The Herald has a story about Key defending his response to the refugee crisis:
Prime Minister John Key has defended the scale and pace of his rescue package for Syrian refugees, saying if it was rushed it would jeopardise the success of resettlement and could mean refugees from other countries missed out.
Mr Key yesterday announced New Zealand would accept 750 Syrian refugees over the next three years, including 600 in an emergency intake above the usual annual quota of 750.
The cost of resettling the refugees is estimated at $49 million in addition to the current $58 million annual cost of resettlement programmes.
I wish we could do more. But I think this is better than last week’s response to the crisis, which was to do nothing. I also think Key is doing this against the wishes of the majority of his caucus. Print and most broadcast media have called for action on this issue but if you listen to even a few minutes of talkback radio, the sentiment there is overwhelmingly opposed to it. These aren’t refugees, the argument goes: they’re welfare bludging terrorists. And the dumbest, most awful people on talkback are a useful barometer of what National’s backbench MPs think on any given issue.
But this will be popular with the broader public and if Key is to maintain his status as our most popular Prime Minister ever he needs to do what’s popular, not what he or his party actually want. We’re less than a year into Key’s third term and this is now a very odd-looking National government. Of the main goals for the term, campaigned on during the election, RMA reform is dead; killed because the Nats ran a guy they knew was under police investigation as an electorate MP in Northland, then lost that electorate and their majority when that scandal exploded in their faces. Key’s dream of changing the flag to the silver fern on black is almost certainly dead, because he set up the process and committed the money before finding out that the copyright on that image isn’t available, and that the public prefers the current flag to the knock-off alternatives. They’re not going to make their surplus, or, if they do then they’re forecast to go straight back into deficit until at least 2018.
But they are still making good on their other big election promise: free doctor’s visits for under-13s. In some ways the third-term Key National government has been one of the best left-wing governments we’ve ever had. They raised core welfare benefits for the first time in almost forty years, and now they’ve raised the refugee quota for the first time in thirty years.
What’s happening here, I think, is that all the energy that normal governments put into developing new policies and implementing agendas is going into maintaining Key’s popularity, the perpetuation of which has become a goal in itself, not a means to an end. National party policy is routinely botched – like Key’s mishandling of the flag change, very similar to Nick Smith’s decision to build houses on Auckland land that the government didn’t even own, or discuss the legal status of with local iwi – because the core role of this government is to generate events like the Parliamentary announcement of the All-Black line-up or source adorable puppies for the leader to take selfies with. These propaganda pieces are never botched because they’re core business. And government policy is now a subset of this public relations machine. Rather than justifying policy it determines it. Which is enormously empowering to the left, because it means we get to set government policy from opposition if we can just make it popular enough.