Forgetting history, National gets into a quagmire

Thakur Ranjit Singh
Auckland, May 25, 2020

Todd Muller and Simon Bridges (RNZ/Getty Images)

Labour Party, post departure of Helen Clark (in 2009), had degenerated into a battlefield with internal squabbles and leadership crisis.

After departure of Helen Clark, the Labour Party never really experienced stability due to lack of clear succession plans, among others.

Leadership was like musical chairs, with Phil Goff, David Shearer, David Cunliffe and Andrew Little temporarily occupying the shaky chair.  It was always expected that the leadership change would spell better political fortunes but it remained a wishful thinking.

With infightings, poor internal management, a wanting media and communications cell, inability to communicate clearly and a lack of charisma from the leaders, good political fortunes evaded the party. According to the polls before 2017 election, Labour was expected to lose the game.

Thakur Ranjit Singh

Hail Mary Pass

They appeared to be in a death-spiral, with National Party confidently gearing up for a historical fourth-term. They needed a miracle. And miracle they did get – with a Hail Mary Pass before the last whistle. What a marvellous historical political American Football in Aotearoa.

Hail Mary Pass-Andrew Little abdicated post to Jacinda Ardern

Those familiar with American Football would know that a Hail Mary Pass is a very long forward pass made in desperation, towards end of the game, just before final whistle. The ball is thrown as far as you can throw, hoping your player can catch the ball and win the game.

And the losing Labour team’s Captain, Andrew Little admirably made that long frantic pass.

Luckily, the ball was caught by the now new Labour Leader, Jacinda Ardern. She, in a desperate run, with election just months away, made a victorious touchdown. 

Before that Hail Mary Pass, Mr Little had a big burden on his shoulders.

Little’s big act

With election just months away, and polls really hurting Labour, he had to rise to the occasion.

He thought that Labour would be in better hands with Jacinda at the helms, as she offered a better alternative government. As a die-hard Labour man, he had to do something.

And he made the ultimate sacrifice – an admirable and unprecedented call.

Helen Clark with Phil Goff, Peter Davis, Dick Hubbard and Mary Goff at Indian Newslink Offices on June 16, 2005

This came unexpectedly, very suddenly, but very decisively. He handed over the leadership to Ms Ardern. What a wonderful gesture, and an exemplary action that dashed the possibility of him ever becoming a Prime Minister.

Very few would let that chance go by, never mind how remote the possibility.

A political party is best judged by how smooth the transition of its leadership is. Labour, since departure of Ms Clark, has been in disarray – until Jacindamania.

It was the cleanest and unanimous transfer in history, not borne in any scandal or for selfish reason.

In fact, it was rooted in a huge sacrifice of Mr Little. Not many would pass a chance to be Prime Minister. This transition even eclipsed the one between John Key and Bill English where challenges (read Judith Collins, Jonathan Coleman) were suppressed by the departing smiling assassin.

But like a true gentleman and a devoted party Marshall, he made the Hail Mary Pass. 

This gesture gave rise to Jacindamania (also referred to as Jacinda – effect).

And it created another history, that this Labour transition in leadership was bloodless, without controversy and without opposition.

People who had seen enough blood in the past Labour leadership battles would have passed this leadership move as a Sunday school picnic.

And we fast forward to bloodbath at High Noon at Not Ok Corral that was the National caucus room on Friday 23 May 2020 at the Beehive in Wellington.

Victims of  coup-Bill English (National) and David Shearer (Labour) at Indian Newslink Business Awards November 19, 2012

Bloody battle after

National had descended into same quagmire that Labour was before Jacindamania.

National Party now has a new leader, Todd Muller, and a new Deputy Nikki Kaye, after a dirty and bloody leadership battle.

For a combination of unfortunate events, while ironically they have brought fortunes to Ms Ardern in particular and Labour Party in general, they appear to have inversely affected Simon Bridges and his National Party.

National can always attribute Ms Ardern’s rise to Christchurch Massacre, White Island disaster and Covid 19, in particular, how immaculately and compassionately she handled all of them.

And this resulted in eclipse of Simon’s fortunes.

Consequently, this culminated in that scruffy and bloody leadership tussle.

And this messy battle has bruised and bloodied Brand National.

What we learn from history is that we do not learn from history.

Mr Bridges should have been a true leader, knowing when you have come to the end of the road – and quit with dignity.

He should have learnt from Mr Little, who in his desperation and for the love of his Party, made an ultimate political sacrifice in making that Hail Mary pass to Ms Ardern and handed her the baton in 2017, some months before the election.

Mr Little now stands tall as the unsung hero of Jacindamania.

He made the ultimate sacrifice, an admirable and unprecedented call that a fighter Mr Bridges failed to emulate. Mr Bridges would have gone in history to have risen to the occasion if he had done what Little did when he was sinking the party he loved.

For Labour, and Little, it came without bloodbath like previous Labour leadership change.

He willingly and happily handed over the baton to Mr Ardern. A wonderful gesture, and an exemplary action that gave New Zealand another admirable leader.

Sadly, Mr Bridges failed to learn from history.

And many a politician who fail to learn from history are destined to political scrapheap.

Time will tell if this misfortune befalls somebody who failed to stand as tall as Little.

Thakur Ranjit Singh is a political observer, a media commentator and journalist. He runs his blog, Fiji Pundit, and lives in Auckland.

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