Thursday, November 01, 2007

Judith Tizard's eroding career

One thing I'll give Helen Clark, despite my almost universal distaste for her politics, she is a smart woman - very calculated. She transformed herself from a universally loathed figure as Health Minister in the late 1980s (you know when most NZ political reporters were focused entirely on drinking, drugs and shagging), granting Labour's worst election result in modern history in 2006 (28% of the vote) to being a three term PM almost always leading the preferred PM polls.
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So what of Judith Tizard? Judith comes from a rather peculiar clan of Labour politicians. All of them with firey tempers, I remember vividly Bob Tizard storming out of a TVNZ interview in the 1980s when he was Minister of Energy, and Cath Tizard's frequent (and in some ways laudable) use of expletives is legendary. However, Judith's career has been far less notable.
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She took the usual leftwing career path of seeking election on local bodies, you know the sorts that made clever decisions on our infrastructure that sometimes bore little resemblance to economic demand and supply, before being elected as MP of Panmure in 1990. She has always been very close to Helen Clark, as they have been good friends since university days, so she was certainly a cheerleader for, if not instrumental in the Maoist coup against Mike Moore following the 1993 election defeat for Labour. In 1996 she gained kudos for taking the new MMP Auckland Central electorate from Sandra Lee (who took it for the Alliance in 1993).
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Judith has long sought to be a Cabinet Minister, but failed time and time again to be elected to this role. This reflects two very distinct parts of her character:
- Inability to keep quiet (unless it is really really really really really matters);
- Not particularly keen on hard work.
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The roles she has taken on have therefore largely been associate roles as Minister outside Cabinet. She simply hasn't been trusted enough by her caucus colleagues to respect the strict confidentiality of Cabinet meetings, and is also not thought to be capable of contributing sufficiently to them (she's not stupid, just moody and well, not the hardest working Labour MP by a long shot).
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Her character is also one which can endear, as she likes a glass of wine and can be friendly, convivial and a good host - which fits in nicely with her role as Associate Minister of Arts, Culture and Heritage because it gives her every excuse to be with the (albeit New Zealand) movie, TV, music and arts set. In other words a cocktail party circuit of events, speeches and mixing with people - something she's very good at. However, get Judith on a bad day and she'll let it rip, blaming whoever matters to be in the room for whatsoever and sounding off about how bad the National Party is. In that case she wont listen and actually just needs to sit down, have a drink and get over whatever got under her knickers that day.
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So she was given the odd portfolio of the Minister Assisting the PM on Auckland issues - or as many have called it, holding the PM's handbag. ARC chairman Mike Lee claims she has done wonders for Auckland transport, and that meant I couldn't stop laughing.
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I'll give Judith two things she has done, positively, for Auckland transport. First, in the early days of the Labour government she did advocate for work to be carried out on spaghetti junction ahead of the ALPURT B2 (Orewa bypass) motorway now underway (but which was ready to go some years ago). Yes, depending on what side you're on you can blame her for delaying a ready to be built motorway, or accelerating a major upgrade to central Auckland's most critical piece of motorway. However, advocacy was about it. It was the Labour appointed board members of Transit and (then) Transfund that made the real difference, and the fact the PM agreed with her and encouraged the very same move that was taken. However, you could argue that what Judith did was no different than any good local MP would do - seek pork from the state to fill the belly of her own electorate (although spaghetti junction has far more than local importance).
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Secondly, she cut ribbons - which did no harm. She lobbied for all sorts of other changes to governance and funding that were largely ignored and dismissed by those more sensible and in power as being another mad idea from Judith - Pete Hodgson and Paul Swain were both adept as Transport Ministers at giving her things to do to keep her away from what really mattered.
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So now she has fallen out of favour, despite her close friendship with the PM. One can only speculate why, but she may wish to decide whether she resigns as an MP, and seeks a local body career to enable her to keep feeding the cats. One thing is for sure, Judith wont be remembered as a mover and shaker, but as one of those odd MPs who is really there because of family heritage, and being close to someone who is very intelligent and very hard working and focused - that is why Helen Clark and her are not two of a kind.

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