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Live UpdatesJul 7 2022

Borxit: After 48 hours of psychodrama and bedlam, Boris Johnson to resign

It’s July 7 and welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates. I’m Stewart Sowman-Lund. You can get in touch with me on stewart@thespinoff.co.nz


The agenda

  • After clinging on as more than 50 members of government departed, Boris Johnson has at last accepted that he needs to resign as British prime minister.
  • Andy Foster has confirmed his re-election bid for the Wellington mayoralty.
  • There are 10,710 new community Covid-19 cases today, pushing the seven-day rolling average up to 8,013.
  • Consumer NZ is pleased with the short time it took for the government to get to work on bringing in a grocery commissioner.
  • Important news: NZ’s famous masked baby has gone global.
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Borxit: After 48 hours of psychodrama and bedlam, Boris Johnson to resign

It’s July 7 and welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates. I’m Stewart Sowman-Lund. You can get in touch with me on stewart@thespinoff.co.nz


The agenda

  • After clinging on as more than 50 members of government departed, Boris Johnson has at last accepted that he needs to resign as British prime minister.
  • Andy Foster has confirmed his re-election bid for the Wellington mayoralty.
  • There are 10,710 new community Covid-19 cases today, pushing the seven-day rolling average up to 8,013.
  • Consumer NZ is pleased with the short time it took for the government to get to work on bringing in a grocery commissioner.
  • Important news: NZ’s famous masked baby has gone global.
Jul 7 2022

Borxit: Boris Johnson agrees to resign

After clinging defiantly on even as more than 50 members of government departed, Boris Johnson has at last accepted that he needs to resign as British prime minister, according to the BBC. He is reportedly to announce a contest for the new leader of the Conservative Party and therefore prime minister, with his successor in place for the Tory conference in October. He is believed to be preparing a speech for delivery imminently.

If it wasn’t already clear that the episode had reached levels of deep farce, Nadhim Zahawi, appointed to the critical role of chancellor when Rishi Sunak resigned less than 36 hours ago, has now himself written to Johnson urging him to quit.

Speaking on the BBC Today Programme, Spectator editor Fraser Nelson said “seven or eight” Tory MPs were likely to seek the leadership. Under the party rules, MPs will whittle the candidates down to two in a series of ballots, at which point the party members will vote in a head to head contest. Nelson’s pick for the likeliest winner? Zahawi.

Coming soon to TV: New primetime drama and a comedy spelling show

A pair of splashy new prime time dramas are among the latest productions to be given funding from New Zealand on Air.

The Bishop, set to air on TVNZ2, has been funded more than $6.5 million for six episodes and will follow a “charismatic young pastor who forms an unlikely alliance with a queer podcaster to challenge his father’s mega-church”.

On Three, six-episode series Dry Creek, given roughly $5.5 million in funding, is described as a “fast-paced drama” set in post-earthquake Kaikōura.

“We’re excited to see these timely and relevant New Zealand stories brought to life and we think both dramas will resonate with local audiences,” said NZ on Air’s funding head Amie Mills.

I’ll be honest though, I’m potentially most excited for the lowest budget show announced today by NZ on Air. Based on a web series launched during lockdown, Guy Montgomery’s Guy-Mont Spelling Bee has been funded $400,000 for an eight episode series on Three.

Other shows funded include a new series of 7 Days and a second run of Pax Assadi’s Raised by Refugees. “It’s fantastic to be supporting comedians like Pax and Guy with greater opportunities to bring their talent to our screens,” Mills added.

Reports of ‘meteor’ seen soaring over Wellington

Wellingtonians have flooded to Twitter with reports of a large “fireball” – more likely to be a meteor – seen soaring over the city.

Numerous users have reported seeing the suspected meteor, with others claiming to hear loud noises in the moments after it travelled overhead. A dashcam video shared with Newshub shows the moment the meteor travelled overhead.

The Spinoff has made enquiries to verify the validity of the reports. As we are in Auckland, we did not see anything.

Get in touch if you know more: stewart@thespinoff.co.nz

In comments shared via the Science Media Centre, Otago Museum director Ian Griffin said it could be a “number of things”, including a re-entering satellite or a meteor. “It may be quite scientifically important to retrieve this thing. Meteorites in this country are quite rare so actually getting one would be quite cool,” he said.

