Marc Alexander: A Government at Last! Yeah Right
A Government at Last! Yeah Right
Nothing in politics is so simple that it can't be misunderstood. The closed-door coalition shuffle is mercifully at an end. And did it take its time! We had an election over a month ago and we got what we least expected: a result that should have come with the instruction 'some assembly required'.
Labour clearly had the numbers to take a first stab at forming a government. But the resultant mishmash of important portfolios with Foreign Affairs and Revenue sitting outside the Executive bereft of the discipline of collective responsibility, is the ultimate in a cynical display of perk-grabbing hedonism. Clark, like a bulimic at the fridge of power, has been expediency personified. She hasn't let one principle interrupt her gorging at the footstool of history. She is a canny woman and there can be little doubt that she sees her time is nearly up. She has done everything and anything to stitch up a government with enough longevity to assure her immortality in Labour's Hall of Fame. In all probability, she will - in about a year - decide to stand aside knowing full well that her government which closely resembles the Edsel, will have as much future as the Hindenberg. She will then trot on to the next phase of her life leaving behind a Phil Goff/Steve Maharey bun fight over who will captain the ship out to the epicentre of the Bermuda Trangle.
National took a while to come to the grips with the election result. Dealing with the remnants of ACT would be an easy job, but it was always going to be difficult to reel in Winston, Peter Dunne, and the Maori party in a collective mutually beneficial arrangement. Even if Brash could pull off that miracle there was the real danger that the platform on which so many voted for National, would not be achieved. To be so close that you can smell the leather on the Treasury benches yet not sit on them, must be truly maddening. But for all that, the extra patience now needed by National can be put to good use. They know it is only a matter of time. The biggest threats for National will be the twin plagues of arrogance and complacency. The Party should use the time to ready themselves to ensure not just the next election, but the two or three beyond.
They would be well advised to keep Don Brash as their leader. Because let’s face it, he resuscitated a poor Opposition into a future government in the space of two years. Yes, there are a few talented future leaders in the wings but Brash now has a certain mana. They need to think long and hard if there is any temptation to squander this achievement because stature is not something that can be accomplished overnight. Look at Helen Clark - she took years to grow into her role.
Winston Peters, the taciturn political "vaudevillian"who turned a 10,362 majority into a 730 vote deficit, whose Party shed nearly half its MPs, and who tried to make a virtue out of a claim to stay on the cross-benches, has finally done what we all knew he would: he has accepted the baubles of Ministerial office. Could anybody be surprised? He hasn't just reluctantly accepted the post; he has stuck both hands out for the perks of power and filled his pockets with all the tokens, trinkets, the knives, forks and spoons of office. I can see him at the tailor’s being kitted in the sartorial splendour of deeper pockets lined with a waterproof fabric just to steal soup from the kitchens at Bellamy's!
The only surprise is that Winston is to be given the one Ministerial position that he has clearly demonstrated a decidedly negative aptitude for. When it comes to the substantive aspects on an issue he has the attention span of a meercat on a double espresso. Perhaps someone should tell him that being Foreign Affairs Minister isn't a licence to indulge in fleshly pleasures away from the spotlight of the domestic press corps, but it is an important role showcasing our country and all we stand for. No matter how you look at it, Winston will never project the image of competence that Phil Goff has demonstrated in that role. Asian nations in particular are likely to interpret Winston’s appointment as Foreign Minister as a sign of approval for his perceived anti-Asian views. It will make dealing with them seem like brain surgery performed with a chainsaw.
Peter Dunne’s ego will be sorely bruised by the 5,000 vote slash in his majority in Ohariu-Belmont; by the loss of two-thirds of support for his Party; and by the loss of five MPs. But most of all he will miffed that it is Winston, and not he, who is the leader of a centre party with the power to determine the shape of this government. Nevertheless, Dunne will be in his element as Minister of Revenue - he will relish the opportunity to have the media listen to him for a change. In a sense this will be a practice run for his next term as the new Jim Anderton, unencumbered as he will be from his two useless appendages. He will then be in a caucus of one liberated from endless soliloquies about the perils of the great moral outrages of the day. Freed from the expectations of a pretend party he will go on being an exceptional electorate MP and contribute much to future governments (be they Labour or National) as his political expediency and flexibility will allow.
