Welcome to part two of our series extracts from the scintillating new book Fury and Fury about the 2018 election result viewed through the eyes of esteemed fictional journalist Wolf Michaels who spent several months with National Party. In this extract and fury we join the National Party during their Coalition talks with Winston Peters of New Zealand First.
It’s hot in Wellington. Not temperature wise because it happens to be still be spring and a massive storm has journeyed from the Southern Ocean and without being too scientific, it’s bloody freezing, but it’s also hot. Politically hot.
I’m sitting on a bench outside the National Party caucus room with Gerry Brownlee – a man from Christchurch who has managed, through his handling of the earthquake rebuild, to become an enemy of the city. I think back to last week in the garden city when Brownlee was verbally abused by several passers. When I asked how this torrent of abuse made him feel he said nothing although a long guttural growl rumbled somewhere in the back of his throat. I turn and face the Ilam MP and he has a similar look on his face now as he did that day in Christchurch.
“I’m bloody angry,” he announces. I want to ask why, but I also don’t want to. Asking Brownlee a question is going to lead me down a path I don’t wish to travel. It’s too late. He has decided to answer the question I didn’t want to ask.
“I don’t know why,” he offers, “I’ve been angry ever since I can remember. I’m just bloody angry. Bloody damn angry.”
Little else happens between us apart from Gerry expressing his anger and me not really doing anything else other than writing down the words that he is saying about his anger. In the room next to where we are sitting the National Party leadership team and the New Zealand First leadership team (Winston Peters). These talks are highly confidential incredibly confidential. Nobody knows what’s going on, when it’s going, what’s happening, who’s involved, or what they are doing.
I try to ask Gerry Brownlee about what he thinks is going to happen. He says he doesn’t know and then starts grunting angrily to himself about being angry. We both sit on the bench from 9:30 in the morning until around about 12 o’clock – around the time leadership teams emerge.
It has been a long and fruitless morning and Brownlee suggests we head to Bellamy’s for some lunch. I order a chicken salad sandwich and Brownlee orders the “everything.” When the food arrives I am uncertain whether my lunch buddy will be able to complete eating ahead of the caucus meeting which is due to begin in around 20 minutes. By the time I have finished that thought, however, the interim Foreign Affairs Minister is already asking if I am going to finish my sandwich.
Shortly afterwards we head to the caucus room for an update on the current status of the coalition negotiations. We haven’t been there long when Bill English arrives. He has a few pieces of paper and sits down in a chair at the front. The Prime Minister takes a second to loosen up his tie before realising it is a mistake and tightening it again. English settles in and gives everyone present the low down.
“So far,” he tells everyone, “there have been two days of negotiations with Winston Peters. At present we know nothing. We do not know if he will go with the Labour Party or whether he will he go with the National Party.”
As English clears his throat to begin his next sentence the door opens and in walks Judith Collins. She surveys the gathering before turning to Bill and smiling a smile one would find on a mythical god whose special power is turning people into stone.
“Don’t stop on my account, Bill,” she says in a voice peppered with soothing knives, before she heads down the back of the room to take a seat.
English takes a few minutes to outline Peters’ demands. Cabinet posts for all New Zealand First MPs. He reads out a list. Peters for Foreign Affairs; Ron Mark for Defence; Tracey Martin for Education. The list goes on and on. The longer it goes on the less familiar I am with the names being read out.
I turn to Gerry just in time to witness a pulsating vein on the side of his head explode.
“That’s my job!” he yells, “I’m the Foreign Minister. I’ve got the Koru card. You can’t bloody give that to bloody Peters. It’s mine.”
The former Earthquake Recovery Minister starts shaking and dribbling. English, seemingly aware of this anger management issue, extracts an emergency Toffee Pop from his bag of prime ministerial tricks and flicks it towards Brownlee who hungrily snaps it out of thin air before quickly calming down. This is an obvious National Party tactic as several more of the chocolatey treats end up in or near Brownlee’s mouth.
