Wednesday, 14 March 2018


It is funny how it is often unexpected things that trip us up. Prime Minister Adern will surely be reflecting on that after the success of her Pacific Mission was pushed firmly into the background by Labour's summer camp revelations. Instead of not unreasonably being able to glow in the wake of her week in the Pacific, she suddenly found herself on the back foot over the summer camp issue. To make matters worse, it appears she knew nothing about it, which makes the actions of the Party's General Secretary (who had known of the incident for  some weeks) and senior Cabinet Minister Megan Woods (who had known for a lesser time) that much harder to follow.

Both should have understood that anything to do with the slightest suggestion of sexual abuse was likely to attract media attention pretty quickly - especially a summer camp coming right on the heels of the now infamous revelations about summer camps held by Otago University Law students. It would have not been reasonable for Labour to have a clear strategy in place both for dealing with the issue in a way the public would consider acceptable, and for keeping the Prime Minister - who would ultimately be called on to front the issue, even though she could hardly be held responsible for it - fully in the loop. But no, someone decided the matter should be dealt with in-house, and that the Prime Minister deliberately should not be involved.

And that is a puzzling issue too. Hardly a day passes without the Church being implicated in another sex scandal, and without the utter inadequacy of their in-house procedures for dealing with such things being mocked and derided. Surely, one would think, Labour would have been aware of all this - after all,  the Government has just set up a Royal Commission of Inquiry into claims of historical institutional sex abuse - and not allow itself to be perceived as having now stumbled deliberately into the same trap.

There is one other peculiar thing about all this. Successive governments have gone to extraordinary lengths whenever there is a whiff of scandal around to insulate the Prime Minister of the day from any suggestion of being involved in or even aware of  the incident in question. While this is perfectly understandable in an overall sense, it has frequently created some awkwardness when Prime Ministers have suddenly been confronted with something they were not aware of and have given hasty, unconvincing and incomplete responses as a consequence. Certainly, the reputation of the Prime Minister of the day has been left largely unsullied, but the awkward situations they have been placed in by the good intentions of those of those around them have left their mana a little diminished.

While National will be enjoying Labour's discomfort, it may not be all that happy itself. This was, after all, to be the week to focus on Simon Bridges' new line-up, and to set the scene for the first head-to-head contests when Parliament resumes next week. Well, all that has been knocked aside by the summer camp saga, and the week of promoting the new line-up has vanished. Moreover, because the summer camp story relates to the activities of the Labour Party, not the Government, there is no Ministerial responsibility involved, so National will not even be able to question the Prime Minister about it when the House resumes.

What happens next with the summer camp saga will depend very much on the Labour Party head office and the individuals involved. The matter may yet be taken up by the Police - who should have been informed at the outset - or Labour may continue its hitherto ham-fisted internal damage control. Either way, expect stern words between the Prime Minister's Office and the Party head office about making sure the Prime Minister - the Government's best and so far only asset - is not caught on the hop by the Party's activities again.

Recesses are times when both Governments and Oppositions seek to create opportunities which give them bragging rights and set themselves up well for the next round of public opinion polls, and for when the House resumes. The Pacific Mission and the Opposition reshuffle both had potential in that regard. That both should be gazumped by the goings-on at a Party summer camp is a timely reminder that keeping a close eye on and on top of what is happening at home will trump big external achievements every time.
   



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