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Upton On Collective Responsibility

On the importance of Collective Responsibility and the start of an exciting new competition.

Today in the old Legislative Council chamber Helen Clark and Jim Anderton signed their Coalition agreement. It was the same room where three years ago Jim Bolger and Winston Peters did the same thing. The same jokes were made about pens not working.

There Ms Clark said that the new government will review the Cabinet Office Manual to accommodate the policy differences 'which are inevitable in coalition governments'. Lots of grins were shared at the expense of poor Mr Peters. Whereas in the past, once "a Government" had agreed on something its Ministers had to support that decision, for the future there will be room for issues of "party distinction". Ministers from one party (the Alliance we assume) could put Private Members Bills in the House that would counter or go further than the Cabinet decision.

Why is this necessary? The freshly reasonable and avuncular Mr Anderton reassures us daily that he only received 8% of the vote, and he can't expect to have everything his way. Why can't he just say that after every Cabinet meeting that doesn't take an issue as far as the Alliance would like?

The answer is that this measure is clearly designed to allow the Alliance to "grandstand" from time to time, lest they risk sinking from the sight of the electorate (a few red dots in a sea of compromised pink).

The question has to be asked, why should long standing and important constitutional conventions be disbanded merely to allow parties to conduct periodic branding exercises? These exercises will inevitably hamper the course of government and tie up scarce parliamentary time.

Upton-on-line would wager that the significance of this clause will grow as the election recedes and the Alliance's ratings sag. It would be hard to imagine a party feeling compelled to take the step if everything was going swimmingly in the polls.

The reality of politics is that the Alliance will find itself identifying a growing number of issues of "party distinction" when the going gets tough. Party political expediency will become the underlying motivation for the suspension of Constitutional Convention and the coherence of government in this country.

A final point: at the signing ceremony, Helen Clark reassured the country that the two parties, Labour and the Alliance, were really very similar and that most differences came down to a question of pace. The direction is basically agreed; it's just a matter of how quickly one goes there.

Does this mean that in essence we have a slow paced Alliance Government? Upton-on-line is not being churlish. Helen Clark and Michael Cullen have always been on the left of Labour and the Cabinet appointments also lean that way (with a few exceptions).

The left is in the ascendant. It is a wolf in sheep's clothing and the fleece is very thin.


New competition.

To add a little salt to our first offering under the new regime, a new and exciting competition has begun. The question is simple and you have until Christmas Eve to answer:

"Which prominent journalists will leap to Helen Clark's side as spin doctors?"

Note: 'Helen Clark's side' is interpreted to mean working for the Labour/Alliance Government. The prize, as usual, is to join upton-on-line for a 'slap-up morning tea for one' at Wellington's music and book shop, Parsons, to the value of $5.

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