Walk away, it’s a devil’s bargain for Labour
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.
Jacinda Ardern is facing a risky future.