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On the real significance of November's election

On the real significance of November's election.
7 October 1999


Every election is, of course, of vital interest to politicians and those who earn their living either helping or hindering them. The world beyond the Ngauranga interchange (which for the benefit of non-Wellingtonians is where the bumpy old Hutt Motorway upgrades to six lane, world capital status for about two kilometres) is rarely so focused. Witness the disturbingly widespread ignorance of basic MMP voting realities that recent polls have shown.

With National having spent nine years in power, many have assumed that its MPs and Ministers must be struggling to mount much enthusiasm for yet another contest.

Surely, they reason, after a decade in office, these people must have gorged so long on the spoils of office that their appetite has dulled.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Many in the National Party see this November's election as a golden opportunity that won't come again for many a year.

A fourth straight victory over the left would see at the very least a radical realignment of its parties. More radical souls mutter about a terminal implosion of both the Labour and Alliance Caucuses and parties.

The Labour Party is filled with long-serving and tired politicians who have endured Opposition for nine years. It's an irony that the National front-bench has far more youthful risk-takers than Labour's. People like Michael Cullen have literally grown old in Opposition. Another failure would break many a spirit and see quite a few retire to the Staff Common Rooms from whence they came.

Survivors would be overwhelmed by recriminations. The West Coast forestry saga has exposed important cracks between the few remaining moderates in the Labour caucus and the majority who align themselves with the activist fringe on many issues.

The spiritual home of a significant number in the Labour Caucus, perhaps a third, is with the Alliance. Another third would happily occupy the Centre-Right of New Zealand politics but can never bring themselves to admit it having thrown away their exit visas at the time Prebble and co left. The bad blood over Anderton's exit from Labour in April 1989 still coagulates in the joints of both parties.

A fourth defeat could be the catalyst for a final meltdown.

This prospect is worth fighting for. Almost uniquely in New Zealand's short political history Jenny Shipley has regenerated a governing party seven years into its tenure. It is, in truth, a new government that has only two years' under its belt. If it can pull off this election – which looks to be a real possibility – it will take the 2002 election in its stride.

ENDS

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