The meeting quickly draws to a close. There is nothing to vote on and nothing anyone can do but wait for Winston. As the crowd meanders their way out the door, Gerry turns to me to suggest, or rather, demand we head back to Bellamy’s for some afternoon tea.
What a fine idea.
In the lead up to the election late last year, MyThinks was fortunate to be given full, exclusive and unfettered access to the National Party of New Zealand. At the invite of the party we sent in our special correspondent Wolf Michaels to cover the events leading up to, and following on from polling day. After hundreds of hours of interviews with sources deep inside the hierarchy of the party, Michaels’ is about to release a sensational tell-all book titled Fury and Fury. Today we are incredibly privileged to be bringing you an exclusive extract from that book.
Prologue: Election Night
I walk into the main room of the Sky City convention centre. There is a massive sea of blue and white bunting and an equally massive sea of white faces. Old and older alike are patting each other on the backs, giving their congratulations to everyone around them. Some of the younger white faces are even experimenting with the more American high-5 commemoration of success. Nearby older white faces utilise their enlarged, greying eyebrows to condemn the actions.
There is a definite sense of achievement. Just two months ago the National Party were set to secure an historic fourth term thanks to years of Labour floundering. Unfortunately for the ruling party, Labour leader Andrew Little had fallen on his sword and a young, dynamic and alive new leader Jacinda Ardern had been chosen to replace him. Sources close to the leadership have told me they had considered sending Bill English to a doctor in Thailand to undergo an emergency gender reassignment procedure so they may battle Ardern on a more equal footing. This idea was quickly dispensed with when it was realised English wouldn’t have recovered from the invasive surgery before the end of 2018 and he was a Catholic and probably wouldn’t go for it anyway.
After sitting at nearly 50% support in most polls for the better part of a decade, National have secured 46% on the night. Although not a majority, many in the room are speaking like it is. Comments like, “We’ve won!” and “We are the winners!” and “We totally won this!” and “We won!” belie the fact that a majority of 50% +1 is required to run an effective parliament and until coalition talks have been completed, National has quite a bit less than 50%. I wonder whether I should point this out to the mathematically challenged members around me and I decide against it. Part of me thinks this book would be much easier to write if I didn’t get banished from my fly-on-the-wall position so soon into my research.
Suddenly some conservative applause begins near the doorway. Someone yells, “It’s Bill everybody! He’s here!!” There is a surge towards the doorway as the Prime Minister conveys himself through torrent of blue. Without success he tries to make his way to the stage but his way is blocked by adoring fans and a salivating Mike Hosking. Newshub political editor Patrick Gower seems to be attempting to insert a microphone into English’s nose. Diplomatic Protection step in to clear the way and in no time, and with very little bloodshed, Bill English has made his way to the stage. He is waving to the crowd. They are in raptures.
Bill English steps up to the podium. “Hello everybody!” English yells at the microphone. The room erupts. He thrusts his hands in the air once more. This time he forgets he is holding his wife’s hand and just about dislocates her unsuspecting shoulder. With all the blind praise, he hardly notices. While addressing the crowd the Prime Minister talks about the vote being a vote for the same; a vote for not changing a thing. The country is going in the right direction and most people agree that National are doing a fine job. He welcomes the chance to talk with Winston Peters about forming a government at some point in the coming days.
Bill English concludes his speech with another skywards thrust of his strong hands and accepts more adoration from the blue and white ocean. He leaves the stage triumphant unable to wipe a massive boyish grin from his face.
Little did he know that by Christmas his career would be all but over.
Well… that was a bit shit.
The empty feeling that appeared deep in my gut last evening around about 8:30pm remains. New Zealand has decided the born-to-rule Tories of the National Party will lead the next government. Yes, we can get in to the semantics of, “But Boon, Labour plus Greens plus Winston First equals 61. That’s a government. We can be the government!”
