A ‘win’ but at what cost?
issue of select committee seats.
National is clearly feeling triumphant over this win, and fair enough. A win is a win, and the Government will be privately annoyed at being caught out.
The Opposition claim that the win over select committees is a blow for democracy is, of course, nonsense. National had agreed previously that there would be 96 MPs on select committees. But then it lost power and no longer liked the arrangement. Its reversal was a matter of self-interest, not principle.
In any case the quarrel over select committees, and the ambush over the Speaker, is the kind of parliamentary jostling that doesn’t matter much to the wider public. Many will find it uninteresting, trivial, or incomprehensible.
Wins in the house, however, do help boost a party’s confidence and thereby its general performance. Parliamentary losses, on the other hand, sap a party’s morale.
The deeper question is what this minor scuffle means for future Opposition tactics. The Opposition’s job and duty is to oppose and to show up the government. Oppositions whose sole aim is to sabotage the government, however, risk alienating the voters. The longterm risk is that this strategy will be tried by the other side when the roles are switched. The result could be the kind of paralysis of government too often seen in the United States. Oppositions don’t gain in the long term by making the country ungovernable.
In New Zealand, there is also a strong tradition of giving a new government a ‘‘fair go’’. Voters traditionally allow some leeway, and even grant it a kind of temporary political honeymoon. That was based on the idea that the old government had lost and the new one deserves a chance.
National, of course, still clearly feels that it is only the opposition by a kind of accident, because the kingmaker Winston Peters chose the ‘‘wrong’’ side. There seems to be an assumption that the party with the biggest vote is somehow entitled to take power.
This is simply wrong, but the hard political fact is that National, which gained 44.4 per cent of the vote, is not the clearly broken or spent force which long-term governing parties usually are when they lose power.
Nobody yet knows how this will pan out. National might simply keep embarrassing the government and showing up its incompetence or political unpreparedness. Or it might make a fetish of always ‘‘winning at any cost’’. The cost might be a voter backlash.