Don Brash Writes
Don Brash Writes
No. 69, 23 November 2005
The election result
For the first time since before the election campaign got under way in earnest, I am resuming my regular fortnightly email newsletter.
The election was closely fought, with only the narrowest of margins between the two major parties and potential coalition blocks. There was clearly substantial support, and in many cases majority support, for the policy positions advocated by National.
The National Party attracted a higher percentage of the total vote than in any election since 1990, and a larger absolute number of votes than in any previous election. We won an additional 10 electorates and, although this was of no benefit at all in the current election of course (the Party Vote being the only vote that counts in terms of the number of seats in Parliament), it does give us very useful profile for the future.
Moreover, we have 23 new members of the Caucus - three former members of Parliament and 20 "brand new" members. Sixteen of the 20 have given their maiden speeches at this stage, and those speeches have amply confirmed the extraordinary amount of new talent which has now joined the team.
The government which Helen Clark has put together has the most extraordinarily bizarre structure New Zealand has ever seen. Indeed, I know of no other country which has had to endure such a government - with the important position of Minister of Foreign Affairs sitting outside the Cabinet, with Mr Peters insisting that he and his colleagues are free to attack the government on any issue not covered by his areas of ministerial responsibility, and with Mr Peters' party making it clear that they would have preferred to be sitting on the Opposition benches.
The potential for tensions in this arrangement has been evident already, with Mr Peters and Helen Clark clearly at odds about the relationship with the US, and with the Australian Foreign Minister approaching Mr Goff for an explanation as to how the arrangement is supposed to work.
One can imagine what will happen when the Chinese ask Mr Peters about his attitude to the Government's proposed free trade agreement with China. He will presumably say that while as Leader of New Zealand First he is totally opposed to it, as the Minister of Foreign Affairs he is strongly in favour of it. It reminds me of Koko from "The Mikado": Koko was simultaneously Chief Judge, Lord High Executioner, and a man sentenced to death for flirting.
I should make it clear, yet again, that at no time did I (or anybody else acting on my authority) offer Mr Peters the position of Minister of Foreign Affairs, despite his repeating this claim endlessly. Indeed, although I had one short meeting with Mr Peters following the election, no specific commitments of any kind were made, either relating to ministerial positions or relating to policy concessions. And that can be confirmed by any of the leaders of three other political parties, all of whom were present during my only meeting with Mr Peters.
I should also make it clear, because I know there was some concern among some of our supporters on this issue, that we did not abandon any important policy positions during the discussions we had with other political parties, although we did accept that there were some aspects of our policy platform which we did not, with just 48 members of Parliament, have the votes to implement.
The National Party is now in great shape both to hold the Labour/New Zealand First Government to account and to advance our own policies vigorously.
Portfolios have been allocated and the extended front-bench refreshed with three new faces - Judith Collins, Katherine Rich, and David Carter. Over the next few months, the Party will undertake a careful review of the election - what worked and what did not, and what we need to do to ensure that the next government is a National-led one.
The current Government has been the lucky beneficiary of circumstances over which it had no control, and has squandered the opportunities provided by those circumstances. As interest rates rise and the exchange rate puts more and more pressure on export industries and those competing with imports, the economy will undoubtedly slow and house prices will level off or even fall.
At that point, the advice from the Treasury last week to take urgent steps to improve productivity in New Zealand will be seen not as "an ideological burp", as Michael Cullen condescendingly called it, but as a call to action fully compatible with National's own plans for New Zealand.