Red sky at night, shepherd's delight. John Key spinning obfuscatory defence lines, Bridges warning.
Three fairly clear signs emerged today that the National Party knows Simon Bridges stuffed up in getting his officials to give him all the information needed for National to put together its ill-conceived "10 bridges for your vote!" bribe.
The first two relate to John Key's defence of Simon Bridges apparent breach of the Cabinet Manual, as recounted here.
(Incidentally, if Simon Bridges really has done nothing wrong and his actions are completely kosher ... where is he on this matter? Why isn't he answering questions about exactly why he had the urgent need to find out from his officials all about single-lane bridges in Northland a mere two days before his party announced the "10 bridges for your vote!" bribe? I mean, if there was a reason related to his portfolio (as opposed to his role as a water boy for Steven Joyce and Crosby Textor), you might think he might have let us know it by now.)
The first sign is that Key is deliberately obfuscating the issue. He continues to say that as long as Simon Bridges didn't get any policy advice from his officials about developing the "10 bridges for your vote!" bribe, then there's no possible problem under the Cabinet Manual. And he says that he himself has been given advice to this effect.
Well, we can be almost certain that Simon Bridges didn't ask his officials to advise him whether it was a good idea to double-lane all these 10 bridges because we can predict what they'd have told him: that it was a pretty silly plan that didn't represent a good use of resources and, in one particular case, couldn't be done at all. So no-one is arguing that Simon Bridges improperly sought advice from his officials - we know he wouldn't have wanted to hear what the would have said to him.
Rather, the issue is that the Cabinet Manual quite clearly says:
Before and after an election, the incumbent ministers should ensure that any requests they make for advice or information from their officials is for the purposes of their portfolio responsibilities and not for party political purposes.
So if John Key really is getting advice that it was OK for Simon Bridges to ask his officials to provide him with a whole swag of material (including the costings of bridge replacements) so that he could feed it through to Steven Joyce and Crosby Textor to develop a policy that was then announced by the National Party's Northland candidate in conjunction with the National Party's Transport Spokesman as a National Party policy, then he's getting it from someone who doesn't appear to be able to read. Which may emerge in time, because I assume someone is off to FYI.org.nz to ask to see that advice Key's claimed to have received.
Or, alternatively, he could proactively release it and prove that it says what he says it does. Because that might help to settle the matter. If it exists. But I'm sure it does. Yes.
Second, we have the fact that Key is resorting to a transparently false equivalence in relation to something that the Labour Party is alleged to have done that is even worse than Simon Bridges.
"If you go back to the 2008 election campaign you might remember actually at the campaign launch, Labour actually had used the Treasury and the Reserve Bank actually to formulate policy in relation to deposit guarantee schemes and announced that on the campaign trail, so that was a far more egregious thing.
They have used officials actually in my opinion actually to get policy advice as they did in the 2008 campaign with deposit guarantees, but they actually maybe they shouldn't have done it"
Given that Key has included no less than six "actually" fillers in only two sentences, we may deduce that even he knows the two situations are not remotely the same.
Because let's remember back to why the deposit guarantee scheme was brought in in 2008 - and let's do so using the words of the National Party's Finance Minister, Bill English, in 2009:
The Australian Government decided at very short notice to guarantee retail deposits—that is, deposits made by members of the public and by banks—and it did so alongside many other countries. The global process was started by Ireland. There was a considerable risk that New Zealand’s financial institutions could lose some of their domestic deposit base to Australia. The actions taken by the Irish Government triggered a whole raft of guarantees from Governments around the globe for precisely these reasons. At the time, the New Zealand Parliament had been dissolved for the 2008 general election, and the Government of the day established the existing guarantees scheme using the powers available to the Minister of Finance under the Public Finance Act 1989. This scheme provided assurance to depositors in New Zealand financial institutions during a period of great uncertainty and at a time when New Zealanders had seen pictures on TV of bank runs in the UK.
Does that read like Michael Cullen made improper use of official advice for party political purposes, or that he did so legitimately for the purposes of his portfolio responsibilities? Is it even a question that passes the laugh test? I mean - seriously?
What is more, here's the formal announcement of the scheme back in October 2008 - via a press release by the Reserve Bank of New Zealand. Note that there is not a mention of the Labour Party or the upcoming election in it at all.
Now, compare that to the press release issued by the National Party's Northland candidate announcing the "10 bridges for your votes!" bribe. Not only does it mention the National Party eight times, it commences with the statement that "National will commit to replacing 10 single lane bridges on Northland's Twin Coast Highway over the next six years."
Not the New Zealand Government. Not Land Transport New Zealand. But the National Party.
So, no, Mr Key. Sorry. Michael Cullen's action in tasking officials to advise him on creating a bank deposit guarantees scheme at the height of the GFC and with a potential run on the banks looming is most decidedly not "a far more egregious thing" than Simon Bridges actions. It isn't even remotely similar.
The third indication that National knows Simon Bridges messed up is the "nothing to see here folks - and even if there is something to see, it's not very important!" message being spun by the National Party's pollster, David Farrar. I won't comment on this at too much length, except to say that it's a reliable rule of thumb that when a political blogger takes time to post to the world that "people don't care about this issue!" they really are meaning "I really hope no-one cares about this issue (because if they do, it's not good for me or my team)!"
There is one point that needs some comment, but. In his post, David Farrar claims that:
The sort of people who think this is great politics are the same sort who orgasm over who won question time in the House. I know, because I used to be one of them. One of the good things about leaving Parliament is you get a much better idea of what really matters to New Zealanders.
Well, isn't it great to see that he's grown out of his past un-New Zealander fascination with such "beltway" issues and has become so much more in connection with the stuff that "New Zealanders" care about. That really allows him to opine on what "matters" and what "doesn't matter".
Not like that tragic onanist David Farrar of August 17, 2008, who sat at home watching Question Time on TV and blogging about it. Or the sad masturbatory freak that got so excited by the first question time of the new National Government that he had to blog on it twice in two days.
Mind you, that was the David Farrar of some seven years ago. The modern David Farrar hasn't any sort of interest in that type of non-New Zealander nonsense. Except ... there is this 2012 article - in the New Zealand Herald, no less! - where he spends several hundred words analysing in some depth just who won and who lost the first question time of the last Parliament.
I can only hope that this not-New Zealander David Farrar had a copious supply of tissues to hand when he wrote it - I fear he may have created quite a mess when doing so.