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British PM Theresa May dancing robotically at the recent Conservative Party conference (no, really, she did that) (Getty Images)
British PM Theresa May dancing robotically at the recent Conservative Party conference (no, really, she did that) (Getty Images)

The BulletinDecember 13, 2018

The Bulletin: Is Britain about to get a new PM?

British PM Theresa May dancing robotically at the recent Conservative Party conference (no, really, she did that) (Getty Images)
British PM Theresa May dancing robotically at the recent Conservative Party conference (no, really, she did that) (Getty Images)

Good morning, and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: British PM a few hours away from vote on her future, government quietly debating compensation for coastal property owners, and Google makes Millane case blunder.

UPDATE – 10.02am NZT: Theresa May has won the vote of no-confidence against her, by a margin of 200-117.

The word ‘omnishambles’ – coined by the great UK political TV show The Thick of It – comes to mind when trying to describe the events happening over there right now. Britain’s PM Theresa May is just a few hours away from facing a vote of no confidence from her own party, and while she’s not widely expected to lose, it is yet another humiliation for the PM who has had a horrific time trying to handle the ugly and divisive process of Brexit.  

The backstory to why the no-confidence challenge is coming now shows just how bad a time of it Ms May has had. Basically, the deal she had hammered out with the EU had to go to a vote in the House of Commons, but because not many people actually liked it, it was almost certain to lose. So Theresa May instead decided to delay the vote, outraging pretty much everyone in the process. The sequence of events is outlined really well by David Townsend, a former UK politico writing on Radio NZ. He was writing before the no-confidence vote was triggered, but it still captures the essence of why it was.

How bad a process has this whole thing been? Put it like this – there are currently two options being put forward. One of them is Theresa May’s deal, which most people hate, and almost nobody loves. The other option is a ‘Hard Brexit’ – whereby Britain would just crash out of the European Union altogether with no deal. As was reported on the Guardian, such a scenario could result in literal food shortages, among other calamitous outcomes.

What does it mean for New Zealand? As a recent report from the NZ International Business Forum noted, the UK remains one of our most important trading partners. And a hard Brexit might actually be better for New Zealand as a trading entity, because it would reduce entanglements Britain has to get through before striking new trade deals. Having said that, a hard Brexit would be deeply unlikely to be better for the tens of thousands of NZers living in Britain. And the potential for a British recession if a hard Brexit happens could severely reduce the value of exports to the UK.

If Theresa May goes, a hard Brexit becomes more likely. And at the time of writing, a slight majority of Conservative Party MPs have declared that they will back her – but many journalists in the UK are also reporting indications some of those MPs may be lying. The latest reports also indicate Theresa May is buying time by saying she won’t lead the party into the next election – she just wants to get it through the Brexit negotiations. Her pitch is basically that Brexit is too close to change PMs now. We’ll know in a few hours, so watch this space.

Here’s an important question for New Zealand to confront as sea levels rise – should taxpayers bail out property owners with climate change compensation? Stuff has a report on a debate quietly playing out among government officials, insurance companies, banks and local government on this very question. And there’s a reported fear among government officials that by talking about it without having hammered out the question of compensation, a lot of property prices could tank, and bring the economy down with them.

A trends email sent by google has completely demolished court rulings on name suppression in the Grace Millane murder case, writes Toby Manhire for The Spinoff. The man accused of killing Ms Millane cannot be named or identified for legal reasons, but his name and connection to the case was delivered directly to the inboxes of thousands of New Zealanders, potentially putting the course of justice at risk. Overseas media organisations with no respect for our laws have also been publishing names and identifying details with impunity.

The online voting trial for local government elections has been scuppered again, reports Radio NZ. The reason it had to be put away was cost, with Local Government NZ saying service delivery and security requirements were met.

If you cast your mind back to the distant past of October, we had a debate in these pages (scroll down) about online voting. My sense from that is that many won’t be disappointed the trial won’t go ahead. However, for those that are, don’t worry – LGNZ is going to have another crack in 2022.

