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David Miller: Where to From Here?

David Miller Online

Election 2002: Its Not What’s Happened, Instead Where to From Here?

Given the amount of dirt that was thrown around during the election campaign it is no wonder that gloves have stayed firmly off hands in the aftermath. Helen Clark wasted no time in announcing that she would rule with a minority government and instead of graciously accepting the spoils of victory on the podium, she immediately announced that there would be talks with the minor parties but it would be unwise to hold your breath on whether any progress would be made and also a promise not to work with Winston Peters. If you were worried about the course of the next parliament during the campaign then you should be most fearful now. With the devastation of the Alliance, Ms Clark does not have many options when looking for support. In fact, given the composition of the new parliament, there could come a day when she does not have any options at all.

The message from the New Zealand voting public was that they wanted a Labour government but not one that had a mandate to exercise total control. It is true that at one stage Labour was polling with over fifty percent support, however in retrospect that trend was never going to last. MMP is a double -edged sword and in its own unique way tantalises voters with the notion that it can be used to curb the government’s power and that it can prevent one party from dominating and possibly abusing power.

Therefore it is not surprising that Labour could not win an outright majority but this was never the problem for Helen Clark. The problem for her and the government is that the far-left vote collapsed. The Alliance failed to make it back into the House of Representatives. The Alliance was always faced with the fact that they would not be represented in the House despite Laila Harre being a capable leader. She will always take the credit for the introduction of paid parental leave, however the party was built around Jim Anderton and therefore it fell without him.

The reverse side to MMP is that it induces a fear that the smaller parties can use it to force the government to accept their views and hold the country to ransom. This is the reason why the Greens were not able to lift their support as the GE and ‘Corngate’ issues did their election chances more harm and good. In the run-up to the election, the prospect of them failing to support the government if the GE moratorium is lifted hung over their campaign and the threat is now hanging over this parliament until a decision is reached late next year.

To govern effectively Ms. Clark is faced with a choice between the Greens or United-Future and it is doubtful that she is thrilled with the possibility of either. United-Future was the big winner on the night along with New Zealand First - with Peter Dunne’s party picking many stray National votes. At this stage it is unclear as to which of the issues Labour and United-Future may disagree on but with Mr. Dunne’s Rogernomic past and the strong Christian element to his caucus it could be simply a matter of time.

Let us not overstate the case here. Helen Clark has governed with a minority government since 1999 and therefore is well aware of the challenges this places before her. She has shown that she can and will look to other parties across the entire political spectrum to gain support, even New Zealand First, and she will not hesitate to in this parliament either. The difference now is that without a strong ally on her left, she will have to do so more often and with a great deal more care.

Given this situation, Ms. Clark perhaps should have taken more caution when launching her attack on Winston Peters. As soon as she rose to address the faithful she criticised Mr. Peters’ policies and made it clear that under no circumstances would she be making any deals with him. Ms. Clark may not like what Mr. Peters stands for. It may even be a personal matter. But her course of action was not wise. In a parliament where there is little room for political manoeuvre, Ms Clark may end up needing all the support she can muster and may not have the luxury of being too picky as to where that support comes from.

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