A ‘win’ but at what cost?

Marlborough Express - - COMMENT&OPINION -

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.

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