Yes. A progressive-led government is a technical possibility, but think about this: in 1996 and again in 2005 Winston Peters went with the incumbent government and ended up destroying first National and then Auntie Helen’s government with his nonsense. Everybody knows what he’s like. Like everyone’s drunk uncle, he’s unpredictable and cantankerous. Good if you are in opposition; not so good if you are in government. So, my progressive chums, you have a choice. You can be like National and demand power at any cost (that cost being Winston), or you can just let him go with National and destroy them.
I am urging Jacinda to think very carefully about how much she wants it. You have only been in power for half an hour. Auntie Helen lost the 1996 election and ended up leading our country for nine glorious years. Everyone pines for her. Her legacy is formidable and remains in tact. Does Jacinda really want to risk her legacy before it’s even started. I hope her advisers are pointing this out.
However, as someone pointed out to me on twitter last evening, some New Zealanders need rescuing now. That is the tragedy of this election result. Do progressives push for change now? It’s a hard choice, but then again, I’m not living in a car, or not receiving the mental health care I need, or not able to get “elective” surgery for knee or hip pain, or labeled a “failure” by the education system from the moment I start school, or have gotten e-coli from swimming in the poisoned river running through my town, so it’s very easy for me to say this.
Boomers vs Juniors
How have we got to the point where 46% of New Zealanders are regularly willing to vote Tory? Everybody knows older people are a lot more conservative and a lot easier to turn out. During my twitter feed last night there was a lot of abuse being hurled towards these home-owning boomers. That doesn’t really solve anything. Home owners are just protecting their assets. National, the good Tories they are, played on the fears of those home owners. You’ll be paying more tax! Interest rates will rise! That’s scary stuff if you live inside the better part of $1 million that the bank owns. If you want to attack someone, attack National for their shameless scare tactics.
There is now that divide. Those who own and those who rent. I voted for change because I know there are thousands and thousands of people out there who are worse off than me and need the hand of the state to help them. I know we are all in this together and if we don’t care for the most vulnerable New Zealanders we might as well live under Trump. I’m a teacher so I may see this vulnerable side, but if you don’t see that part of New Zealand regularly it is very easy to ignore it. Also, if you are saying things like, “I’ve worked bloody hard to get where I am,” then that conveniently removes you from the collective responsibility we have to look after the less fortunate.
We live in a society. Tories do not want you to believe in that society. For years they have been looking to divide and conquer. It is in their best interests to have home owners fighting to protect their asset base against the rest of us. It is in their interest to reduce voter engagement – that’s why Hooton was so vocal about early voting being “undemocratic.” It’s not that he’s being foolish, he just doesn’t want you to be exercising your right to vote. The people who fall off the vote boat are left-leaning and Hoots doesn’t want any more of those people voting.
A lot of the boomers I know, my parent’s generation, grew up in or around the 1960s. That was a period of great change and upheaval. When did this generation, who fought against the Vietnam War and for universal human rights, give up fighting for what is right? Or does society become more conservative as they age? I don’t have the answers to these questions because I’m not a boomer or a home owner (Yes, I am aware that not all older people vote for National or are the only home owners in society – these are just thinks).
Bill English is the definite winner in this election. He’s been anointed to carried on the strong and steady plodding of John Key’s government. Home owners are feeling wealthy and they have rewarded him for it. Jacinda Ardern as taken Labour from a third party to a genuine change contender. One wonders what may have happened if she had more than two months and National hadn’t forced the change discussion to be replaced by a tax discussion. Winston Peters again holds the balance of power. We may not know until well into October what may happen. I’m sure he will do what is in the best interests of Winston. Thank you to James Shaw who brought the Greens back after polls threatened their very existence.
Who knows what government we will end up with when the dust settles at the end of October? I’m picking Winston will go with National because National will, unashamedly, offer him everything he wants to remain in power.
