Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Bill English: The end of the wet?

I had no intention of writing anything about Bill English. What has he even done that deserves thirty minutes of my time? I did search the archives here, for anything at all to say, and I confess I nearly fell asleep while reading them. They reveal him to be a punter, not a man of principle -- a man who finds a way to take a problem off the political table, but never in fact to solve it.

28 years of "public service" say the tributes. Pffft. For nearly three decades he's been one of the country's highest-paid beneficiaries -- and even then Sir Double Dipton grasped for more.

He did get over being Mr 22% in 2002. Let's give him that. But in failing to understand MMP, or to campaign against it, he sealed his own fate in 2017.

And according to some his spending was responsible for rebuilding inner Christchurch. Have you seen inner Christchurch recently? (And whose money was that?)

The most revealing thing about him, perhaps, is that for well over a decade he talked about his big plan for what he called "social investment" (in other words, aiming to intrude more, to spend more welfare money on fewer). Yet while being at or near the top of the greasy pole for over nearly all that time, he never came close to implementing his one big idea -- and all the while the welfare problem exacerbated by big government was increasing.

He was always a man for thirty-year plans, but never a plan for the next thirty days.

There was a reason the left always felt obliged to talk him up: because he was always so dripping wet.

And don't get me started on his Catholicism constantly being brought to bear on his party to vote against every move every parliament made towards increasing social freedom.

So was there one thing he actually achieved?

Perhaps the best that could be said for the man was said by the even more dripping wet Wayne Mapp, that he allegedly "guided New Zealand through the global economic crisis." Let's see the argument:
What is Bill English’s political legacy? More than anything, it will undoubtedly be his tenure as minister of finance from 2008 to 2016. The National government took office in the middle of the largest financial shock for over 50 years...
....As the new minister of finance, Bill English had to complete an instant financial stocktake. Three things were evident. First, New Zealand had low government debt, in large measure due to Michael Cullen having run continuous surpluses. Second, Labour’s commitments from the 2008 budget were completely unaffordable; even National’s more modest election commitments had to be wound back. Third, it was essential to maintain social and economic stability. That meant borrowing for the basics, but not for the frills. It would ultimately be tens of billions of dollars.
Let's not use euphemisms when numbers are much easier, Wayne: your former colleague took the debt from ten billion to sixty-six billion dollars.

Borrowing, supposedly, "to protect New Zealand’s social fabric at a time when it easily could have come under immense pressure." Borrowing, in fact, to maintain middle-class welfare while avoiding making any reforms of anything either politically or economically substantial.

Borrowing to produce a deficit we're still paying for, and will be for years to come.

And remember that lie about not raising GST?

So the best argument in his favour is not so much that he was a good finance minister, just that we was not quite so profligate as all the world's other big spenders. And let's not forget those massive tax cuts he promised us during the 2008 elections, all the while fully aware the GFC was going to allow him an alibi to backtrack once he found his feet under the Finance Minister's desk. In other words, he flat-out lied. (And no fear saying he didn’t know about the economic crisis when he said it.)

Yes, he did, eventually, achieve a surplus. But that should just be business as usual, not a reason for a medal.

But let's give him that much before he shuffles off the stage into well-deserved anonymity. That he did, once, achieve a genuine surplus.

It's as modest an achievement as befits him.

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