As the Political Dust Settles ...
It may seem strange to suggest it now, but the dust will soon settle on the political turmoil of the last ten days, and
a form of normalcy will return, the imminent advent of the formal election campaign notwithstanding. And when that dust
has settled, some basic realities will be clear.
The Labour Party has replaced a grim and dour leader New Zealanders would never have made their Prime Minister with
someone more telegenic and permanently smiling who is likely to staunch the bleeding of Labour’s wounds. Whether she
can, or will or be acceptable as a potential Prime Minister remains to be seen, although the early signs are that style
more than substance will be her hallmarks.
And, after a contorted public display of political hari kiri, the Green Party’s co-leader finally resigned. This seems
due not so much to her truly bizarre admissions of welfare and electoral abuse a quarter of a century ago, as to the
defiant and smug arrogance of her subsequent public comments, and the extraordinarily heavy-handed reactions of her
colleagues to two Green MPs who dared criticise her. They were summarily dispatched with a brutality reminiscent of the
best of totalitarian regimes, while at the same time the Party tried to stick to its long held mantra of being the one
Party of principle. The picture that emerged instead – and which subsequent opinion polls confirm – is of a Party that
condones welfare and electoral law abuse, particularly by one of its own, and is utterly intolerant of dissent or
criticism. The collective moral failure of the Party’s MPs and leadership has been palpable and punished accordingly.
With these momentous events now behind the electorate, if not for the Parties themselves, voters’ focus will quickly
return to more basis issues. They will be considering whether the reconfigured Labour and Green Parties, with their
Memorandum of Understanding apparently still intact, are better placed to form a viable and coherent government than
they were a couple of weeks ago. The chaos of the last few days, their apparent euphoria notwithstanding, makes that a
much a more arguable proposition. Few would agree these recent events have demonstrated they are now more able to
provide good and stable government than before.
And how does the current National-led Government, with support from ACT, the Maori Party and UnitedFuture, look by
comparison? Has its position as a reliable and stable combination that has served New Zealand well over the last nine
years been enhanced or weakened by recent events? On balance, the conclusion would have to be that the contrast between
strong, reliable and focused government and unimaginable chaos has never been starker.
New Zealand First will be smarting that it has been largely sidelined by the recent shenanigans, despite its solid
support in provincial New Zealand. However, its problem is more fundamental. Its current crop of MPs is the most
singularly uninspiring and inept to have been in parliament for a while – and believe me, having seen many such
groupings over the years, I do not say this lightly. The problem is that it therefore cannot risk exposing them to too
much public scrutiny, lest they be found out. And that means having to maintain the focus on the Party leader and his
idiosyncratically destructive style of politics.
All of which will make for a fascinating few weeks ahead. Expect National and its allies to continue to try sailing in
the smooth waters of competence, reliability and experience. There will be a number of business as usual policy
announcements to maintain both the image and the sense of a coherent strategy for the way ahead, with allowance for the
diversity of views it support partners offer. For Labour and the Greens, excitement and vibrancy will be the dominant
themes, but the challenge will be showing a sense of cohesion and consistency, unlike anything they have shown to date,
and getting their leaders to answer the hard questions posed of them, rather than just make glib policy pronouncements.
For New Zealand First, it will be politics as usual, picking the familiar social and political scabs in an effort to
fuel distrust in the system and reinforce its self-sought image as the “you tell ‘em” Party.
As politics as usual returns, some voters may be forgiven for yearning for more of the drama of the last two weeks.