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Guest Opinion: Helen Clark Beached

By Jim Peron

I have to admit that there were aspects of this election that I've enjoyed watching.

Now, if I were to make a list of around 3,800,000 New Zealanders I'd most like to have dinner with, Helen Clark wouldn't be on the list.

That said I must confess that she has given me some moments of pure amusement. She really is becoming the Monty Python of politics.

Of course there was absolutely no reason for an early election except that Helen was convinced that Labour would win an outright majority in parliament. This just shows that economics is not the only field where she is completely delusional.

With the fantasy of ruling alone firmly implanted in her mind she set out a strategy. First, she was going to turn her own coalition partners into evil incarnate. Not that they might not be evil incarnate, it's just that she never thought so before.

So she started out with a campaign built around keeping the Greens out of power. Of course the only time the Greens have had any power is when Labour has given it to them. The Green agenda requires Labour's support or nothing happens. But in her drive for one party rule Clark targeted them. In the process she hoped she'd position herself toward the middle of the road as well and thus gain even more votes.

Now that campaign was one which most people thought phony -- almost as phony as Laila's polling. But Clark figured she had everything in the bag and could afford to stab her own allies in the back. Her campaign strategy required planting numerous sharpened object into the backs of her own closest supporters. She as much admitted that she merely used them and was now discarding them. She was still under the delusion that she had the entire election won outright.

But the polls were showing slipping in Labour's support. Then the slips became landslides. From 52% they dropped to 40%. In fact some polls had them under 40% as long as a week ago. Media polls were late in showing the dramatic drop in Labour support while private polls were predicting it at least three weeks ago. And worse yet for Clark it appeared that her former allies were imploding as well.

At this point Clark got nervous. All of a sudden she needed the very people she attacked. So suddenly she tried to be nice. She started smiling at people and pretending the knives in their backs didn't come from her own kitchen.

But how does this sit with voters? Two weeks ago the Greens were the Great Satan to Clark (not that she ever really believed that she was just out for power). Now she's having to consider bringing them into power with her again. And you can bet the Greens will demand a much higher price this time around.

Even with the Greens, current polls have parliament split right down the middle. So Helen will have to build a coalition of the far loony left Greens and moderates together. If she manages, it will be a very unstable coalition to say the least. At this point things become interesting. Clark was convinced she would have complete control of parliament and called the early election to guarantee that outcome. Now it appears she'll have almost no power.

For her coalition to keep her in office she'll have to give in to her coalition partners. In other words she'll have to hand them the power in order to stay in office. She can still be Prime Minister but she'll have a hard time setting policy. Of course the more power she hands the Greens the more likely it is that other coalition partners might bolt. And the more likely it is that the voters will turn decidedly against her - and soon.

To hold on to office for a short while Clark has to create a very unstable mixture of partners. Each of them knows she can't rule without them so they will each make demands - demands that will conflict with the demands made by other partners in the government. How long can that last?

And when a new election is called, Clark will have some explaining to do to the public. The loony legacy of the Greens will haunt her. But she's already played the "I-hate-the-Greens" card in this election. Then she discarded it quite quickly. Next time, when she tries to persuade people to vote Labour to keep the Greens out of power, voters will remember this election and question her sincerity..

I fear Helen has painted herself into a rather unpleasant corner. But I'm not complaining. Watching Helen squirm and flip flop like a fish out of water is rather enjoyable. And since I'm watching from way over here in South Africa I'm not too concerned about how long the fish has been in the sun. The fragrance of the fish doesn't quite reach our shores but the pure amusement of the flipping and flopping does.

Jim Peron has written for papers around the world: from Nigeria to New Hampshire. He is also the owner of Aristotle's Books in Auckland.

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