Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards: Political round-up: Parata backs down

Education Minister Hekia Parata during her Beehive press conference today in Wellington.  Photo / Mark Mitchell
Education Minister Hekia Parata during her Beehive press conference today in Wellington. Photo / Mark Mitchell

The backdown over class sizes seems pretty comprehensive and the Education Minister's humiliation is complete. Hekia Parata was, only yesterday, trying to project steely resolve in the face of mounting pressure. Trying to defend the indefensible for a week did not do her or the Government any favours, and today's retreat has seemed inevitable for quite some time.

So, why the backdown? Probably because criticisms of the cuts resonated with so many middle-income New Zealanders. The Government offended the all-important 'swing voter'. 'Middle New Zealand' has spoken, and the Government has capitulated.

Now begins the debate about whether this backdown is a case of the Government being courageous, embarrassed, principled or pragmatic. Certainly National has shown no sign that it has changed its mind about the correctness of its decision or the general logic of its argument. See also Vernon Small and Danya Levy's Backlash forces Government class size U-turn and the Standard's Parata to the Headmaster's office?.

Was the Government trying to distract attention from 'class wars' by again blowing on their 'dog whistle' for some easy, but largely meaningless, hits on child abusers? There are a number of commentators who say our political leaders would stoop so low. Andrew Geddis makes the best case for it being a diversionary tactic - see: Don't look here! Look over there!. He cites the curious timing, the lack of development, and the failure to consult with coalition partners as all pointing to the announcement being made 'purely to distract attention away from the class-sizes issue and get people talking about an issue the Government thinks will cast it in better light (or, at least, force its opponents into saying things that might cast them in worse light)'.

Paula Bennett's background as a solo mum makes her ideal to lead some diversionary 'bene bashing' says Labour blogger Greg Presland - see: Beneficiary sterilisation - what is National trying to divert attention from?. Chris Ford says National are reverting to type: 'when Tory parties are facing problems (as National is over class sizes), then they nearly always fall back on the tried and true populist option of eugenic-style poor people bashing' - see: Paula Bennett's eugenic comments mere distraction from National's classroom cuts crisis.

The government is badly losing what is now an unwinnable debate on class sizes says Danyl Mclauchlan so another 'crack-down' announcement was no surprise. He has some advice, however, for how such tactics should be dealt with: 'Just once I'd love to see the opposition - Sue Bradford, the Greens et al - fail to fall for this trick and point out that Bennett is really just an empty PR gimmick, driving around in her leopard-print car getting amazing media for her constant pledges to 'get tough' and 'crack down' on the same rotating targets - teenagers, solo mums, child abusers - but accomplishing nothing' - see: The art of the possible.

Certainly the Greens and Sue Bradford have responded strongly and Labour's Annette King has labelled it a 'half-baked policy to distract attention' - see: Claire Trevett's Govt eyes ban on abusers procreating. The Government's support parties have also responded negatively, particularly Peter Dunne who said he was 'astounded' by the proposal - see: Court ordered baby ban backlash.

The usual suspects are also lining up to support Bennett, including Bob McCoskrie from Family First and David Farrar, their job made easier by a quick retreat from any suggestion of forced sterilisation by Bennett - see: Danya Levy's Sterilisation not on Government agenda. Patrick Gower thinks this quick retreat means that Bennett grabs victory from jaws of sterilisation defeat. It may be that the two articles he wrote on it, along with the numerous others pushing class sizes off the front pages, was Bennett's real victory.

Other important or interesting political items today include:

* The movement for marriage equality gets a real boast from a TVNZ poll that shows high levels of public support for same-sex marriage - watch the 2-minute TV One News item, Kiwis embrace idea of gay marriage. Also worth watching is the 7-minute Close Up debate: Strong feelings about gay marriage. It seems opponents may be resigning themselves to change - see: TVNZ's Church 'losing the debate' on gay marriage. There's also an interesting breakdown by age of support for marriage equality on the No Right Turn blog - see: Kiwis support marriage equality. Research shows 'support at 80% among under 35s, but only 44% among over 55s. And guess which age group is massively overrepresented in our parliament? Old people'.

* After just six months there are some major staff changes in the Education Minister's office: Parata's office gets new faces. National says that all the departures are nothing to do with the fraught issues involving the Minister, but Cameron Slater has a post outline how 'Hekia and staff have an unfortunate habit of parting company' - see: Queen Hekia's staffing issues.

* The Bronwyn Pullar scandal has left ACC's reputation damaged according to today's Dominion Post editorial, and the Minister must take action - see: Time for answers, ACC.

* It seems the needs of US law officials have taken precedence over New Zealand's own legal system - see: FBI sent cloned Kim Dotcom files despite judge's call. The computer drives are also reported to have security camera footage of the raid itself which will no doubt be of great interest in New Zealand as well.

* Today's ODT editorial approves of the Greens and Russel Norman for 'assiduously cultivating for the party a "responsible" economic platform' - see: The greening of politics.

* Housing New Zealand's call centre is not doing its job properly admits the Housing Minister, and Labour claims it has had to hire nearly as many staff as it made redundant in the first place - see: Danya Levy's 'Efficient' system can't meet demand. Even David Farrar admits Labour has a point - see: Housing NZ call centre.

* David Shearer looked like a PM in waiting while Nikki Kaye will find herself a backbencher for many years to come says Martyn Bradbury reviewing the latest (soon to be cancelled) Backbenches program: Auckland Special - watch here.

* Mai Chen says that, like Equal Opportunities Commissioner Judy McGregor, she's been doing undercover work, and has found that affirmative action and positive discrimination aren't always effective - see: Quotas don't always work.

* Finally, Colin James has a brief history of the world in his Wellington Club winter lecture series speech - definitely worth reading the PDF of the speech.

- NZ Herald

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Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago. He teaches and researches on New Zealand politics, public policy, political parties, elections, and political communication. His PhD, completed in 2003, was on 'Political Parties in New Zealand: A Study of Ideological and Organisational Transformation'. He is currently working on a book entitled 'Who Runs New Zealand? An Anatomy of Power'. He is also on the board of directors for Transparency International New Zealand.

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