‘Saved thousands of lives’: Ardern defends Covid policy at Sydney Q&A

Almost at the exact same moment today’s Covid-19 numbers were rolling in from the Ministry of Health, including roughly 10,700 new cases and another 15 deaths, prime minister Jacinda Ardern was talking up New Zealand’s Covid policy to an Australian audience.

Addressing the Lowy Institute in Sydney, Ardern was asked whether New Zealand’s approach to Covid-19 meant the country was shut out of connecting with the rest of the world politically.

“We can’t deny that every country’s domestic policy on Covid came at a cost to someone,” said Ardern. “There was no cost-free approach to this horrific pandemic, everyone made choices.” The prime minister said she was aware there were consequences from having our border closed, and said she had heard “devastating stories” about the impacts on New Zealanders overseas.

However, Ardern said many in New Zealand had made the assumption that other countries pushed through much of the pandemic and sacrificed health in order to pursue freedom. That was not correct, she said. “If you go into London or parts of Europe, they’ll talk about the fact that, even now, they’re only just now returning to work, how in some cases they had eight months of continuous forms of isolation,” she said. “I think we take, perhaps, for granted just how devastating in different ways this pandemic was globally.

“Yes, it came at a cost, do I believe it was the right decision to make? I do. Ultimately, I think, for New Zealand [our approach] saved thousands of lives.”

Ardern at Lowy Institute (Photo: Screenshot)

A polycrisis in the world? Call it a clusterfuck, says Jacinda Ardern

In a Q&A following her foreign policy speech at the Lowy Institute in Sydney this afternoon, Jacinda Ardern invoked a popular military portmanteau that has become commonplace in contemporary politics. The institute’s research director, Hervé Lemahieu, put it to the New Zealand prime minister that a “litany of challenges” faced the world, including climate change, war in Ukraine, inflation crises and the Covid-19 pandemic, and alluded to British historian Adam Tooze’s idea of a “polycrisis”. Ardern interjected: “In politics we call it a ‘cluster’,” adding: “You can edit out the last bit.”

In the speech itself, Ardern reasserted New Zealand’s independent foreign policy doctrine, urging a revitalisation of a multilateral, rules-based system. “Multilateral institutions are imperfect, and they have and will fail us. And when they do fail, our first port of call must always be to find ways to make them stronger. Equally, we cannot be left unable to respond to global challenges because we encounter dysfunction or worse, moral failings,” she said.

“In recent times there has been no better example of that than the failure of the UN to appropriately respond to the war in Ukraine because of the position taken by Russia in the Security Council. A morally bankrupt position, in the wake of a morally bankrupt, and illegal war. Under these circumstances, waiting for our multilateral institutions to act was not an option for New Zealand.”

Andy Foster on how he’d work with National and why his mayoral bid was announced today

Wellington mayor Andy Foster would be happy to work alongside either a National or Labour government should he be re-elected later this year.

The incumbent only just announced today that he’d be standing for the top Wellington job, roughly 10 weeks before voting opens. He follows Labour MP Paul Eagle who recently confirmed speculation he’ll be running for mayor too. (As an aside, read this great Toby Manhire rant on why Eagle and Foster should have announced their runs a lot earlier).

Speaking to The Spinoff live updates, Foster said he had a passion for Wellington and its people – and that’s why he wanted a second term in office. “We have got a huge amount done under the most difficult circumstances, and I feel very proud of that. I am determined to continue making the hard decisions that will set us up for a fantastic future,” he said.

Foster, who was first elected in 2019, has only worked as mayor under a Labour government. Based on current polling, there’s a fairly sizeable possibility the next Wellington mayor will spend some of their tenure under National. Foster – who called this “a good piece of speculation” – said any mayor has to be able to work with any shade of government.

“I think different governments will bring different opportunities for the city,” he said.

After a pause, Foster added: “Absolutely I’d be comfortable working with any administration. What I really want is a constructive relationship with whoever is in government.”

By Foster’s own account, his existing relationship with the current government meets that threshold. He told The Spinoff he’d enjoyed enjoyed working on issues like social housing and the Let’s Get Wellington Moving project. But, he acknowledged, there were other areas he would have “liked more support”.

