Walk away, it’s a devil’s bar­gain for Labour

Herald on Sunday - - IN OTHER NEWS - Heather du Plessis-Al­lan u@HDPA

Ardern faces three years of con­stantly com­pet­ing with her side­kick, who just hap­pens to be the coun­try’s smartest po­lit­i­cal op­er­a­tor.

There’s some­thing un­seemly about the cur­rent coali­tion flirt­ing: the way the two ma­jor par­ties fawn over Win­ston Pe­ters; the way the two deputies act like mar­tyrs by giv­ing up jobs that would be taken off them any­way; the way the lead­ers al­most sali­vate at the thought of power.

If I was Jacinda Ardern, I’d call an end to this. I’d find the quick­est way to bolt from coali­tion ne­go­ti­a­tions.

It’s not just the cringe­wor­thy spec­ta­cle of the cur­rent pub­lic woo­ing that should worry Ardern. It’s the fu­ture. A three-way with Win­ston and the Greens is noth­ing but risky for her.

We’ll start with Win­ston. His per­for­mance over the last week should be ring­ing alarm bells at Labour Party HQ. He has com­manded more me­dia at­ten­tion than Ardern and he’s rel­ish­ing it.

If he can stay in the lime­light in the first week post-elec­tion, you bet he can do that for three years straight. Es­pe­cially if he’s deputy prime min­is­ter.

And there’s a rea­son he’ll do that. Pe­ters wants a legacy. He has missed out on be­com­ing the first Ma¯ ori prime min­is­ter, so the sec­ond-best op­tion may be to live on in mem­ory as the guy who started the coun­try’s third big­gest party.

But, for that to hap­pen, New Zea­land First needs to live be­yond his re­tire­ment. And for that to hap­pen, he needs all the at­ten­tion.

But Labour needs that at­ten­tion too. Thirty-six per cent isn’t enough to re­lax on.

So, Ardern faces three years of con­stantly com­pet­ing with her side­kick, who just hap­pens to be the coun­try’s smartest po­lit­i­cal op­er­a­tor. That’s a recipe for ten­sion.

Then there’s the Green Party. They came through on elec­tion night with a re­spectable re­sult given the cir­cum­stances. But don’t be fooled. They’ll be a sham­bles be­hind the scenes.

Af­ter their self-det­o­nated ben­e­fit fraud ex­plo­sion scared away mod­er­ate vot­ers, their sur­viv­ing sup­port base is mostly pretty rad­i­cal and they want a left, left, left-wing Gov­ern­ment.

So, the Greens will try to force Ardern to tack left. But tack­ing left will alien­ate all those mid­dle-of-the-road Ki­wis that Labour needs to climb above 36 per cent. More ten­sion.

Then, add to the chal­lenge of deal­ing with two coali­tion part­ners the chal­lenge of deal­ing with 13 new MPs in your own cau­cus. In­clud­ing Wil­lie Jack­son. Nuff said.

Add to that mix the tick­ing time bombs the Na­tional Party has left all over the coun­try. House prices: they’re pro­jected to take a dip over the next few years. That’ll up­set home own­ers. Auck­land’s hous­ing short­age: we’re not go­ing to build our way out of that in three years. That’ll up­set first home buy­ers. Pres­sures on the health sys­tem, a creak­ing in­fra­struc­ture, poverty. That’ll up­set ev­ery­one else.

All of this is sur­viv­able for a po­lit­i­cal party. But it’s just a lit­tle less sur­viv­able when old-fash­ioned vot­ers still think you didn’t ac­tu­ally win the elec­tion.

Labour has to con­sider it a pos­si­bil­ity that win­ning this time might mean it doesn’t win next time.

Be­fore 1984, that was Labour’s curse. For 35 years, it had never sur­vived be­yond one elec­tion. You may say those days have passed. But we’re in new ter­ri­tory.

Un­der MMP, we’ve never had a party that isn’t the big­gest form the gov­ern­ment. So, who knows what hap­pens next.

If I was Ardern I’d con­sider whether I could wait an­other three years. I’d re­mind my­self that I’m the great­est hope the Labour Party has had in nearly a decade. I’d set my sights on 2020 and start look­ing for the first ex­cuse to get out of what could be ca­reer suicide.

And then, I’d an­nounce that the coun­try de­serves bet­ter than let­ting one man de­cide the shape of gov­ern­ment, and look the most prime min­is­te­rial of them all.

Michael Bradley

Jacinda Ardern is fac­ing a risky fu­ture.

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