Reality bites for Jami-Lee Ross

1:02 pm on 20 October 2018

Opinion - There are signs that National's civil war has forced a reality check for both the party and Jami-Lee Ross, writes Bryce Edwards.

Jami-Lee Ross speaks to media about his falling out with National Party Leader, Simon Bridges.

Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

A degree of reality has set in for Jami-Lee Ross, as he laid out his plans on Friday for prolonged trench warfare. He has clearly figured out what was obvious to everyone else from day one - that he had no chance of winning a by-election and would be gone by Christmas, along with the salary, parliamentary privilege and much of his media profile.

Perhaps he is also beginning to comprehend that his revelations are at least as damaging for his own reputation as they are for Simon Bridges and the National Party.

The only way he could gain any public credibility from his current position is to claim a Road to Damascus type conversion - I have been a sinner but now I am saved. To this end, he is now painting himself as something of a whistle-blower who wants to draw attention to the "rot" in the National Party.

This will be a very hard sell to say the least, especially as his behaviour over the last week has shown a stunning lack of self-awareness regarding his own failings.

Staying in Parliament for two years and indulging in more of the acrimony we have seen in the last week is actually not sustainable. Previous MPs who have gone it alone in Parliament, such as Jim Anderton, have spoken of how incredibly difficult it is, and Anderton was someone who had a clear principle to his actions and substantial personal and political support outside of Parliament. Jami-Lee Ross is severely lacking in both of those.

If that's a bleak outlook, imagine the immediate future that Simon Bridges contemplated upon hearing Ross confirm he was not going to resign. A hundred-plus weeks of more of the same. Ross is alluding to a cache of ammunition which, crucially, not only threatens his initial target Simon Bridges, but also the credibility of the National Party as a whole.

Simon Bridges speaks to media after Jami-Lee Ross released a recording of them speaking.

Simon Bridges speaks to media after Jami-Lee Ross released a recording of them speaking. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

While there is little chance of stopping Ross leaking the information, having him do it in Parliament, under parliamentary privilege, with a full-time salary and resources and in close proximity to the press gallery, will be intolerable.

National are hemorrhaging and need to stanch the flow as soon as possible. The resignation and by-election provided one way out, at least before Christmas. The other way, using the new Waka Jumping legislation could actually be quicker.

Obviously if they go down this road their hypocrisy will be mercilessly exploited by their opponents. Winston Peters already thought Christmas had come early this week, but seeing National be the first to use his legislation will feel like all his Christmases have come at once.

However, it's clearly a case of the lesser of two evils for National. Having to defend themselves for a spectacular political backflip would probably seem like a comforting relief in the current environment, and it's not going to inflict any more damage than has already been done, or is yet to come.

Already, National-aligned commentators such as David Farrar are laying the groundwork for such an eventuality. However, electoral law expert Graeme Edgeler has pointed out that it's not as simple as National writing to the Speaker demanding that Ross be kicked out of Parliament.

Because this split is not about policy or ideology, Ross could pledge to vote with National in Parliament and therefore proportionality would be maintained.

Ross could substantially delay and even stop this process by asking the courts to make the final decision, as Act MP Donna Awatere Huata did when Act tried to get rid of her. In a practical sense, Ross' vote won't make any difference on a day-to-day basis because the Government has more than a one vote majority up its sleeve.

National need Ross gone, and they need him gone as soon as possible. They will do whatever it takes to make this happen and if that involves humiliating policy backflips and Winston Peters' laughter echoing in their ears until Christmas, so be it.

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