Wellington mayor Andy Foster (Photo: Getty Images)

With election day set for October 8 (and advance voting to open earlier), Foster left his re-election announcement – made today on Newstalk ZB – quite late. He told me that, as incumbent, his name had always been in the mix.

The last fortnight has been particularly busy, he said, and he didn’t feel he had time to properly announce his bid before now.

“In the last two weeks we have done an extraordinary amount for the city,” he said, citing the Let’s Get Wellington Moving announcing, signing off on the year’s budget, confirming a sludge treatment option, and opening the St James Theatre. “I had to focus on those things and get those things done before being able to dedicate time to being able to say I’m standing. It was about putting the city first.”

I put to Foster that his campaign for mayor may have benefitted from an announcement before all of those major political decisions were made. “Yes and no,” he said. “The reality is that the job is both time consuming and thought consuming. My focus had to be there. And now I can say ‘right, I’ve got an enormous amount done for our city and I would love to be able to take our city forward to a really exciting future’.”

Covid-19 update: Cases creep towards 11,000, hospitalisations rise to 554

The number of daily Covid-19 community cases has risen again, edging towards 11,000. There are 10,710 new cases today, pushing the seven-day rolling average of cases up to 8,013.

It comes as health officials warn of a rise in respiratory illnesses during winter, and as the government pushes back against the possibility of tightening Covid-19 restrictions.

Hospitalisations have also risen, with 554 people now being treated with Covid-19. Of those, 123 are in Waitematā and 52 are in Waikato. That’s nearly 30 more people in hospital than reported yesterday.

It’s the highest case and hospitalisation numbers since April, and follow several weeks where our Covid-19 numbers appeared to be stabilised.

Another 15 people with Covid-19 have died, taking the total number of publicly reported deaths to 1,619 and the seven-day rolling average of reported deaths to 14.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health has issued a warning ahead of the school holidays, which begin this weekend. “If you are going away, please remember to have plans in place in the event you contract Covid-19 or are identified as a household contact of a case,” said a spokesperson.

“You would need to self-isolate and likely remain wherever you test positive or become a household contact, so there may be extra costs involved in paying for additional accommodation and changing your travel plans.”

NZ businesses are ‘getting soft’, Christopher Luxon tells UK thinktank

Jacinda Ardern isn’t the only New Zealand political leader to be at the podium abroad in recent hours. Last night opposition leader Christopher Luxon appeared at the rightwing thinktank Policy Exchange in London, just a short walk down Horse Guards Road from Downing Street, where the postbox was piling high with resignation letters and demands for Boris Johnson to quit. 

“It’s been an interesting day to arrive in the UK, I’ve got to be honest with you,” said Luxon, but he otherwise avoided the subject of Conservative bloodletting, framing his speech in terms that Ardern would broadly agree with: a call for rules-based and open global trade, urging nations to resist protectionist urges. Leaders should not “learn the wrong lessons” from the pandemic, he said.

Luxon, who travelled to Singapore and Ireland before arriving in London, said he was focused on New Zealand’s “productivity disease” – an ailment he diagnosed as long ago as 2018, when he was CEO of Air New Zealand – and laid out National’s plan to turn it around. He also trumpeted the social investment approach conceived by Bill English and described housing in New Zealand as “an abject failure that has been building, to be fair, under successive governments”.

In the Q&A, Luxon raised concern about the added costs being “passed on to business”, pointing to “national income insurance coming at us, things like national awards coming at us … extending sick leave, minimum wages, more public holidays”. It was a “government that has no people in it with any business experience and it gets thrown over the fence and actually those costs get passed on to businesses”, he said. The challenge was “unleashing enterprise”, he said, “because we’ve kind of got into a place where the public look to the government for all their answers [and] now businesses are getting soft and looking to the government for all their answers.”

National leader Christopher Luxon at Policy Exchange.

Climate change should be treated as ‘foreign policy priority’, says Ardern

Jacinda Ardern has wrapped a lengthy address at the Lowy Institute in Sydney – a major Australian think tank.

The speech, on “how do you successfully sustain a truly independent foreign policy”, covered topics such as climate change, Pacific tensions and the war in Ukraine.

The address forms part of Ardern’s week-long Australian trip. She’s been in both Melbourne and Sydney with New Zealand business leaders, and will today join a number of her most senior ministers at a joint leadership forum with Australian elected officials.

