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Gordon Campbell on a campaign that is ending as it began

Gordon Campbell on a campaign that is ending as it began

This election campaign is getting no less strange as it heads on down to the wire. Winston Peters is still refusing to say whether a vote for New Zealand First is a vote for changing the current government and its awful, awful policies, or ensuring that it gets three more years in office to expand them.

Voting for New Zealand First truly is like taking a Lucky Dip at the fair – while relying on Winston to tell you that if you get a wooden spoon, it's really silver if you hold it up to the light. Not to be outdone in election eve weirdness, Labour leader David Cunliffe apparently sees no mandate issues in becoming Prime Minister when Labour can barely command the support of one quarter of the electorate.

Being small doesn’t put you any closer to reality either. On the right of the screen, the wobbly trajectory of the Conservative Party culminated yesterday in its long serving press secretary resigning and denouncing the party leader.

Talking of parties of self-declared principle, the Act Party has continued to lecture the nation about the virtues of self-reliance and freedom from state assistance for everyone else while relying entirely on a government handout (a) to get into Parliament, and then (b) to enact policies, such as charter schools, for which it has never earned a mandate from the voters. At least Hone Harawira is prepared to risk a genuine election contest – rather than an Act Party gerrymander – to win his right to be in Parliament. Yet judging by the recent polls in Te Tai Tokerau the Internet Party alliance has eroded Mana leader Hone Harawira’s reputation for fierce independence on his home front, to little electoral gain, nationwide.

Which more or less brings us to John Key and the current government. Judging by the polls it has succeeded in telling us that this is as good as it gets and we’ve had it pretty good, all things considered; even as growth stalls, and economic growth heads downhill and that nice, reasonable Finance Minister Bill English likens the welfare safety net to crack cocaine.

Frankly, I’d have thought that hitting the pipe of parliamentary perks (eg. via the accommodation allowance) when you’re already earning hundreds of thousands a year from the taxpayer as a government minister, looks more like a crack cocaine habit. Maybe English is right, and maybe trying to live on a benefit is every bit as pleasurable and addictive as a luxury recreational drug. If so, it means that English has in effect, just called his colleague and Social Development Minister Paula Bennett a recovering crack addict. And where does that leave John Key and the legend of the boy who grew up in state house? Was it a crack house or a crack home?

Other late edition oddities… It was amusing to see Key trying to pre-emptively blame US journalist Glenn Greenwald for hurting New Zealand’s already minimal chances of winning a temporary seat on the UN Security Council. Just for the record, this column explained in early July and again in early August just why our Security Council bid is almost certain to fail. Oh, and Greenwald is not to blame for it raining here on election day tomorrow, either.

I know, the mass surveillance thing is so passé in a news cycle sense. Like dirty politics, economic growth and the housing crisis, it becomes just so tiring to think about. Look over there for diversion…there’s a Scottish referendum! Which as we know from TVNZ last night, is an inherently hilarious something or other about kilts, bagpipers, folk dancing, caber tossing and drams of whiskey. Yet for the record, the latest attack on Greenwald came less than 24 hours after the PM had finally conceded that um… maybe Edward Snowden [and Greenwald and Kim Dotcom] had been right all along about New Zealanders being subjected to mass surveillance.

Apparently, Key conceded, the GCSB’s brother agency, the NSA, could indeed be spying on us - this after more than a year of Key vehemently denying that we were under mass surveillance, or could ever be. The wiggle room for Key… was his suggestion that this spywork may be being carried out by the NSA, and not (sez Key) by our own GCSB, who were merely keen to do so, had been trained to do so, had been gifted with enabling legislation to enable them to collude in doing so, but – we are supposed to believe - never ever really, truly, got to the point of doing so. Sure, if you say so.

Two final points about that: to use an analogy, death by friendly fire (via our good friends in the NSA) is not that different from suicide, at your own hand. At least Chancellor Angela Merkel had the balls to complain loud and long to the US about its surveillance activities on German citizens. Yet here‘s Key conceding that the NSA may be engaged in similar activity but he’s saying –in effect – that its not for him to say or do anything to detect the extent of it, much less to stop it. Really? This from a man who talks the talk about a new New Zealand flag but when it counts, is completely unwilling to defend our national sovereignty, or personal privacy.

Ultimately… as all these issues recede into the woodwork, the government that we elect on Saturday will (nominally) have the task of leading all New Zealanders - the ones who voted for it, as well as the ones who didn’t. Would that it were so. Yet this campaign has shown something different. There is now compelling evidence – piled up over six years - that the modus operandi of the Key administration is not to govern inclusively on behalf of the many but to govern for the few, by demonising its critics and choosing to neglect some of the most vulnerable people in the country. If the polls are correct, we’re relatively happy, as a country, to perpetuate this brand of politics.


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