Bill has the numbers but shouldn’t stop counting

Venkat Raman –

Bill English is not new to Indian Newslink or its readers.

He used to be a Columnist for this newspaper in 2002 and 2003 and has been our Guest of Honour at the Indian Newslink Indian Business Awards.

He has been the country’s Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister in the fifth National government (since November 2008) and has in the past held a similar post and other ministerial responsibilities.

With the National Party enjoying a commanding majority in Parliament, Mr English has never had an occasion to fight for his budgets to be passed.

However, he donned the robe of a pugilist just for a few hours on June 7, 2002 to take part in ‘Fight for Life’ organised by TV3. It was a celebrity boxing fundraiser for the Yellow Ribbon Anti-Youth Suicide Campaign. He lost the match to entertainer Ted Clarke, but he appeared in the ring because of the death of a teenage nephew.

Married to Mary, a General Practitioner, he has raised five sons and a daughter. A devout Roman Catholic, Mr English keeps his religion out of politics.

Positive factors

The New Zealand economy has been performing well and Mr English could justifiably take credit for it. He has borrowed heavily over the past eight years but coping with a series of natural disasters and the Global Financial Crisis were certainly among the most formidable challenges for any finance minister. Mr English has coped well and with healthy finances, the economy has the prospect of returning to surplus during the current financial year. The hope is to turn in at least $2 billion.

New Zealand continues to score high on the world map as a reliable, well-meaning and honest friend, and its impressive status of being the least corrupt country on the Corruption Perception Index of Transparency International (although perception can be divorced from facts) is a source of endearment for international businesses and investors.

The economy is ticking along well, our finances are expected to move to surplus during the current fiscal year, rising business confidence may lead to job creation bringing down the rate of unemployment and the general mood of the nation is positive. So why worry about the general election next year?

Unfortunately, neither politics nor public mood can be predicted. With the election, still some time away, Mr English would first have to get his house in order.

Politics does not function on intuitions and people do not vote for a party or a candidate just because opinion polls appear favourable. There have been upsets at polls in the past with favourites sent to the opposition and hence there is no room for complacency.

Political piques

Mr English knows well that National under his leadership may not be as robust as it was under his predecessor, who rode a major wave and stayed put on high rates of acceptance. That in effect was a remarkable and rare phenomenon anywhere in the modern world. He would also know that initial bid for leadership from at least three other members of the former cabinet is itself a sign of caution – that the applecart can be upset at any time.

Paula Bennett who joins him as the Deputy Prime Minister is an ambitious politician.

She is young and energetic and could well be a contender for the top job in the months to come. So would Judith Collins be, for, she has earned merit as a tough and no-nonsense minister under Mr Key’s watch.

There are then a number of others who can suddenly raise their hands.

The Asian Vote

Mr Key distinguished as a genuine friend of any number of ethnic groups. At a time when none in his Party was inclined, he took the bold decision of including Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi as a list candidate, placing him in a comfortable position to enter Parliament.

Mr Bakshi has not betrayed his leader’s choice. He has been a true lieutenant, representing his General at community meetings, listening to their problems and initiating steps to address them. He is aware that the voting public is not yet ready to send a person of Indian origin from an electorate but goes beyond his own community to assist and support all New Zealanders.

He has been a loyal servant of the Party, which perhaps would earn him recognition at the next shuffling.

The Asian vote in general can be overlooked. People of Asian origin constitute more than 12% of the population, and hence their own voice must be heard in Parliament.

Transparent governance

But none of these would cut ice with New Zealanders who are largely unimpressed by grandeur. What matters to them is good and firm leadership, sound fiscal management, policies and programmes that promote a higher standard of living and most important of all, clean and transparent governance.

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