The Limits of Power: What Johnson, Trump, Ardern and Fonterra have in common

It has been quite a month for politics all over the world. It has highlighted yet again that promises made in Opposition are easily made, but more often than not impossible to deliver. 

 In the United Kingdom, the House of Commons has put its foot down. It has not allowed Boris Johnson and the hard-line Brexiters to proceed as they wished. Enthralling as it is for political junkies to follow, it brings some truly great ‘unsolvables’ to the fore.

Did the 2016 referendum approve a no-deal exit from the European Union? If you listen to Boris and his acolytes now the referendum result was an open and shut endorsement of Britain getting out of Europe; no ifs, buts or maybe’s. No matter what.

Back up a step. During the 2016 referendum campaign Boris Johnson had consistently promised to negotiate an orderly and advantageous exit from the EU, and indeed he still is promising he could do that if only Parliament would just get out of his way. 

He told the Commons that if they undermined his threat to leave come hell or high water by passing a law that outlawed a no-deal exit, they were totally undermining his negotiating position. His tactic? Supposedly to force the European leaders to compromise and agree an exit deal that was way superior to the deal Theresa May said was not just the best deal she could get, it was as far as Europe would go. 

The Commons then went further and stopped him proceeding with a snap election on his timing. It has been very different to what he thought looked so easy as he sat there planning his moves.  

 Last Tuesday evening I heard an interesting presentation by former Reserve Bank Governor Dr Alan Bollard, one of New Zealand's leading and most recognised economists, on the Economic Brain of Donald J. Trump. Dr Bollard proceeded to try to analyse the economic moves Trump has made.

Despite Trump’s claims to huge unbridled success there were lots of unanswered questions to say the least. Trump does indeed have great power as President of the United States, and indeed has taken narcissism to a new level, but even he is finding the limits to his power. 

The trade war with China was going to be an easy thing to win, he said, when he first slapped on some tariffs. But then he did not reflect before launching his ‘trade war’ that the Chinese might not just simply back down. They have not – each round of new tariffs has been met with a responding counter measure. There is no end in sight. 

Same with foreign policy, The self professed ’master deal maker’ has had two summits with Kim Jung Un to solve the Korean problem and de-nuclearise the Peninsula; again there is no end in sight.  

In New Zealand we have had Kiwibuild. My family was building a house in Martinborough while the 2017 campaign was in full flight. The builders on site all heard the Kiwibuild promises being repeated again and again.

To a person they said there was no way that an additional 10,000 houses per year could be built. The building industry was already stretched to near breaking point. There was no way they could meet that target.  

I think this inability to deliver on expectations will finally be this Government’s undoing. Everyone would like to rid our country of our social and economic problems – child poverty, high rates of incarceration, poor housing, discrimination, etc etc.  We have had a welfare system since the late 1930’s and that has not fixed it. 

Economic issues too. Westland Dairy Coop has been sold to the Chinese company Yily. It is a rescue mission for Westland. It is not a move by rapacious capitalists but by the farmer-suppliers who have seen their board and management borrow to implement ambitious plans that have fallen flat on their face. 

When Fonterra set out it was with fanfare and hoopla. Many thought its size would give it the strength to assure success. They paid ridiculous salaries to their senior managers and invested in all sorts of plans and schemes all over the world. They have 6,000 staff earning more that $100k. It’s not envy that makes me see all that extravagance as ridiculous; the results speak for themselves.  

Governments and companies alike will work better and achieve more when we all get our expectations in line with reality.