Is David Clark a liability for Labour? | The Jackal

27 Jun 2020

Is David Clark a liability for Labour?

Minister of Health - David Clark
If you follow politics in New Zealand, David Clark is likely a name you’re a bit familiar with. The current Minister of Health is perhaps the most disliked Member of Parliament at the moment, which amongst very stiff competition is really saying something. But is all the criticism really justified?

There are of course a number of instances of apparent wrongdoing, but here I will focus on the ones that have caused the most outrage. The mountain bike ride during lockdown for instance, which caused numerous people to call for his head. While the optics looked terrible, the crime itself wasn’t that bad at all. So the guy drove some distance to go for a bike ride when everyone was meant to be self-isolating. Of course it was blown out of all proportion by the MSM, who generally speaking are working towards a change of Government.

Certain right wing journalists also tried to foster public resentment when Clark was found to have moved house, which they initially reported as also occurring during level 4 lockdown. Unfortunately for their credibility the move actually happened just before lockdown was imposed. That didn’t stop the attacks though. 'Political muckraker' Tova O’Brien even criticised the Minister for using his previous house as an office, which was entirely within the rules.

On 24 April, Newshub reported:

Health Minister David Clark moves house during COVID-19 lockdown 

Newshub can reveal Health Minister David Clark continued moving house during alert level 4 lockdown, shifting boxes when the rest of New Zealand was told they were not allowed. 
It follows two breaches of his Government's lockdown rules: he was caught mountain biking - a forbidden activity - and driving 20km to the beach for a walk with his family when Kiwis weren't allowed to drive for recreation.  
Dr Clark's new house was just down the road from his former residence, and the bulk of the relocating, including shifting his family and hiring a moving truck for heavy furniture, took place just before the lockdown began.

OMG! David Clark moved house.

Unfortunately Clark has become the go-to fall guy for the right wing and their propagandists whenever a National Party MP gets into trouble. The most recent example of this was when Michael Woodhouse started copping flack for lying about a homeless person who he claimed had attained free lodgings at an isolation facility in Auckland. Clearly the MSM utilised the public’s hatred they’ve fostered for Clark to take the focus off of what is a much greater threat to our democracy: dishonest right wing politicians lying about COVID-19 related breaches.

It’s patently obvious that the right wing have vested a lot of time and energy into smearing the embattled Health Minister’s credibility. Their investment has obviously paid dividends as well, because the right wing now have an easy way to shift people’s focus away from their dirty political tactics whenever they choose.

More recently the nasty headlines were about Clark apparently throwing the Director-General of Health, Ashley Bloomfield, under a bus and failing to take responsibility for a lack of testing during isolation that so-called journalists often enthusiastically refer to as a blunder at the border.

On Wednesday, Newshub reported:

Health Minister David Clark brutally throws Dr Ashley Bloomfield under the bus while standing right next to him 

Dr Clark pointed blame at the Director-General as they stood next to each other in Wellington on Wednesday.  
Newshub's footage captured Dr Bloomfield's face after Dr Clark told reporters, "The Director-General has accepted that the protocol wasn't being followed. He has accepted responsibility for that." 
Newshub asked the Health Minister why he won't take some of the responsibility.
"The Director-General has already acknowledged that the system didn't deliver here."

The problem for O’Brien here is that if you go back and actually watch the undoctored footage, the Minister of Health is clearly just explaining, likely after a direct line of questioning on the issue, that Bloomfield had already apologised for some people in isolation not being tested. In fact there was no real malice by the Minister exhibited towards the popular Doctor at all.

The optics of Bloomfield feeling unhappy about the situation, likely because he was reminded of the lack of testing, were of course damaging. But it was hardly ‘brutal’ as O'Brien claimed or an 'awful way to treat someone' as right wing journalist Andrea Vance gloated on Twitter.

What this does show is that much of the mainstream media in New Zealand, on behalf of the National Party, is often unfairly viscous towards left wing politicians and public officials.

With all of these biased attacks the problem is obviously that Clark now has a tarnished reputation. Evidently the Government’s COVID-19 response has been excellent and undoubtedly saved many thousands of lives, but the MSM isn’t properly attributing any of this success to the Minister of Health. In this respect they’ve somewhat over-egged their criticism of the Coalition Government. 83% of the general public still believe that the response was good and it will be difficult to convince them otherwise when nobody is actually dying in New Zealand from the virus anymore.

While the reaction towards Clark’s lapses in judgement have been entirely over the top, we should be in no doubt that such unbalanced reporting has had a detrimental effect on Labour's polling results. Clearly the tory medias faux outrage has been entirely disproportionate, but that isn’t to say Clark shouldn't be accountable for any misconduct or failings that he’s directly responsible for either.

Another problem to consider is that David Clark would need to entirely leave politics to no longer be used as a scapegoat by the right wing. Jacinda Ardern cannot simply sack him either, because riding a bike for instance isn’t actually a crime. In fact dismissing Clark for that instance of thoughtlessness would’ve been ruled as an unfair dismissal. The headlines would then become; ‘Minister sacked by PM for riding bike’. Likewise, the Prime Minister cannot simply move Clark fully sideways until after the election without receiving considerable criticism from the right wing. Invariably they already view any changes, such as parachuting Megan Woods into helping with the fight against COVID-19, as victories for the blue “team” and a sign of failure by the Government.

But you also need to consider the 9% shift towards National in the latest Culmar Brunton poll. Although some of this can be attributed to Todd Muller instead of Simon Bridges as leader and a very small change in public sentiment away from the Government’s COVID-19 response, there is no question that a certain percentage of that shift can be directly attributed to the way voters feel, wrongly or rightly, about David Clark. So in this respect he is a bit of a liability for the Labour Party. The real question is what will the Prime Minister do about it?