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When Exit Strategies Might Become Imminent

When Exit Strategies Might Become Imminent

David G. Miller

Whether it is the new realities of an MMP environment or just the personalities involved, there is a definite sense of nastiness surrounding New Zealand politics at present. While the ongoing saga involving the Exclusive Bretheren continues to roll on, there have been allegations of affairs, corruption and now Winston Peters has entered the fray over Don Brash’s latest ill-advised foray into race relations.

One of the issues which continues to simmer along is that of Mr. Brash’s position as National leader. The recent allegations of an affair have added fresh impetus to rumours that there will be a change of leadership for National and the odds that Mr. Brash will not be leading the party at the next election appear to have shortened. The speculation surrounding Mr. Brash’s position as Leader of the Opposition is nothing new, however what is perhaps more intrigiung is what may happen across the benches within Labour. Despite falling poll results and some serious blunders from within the Government, Helen Clark’s job has not as yet been questioned, at least not publicly. Nevertheless, this could change as the next election looms closer and should Labour’s hold on power become increasingly shaky.

No public figure welcomes the thought of having to find an exit strategy but should they need to do so, then the best example on how to leave a stage on your own terms was Tony Blair’s recent validictory speech to the UK Labour Party. During what he claims was his final conference address, Mr. Blair not only offered a reminder of his political showmanship and his ability to hold an audience in his grasp but also his clear intention to screw things up for his long annoited successor Gordon Brown. Unlike so many of his contemporaries, Mr. Blair is in the somewhat unique position where he has not lost a general election. Instead, it is his own party delegates and members of the House of Commons who seem hellbent on achieving that aim. However, like so many public figures, Mr. Blair has an eye cast towards how his legacy own will read in the history books. His decision to offer almost unconditional support to George W. Bush has without douby stained that legacy beyond repair and what benefits the Blair premiership brought to Britain have been submerged within the storms of protest that have followed the invasion of Iraq.

Yet Mr. Blair believes that there is still time to rectify this and is hanging onto Number 10 for as long as possible and therefore refusing to set a deadline for his departure other than the oft-repeated line of ‘next summer’. The problems this creates for those who may succeed him is that a Gordon Brown or John Reid led Government will have a distinct impression of ‘interim’ surrounding it. They may wish to wait until the timing of the next election to try and estabish a rapport with the voters in the meantime but then the ‘interim’ shadow looms larger. If they decide to gain a mandate from the public sooner rather than later and head to the polls early, the they may suffer an immediate voter backlash towards Mr. Blair and its back into opposition.

Ironically, in New Zealand, such issues appear to be plaguing the opposition rather than the Government, which is into a third term of office and holding a severely eroded marjority in Parliament. Mr. Brash, who appears to finding the support of the voters despite his recent bad publicity is fighting to show that he has the support of those around him. Meanwhile the opposite is the case for the Prime Minister who, publicly at least appears to be very much in control. Ms. Clark has given every indication that she will seek a fourth term in office and certainly no one from her ranks is stepping forward to suggest otherwise. But then when a leader does leave office, they often do suddenly because as Lord Byron once wrote, “All farewells should be sudden”. Just ask Gordon Brown.


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