It would be a perfect episode of The Thick of It, but it’s real: today, the Minister of Fixing Things Steven Joyce fundamentally altered government policy by trying to get snarky with the Opposition on Twitter:
Enter the fourth estate:
This may be news to the Minister of Finance.
This isn’t just a case of “casually pretend that’s what we were going to do all along”. It’s a literally-radical shift in the government’s approach to public services, away from treating them like cash cows, put under greater and greater strain to deliver dividends (which just so happen to help Bill English reach that all-important surplus.) It opens the door to the idea that public organisations aren’t businesses run for a profit – they’re services run for the people of this country.
That is a conversation which terrifies National. But thanks to Mr Fix It trying to be clever in under 140 characters, it’s now one they cannot escape.
For the record, we started out last week with (a) Prime Minister John Key telling the public that a $402 million convention centre would be only an ‘eyesore’ in downtown Auckland with the clear signaling that (b) the extra $128 million was probably necessary and justified under the contract. Within 24 hours and driven by the potential risk to his own credibility, Finance Minister Bill English became (c) the first Cabinet heavy hitter to break ranks and question the extra spending which led to (d) Key suddenly agreeing that he’d need a lot of convincing to spend the extra millions which led to (e) SkyCity agreeing to go back to the drawing board and (f) design and build a new convention centre for the original price that would (g) somehow be just as good. Yeah, right. Clearly, the screeching U-turns were being driven by nothing other than the public’s outrage at gifting SkyCity with $128 million on top of its other goodies.
There’s been some great campaigning by Labour and even the Taxpayers’ “Union” on this issue – essentially coordinating the increasing concerns people have felt about the SkyCity deal ever since it was first announced.
You can spin any number of theories out of the Government’s, and its Ministers’, behaviour. Is this yet another move by English to set himself apart from his Dirty-Politics-stained colleagues? Is Key afflicted with third term arrogance, unable to recognise that many people are tiring of the “actually quite relaxed” approach he takes to governing the country? Has Joyce’s bungling of SkyCity opened up a new path to career redemption for Judith Collins? Will everything be forgotten as soon as the flag referendum gets a definite date?
Whichever’s your favourite, 2015 is not shaping up to be a good year for National.