Final Final Thinks
This election must be remembered for the saddest of all terrible ironies: Bill English and National lied and lied and lied and got the largest vote; Metiria Turei told the truth and got hounded out of politics.
This week Patrick Gower called it. The National Party was guilty of the biggest lie of the campaign. It’s not the only lie, but it’s certainly the biggest.
Labour, apparently, is going to lift income tax. National are arguing, like they think we’re all complete idiots, that black is white. Bill English outlined their argument thusly: because National has legislated for tax CUTS on April 1 next year AND Labour has promised not to bring in those tax cuts if they lead the next government, THEN that is a tax rise BECAUSE on April 1 next year taxes will be above said legislated level.
Obviously Labour are not going to raise income taxes. They have said it. Everybody else has said it. They are not going to cut taxes as National plan to. Keeping something at the same level they currently are is not the same as raising them. But then any normal and sane person can see that.
National have a long history of dishonesty. Even with Nicky Hagar proving through leaked emails that John Key was running a stung operation from his office, Key continued to fudge and obfuscate rather than answer in the affirmative. It was all Nicky’s fault – the well-known communist that he is.
In his piece last night Gower mentioned several recent examples – Brexit, the UK and Aust elections and Trump – where outright lies have won elections. What galls me the most, however, is the fact that Boris Johnson, Trump and, this week, Steven Joyce and “Honest” Bill have all doubled down on their lies. Mike Hosking and Jacinda both told English that nobody agreed there was an $11 billion hole in Labour’s budget. Good old Bill said, “No, that’s not true,” and said loads of people said there was a hole. Over the weekend on Q & A, Corin Dann told English to name someone who agreed.
“I can name loads of people,” he said, repeating Joyce’s lie from earlier in the week without ever actually naming anybody. I’m sure all the National caucus agree with the lie.
It is appalling that there is a constituent of the political class across the world who are so willing to lie to win. The Tories in the UK, Trump and the Republicans in the US, Malcolm Turnbull and the Coalition in Australia. All these parties are from the right of centre. When did they all decide they were just going to lie and fabricate noise about their opponents? When did this happen?
American satirist and stand up comedian Bill Maher laments the Democratic Party. On his show he often calls out the Republicans and their ruthlessness and ability to lie and fabricate their way through election campaigns with various attack adverts paid for by various secret billionaires. He urges the Democrats to play the GOP at their own game and rip them to shreds.
The problem with us social liberal types is that we are too inclusive. We believe in giving everybody a fair chance. Tories, on the other hand, don’t give two flying shits about anyone other than themselves and staying in power. That’s why they peddle their fictions as they lie about beneficiaries and students and teachers and how much pollution farmers are responsible for and so on and so on and so on.
Jacinda has been trying to run a positive campaign talking about the issues. Unfortunately for her, National have taken her and Labour out with some well-timed lies targeted at her tax policy and various other mini-lies targeted at Labour’s general economic polices. Maybe she should have been clearer on what the party’s tax plans would mean; what sort of levels the might consider. She wasn’t clear enough and now we have the prospect of another 3 years being run by a bunch of lying liars. Whether or not National have a coalition partner after Saturday is another question.
Thankfully for us all the main political journalists are calling National on their lies. Even if they win on Saturday and form the next government I don’t believe the media will let them National as lightly as they did in 2014. After all, there is a definite mood for change in New Zealand. It’s whether it happens now or in 2020.
Either way, “Honest” Bill’s reputation as a straight shooter is now in tatters. Then again, he’s Catholic so he can always seek absolution for his bullshit.
MyThinks has been delving deep into many, many election issues. From Steven Joyce’s lying to the lying of Steven Joyce, we’ve really worked hard to cover everything. Today in our Auckland studio we are hosting a debate between Finance Minister Joyce and his Labour Party counterpart Grant Robertson.
Host: Good morning gentlemen.
Joyce: Good morning.
Robertson: Good morning Mr Host.
