On the Commission Opening of Parliament the Leader of the House has one simple job - make sure you have the numbers to elect a Speaker. Today the new Leader of the House Chris Hipkins failed to do just that.
With at least five Labour, NZ First, and Green Party MPs away and one National Party MP, Labour wasn't confident if it would have had the numbers in the House to elect Trevor Mallard as Speaker.
If Hipkins was doing his job properly he would have realised that he didn't have the numbers before the Commission Opening, and would have approached National's Leader of the House, Simon Bridges, and done a deal before it came to a head on the floor of the House.
The onus is on the Government to ensure it has the numbers to ensure confidence, pass legislation, elect a Speaker, and so on. You can't fault the Opposition for picking up on Labour potentially not having the numbers and forcing the issue.
The net result for Labour is that they've been forced into an embarrassing back down over Select Committee numbers.
Nothing short of an omnishambles from the Government on its first day in the House.
It appears as if Labour fell for a spectacular bluff on National's part. Labour did actually have the numbers 58 to 56, however ended up negotiating on Select Committee numbers to ensure that Trevor Mallard's nomination as Speaker didn't end up going to a vote. As a result, there are now 108 Select Committee places, with National receiving 5 chairs and 5 deputy chairs.
Leader of the House Chris Hipkins and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern emerged nearly four hours after Labour's shambolic performance in the House to try and spin their way out of it. Hipkins claimed that they knew they had the numbers, but wanted Mallard to be elected unopposed to show he had the confidence of the House (ignoring the fact that in the past opposition parties have voted against Speakers), and also that they had let National know previous that Labour wouldn't oppose a nomination, and had hoped National would do the same.
Problem with Hipkins' claims are this: there's no onus on the opposition to ever vote with the Government on anything. Your base operating position should also be that if you haven't heard anything to the contrary, you always assume the opposition will not support whatever it is you're putting to the House.
Fun and games in the House by oppositions are nothing new. Last term I remember some urgent legislation that Nick Smith put to the House. As it was an omnibus bill being passed under urgency, it meant that the then opposition could keep putting up amendments which the then Government would then have to vote down. Even though the opposition parties knew all their amendments would be voted down, they still did it because they had been given the opportunity to do so.
What is far more likely is that Hipkins and Labour's leadership team were completely unprepared for some basic House manoeuvring, didn't realise their bluff was being called, and ended up caving on Select Committee numbers which they had, up until now, been firmly entrenched on.
While this whole botch-up by Labour is little more than a Beltway sideshow, it's still hugely embarrassing for Labour. They know that one of their key weaknesses this term will be avoiding getting stuck in the narrative that they're unable to manage their two divergent partners in NZ First and the Greens. Today's omnishambles did little to dispel that.