The biggest loser of this election - other than the voters - are the perennially pusillanimous Greens. They have spent the last six years cuddling up to Labour eyeing up the Cabinet…the chest of drawers…and every other piece of furniture you might expect in the Executive. In all their time in Wellington they have never…ever…wielded near the power or influence that a party with a consistent parliamentary presence of six to nine members should have - especially when they have played such a crucial role in being Labour’s doormat in the numbers game. Every other party treats them as toxic not just because of their odd mix of 'tax-everything-that might-be harmful-to-someone philosophy', or their desire to have us all skate-boarding into our tree-huts, or even their Pol Pot apologia. Rod Donald and Co are not bad people. They're polite…nice even. But if they ever want to be taken seriously, I have some advice for them.
Step one: Ditch your crazy ideas and start advocating for a sustainable future that is business-friendly, makes sense and, (they won't like this one), people-friendly.
Step two: Human nature is the result of genetics, history and probably fast-food (originally swift animals, but now conveniently replaced by its modern equivalent, the drive-thru). In other words don't try to reinvent what took a millennia to do with a short sharp dose of failed ideology.
Step three: Stand up for yourselves! Why let Labour, Jim Anderton, Peter Dunne and Winston First push you around? In some ways they need you more than you need them.
If the Greens had put as much backbone into the government-forming talks as they did with their anti-GE stand back in 2002 then Helen Clark would have had to accommodate them to the degree they expected. So instead of achieving anything tangible they got some waffly nonsense about an energy efficiency programme (with nothing specific about what that means) and a Buy Kiwi-made campaign - what's wrong with 'Buy the best product at the best price' and reward the best, most efficient provider instead?
Paul Getty once said that the secret to success is to get up early, work late and strike oil. And the Maori Party did just that. Despite all the resources available to Labour thrown at the Maori seats, Tariana Turia, Pita Sharples and Co excised a large chunk of Labour voters with surgical precision.That much of that support still gave Labour their party vote says a lot. So why in the post-election hullabaloo did the Maori leadership go sit with Don Brash to see if a deal could be struck? While it seems mad at first glance, a more reflective perspective could see the sense of it. Firstly, there is no love lost between Turia and Clark. Turia being seen talking to Don Brash would have got up the Prime Minister's nose. Besides, if a deal were struck that meant National retreating on their promise of abolishing the Maori seats and re-opening the Maori and Foreshore debate it would be a huge coup and give the Maori party an aura of real strength. Now that would be punching above their weight! The win for Brash would be the perception of reasonableness, to openly debate an important issue; namely, that to talk of race does not consign you to being a racist.
And secondly, why wouldn't the Maori party spurn the Labour party? Buddying up after an election with a party you broke away from would never have been a good look. In order to survive the Maori party must do what other small parties have spectacularly failed to do, and that is to stake out its own ground beholden to no-one. It needs to play a constructive role agreeing or disagreeing on its own terms with the government of the day. And it must put to the forefront the interests of those upon whose support it depends, eschewing the fool’s gold of office, if it doesn't. The endless procession of huis might make decision-making tedious, and do nothing for the waist-line, but at least the bad judgments won’t happen in a hurry, and will also have the benefit of providing the MPs with others to share the blame.
In the end, Election 2005 will go down as the one where in spite of MMP people voted FPP, and where Labour left the Greens standing at the altar in order to go into the centre of things with a senior citzen, who, when he says his word is his bond, we should have insisted on taking his bond! Above all else though, the election was ultimately a referendum on the right of the individual versus the right of the state. And it boils down to this: what balance do we want to strike between the rights of those who create the wealth of this country to profit from their labour, with those who don't, can't or won't contribute, and as a consequence live off the labour of others?
And the answer is that that we still don’t have much of an answer. This government is looking increasingly like a genetically modified turkey. Christmas anyone?