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James Elliott

Yesterdaze: Belittling experiments in leadership

Christopher Luxon described the Treaty as “a little experiment”. Photo: Getty Images

Cantakerous, cranky and communicatively challenged - our politicians turned out all varieties of sub-par this week. James Elliott breaks it down. 

It’s been yet another week where the weather cycle has dominated the news cycle, and may do so again next week.

Waitangi Day observance was dampened by both drizzle and dribble, particularly from BlueChris who described the Treaty as “a little experiment”. Many people took issue with that description, “belittling” being the most widely used criticism followed closely by “patronising much?” and “WTAF?” I read these comments over breakfast the next day. I’m trying something new, putting some flaxseed oil on my granola and yoghurt – that’s a little experiment. And breakfast food combinations are about the right level of importance and gravity for using descriptions like “a little experiment”.

RedChris wouldn’t be drawn on whether he agreed with BlueChris’s “little experiment” description. He probably assessed that it wouldn’t be very Prime Ministerial to be seen kicking a man who already had one of his own feet firmly lodged in his mouth. A day later and even BlueChris himself didn’t agree with his own “little experiment” description. “What I was saying very clearly is it has been a brave experiment” he said, which would be true apart from the fact that he very clearly said little and not brave. And I think we can agree that those two words are poles apart. Not many people would have wanted to go to the movies to see Mel Gibson in 'Littleheart'.

READ MORE: * Wayne Brown: the evolution of an apologyPM will now speak at Waitangi after communication chaos

Another feature of the Waitangi news coverage was the reappearance of Winston Peters and Shane Jones, lumbering out of political hibernation like a couple of very hangry bears. Hangry and cranky, taking swings at all the other political players they in fact looked less like bears than Statler and Waldorf looking for a balcony to throw shade from. If you don’t get that reference, they’re a couple of muppets. And Statler and Waldorf are the two elderly cantankerous hecklers who appear in a TV show hosted by Kermit the Frog.

"I think we can agree that 'little' and 'brave' are poles apart. Not many people would have wanted to go to the movies to see Mel Gibson in 'Littleheart'."

On the subject of cantankerous, Auckland Mayor Wayne Brown had a better week, which isn’t saying very much. He recorded an apology for his communications about the Auckland floods that was then broadcast on Facebook, a video clearly directed by someone with extensive experience of making hostage videos.

Mayor Brown didn’t front to the media to issue or discuss the apology, but at least a precedent has now been set. I’m hopeful that we’ll see another awkward video apology coming to a Facebook feed near you over the proposal in Mayor Brown’s draft budget to stop or reduce funding to Auckland’s Citizens Advice Bureau. In the past year alone, 880 volunteers at the 32 Citizens Advice Bureau offices across the city provided critical assistance to 163,000 Aucklanders needing help to navigate bureaucracy and access their rights. Is it reasonable to assume that thousands more Aucklanders affected by the floods may need assistance from the CAB and its volunteers to navigate bureaucracy and access their rights in the coming months? Yes. Very reasonable. Probable, probably. So here’s some free citizen's advice for the Mayor – leave the Citizens Advice Bureau alone. Your comments in reaction to the Auckland floods had some people questioning whether you’re capable of empathy. Stopping funding of the Citizens Advice Bureau, particularly at this difficult time for so many Aucklanders, would give a pretty clear answer to that question.

Another feature of the Waitangi news coverage was the reappearance of Winston Peters and Shane Jones, lumbering out of political hibernation like a couple of very hangry bears.

It was also an eventful week for RedChris. First there was the quick dash to Canberra to meet the current Australian PM, [checks notes] Anthony Albanese. These meet and greets follow a set pattern, including an exchange of gifts, which resulted in the first clear misstep by RedChris as PM. Neesy (or Neeso or Alby or Albo) gifted RedChris some Australian music in the form of vinyl LPs. This presented the perfect opportunity for Chippy (or Chippo or Hippy but probably not Hippo) to reciprocate the gift of vinyl with the perfectly passive aggressive gift of denim, specifically some Levi’s 501s with a “no backsies” card tucked into the hip pocket. This was an obvious opportunity missed.

Maybe RedChris had other things on his mind like the 'policy purge' carried out under the banner of a focus on bread and butter issues, although none of the policy reset seems to address either bread or butter. Top of the discard list was the scrapping of the TVNZ/RNZ merger which led to one of the highlights of the week – Finance Minister Grant Robertson being grilled about wasting money on TVNZ and RNZ during an interview by Corin Dann, on RNZ. I think the kids would call that very meta.

Have a peaceful and hopefully not too wet weekend.

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