Dipton’s Bill English
By Roger Childs
He was a disaster for National in the 2002 election taking the Tories to their worst election defeat in history. Not surprisingly, he was rolled in 2003 with the help of the ambitious John Key, and this allowed the divisive Don Brash to take the leadership.
However, the cat came back, and ironically, courtesy of JK, Bill is now not only leader of the National Party, but Prime Minister. But he may have been given a hospital pass, as replacement mid-term leaders don’t have a great record of success. (See Jeremy’s December 12 article.)
Nevertheless, because of his unexpected and dramatic late year ascendancy, the former Finance Minister and farmer from Dipton in the deep South, is our New Zealand Politician of the Year.
Looking on the bright side …
Bill English has been Finance Minister for the last eight years and has been widely respected in business circles and by the well to do, for keeping the economy in a growth phase and getting the books back into surplus.
For many he is the voice of economic prudence and financial stability, and it is claimed he picked up the key portfolio after the three term Labour government had grossly overspent and departed office leaving a deficit.
Bill, it is said, steadied the ship and brought New Zealand through the Global Financial Crisis without suffering negative growth or a significant rise in unemployment. (As it happened English had inherited a budget surplus and a portfolio well managed for nine years by Labour’s Michael Cullen.)
Bill English was John Key’s right hand man as Deputy, and his trustworthy demeanour and reassuring verbal delivery, were major factors in winning election victories in 2011 and 2014,and keeping National well ahead in the polls.
He was largely untainted in the Dirty Politics saga two years ago, and rumour has it that he was actually a key source for investigative journalis, Nicky Hagar.
The dark side
… Bill English has tripled New Zealand government debt from $18 billion in 2008 to $55 billion in 2016 (and rising) …Ron Asher “In The Jaws of the Dragon: How China is Taking Over New Zealand”
There are some skeletons in the English closet related to past misdemeanours, misjudgements and misappropriation.
Back in the early days of the Key government, politicians of every colour were putting their hand in the national till twice. It related to the accommodation allowance for living in Wellington when MPs, away from home, needed rental housing.
English claimed it, even though he was residing in a flash Karori house owned by his wife. He did own up and paid back what he had taken, but the black mark remains. However, he has provided a delightful addition to the political lexicon: Double Dipton.
His years as Finance Minister have been great for the business community, farmers, the banking industry, iwi leaders, Auckland property owners … but the so-called stability has been possible only by increasing New Zealand’s overseas indebtedness.
Along with Key’s “free trade” strategies, he also supported the massive buy up by companies linked to the Chinese government, of scores of the country’s dairy farms, companies, vineyards and forestry blocks.
However, his worst failings as Finance Minister, have been to run down government spending in many areas and orchestrate a withdrawal of the state from many of its traditional responsibilities.
There has been increasing privatisation of services from prisons to “social housing”, and massive underfunding of conservation, the arts, health, education and Geonet.
The inevitable socio-economic consequences of English’s tight-fisted financial policies, have been to see a significant increase in child poverty and a widening gap between rich and poor.
Bill the man of the moment
As 2016 comes to an end with all its major political surprises, Bill English is unexpectedly the new prime minister of New Zealand.
He is the man in power, but only has a year to convince the electorate that his stewardship is worth extending.
John Key quit while he was ahead, and may have given the new PM from the South the kiss of political death.