On the Ukraine conflict, Ardern yet again denounced it as “unquestionably illegal, and unjustifiable.”

She added: “Russia must be held to account, and we all have a role to play in ensuring that that happens.”

Ardern referenced New Zealand’s recent decision to be a third-party supporter of Ukraine’s case at the International Court of Justice. “In taking every possible action to respond to Russia’s aggression and to hold it to account, we must remember that fundamentally this is Russia’s war,” she said.

“And while there are those who have shown overt and direct support, such as Belarus, who must also see consequences for their role, let us not otherwise characterise this as a war of the west vs Russia. Or democracy vs autocracy. It is not.”

Moving to the issue of climate change, Ardern said this should be a foreign policy priority. “While we all have a concern, and rightly so, about any moves towards militarisation of our region, that must surely be matched by a concern for those who experience the violence of climate change,” she said.

Watch below:

Ardern and senior ministers set to meet with Australian counterparts

Jacinda Ardern and a delegation of senior ministers will meet with their Australian counterparts today at a leadership forum in Sydney

The prime minister has been in Australia since the start of the week on a trade mission, accompanied by around 30 businesses.

The Australia New Zealand Leadership Forum will see over 250 business leaders and elected officials from across the Tasman region together under one roof. Ardern will be joined by ministers Grant Robertson, Damien O’Connor, Stuart Nash, Willie Jackson, Megan Wood, Ayesha Verrall and James Shaw.

“As a cabinet, engagement with the business sector, including those across the Tasman, is important to us and should be taken seriously,” said Ardern. “I’m pleased to be here with a wide range of New Zealand ministers who have prioritised their participation, and are eager to establish new relationships, while building on current ones.”

It’s the first time the leadership forum has taken place since 2019 – before the Covid-19 pandemic. It’s typically held every 18 months.

Ardern at an event in Sydney (Photo: Getty Images)

Ardern’s trip to Australia followed a whirlwind European tour that included a sit down meeting with UK prime minister Boris Johnson, suspiciously just days before most of his team abandoned ship.

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Wellington mayor Andy Foster confirms re-election bid

Wellington’s mayor Andy Foster has confirmed he will stand for re-election.

It comes about 10 weeks before voting opens in the local election, which will now see a two-horse race between Foster and current Labour MP Paul Eagle. Former Green Party chief of staff Tory Whanau has also announced she’s standing, along with a number of outsiders in the race as well.

Announcing his candidacy on Newstalk ZB, Foster said being mayor has been a privilege. “It’s been an extraordinarily tough time. We’ve got an enormous amount done in that period of time and I don’t think we’ve necessarily been given the credit for doing it,” he said.

Asked to give a 20-second pitch to voters, Foster said he knows Wellington and is 100% committed to it. “I have a good track record of getting things done… I’m committed to working with people, I don’t just stomp all over people,” he said. “I think we’ve got an amazing city and my job is simply to make it a better city.”

Wellington mayor Andy Foster (Photo: RNZ/Getty Images; additional design Archi Banal)

Foster was emotional during his appearance on Newstalk ZB, part of a regular monthly slot on the Wellington morning show. He admitted that he had unfinished business in Wellington. “Did I try? Did I achieve? Most of the time it’s tick tick tick,” he said. “Sometimes I couldn’t get the numbers through to get it done.”

He added: “We need less party politics and less of that out-there philosophy, and get people that are absolutely committed to Wellington,” Foster said.

The Spinoff has approached Foster for further comment.

NZ’s famous masked baby takes on the world

The masked baby on an Air New Zealand flight that went viral over the weekend has now gone global.

After first popping up on Instagram and Reddit, the image of the baby – wearing a face mask over most of its face, and with eye holes cut out – was picked up by New Zealand media, including The Spinoff.

A hero for our time (Photo: Twitter / additional design Toby Morris)

It wasn’t long before New Zealand’s newest superhero was showing up in outlets around the world, including The Independent, LadBible and the Daily Mail. It also made an appearance on Australia’s version of The Project.

While many internet users were sent into some sort of manic frenzy because of the mask, others were more focused on how adorable it was. And if there was any doubt as to the safety of such illustrious headgear, Covid communicator Siouxsie Wiles told me it would be fine – but recommended investing in baby-specific masks nonetheless.