Two good ‘it’s your money’ stories from Newshub in successive days. Regional economic development minister Shane Jones has once again run roughshod over advice from his officials over the stacks of cash he’s been handing out, reports Anna Bracewell-Worrall. This time it was millions of dollars being spent on two projects in Gisborne, one of which Treasury said raised concerns of “double or even triple dipping going on”.

And from Tova O’Brien, the Ministry of Health has been forced to make policy changes, after a senior public servant was part of a $10,000 trip to Las Vegas, which didn’t appear to benefit taxpayers. Health minister David Clark was a critic of overspending while he was in opposition, and he says he’s directing his officials to spend more wisely on consultants and international travel.

Next year’s Budget will be written without the assistance of 2018 Census data, reports Stuff. The many debacles around how the census was done resulted in delays in when the results can be released – that’s now been pushed out to August 2019. Stats NZ says the census data was never intended to be used for next year’s Budget, but National’s finance spokesperson Amy Adams says that sounds “highly unusual,” and it would have been better to use data which is as up to date as possible.

Auckland’s mayor has been accused of taking credit for the achievements of others, reports Stuff. Water quality at some Auckland beaches has improved, and Phil Goff says that proves the targeted rate to clean up beaches has been working. But Cr Daniel Newman says the improvements were being made well before Mr Goff’s tenure began – and the mayor’s office had to clarify that they weren’t trying to minimise the role other groups played.

Consumer NZ has been testing sunscreens, and the results are pretty dire, reports the NZ Herald. They tested 10, and while three passed the test, two were close but fell short, and five didn’t come close. Johnson and Johnson, makers of one of the failed products, say they stand by their claim. Of course, if you’re concerned about getting sunburnt, one way to avoid it is to literally never go outside for any reason and just stay online instead.

From our partners at Vector: The pros and cons of putting solar panels on the roof of your home are well debated. But what about the empty rooftop spaces on commercial buildings throughout our country? PowerSmart’s Sam Vivian explains why more New Zealand businesses are adding commercial solar systems to their buildings.

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The cast of Shortland Street: The Musical.

Right now on The Spinoff: Cannabis activist Rebecca Reider writes about being at Parliament when the medicinal law was changed this week. Emily Writes has a tribute to cult 90s TV show The Strip. Henry Oliver tells the strange tale of how Snoopy’s Christmas became an NZ hit, and didn’t chart anywhere else. And playwright Sam Brooks has an insightful and informative take on why Shortland St – The Musical failed to find enough of an audience to sustain itself.

Best Journalism of 2018: The featured journalist today is an example of how a lot of these great pieces of work aren’t the result of a few days or weeks chasing a story – they can take a commitment to a beat over the span of years. Jonathan has put forward a nomination for freelancer Jessica McAllen, for her work on mental health. We’ve heard from her recently – her series on the mental health inquiry was highly cited here just a few days ago. But the reason those pieces were so good is because McAllen really goes out and does the work.

Want some examples of this? How about this piece, from the start of last year, about the ways youth in Whangarei were helping each other deal with mental health issues and suicide in the absence of other support systems. Or this one from September 2017 of mental health workers giving their views on the crisis in the system. Or this one from February 2016 about the unwarranted use of seclusion for mental health patients. Or this one from December 2016 about a spike in the suicide rate.

There’s more pieces too, but frankly I’m running out of space to link to them all. The point is, there are no shortcuts to this sort of storytelling – it takes deep knowledge and hard work over a long period of time. And as the subject of mental health has taken on more and more importance in the news, it is vital that expert journalists are there to tell those stories.

The coach of the Silver Ferns has hinted that Temepara Bailey could make a shock return, reports Radio NZ. Noeline Taurua says despite Bailey being 43, age is nothing but a number, and her goal is to create more competition for places in the team. Temepara Bailey last played international netball in 2011, but is coming back to play for the Northern Stars in next year’s ANZ Championship.

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