| Pol­i­tics

As the sounds of bat­tle fade, there are some ob­vi­ous in­juries, in­clud­ing to democ­racy it­self.

New Zealand Listener - - CONTENTS - Jane Clifton

Papal con­claves emit smoke sig­nals at each stage of their de­lib­er­a­tions. Mes­sages from the hot­house of New Zealand’s coali­tion ne­go­ti­a­tions are con­veyed in steam, and our king­maker has been build­ing up a head of it for a long, long time.

Win­ston Peters is at the apex of a 24-year mis­sion to pun­ish and re­form his party of ori­gin, National, for what he sees as hav­ing be­trayed its prin­ci­ples. His cam­paign rhetoric was at times like a but­ter­scotch-lit Main­land Cheese ad about the years when National gov­ern­ments ac­tively stopped things get­ting too ex­pen­sive, did any­thing nec­es­sary to pre­serve pro­vin­cial NZ and we didn’t have for­eign­ers muscling in on ev­ery­thing we did.

Peters es­poused such a com­pre­hen­sive ar­ray of causes, from re­build­ing ChristChurch Cathe­dral to re­im­burs­ing Man­gawhai ratepay­ers for their waste­water scheme, that it’s been easy to forget the be­lief that lies at his molten core: eco­nomic na­tion­al­ism.

The clear­est steam-sig­nal to come out of this week’s Bee­hive talks con­cerned for­eign in­vest­ment and cur­rency con­trols and, by a mor­dant irony, it was nearly enough to pitch cap­i­tal and cur­rency mar­kets into free fall. These two mat­ters are at the ex­treme retro end of the party’s pol­icy suite and, cu­ri­ously, Peters never sought to pur­sue them be­fore when he had coali­tion lever­age – and a big­ger cau­cus than he has to­day.

The tech­ni­cal and prac­ti­cal dif­fi­cul­ties of his pro­pos­als to de­value – and even if it can be done, it could be hec­ti­cally in­fla­tion­ary – and of turn­ing the for­eign-cap­i­tal valve to low will keep politi­cians, of­fi­cials, busi­ness and pos­si­bly also vot­ers ­anx­iously busy for the fore­see­able fu­ture.

Now the bat­tle’s over, it’s time, as the old say­ing goes, for the an­a­lysts to come down from the mountains and bay­o­net the wounded. The trou­ble is that it’s not yet en­tirely clear who they are. There are some ob­vi­ous in­juries, in­clud­ing to democ­racy it­self: de­spite the most in­tense pub­lic­ity cam­paign ever to en­cour­age it, the youth vote ap­pears to have gone down, and there’s re­newed teeth-gnash­ing about the pe­cu­liar­i­ties of MMP. But the present ca­su­alty list may not be fi­nal: some MPs dis­grun­tled with the coali­tion out­come may yet bail. So far, four party lead­ers and two whole par­ties have per­ished, and the much-mooted

National-Green Teal Deal turned out more of an Aqua Fatwa.

By now, read­ers will prob­a­bly know who got to form the Gov­ern­ment – the Lis­tener went to print be­fore the de­ci­sion – but other im­por­tant ques­tions re­main to be an­swered by post-poll re­search, not least whether there was a man­date for a change of gov­ern­ment, or for the sta­tus quo. National emerged well ahead of the field but un­able to gov­ern with­out an­other bloc, which at the least sug­gests a mood for change.

A vote for Labour or the Greens also sug­gests a vote for change, but what of NZ First sup­port­ers’ in­ten­tions? Un­til a cou­ple of months ago, that party was the only vi­able change agent our pol­i­tics had pro­duced in al­most a decade. Nei­ther Labour nor the Labour-Green bloc ever looked like gain­ing a ma­jor­ity over National and friends in three terms, so the only chance of change was with NZ First hold­ing the bal

ance of power and

Peters’ cam­paign rhetoric was at times like a but­ter­scotch-lit Main­land Cheese ad.

ei­ther act­ing as a hand­brake on the National-led Gov­ern­ment or giv­ing a ma­jor­ity to a LabourGreen pair­ing.

In view of the stream of anti-Gov­ern­ment rhetoric from Peters these past nine years, it’s tempt­ing to as­sume NZ First vot­ers were en­dors­ing big-C change. But that the­ory prob­a­bly be­came rub­ble after the Jacinda bomb ex­ploded. Labour’s Au­gust lead­er­ship change overnight made it the big­gest change agent, draw­ing sup­port away from NZ First.

Log­i­cally, vot­ers who stuck with Peters through that were of the baked-on va­ri­ety, more likely to han­ker after the Win­sto­nian idyll of “National the way it used to be”.


Post-elec­tion aca­demic re­search will tell us more about the un­der­ly­ing sen­ti­ment among NZ First vot­ers. But it would be just as use­ful to know whether Steven Joyce’s bud­get rab­bit hole and the “Let’s Tax This” cam­paign against Labour were de­ci­sive. At a cur­sory glance, my oath they were. Polls showed Labour snap­ping at National’s heels and even nudg­ing ahead, un­til Joyce’s nar­ra­tive of Labour’s fis­cal flak­i­ness took hold.

In fair­ness, Labour did much of the heavy lift­ing it­self, with its de­lay-but­ton tax po­si­tion and an ill-tar­geted wa­ter tax. In­evitably, Ardern was chal­lenged ev­ery day to rule out some form of new tax, and it be­came pol­icy death by a thou­sand cuts. But did Joyce’s tac­tic, which made him look a chump to al­most any­one who knew any­thing about gov­ern­ment ac­count­ing, scare off a de­ci­sive num­ber of vot­ers and make the dif­fer­ence be­tween Labour or National hav­ing a ma­jor­ity?

A fur­ther ques­tion – and one vi­tal to the fu­ture de­sign of MMP – is the Catch-22 for mi­nor-party sup­port­ers, of which the Op­por­tu­ni­ties Party (TOP) may have been a ca­su­alty. Thou­sands ei­ther read their de­tailed poli­cies, at­tended their nightly ral­lies, or both, and many earnt the un­usual bonus of be­ing called ”mo­rons”, “thickos” or “mad cat ladies” by leader Gareth Mor­gan if they dared query any pol­icy. TOP repli­cated the new-broom ex­cite­ment around Bob Jones’s New Zealand Party, which at­tracted 12% of the vote in 1984.

But its in­abil­ity to poll much more than 2% in the cam­paign would have de­terred some pro-TOP vot­ers who feared that their vote would be wasted, be­cause the party looked un­likely to make the 5% thresh­old – thus en­sur­ing it didn’t.

Of those who wanted to vote TOP at some stage but didn’t, how many were de­terred by that risk? (And how many backed off be­cause they were thin-skinned mo­rons, thickos and mad cat ladies?)

This wastage fear may also have kept the Green and NZ First vote ar­ti­fi­cially low, as at times both par­ties looked like sink­ing be­low 5%. Doubt­less a fur­ther steam sig­nal from the Bee­hive will be a pro­posal to dust off the shelved 2012 MMP re­view, which ad­vised that the thresh­old be low­ered. De­spite the wounded feel­ings from the week’s teampick­ing, we can count on a grand coali­tion when it comes to par­ties’ self-preser­va­tion.

Log­i­cally, vot­ers who stuck with Peters after the Jacinda bomb ex­ploded were of the baked-on va­ri­ety.

Head of steam: NZ First MP Tracey Martin, ad­viser Paul Car­rad, leader Win­ston Peters and deputy Ron Mark.

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