David Miller: Another Tough Week in Election ’05
Another Tough Week in Election ’05
If a week is considered a long time in politics then the past month must have seemed like an eternity for the Government. Whatever brave face Helen Clark chooses to wear, there can be no denying that Tariana Turia’s defection has been a huge blow and one which the Government will have to work very hard to recover from. At the opposite end of the spectrum, ACT’s future suddenly looked increasingly uncertain with Richard Prebble’s resignation. The question this raises is was Mr. Prebble’s decision a selfless gesture from a leader stepping aside for the sake of the party’s polling prospects or the act of a captain abandoning ship before his colleagues and friends hit the electoral iceberg and were never seen again?
Mrs Turia’s exit from Labour has definitely captured the headlines during the past week and with her action has come the inevitable questions and speculation as to whether this marks the first step towards her leading a new Maori party. Yet if one is created, it is the best vehicle for the promotion and furthering Maori interests in the political arena? Not necessarily. The reason for this viewpoint does not stem from any racist agenda. Instead, it is born first, from the question as to whether enough Maori voters and influential figures consider this track the correct one to pursue and are prepared to transfer their support from Labour or the other parties. If not, then the prospect that it can breach the 5 percent threshold does not look good. Second, if the Maori party is successful and can get MP’s into the House, will it mean that the expected split in the Labour vote merely opens the door to a Brash-led National government. The third reason for this questioning is that this path raises the spectre of ‘separatism’ and while Maori become more vocal in their belief that such action is needed and support grows, so to does the fear among Pakeha.
It is this fear and suspicion that is driving the electoral wave upon which National’s fortunes are currently riding. The Government has already provided it with further momentum by its reaction to the Orewa speech yet ironically, the success of a Maori party could be the impetus that puts National into the Beehive. There will also be a concerted effort by National for the abolition of the Maori seats and this will be done using the platform of separatism and the call that one group of people hold an advantage over all others. The poignant element to all of this is that as Maori and Pakeha move further apart the opportunities for dialogue and understanding are lost and issues that affect the country as a whole are lost in the rhetoric of the extremists on both sides. One such example is who does own the foreshore and seabed. At the moment, while Maori and Pakeha argue, large tracts of coastal real estate are being purchased and closed by overseas investors and the wealthy from here in New Zealand.
As Labour’s voting block comes under increased pressure, National’s continues to prosper at the expense of those on their other side. ACT’s polling results have been on the downward spiral for several months and unless there is some sort of goodwill gesture by National it is difficult to see to ACT being in the next parliament. The decision to hold an American style leadership campaign will help stem any caucus splits and animosity, but who will they choose? After all, the pool of talent to choose from is not exactly limitless and one of the downsides of being a small party. Ken Shirley must be the frontrunner given his experience but does he have the presence to rally flagging supporters and electrify a House of Representatives debate? Stephen Franks has not quite emerged from the shadows, while although Rodney Hyde is already in the limelight, his populist style and yearning to jump onto scandalous headlines does not serve him well. The only population capable of being successful in this regard is Winston Peters and Mr. Hyde is not the same league.
Election 2005 has so far been a bruising and at times bitter campaign and one that will only get worse as time goes by. With the growing debate and protest over issues such as the foreshore and seabed and the reaction that it has induced, New Zealand politics has entered a unique but not necessarily harmonious era. The ramifications of this election campaign will continue long after the results have been published and if the past few weeks have been long then the political parties must not be looking forward to the months ahead.