Saturday, May 27, 2006

When is Helen Going?

Rumours are floating around the circuit in Wellington as to just how likely it is that Prime Minister Helen Clark will remain in her current position. I’m not talking about a leadership coup, her position at the head of the Labour Party is secure for as long as she wants it. Rather it’s to do with the next job that she is seeking.

It is no secret that Clark has set her sights on the Secretary General’s position at the UN. That story has being doing the rounds for some time and most in political circles are well aware of her ambitions in that direction. However lately there have been a few developments that indicate the Prime Minister’s ambitions may be close to being realised.

So what is the evidence for this?

Firstly, look at the recent surge in State visits she’s been involved in over the past few years. By my count there have been well over 20 and many of them have involved countries that have little or no strategic or economic connections to New Zealand. Lithuania is a prime example. What is the benefit our Prime Minister being involved in such a matter? We do little or no trade with them so why is Clark taking the time to talk to their head of state? Canvassing support, soliciting a vote should she take a tilt at the UN job?

Secondly, a number of European Commissioners have been doing the rounds in Wellington lately. Some of their discussions in meetings with some of the movers and shakers in the National Party have included the possibility of Clark taking over at the UN when Kofi Annan’s term ends. Generally these sorts of conversations only occur when there’s some substance to the subject at hand. It’s common practice for opposition parties to be sounded out to see if they’re amenable before a concrete chain of events is set in motion. Naturally the National Party will be quite happy to see her go, as they’ll have a much better chance of winning the 2008 election if the Labour Party is fighting it with a new leader.

Thirdly, it’s the turn of the Asia-Pacific area to have a Secretary General at the UN. With the precedent now set for politicians to take the Secretary General’s post (e.g. Boutros-Ghali), Clark has a shot.

Fourthly, there has been some discussion about it being a woman’s turn to have the UN job. Historically it’s been a solely male position. If this speculation is correct it’s another factor counting in Clark’s favour.

While there are some strong arguments for Clark’s chances there is also one very compelling reason why she may fail in her ambitions. Namely, the opportunity for a member of the UN Security Council to veto her appointment. You don’t have to be a genius to figure out what, or who, the stumbling block may be here. In a word the USA.

Clark is not, and likely never will be, flavour of the month with George W Bush. Apparently her act of sending a congratulatory message to Al Gore for winning the 2000 presidential election has left him holding somewhat of a grudge against her. If she tries for the UN it’s odds on he’ll block it if he can.

Still the discussions on the political cocktail circle are interesting. The fact that they’re happening suggests something might be about to occur.

Mind you it could also be bullshit.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Ditch Crossing.

In light of this week’s budget (which was so boring I won’t go into it) there’s been a lot of cat-calling going on. It’s primarily coming from the Nat’s, and it’s all about tax. Well, tax-cuts to be precise.

Don Brash, Gerry Brownlee, and co have wittily suggested the only place that the average hard working Kiwi can get a tax cut these days is in Australia. Phrases such as the ”Bondi Brain Drain Budget” have been flying around willy nilly since Thursday night. Finance Minister, Michael Cullen, with his usual ascerbic humour has suggested if they reckon Australia is so great, then why don’t they just go there. That, he reckons, would be of inestimable value to NZ.

In light of this some wits in the Gallery (yes there are some with a sense of humour working there) having been coming up with suitable nicknames for these National stalwarts should they ever choose to up sticks and cross the ditch. Here are a few examples to whet your appetite:

Don “the dingo” Brash.
John “Coolangatta” Key.
Gerry “Billabong” Brownlee.

Yes, I admit they’re fairly weak. But the concept has potential.

Needless to say the coverage of the budget has struck a few nerves within the Government. The full page spreads and headlines bemoaning the lack of tax cuts saw Cullen’s press secretary, Mike Jaspers, bestriding the gallery corridors on Friday accusing certain media outlets of buying into National Party propaganda. Admittedly he was pretty tongue in cheek about it, but he said it nevertheless. Actually his stance has a certain irony, as it wasn’t too long ago that he was a business reporter for TVNZ, and in that capacity he was never shy of firing a few shots across the bows of Government economic policy.

Finally some questions worth considering:

1) Why were so few of the left wing of the Labour Party at Michael Cullen's post budget drinks?

2) Whose staffer was it that was literally throwing herself all over a certain (single) Cabinet Minister?

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Back In Circulation.

Either it's coincidence, or the Gods like to have their fun with me when I start a new job. I've yet to have a gradual easing in to a new work environment. It's always a case of finding myself up in it up to my neck and paddling furiously. The move to Wellington has proved to be a similar story.

In my first week on the job there's the biggest pre-budget leak in 20 years. How's that for an introduction to life in the Press Gallery? Never mind trying to find my way around the labyrinth that is Parliament, I also have to join the posse that's hot on the trail of the civil servant that knocked the stuffing out of Michael Cullen's Budget.

Proving that there's no honour among thieves Telecom's dobbed the mole in to the State Services Commission which is handling the inquiry. If a journo did this to a source they'd be hung drawn and quartered for the being a lily livered gutless swine. I guess in this case it's Telecom's last attempt to buddy up to the Government before its license to print money is ripped out of its hands. A futile effort at trying to get back in the Government's good graces.

As to who the leaker is ... well everyone is pretty much in the dark. Parliament's not normally noted for keeping stuff like this quiet but in this case most I have seen are still scratching their heads.

As it stands there are four areas where the leaker could come from. Within Cabinet and its associated staff. From the Ministry of Economic Development, which would have had a major hand in developing the policy. Treasury, which would have done the financial implications and costings. And the Ministry of Justice, which would have advised on the legislation needed for unbundling the local loop.

Now the Prime Minister has pretty much ruled out it being from Cabinet saying she has assurances from her Ministers (whatever they may be worth). However she has let slip that the Cabinet papers that were leaked did go beyond the cabinet area. This is where MED, MOJ, and Treasury come in.

If I was to put my money on it I'd pick Treasury as the source of the leak. I say this because of the tensions between this Government and Treasury (remember the ideological burp). That and the fact there's always been a commonality of opinion between Treasury and Telecom on certain economic approaches ... especially with regard to Government interventionism.

Either way we'll find out next week.