Host: This is shaping up to be a tight election race. National and Labour are neck and neck at the moment. I’ll start with you first Mr Joyce. What is your party offering that is going to make a difference to New Zealanders?
Joyce: That’s a great question. National has a strong record of helping ourselves during the global financial crisis. We have worked hard to ensure that everyone has a fair go…
Robertson: (coughing) Bhu-ll-sht!
Joyce: …that everyone has a fair go and are able to get the jobs and the opportunities they want.
Host: You don’t agree Grant Robertson?
Robertson: No I don’t. National has had nine years, nine long years to improve things, and what have we got? People living in cars, polluted rivers, homeless people dying on church steps, massive waiting lists… I could go on.
Joyce: Please don’t.
Robertson: You’ve had every opportunity and you’ve failed. Your government is not delivering for New Zealanders. It’s just delivering for…
Joyce: That’s a load of rubbish and you know it. National have a proven track record…
Robertson: Prove it.
Joyce: …I just did by saying it. National has a proven track record of delivering jobs and growth. And I wouldn’t be too quick to cast aspersions Grant. Your party is up to some pretty dodgy stuff.
Host: What do you mean?
Joyce: Well… there’s the tax thing. They are going to raise all sorts of taxes and hard-working New Zealanders are going to end up paying a lot more.
Robertson: No we are not. That’s a lie. We are holding a working group to look at whether our tax system is fair.
Joyce: And you’re going to raise income tax on our most vulnerable people.
Robertson: No we are not. We haven’t said we will.
Joyce: It’s clear from your denials that you are totally going to do that. National deny all sorts of stuff we end up doing or are found guilt of. You are totally going to raise taxes and force the poor to sell their babies.
Joyce: It’s obvious. You have totally denied you are going to lift income tax but you have never said that you are not going to force the poor to sell their children. How do we know that’s not your policy?
Robertson: Because we aren’t ACT.
Joyce: Don’t dodge the question. How can New Zealanders be sure that the Labour Party aren’t going to force the hard-working poor of New Zealand to sell their children in order to pay for food and housing?
Robertson: You’re adding stuff to that!
Joyce: Damn right. You’ve never said you aren’t just going to ship all the old people living in rest homes off to the Auckland Islands because it’s just too expensive to pay for their care.
Robertson: I don’t believe what I’m hearing.
Joyce: I don’t either. I don’t think any New Zealander will stand by and let you harvest their organs to sell on the dark web. I certainly won’t.
Host: Where are you getting this information?
Joyce: From a hole. It’s a very big hole. But it’s there. All this information waiting to come out. I’ve run many, many campaigns for the National Party over the years and never, never have I been in charge of one which is up against a party that hasn’t denied they are going to remove all non-New Zealanders from the country via a lunar rocket.
Robertson: We will not do any of those things.
Joyce: But how do we know that if you aren’t denying them?
Host: I think he just did.
Joyce: No he didn’t Mr Host. He said he was, “totally not going to do any of those things.” But what things? What specific things is he not going to do. I haven’t heard him name one since we’ve been sitting here.
Robertson: What are you not going to do?
Robertson: Well… what are you and the National Party not going to do?
Joyce: Oh… I see what you are trying to do there… You’re trying to catch me out. Well I’ll tell you this right here and now. Everything. We are planning not to do everything.
Robertson: So… you’re going to do nothing?
Host: I think he asked if you were going to do nothing. That is, are you planning not to do anything?
Joyce: Um… sorry… what do you mean?
Host: You’re accusing Labour of doing everything so is the National Party planning on doing nothing to deal with all of our problems?
Joyce: Wha.. um… but… the… I’m… Roads! Roads and irrigation!! And tax cuts!!!!!!! Shut up.
Robertson: Hahaahaa! Classic.
Joyce: Shut up. I’m not playing anymore.
Host: Thanks for joining us today gentlemen. I’ve been talking to Finance Minister Steven Joyce and Labour Party finance spokesperson Grant Robertson.