both will effect a stance when they need to, but both will grant their opponents the ability to set their political principles for them since neither have any of their own to repair to.
Consider: What is a leader for? Answer: to lead, not to follow. Did either English or Key want to become leader in order to advance particular policies and principles that they believe in; that would advance the specific goals they seek for the country; policies, principles and goals that they passionately believe would lead to an improvement for the country and the people in it? No, not at all. Instead, they seek the reverse. They will seek policies to advance goals (about which they will care little) in order only that they can espouse what they think will cement them in place as leaders. That's the extent of their commitment to policy (to say nothing, quite literally, of principle). They will not seek to lead policy debate, and so by default they will end up following it -- they will not be advocates, but straws in the wind.
It is not leadership they really want, it is just the leader's job. Just the power, but without a purpose. And we are back to the criticism made abundantly with National under English and Shipley before: that here is a party that will believe everything and stand for nothing; a party still in search of a political philosophy; a the same Blancmange party appearing again before us now, even as the man who took them to their highest place in the polls for years is being shown the door by the men who have coveted his job for so long.
The irony is that the public (by their polling) showed they were more than happy to accept the vision for the country put forward by Brash, and it was his caucus colleagues and press gallery cockroaches like Armstrong who sought to undermine the vision with the claims the public couldn't accept that vision when offered straight. Brash proved the pundits wrong, and to do that is simply unforgiveable.
No wonder Brash could never fit the National Party caucus, or meet the expectations of a press gallery full of Armstrongs. In the end he was simply never spineless enough to fit in.
UPDATE: Key has responded to claims today and over the weekend that no one knows what he stands for by promising to deliver a speech tomorrow that will do so, a "kind of 'Values' speech," he calls it. If his chat with Larry Williams this afternoon is any indication, expect words like the following to feature strongly -- "tolerant," "inclusive," "multicultural," "State house," "aspirational" -- and for us to be none the wiser afterwards.
But I'm happy to be proved wrong.
LINKS: Hager, Brash and Herald humbug - Not PC
Without Brash, New Zealand will suffer - James Allan, Australian
Key puts 'dream team' together - John Armstrong, NZ Herald
RELATED: Politics-NZ, Politics-National