| Life

The strange calm as our lead­ers work out who’s in charge is shat­tered in fa­mil­iar fash­ion.

New Zealand Listener - - CONTENTS - Bill Ral­ston

The best thing about MMP, and to be frank there are not a lot of things that are good about it, is that ev­ery three years, we get the chance to live for a few weeks with­out the in­tru­sion of pol­i­tics in our lives.

The hia­tus dur­ing the painstak­ing count­ing of special votes and while party lead­ers per­form their ­tri­en­nial mat­ing dance is blissful after the rau­cous bick­er­ing of an elec­tion cam­paign.

Ob­vi­ously there is still a ­gov­ern­ment in place, al­though a care­taker – and glo­ri­ously qui­es­cent – one. The press re­leases have slowed to a trickle, the po­lit­i­cal ar­gu­ments have stopped and the sight­ing of a party leader on telly is mer­ci­fully rare.

All this will even­tu­ally end, of course. Win­ston Peters, at the mo­ment seen as the key ally for whichever ma­jor party wants to form the next gov­ern­ment, tells us he will make a de­ci­sion by ­October 12. ­Nat­u­rally, be­ing Win­ston, if he can­not make up his mind by then, he will deny he ever men­tioned that date. But we know that the po­lit­i­cal peace won’t hold.

October 12 is also the cen­te­nary of the coun­try’s worst day in the Battle of Pass­chen­daele. It was slaugh­ter: we lost 843 men, the most killed in a sin­gle day of com­bat.

As we think of what those troops went through 100 years ago in their failed at­tack on Belle­vue Spur, it’s worth re­flect­ing on how for­tu­nate we are to­day: New Zealand is at peace, our sons are not be­ing sent to the abat­toir of the trenches, we are pros­per­ous by world stan­dards and a safe haven in which to live. It is easy to for­get that when the rhetoric is fly­ing like shrap­nel in an elec­tion cam­paign.

There is plenty left for a new gov­ern­ment to do to make this an even bet­ter coun­try. But it be­gins with a head start thanks to the ef­forts of suc­ces­sive ad­min­is­tra­tions.

In writ­ing this col­umn, I stopped at this point and left it overnight to ma­ture, in­tend­ing to add a happy end­ing the next day. It was not to be. Some time in the early hours of the morn­ing, I was wo­ken by my cell­phone ping­ing with in­sis­tent news alerts about the mass shoot­ing in Las Vegas.

Such ran­dom acts of gun vi­o­lence are mer­ci­fully rare here. Not so in the US where, in 2015, more than 13,000 peo­ple were killed by firearms and al­most 27,000 wounded.

The US is trapped not only by a quirk of its con­sti­tu­tion that guar­an­tees the right to bear arms, but also by the ab­sence of a pub­lic con­science about the ef­fects of firearms. After an event such as this one, any other coun­try in the world would act. When Aus­tralia suf­fered a hor­ri­ble mass shoot­ing in Tas­ma­nia in 1996, it tough­ened its gun laws and col­lected many ­thou­sands of firearms from a ­will­ing pub­lic.

Con­trast that with two pieces of leg­is­la­tion that are be­fore the US Congress: one is to en­able si­lencers to be used law­fully and the other to al­low ar­mour-pierc­ing ­am­mu­ni­tion to be sold. As John Clarke was in­clined to sing, “We don’t know how lucky we are.”

If he can’t make up his mind by October 12, Win­ston will deny he ever men­tioned the date.

“Well I’m stumped. How do you ar­gue with some­one who’s us­ing only cap­i­tals?!”

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