National going on the attack

Simon Bridges. Photo: RNZ
Simon Bridges.
Economist J. K. Galbraith once said nothing is so admirable in politics as a short memory.

By that logic, National leader Simon Bridges last week hit new heights with his railing against Speaker Trevor Mallard for his ban on the use of Parliament TV footage in political party advertising.

Mr Mallard was doing nothing more than enforcing the law as written, the applicable doctrine being Parliament's own standing orders.

Those rules were last revised in 2017 and Mr Bridges was the senior National member of the committee which carried out that work.

Hence, he should well and truly know that in 2017 parliamentarians were invited to relax the rules concerning use of footage of MPs speaking in the House, but chose to maintain the status quo - that such coverage must not be used for political advertising or election campaigning, except with the permission of all
members shown.

Despite that, Mr Bridges was swift to call Mr Mallard's interim ruling - which attempted to refer the whole issue back for reconsideration - a "chilling move designed to stop freedom of expression''.

A day later, Mr Bridges doubled down, saying that National would not comply with Mr Mallard's decision, which "effectively gags us for a significant period of time''.

Fighting words, but Mr Mallard's ruling does no such thing. What it does do is, possibly temporarily, apply a generally unenforced rule which governs things like a social media tool National, in particular, has been using a great deal of late.

Plenty have seen a video of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern saying, in various undefined contexts in the debating chamber, that she did not have some information available, or mocking various senior Labour MPs for their knowledge of economics.

These ads are punchy, pointed, and voters tend to be amused by them; Labour and the Greens have created their own versions in the past.

Mr Mallard has been around the track often enough to know that the genie is out of the bottle on this form of political attack, and so do MPs - which is why in that 2017 review they relaxed a ban on using parliamentary coverage for satire and ridicule.

Mr Mallard had no choice but to act last week after receiving a letter of complaint about a video of Labour backbencher Deborah Russell.

With Thursday being the last sitting day before a two-week recess, Mr Mallard tried to kick for touch by asking MPs to abide by the rules until a workable compromise could be arrived at.

However, National had no intention of letting this ball roll over the sideline; this is a ruck National very much wants. Not just for the self-interested protection of an effective form of political advertising, and not just because the party is an ardent defender of free speech - although many of its MPs are stout advocates of freedom of expression.

The reason National wants this fight is because it has been sparring with Mr Mallard for two years, due to its perception that Mr Mallard protects Government MPs in general and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in particular.

Things have reached the point where many of its MPs are now spoiling for an all-in brawl with the Speaker, and Mr Bridges has been desperately trying to get himself thrown out of the debating chamber so as to prove his point - a craving which Mr Mallard had several times refused to indulge.

National's "censorship ruling'' statement on Friday was practically a formal declaration of war against the Speaker, and the party will no doubt become more defiant and more strident as the recess continues.

Away from the hyperbole, Mr Mallard has a fortnight to find a way of solving the problem and maintaining the status of his office, while not looking like he is indulging National's defiance.

Ironically, the winners in all this are the Government that National wants the freedom to attack; while the Opposition is focused on its battle with the Speaker, it is not trying to win the broader war against the Government.

If National is serious about holding the coalition to account, it must keep up a serious examination of the Government in the House and leave the question of what can and cannot be put into memes to a committee.



Memes or doctored film.

For satire, you need satirists.

the far left is easy to mock . this is the year of delivery so far not a thing.... delivered but talk and smiles... and far away plane trips.

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