| Pol­i­tics

The con­tes­tants are feel­ing the pres­sure as the kitchen heats up.

New Zealand Listener - - CONTENTS - Jane Clifton

This might be our coun­try’s least­favourite part of the elec­tion cy­cle: My Kitchen Cab­i­net Rules, the elim­i­na­tion heats. All we can do in this coali­tion­build­ing in­ter­reg­num is end­lessly mull over the in­gre­di­ents list and spec­u­late about what the con­tes­tant par­ties are cook­ing up. Na­ture ab­hors a vac­uum, and the me­dia pos­i­tively surges to ­pro­vide some – any – mat­ter to fill the void be­tween govern­ments. Hell, we’d even vol­un­teer to be food tasters.

It felt like the last straw on Wed­nes­day, when the new MPs held a pre­tend Ques­tion Time, di­vi­sion bells and all, but for­bade the me­dia to cover it so that the ten­der petals could “prac­tise freely”. ­Hon­estly. QT with­out the me­dia is as point­less as poker with­out the ante. As for prac­tis­ing freely, what do they think we’ve been do­ing since their lead­ers went into ne­go­ti­a­tion no-speakies mode?

Real­is­ti­cally, though, any­thing our con­tacts from the var­i­ous party ma­chines tell us just now is by def­i­ni­tion un­re­li­able, as no one can ­pos­si­bly yet know the pre­cise out­come. Satur­day’s fi­nal count could re­al­lo­cate seats to the point of chang­ing all the par­ties’ bar­gain­ing power. As ­king­mak­erin-chief Win­ston Peters says, there are nine pos­si­ble per­mu­ta­tions, in­clud­ing the dreaded im­passe and fresh elec­tion. Fac­tor in the end­less po­ten­tial pol­icy com­bi­na­tions, and we’re try­ing to sec­ond-guess a cos­mic Ru­bik’s cube.

There is what the US me­dia bril­liantly dubbed “truthi­ness” to most of the ­vac­u­umpe­riod re­portage and con­jec­ture. It’s also, to use a favourite Win­ston­ism, mostly bull­dust.

Safe in the knowl­edge that when the Gov­ern­ment is fi­nally in­stalled, all our bovine vac­uum-pack­ing mat­ter will be for­got­ten, let’s tackle a few of the pop­u­lar fac­toids of the mo­ment.

That Win­ston wants to be Prime Min­is­ter.

Well, who doesn’t? But all the sig­nals he’s emit­ted since elec­tion night have been re­strained. It’s ­sig­nif­i­cant that he’s talk­ing about “do­ing what’s in the best in­ter­ests of the coun­try”, not “my party”. Ig­nore the hy­per­bolic anti-me­dia rant­ing (which Win­sto­nol­o­gists know is just de­signed as ther­apy for both par­ties). Peters knows his hand isn’t strong. New Zealand First got a pro­vi­sional 7.5% of the vote. That’s a bit­ter dis­ap­point­ment, and he knows the pub­lic would barely ac­cept that this en­ti­tles him to be deputy let alone PM. He also knows he can­not, with nine MPs, de­mand the Earth. His most cov­eted legacy is an en­dur­ing po­lit­i­cal party, not this or that job. If NZ First over­plays its hand, it won’t sur­vive vot­ers’ wrath. This also tack­les an­other pop­u­lar factoid.

That MMP gives mi­nor par­ties too much power.

Small par­ties who ex­er­cise power, even rea­son­ably pro­por­tion­ate power, sel­dom get to do it for long, be­cause their very ef­fec­tive­ness also makes them seem too cosy with the

Wag the dog for the good of your party’s sup­port­ers and you risk get­ting docked.

­Gov­ern­ment for their sup­port­ers’ com­fort. The Maori Party, which ar­guably ex­tracted more pol­icy wins from a gov­ern­ment than NZ First ever has, at least on a spend­ing ba­sis, has been wiped out this elec­tion. It can con­sole it­self that no good deed ever goes un­pun­ished. Wag the dog for the good of your sup­port­ers and you risk get­ting docked.

