Russell Brown's HARD NEWS

6th September 1996

Copyright © 1996 Russell Brown

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and what a long, strange week it's been. Yes, recent days have passed under the same penumbra of slight unreality that always seems to apply when the Americans are letting off expensive fireworks in the Middle East. I found myself transported back to other high times in US foreign relations - hey, where were you when Reagan bombed Libya?

I seem to recall being in a flat in Dunedin with a headful of mushrooms watching it on TV, but let's not go into that. This week's craziness in Iraq has shown what we've all known about post-war America - only Republicans can do foreign policy. Sadam Hussein, having been invited by one faction of Kurds to waltz up and cream the other faction, hasn't exactly earned the wrath of his Arab neighbours.

Apart from Iran, which supports the Kurds who got creamed, they seem to think he's just taking care of business. Hey, you want a democracy or something? Jeez, don't tell the Saudis. As a result, Clinton - who, realistically could do nothing else at this stage of a presidential campaign but fire the damn missiles - has his diplomatic ass exposed worldwide. Only that eternal toady, Britain has voiced its wholehearted support for the cruise missile attacks.

Actually, we have too, in a piddling sort of a way. Bolger was fast out of the blocks with a statement which might have been headed "New Zealand takes a bob each way on this one". He was forced to re-emerge with something a bit more pro-American after Australian PM John Howard trumped his first statement by appearing more forthrightly gung-ho.

Both men were at the South Pacific Forum meeting in the Marshall Islands. What a load of rubbish that is. The nations of the Pacific get together and resolutely avoid talking about anything important - like the fact that two of them are at war, for instance - and instead concentrate on eating endangered sea turtles and being nice to the French. Yes, nuclear-testing France has been accepted back into the forum first time up, without even, it seems, having to plead its case. Boy, we really made them sweat, didn't we?

If that was odd, then nothing could possibly be odder than what was happening back home. Suddenly, on Wednesday, the daily papers carried large ads with pictures of toilets. They had nothing to do with dunnies, save that they were placed by men with minds like sewers. They were advertisements from VOTE - Voters' Organisation for Tactical Education - telling us how to cast our MMP ballots. Their message was that devoting both electorate and list votes to the same party is like sending your vote round the S-bend. Dubious is hardly the word.

Let's be honest right now and say that VOTE is a shabby little front for the ACT political party and anyone who believes anything else is too innocent to live. After all, VOTE peddles exactly the same misinformation which saw ACT get rapped by the Electoral Commission. Its spokesman is second-rate broadcaster George Balani, whose fawning praise is used in every ad for Richard Prebble's dreadful book; who was buddies with ACT's Rodney Hide in the Campaign for Better Government.

Hey, remember the CBG? Yes, pretty much the same corporate sleazoids who spent so much money trying to convince us that MMP wouldn't work are now desperate to tell us exactly how they think it does work. And, just like the CBG, the VOTE stooges actually think that we'll believe them when they imply that their slush fund has sprung spontaneously from the pockets of a horde of concerned citizens.

So what, exactly, are these people on about? Well, the "educational" pretensions of their campaign fly out the window in the first five seconds. The ads claim, for instance, that if no party gains a majority in the general election, there will have to be a coalition government. BZZZT!! Wrong! There could equally well be a minority governmement. That's just one point. And these idiots are trying to teach the Electoral Commission to suck eggs?

Actually, if the Electoral Commission were to say what VOTE would have it say, it would be an outrage. There is nothing intrinsically clever or more productive about splitting your two MMP votes. In Germany, on whose MMP system ours is based, vote-splitting is an exception and is largely confined supporters of minor parties. Like ACT.

More to the point, the kind of tactical vote that VOTE encourages is a particularly speculative and frankly risky one. It urges voters to cast their party vote for someone other than their favoured party, if that be National or Labour, on the grounds that those two will return most or all of their quota of MPs from electorates and list votes will therefore be wasted. Technically true, but very, very dodgy.

Imagine every National voter takes this advice and votes for the local National candidate and ACT on the party list, as a coaltion partner for National. Result: ACT gets 40 or 50 list MPs and quite possibly becomes the biggest party in Parliament - a Parliament which will have swollen out to 180-odd MPs because of this contrived voting pattern. It's crap - although it does lend some weight to the alternative theory that VOTE is just a Business Roundtable plot to give people such bad advice about MMP as to utterly discredit the system.

This isn't to say that tactical voting under MMP is impossible or a bad idea. Polls this week in Ohariu-Belmont showed it happening - in that United's Peter Dunne is the leading candidate, but United has a no-votes-at-all share of the party vote in the electorate, which is going to National. That's a rather artificial sitaution, of course, because National isn't standing a candidate.

For another example, I also know of at least one National Party supporter in Auckland Central who is planning to vote National, but will give his candidate vote to Labour's Judith Tizard, because although he doesn't like Labour, he really, really hates having the Alliance's Sandra Lee for an MP. He figures only Tizard can beat Lee. This also, is a rational tactical vote.

The principle here is that, if you're going to play fast and loose with one of your votes, it is safer for that to be your elecorate or candidate vote. In general, your party vote should go to the party you actually want to support. It is also perfectly rational and quite effective to vote both for your party of choice and the local candidate for that party. Indeed, it would show that you actually know your own mind.

And speaking of minds, what a scary place must Mike Moore's be. Be afraid, be very afraid, punters, because he's got another book out. It is called, get this, 'Children of the Poor'. Is this his John A. Lee fantasy come full-circle? Or can we expect more conceit, self-delusion and pretension all the way to the election?

Speaking of which, New Zealand First has finally hauled its actual immigration policy out of the bag to try and arrest a decline in the polls. In a move which makes dawn raids look like wishy-washy liberalism, Winston First would slap a four-year probation on all new immigrants. Yes, that's right, we'd follow them around for the first four years of their new lives, making sure they didn't misbehave - and if they did we'd throw them out. Fantastic, isn't it? Welcome to New Zealand.

Well, at least one good thing happened this week. the 1996 Sauvignon Blancs hit the shop shelves. I've been lucky enough to dip my lips into a few early examples in recent weeks and I can vouch for claims that the 96 is the equal or better of of the 94 - and there's lots of it! The benchmark Montana Marlborough Sauvignon is just bursting with gooseberries and the Te Awa Farm wine is all lucious Gisborne tropicana. Excellent. Looking forward to the Selaks and the Collards. It was a wise man indeed who said it was the white wine, the white fish and the marijuana which made this country worth living in. Actually ... it was me!


    ==  ==      Russell Brown
  [ @ / @  ]                      
     /        ________________________________________
    (_)         "The views expressed on this programme
    ____)       are bloody good ones." Fred Dagg, 197?

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