• Muller and the “Leak”.

    Simon Bridges must be the unluckiest person in New Zealand politics.

    When he was elected as leader of the National party, he also became Leader of the Opposition – a position, he was entitled to assume, that would require him to “oppose”.

    But the government he set out to oppose was not an ordinary government and was not an ordinary political opponent.  The advent of the Covid 19 pandemic changed the rules of the game.

    By virtue of her clarity and firmness of purpose in fighting the pandemic, and her brilliance as a communicator, the Prime Minister transformed herself from just another party politician, and became instead the “captain” of a “team of five million”.

    This transformation forced a change on the Opposition as well.  Conventional attacks on the government’s record – and that record was essentially about the pandemic – were no longer seen as acceptable and expected, but were regarded instead as unpatriotic and as a deliberate attempt to undermine a great collective national effort and campaign.

    Notwithstanding the adverse reactions – not least from his own supporters – whenever he tried to damage the government’s credibility, it took Simon Bridges too long to wake up to this changed scenario.  By the time he had learned the lesson, it was too late; and it was that failure that cost him the leadership.

    No one doubts that the changed situation would have been a difficult one for any leader of the Opposition.  To navigate a course that permitted Simon Bridge to maintain critical pressure on the government without offending that majority that wanted to see the government succeed in its campaign against the virus would have required political skills of the highest order – and, sadly for Simon Bridges, he was, perhaps not surprisingly, found wanting.

    With that unhappy example in mind, it might have been thought that his successor, Todd Muller, would have avoided falling into the same trap.  But, not a bit of it – the new leader enthusiastically lobbed hand grenades at the government from day one, and whenever he could, and his relevant ministers, such as Michael Woodhouse, followed suit.

    They were joined by the grande dame of the National party, Michelle Boag, and by ambitious back-benchers, such as Hamish Walker.  And, even worse, they weren’t too fussy about the charges they levelled or where they had come from.  Michael Woodhouse, for example, peddled a story about a homeless man joining the queue for free accommodation in managed isolation in a quarantine hotel –  a story he has never been able to stand up.

    And Woodhouse was one of the two National MPs who were leaked the private details of Covid 19 sufferers by Michelle Boag – a “leak” which Todd Muller and his colleagues then made much of and used to attack the government.  Michelle Boag and Hamish Walker have now, after the deception was discovered and they have confessed to their culpability, both fallen on their swords.

    But why did Todd Muller allow the story of “the leak” to run for so long without correcting it?  And why did he and Michael Woodhouse both sit on the information that Woodhouse had also received e-mails from Michelle Boag?  

    Why did Michael Woodhouse, having received the e-mails from Michelle Boag, issue a statement that it was “unconscionable and unacceptable” that the private details had been leaked, wth its implication that this was a government bungle, when he knew perfectly well how the leak had arisen?   Did Todd Muller, in an attempt to deflect attention from himself and his Health spokesperson, decide that Hamish Walker was junior enough to be thrown to the wolves as the fall guy who would carry the can?  

    Can Todd Muller and his senior lieutenants survive, in the voters’ eyes, having presided over such a disreputable and unprincipled manoeuvre?  As Marc Antony might have said, with Shakespearean irony, “For Todd Muller is an honourable man.  So are they all, all honourable men.”  Is Simon Bridges now permitting himself a quiet smile?   

    Bryan Gould

    11 July 2020

1 Comment

  1. Jeremy Callaghan says: July 11, 2020 at 6:32 amReply

    You make it seem that there’s more to this than just sounding like a second-rate Waikato MBA!