John Armstrong's opinion: Simon Bridges' 'part-time' dig is a garbage ploy someone like Donald Trump would use

John Armstrong
Source: 1News

Simon Bridges’ assertion that Jacinda Ardern is a "part-time prime minister" running a "part-time government" is complete and utter garbage.

It is not only garbage. It is garbage tainted with a nastiness that is not that far removed from the kind of sick politics in which Donald Trump loves nothing better than to wallow.

Bridges' none-too-subtle recourse to dog-whistle politics to pander to the prejudices of those who cannot cope with the roles of Prime Minister and new mother being carried out by one and the same person has National’s leader veering into unacceptable territory.

Let’s be clear about one thing. Bridges has every right to question whether becoming a new mother is compatible with the demands of the office of prime minister. 

What is inexcusable and quite despicable is his failure and refusal to be upfront about it.

Is he saying Ardern is a part-time prime minister because time spent caring for her daughter is time she cannot spend carrying out her prime ministerial duties?

The unstated implication — and this is where the nastiness really comes into play — is that were Ardern to function as a full-time prime minister then that would render her to be a part-time parent — and thus not a truly caring one.

There is no excuse for Bridges foisting such a guilt trip on Ardern as she seeks to strike a balance between catering for the needs of nationhood and the separate demands of motherhood.

Bridges might well be urged to look in the mirror and ask himself the following question: Is he a "part-time Leader of the Opposition" by virtue of him having not just one child, but three, all of whom are under the age of eight?

Having got it wrong with his attempt to portray Ardern as a part-time prime minister, he is just as wide of the mark in suggesting her Administration is a part-time one.

Sure, the current three-party troika governing the country has its shortcomings. No-one is denying that. It suffers from many of the faults that afflict all governments whether that be ill-conceived policies, poorly performing Cabinet ministers, a tendency to take the easy option, buckling to vested interests, or caving into voters at the first sound of public squealing.

The big difference — and the big mistake — has been Ardern and company’s over-committing of themselves to carrying out a massive reform agenda across vast swathes of areas which fall under the authority of the State.

The current governing arrangement is not a part-time outfit. It is a full-time operation charged with implementing so many plans requiring so many changes in so many areas of government policy in so short a time that the Prime Minister and her Cabinet colleagues are having to work overtime in order not to fall even further behind the tight timetables they need to meet to get their reforms embedded and delivering a first tranche of meaningful results as a minimum before next year’s general election rolls around.

It is now inevitable that some government sectors will have failed to deliver by the time the election campaign gets underway.

Ardern will likely rationalise such failures as heroic failures of ambition; that the policies were the correct ones to apply under the circumstances, but that it will take longer for them to produce dividends, not least because National’s unwillingness to address things that had been going seriously awry meant turning around the applicable statistics had taken longer than anyone could have foreseen.

It hardly needs saying that it is not in Bridges’ interests to allow himself to be dragged into political argument couched in these terms — or, more to the point, on Ardern’s terms.

Laying the blame for a pending failure to deliver on "part-time" government might not be accurate. But it gives Bridges a coherent theme underpinning his attacks mounted on Ardern’s Ministry. 

Painting ministers as part-timers is clever.That is because "part-time" has negative connotations. It suggests lack of skills, lack of commitment, casualism, amateurism and, most damaging of all, laziness.

All this might not seem a big deal. Every politician who fills the role of Leader of the Opposition searches for a mechanism to enable them to set the political agenda.  Most fail to find one.

Bridges has succeeded in coming up with just the kind of catch-phrase which is capable of resonating with the voting public. In short, it gives a whole lot more bite to his sound-bites.

Such tactics speak volumes for the fact that Ardern and the persona she projects remain an insurmountable obstacle blocking National from returning to the Government benches next year.

That said, that obstacle no longer feels quite as insurmountable as it  seemed in the immediate wake of the March 15 slaughter at the Christchurch mosques.

The latest 1NEWS-Colmar Brunton poll has Ardern’s preferred prime minister rating sliding 10 percentage points since April to 41 per cent.

It is also of note that the country has failed to get excited by Ardern’s appearance on the front cover of the British edition of Vogue magazine.

In contrast, Bridges has been on a rare political high. Last weekend’s National Party conference was a success for him if only for the fact that nothing went wrong. He socked it to Labour in his keynote speech to the party faithful. 

He skewered Health Minister David Clark by exposing Labour’s dilly-dallying in meeting its promises with regard to cancer treatment and neatly portraying the delay as an example of “part-time government”.

Last Monday’s 1NEWS poll had support for National holding steady at a healthy 45 per cent and ahead of Labour.

Bridges suddenly looks to be a lot safer in his job.

Having made progress on the home front, Bridges might have been well advised to have pulled back from the political fray for a while.

But he didn’t stop. He instead took the lift in his fortunes as a cue to prosecute his case that Ardern is a part-time prime minister.

He cited her visit to Tokelau as an example. He argued that she should have made the trip during the recent three-week parliamentary recess instead of having a short holiday in the Cook Islands.

This criticism came from someone who spent some of that break in the United Kingdom visiting the family of his English-born wife.

Apart from making the people of Tokelau feel like they were being treated as second-class New Zealand citizens, Bridges only succeeded in highlighting National’s neglect of the dependent territory as evidenced by the fact that no prime minister could be bothered visiting the far flung atolls during National’s nine-year stint in power.

Bridges has insisted that rather than being in Tokelau, Ardern should have been at home dealing with issues of concern for "everyday” New Zealanders—issues like the snowballing protest and occupation of land at Ihumātao.

Once again the part-time Leader of the Opposition demonstrated his capacity to be the very model of inconsistency. 

At different times he was criticising the Prime Minister for getting involved and at others for not getting involved.

He further slammed the Prime Minister for not putting in an appearance at Ihumātao. He then refused to commit himself to fronting up.

Bridges is clearly punting on most voters either ignoring the inconsistencies in his statements and position-taking or not being aware of them or simply not caring about them. 

There may be a more mundane explanation for the public’s indifference.  The great bulk of voters may have simply stopped listening to what Bridges has to say full stop.

If so — and it is highly likely to be the case — the part-time Leader of the Opposition remains at high risk of finding himself relegated to National’s back-benches.

Moreover, that sentencing would not be part-time. Nor even full-time. It would be for all time.