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A Weekly Report from the Keyboard of Murray McCully MP for East Coast Bays

And the Winner is….

The special votes have been counted. The Maori Party has gained an entitlement to a third seat, reducing the overhang to one (and the size of the whole Parliament to 121). The National Party has dropped a seat (to 48) leaving Helen Clark (with Labour’s 50 seats) commencing the process of negotiation with other parties. But the search goes on for a real winner from the 2005 general election.

Only three or four months ago Helen Clark and her colleagues had visions of entering the 2005 campaign with an unassailable 10 point lead. Despite the post-Orewa scare early in 2004, not one of them thought the outcome of this election to be in the slightest doubt.

And now they have had to endure not only the terrible uncertainty which has shrouded the outcome, but the growing realisation that there is no election victory for Labour. They have emerged, despite the best economic conditions for many decades, with no real mandate to govern; merely a licence to negotiate with five other political parties.

Their stranglehold on the constituency seats has been shattered. And worst of all, there is the terrible certainty that this is not the end, merely the beginning of the end. For Labour has been sentenced by the electorate to many more months of MMP-induced trauma and ignominy, after which the eventual dispatch to electoral oblivion will appear a merciful release.

For the smaller parties, the prospect of being invited to prop up the decaying Clark administration is an invitation to sign their own death warrants. For United Future, savagely punished by the public for its support of Labour in the past three years, the prospects are a little brighter. They have been spared by the arithmetic. With only three seats, UF is not pivotal to Clark in her hunt for the magic 61 seats.

For Winston Peters the problem is acute. Clark needs either his seven votes or the Maori Party’s four in order to survive. Yet Peters will know that without the backstop of the Tauranga constituency, his party cannot survive the electoral backlash that will surely follow his support for a dying Clark government. He has been careful to couch his commitment as one to support the party with the largest number of seats "in the first instance". Now we will get to see how one of Parliament’s veterans deals with one of the tougher challenges of his long career.

ACT is back, courtesy of the Epsom electorate. But as is the case for all the smaller parties, it faces the challenge of re-building, and doing so with a greatly reduced share of the oxygen of politics - Parliamentary speaking and question time.

The Maori Party have won a presence in the next Parliament. But they, too, face a dilemma. Their supporters want and expect them to support a Labour-led government. A Labour-led government intent on winning back, by whatever means, the four Maori seats held by the Maori Party.

For the Greens, the election result could well turn out to be a disaster. Convinced that a re-elected Helen Clark government was a certainty, the Greens have invested three long, patient years in proving they are ready to serve inside the Cabinet room as fully fledged coalition partners.

And now, the electorate has made Clark dependent upon other players who say they will refuse to support an administration in which the Greens play any part. Worse, the Greens are unconditionally committed to supporting the Clark administration through its dying days with all of the odium that entails. Now on only 5.3% support, and two sitting MPs down, there is an excellent chance that New Zealand will be rid of the Greens completely after the next election (however soon that might be).

Take a Bow Dr Brash

For Don Brash and the National Party, the 2005 election result represents a giant step forward: more than double the number of party votes over 2002. Almost double the number of MPs. Now re-established as the dominant political force in provincial New Zealand, as well as the commercial hubs of Auckland and Hamilton.

Equally important, a pool of new talent has been brought on board. The contrast with a tired, stale Labour caucus will be stark.

While the largest share of the party vote just eluded him, he has left his opponent hobbled and in terminal decline. Such a result on the part of a seasoned political operator would have been outstanding. For a first term Member of Parliament it is a truly remarkable achievement.

For much of the past two years, Dr Brash has dictated the agenda for New Zealand politics. He has most certainly done so for this election campaign. And nothing on the immediate horizon appears likely to change that as we enter the next Parliament.

And Now

Helen Clark will try hard to secure guarantees of supply and confidence for a full three year term. She may do so. But even if she does, those commitments will not be worth the paper they are written on. Because none of the small party leaders has those guarantees to give. The sight of the looming guillotine spurs even the seemingly most benign into independent thought, and eventually, desperate action.

So, some time, short of the three year term of the new Parliament, the whole Sisterhood edifice will come crashing down. With it will fall those who have lent them succour and support. And then it will be very clear who the real loser of the 2005 election has been.


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