That Na­tional is try­ing to de­stroy the Greens.

Re­peated over­tures from Na­tional to the Greens are both sin­cere – it re­ally would pre­fer to deal with James Shaw than Peters – and ­disin­gen­u­ous – it knows the Greens will not, and un­der their own rules can­not, co­a­lesce with it. But

it’s a worth-a-try po­lit­i­cal

stunt. It might, but prob­a­bly hasn’t, put Peters’s weights up. It has drawn a lot of voter en­dorse­ment and put pres­sure on the Greens’ mem­ber­ship to re­con­sider their op­po­si­tion to deals with Na­tional in the fu­ture. It also puts the Greens on the spot with the im­pli­ca­tion that they want to save the planet, but only on their terms, and that a planet ruled by Tories can per­ish.

But it has also looked cyn­i­cal of Na­tional to ­sud­denly make nice, hav­ing spent nine years ­ridi­cul­ing the Greens as anti-busi­ness and anti­growth, and run­ning the strin­gent ben­e­fit sys­tem that ­oc­ca­sioned the ac­ci­den­tal mar­tyr­dom of Me­tiria Turei.

As some­one suc­cinctly summed it up on Twit­ter, there’s a per­verse mood of “how dare NZ First hold the Gov­ern­ment to ran­som and how dare the Greens refuse to hold the Gov­ern­ment to ran­som”.

Bluntly, the one-sided courtship has also looked rather creepy, like that bloke who em­barked on a pi­ano-play­ing marathon to try to pres­sure his girl­friend to change her mind about break­ing up with him. Bill: James is just not that into you. Stop call­ing.

That this three-week wait is bar­baric and ut­terly in­tol­er­a­ble.

Euro­peans and Scan­di­na­vians, who ad­mit­tedly have had decades longer than us to get used to it, re­gard this coali­tion pe­riod as a per­fectly civilised and so­phis­ti­cated way to honour democ­racy, and a process not to be rushed. Theirs can take months. To them, we must seem to have a bad case of the sort of FOMO (fear of miss­ing out) nor­mally found only in five-year-old boys. But equally, there’s the haughty in­junc­tion from con­sti­tu­tional buffs …

That New Zealan­ders sim­ply don’t un­der­stand how MMP is sup­posed to work.

This is our MMP, and our vot­ers will de­cide how it works, thanks. To harp on about the Euro-Scandi ethos of pro­por­tional vot­ing risks ­pa­tro­n­is­ing vot­ers who find them­selves livid that a mi­nor party again holds the bal­ance of power. Vot­ers are per­fectly en­ti­tled to ques­tion such things. We’re a West­min­ster, first-past-the­p­ost ­elec­toral cul­ture, with MMP only re­cently grafted on. Why can’t we evolve our own hy­brid rather than a pure MMP sys­tem? New ­Zealan­ders may never de­velop a Ger­man or Dan­ish sen­si­bil­ity about mi­nor­ity par­ties’ par­tic­i­pa­tion, and maybe that’s okay. We may al­ways deem the sin­gle party with the most votes the “win­ner”, and ex­pect it to form a gov­ern­ment ir­re­spec­tive of other coali­tion pos­si­bil­i­ties.

As for mi­nor­ity govern­ments – hold our beer! Pub­lic tol­er­ance of new ideas has its lim­its. Ex­perts and boffins can­not brow­beat vot­ers into con­form­ing to a vot­ing cul­ture to fit the of­fi­cial re­ceived wis­dom. The way we do MMP may not work in the­ory, but some­how, we seem to have made it work in prac­tice for 21 years.

Even so, as Tom Petty sang, the wait­ing is the hard­est part.

Ex­perts can­not brow­beat vot­ers into con­form­ing to a vot­ing cul­ture to fit the of­fi­cial re­ceived wis­dom.

Win­ston Peters, left, and James Shaw: too much power?

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.