Consumer NZ thrilled with pace of grocery reforms – but says ‘devil is in the detail’

The country’s consumer watchdog is pleased with the short time it took for the government to introduce a new grocery commissioner.

Announced yesterday, the commissioner role, set to exist within the Commerce Commission, will keep a close eye on how the government’s planned grocery sector reforms are implemented.

Jon Duffy from Consumer NZ said it will send a clear message to supermarkets: “they cannot keep making super profits at the expense of struggling consumers”.

Speaking to RNZ, Duffy said whoever is appointed commissioner will need to have mana and backbone. “They need to be strong enough to deter what is a pretty entrenched and determined duopoly,” he said.

Putting the role within the commission made sense as they were “pretty familiar with the industry”, said Duffy.

“That said, the devil is in the detail – the Grocery Industry Competition Bill will set the powers of the regulator, and the mandatory code of conduct will set the rules for fair play between supermarket industry participants.”

Image: Archi Banal/The Spinoff

It’s hoped the government’s reforms will open up the sector enough to attract overseas players like Aldi into New Zealand, something which Duffy said was “absolutely critical”.

The changes are expected to go through parliament later this year, with the commissioner to be appointed in early 2023.

Pair arrested after suspected arson attack at Rainbow Youth clinic

Two men have been arrested following a fire at a Tauranga rainbow youth clinic last month.

According to the Bay of Plenty Times, the 29 and 33 year old men have been charged with arson.

The fire took place in Tauranga’s historic village at a building used primarily as a Gender Dynamix clinic, but also used as a drop-in facility for Rainbow Youth.

There was an outpouring of support for the rainbow community following the fire and a Givealittle page was set-up to raise funds. At the time, Auckland Pride wrote on Twitter: “Our heart breaks for rainbow communities in Tauranga waking up to this news this morning.”

Over $80,000 has been raised via the Givealittle.

(Image / Givealittle)

The Bulletin: Massey suspends course required to become registered psychologist

As the NBR’s Maria Slade reports (paywalled) Massey University has suspended a training course which students must complete to become registered psychologists. The university is not taking 2023 enrolments for the postgraduate diploma in psychological practice which, as Slade writes, is happening in the face of a chronic mental health workforce shortage. A ministry of health task group estimates New Zealand is currently short at least 1000 psychologists. Those wanting to join the profession will need to apply for places on other limited-capacity courses, move offshore, or try applying in 2024.

As with all health workforce shortages, recent events have compounded the issue but these kinds of shortages have been well-flagged for some time. You can track back to 2002 in health workforce stocktake reports (as I did for a column last year) to find the warning signs.

Want to read The Bulletin in full? Click here to subscribe and join over 36,000 New Zealanders who start each weekday with the biggest stories in politics, business, media and culture.  

A wave of resignations, but Boris Johnson clings on

UK prime minister Boris Johnson is refusing to resign, despite 38 of his own ministers and aides quitting since yesterday in protest at his leadership.

The wave of resignations began with those of Chancellor Rishi Sunak and health secretary Sajid Javid overnight Tuesday. Since then, they kept coming. Johnson now holds the unfortunate record for having the most ministers resign in a single day – 14.

The previous record was 11 ministers in 1932.

Many of those who have not resigned are still calling for Johnson to step down, including Nadhim Zahawi who was only yesterday appointed as the new chancellor.

A handful of Johnson’s closest supporters, including Jacob Rees-Mogg, have been rallying support at 10 Downing Street.

Throughout all this, Johnson himself has barely been seen. But according to reports from the UK, he has remained defiant and has told supporters he won’t be backing down.

“Sources tell me he told cabinet colleagues that it was a choice between summer focused on economic growth or chaos of a leadership contest – followed by massive pressure for general election,” wrote ITV’s political editor Anushka Asthana on Twitter. The Daily Mail has similar reports of Johnson saying a leadership battle would be “chaos”.

Johnson’s parliamentary private secretary James Duddridge told Sky News that the prime minister was in a “buoyant mood and will fight on”. The Guardian drew a parallel between that comment and something said by Margaret Thatcher who, in 1990, after failing to win the first ballot of a leadership vote, also said she would “fight on”. Thatcher subsequently resigned.

Read more: A brief guide to the latest bedlam in Boris Britain

And in tangentially related news, this clip made me laugh: