Copyright © 1996 Russell Brown
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GOOD DAY MEDIAPHILES ...
well, we're nearly there: Honey I changed the voting system. What began as a rash promise from David Lange, which begat a royal commission, which prompted two referenda, has delivered a retooling of our democracy. Fittingly, the first MMP election has produced a campaign to remember. This one will be studied, and it will be talked about.
Now that we're rubbing right up against Mixed Member Proportional, its flaws, of course, are showing. It's fashionable to have claimed to have voted for STV - which means, basically, that we've forgotten what was wrong with STV as a potential national voting system.
Others may be disappointed that whichever side wins, those two auld buggers, Labour and National, will still be to the fore. They should remind themselves that the quickest way to bring down the whole new edifice of MMP would be a Parliament full of freshies. They should also consider that this campaign has been better, been culturally richer than the essentially binary affairs of yore, that even in the established parties, the equation has changed to bring a wider range of talent to the fore.
And talent will be required to make it work. One problem with the first MMP government will be that whoever wins through to form a coalition or a minority government will be forming an executive with a bunch of electorate MPs - for most of both National and Labour's MPs will have won their seats - who will have to try and be ministers *and* look after big electorates. Meanwhile, either in formal coaltion or hanging around, will be the Alliance, New Zealand First, Act and whoever else, with droves of list MPs for whom there is yet no job. Messy.
To some extent, the leader of the first government will have to redefine politics. Which is why I feel reassured that Helen Clark has a better than 50 per cent chance of being that leader. She is, undoubtedly, the one of the big four who you would want to approach that task. In my opinion, it's not even close. Jim Bolger's political stock has slumped so dramatically in this campaign that even if he forms a government he'll lack authority. And Jim Anderton and Winston Peters would simply drag too much baggage into the job.
No one, surely, can have anticipated how well Clark would campaign. Commentators are now speculating on how relieved a certain Labour caucus faction must be that it failed to remove her a couple of months ago. But the attempted coup - which would have reinstalled Mike Moore, for God's sake - can actually be seen as the turning point for Clark. Rather than sustaining fatal damage, she seemed to feed off the adversity. Media tutelage and advice on grooming helped, of course, but her own bloodymindedness cannot be overrated.
The Prime Minister, on the other hand, went into the election campaign with everything to lose - and set about losing most of it. If Clark is at her best backed into a corner, Bolger is at his most grisly. But in a sense, his performance has been symptomatic of his government. Since it convinced Ruth Richardson to go away, National has been less offensive than insipid. The policy disaster in health in particular has simply been allowed to drift.
So what would a Labour-led coalition feel like? Well, the Alliance wouldn't be there for a start. It would stand outside, supporting a minority government on merit of policy. At one time this looked like a problem, but now it rather suits everyone. The realities of government would be unkind to some of the major Alliance policies, and Labour would actually prefer to have the Alliance as far away from the Treasury as possible.
Labour wouldn't strike any real problems with the markets - unless the economy slowed down and it couldn't take enough taxes to fulfill its promises. It wants neither to be unable to deliver or to run a deficit. But there are indications of bouyancy, in the short-term at least - more money in the hands of the low-paid and beneficiaries, who will promptly spend it; a slightly lower dollar; and a widening of the goalposts on inflation - in line, it must be said, with international thinking. Given the impact of new products and processes, and premiums for new skills, anything up to three per cent annual movement in wages and prices is considered to effectively be zero inflation.
Fears that Labour would open the floodgates to rampant trade unionism - so deftly expressed in the Herald's flatulent Friday editorial on the topic - are wildly exagerrated. Nowhere in the Employment Contracts Act are unions actually even mentuioned. Some new legislation to give unions a statutory presence would still leave us well to the right of most of the developed world, Europe and Australia included. No need for panic there at all.
Problems with Labour's Tory tendency - as injudiciously highlighted by Lange - are unlikely to be a major difficulty. If they're so craven as he suggests, they're hardly likely to jump out of the ministerial LTD now, are they? It already seems that Mike Moore would take a position as the coaltion-builder, all the better stroke his ego and keep him too busy to make pronouncements on other peoples' portfolios.
He'd be negotiating with New Zealand First, of course - which is very much the wild card in it all. Where Winston goes, there goes power. He might still take his party into coalition with National - but only at the risk of blowing it to bits, especially if Act is in the same coalition. If he does come to Labour, Helen Clark's problem will be accomodating not only his ego, but some of the dolts on his party list. There is talent in New Zealand First, but it tends to go unrecognised. John Delamere, easily the smartest and most able person in the party, is on the edge of selection at number 18 - below dickheads like Gilbert Myles, Jack Elder and the ghastly Ron Mark.
Indeed, it would have been nice to have been able to rank party lists ourselves. As a one-eyed Aucklander, I'd certainly have had Joe Hawke higher up the Labour list than 15; and it's a bloody strange world when Rod Donald comes five places lower on the Alliance list than Frank Grover of pretend political party the Liberals.
This has not only been a battle of parties, of course, but among the media. If The Evening Post has provided the feistiest, most colourful newspaper coverage, the revitalised New Zealand Herald deserves big points for getting up off the deck so quickly and eagerly. On the radio, Neil Billington's drivetime interview with a meltdown mode Bolger was tremendous - and a word please for bFM's Mikey Havoc, who's had 'em all on, including the yogic fliers from the Natural Law Party. All that is, except for Bolger, who staged an incredible no-show. By the time his press secretary had threatened to publicly embarrass the station for not accepting a five-minute phone interview as a substitute, Bolger had well and truly lost Generation X in Auckland. The really bizarre thing was that Richard Griffin also appeared to have double-booked Bolger into a leaders' debate on the Kim Hill show; from which the Great Helmsman also bailed. On the last day, this was symptomatic of a truly wretched campaign.
Anyway, TV has done better than I expected. Ian Fraser hosted a string of late night talkfests which people actually started to watch; Bill Ralston hosted a crap leaders' debate but had the best of the early evening arguments - and Paul Holmes, silly, trivial Paul Holmes, had the leaders' debates with The Worm. It might be a gimmick, a contrivance ... but this election could yet be remembered as the one which turned on The Worm. For this reason, Holmes gets the gong - even if that worm did seem to head south every time he himself opened his mouth.
So, vote early and often, and if you intend to vote tactically, be aware of what you're doing. Whatever certain stooge organisations might tell you, playing fast and loose with your party list vote is a dodgy thing to do. Unless you want to risk getting something you didn't really want, give that vote to the party you feel best equipped to do the job.
Your electorate vote, on the other hand, affects who the MPs are, rather than how many. If you hate the local candidate of your favoured party, or that person doesn't have a prayer of winning, or is an absolute shoe-in on the party list, or you're in a really exciting electorate like Wellington Central, have a flutter by all means.
Me, I'm voting Labour two times. That shouldn't come as a suprise to Hard News followers, and I decided it some time ago, but it was hardly guaranteed. Labour could have lost my party vote had Mike Moore been made leader, or my electorate vote had we been delivered a duff candidate in Auckland Central. In the event, neither has happened and I'm happy to proceed.
You'll all make your own choices, of course. Except those of you who aren't going to vote - in which case, what the hell are you doing? You still have time to dash into a Post Office and get yourself set for a special vote. Remember - democracy is a sexy thing
G'bye!== == Russell Brown [ @ / @ ] email@example.com / ________________________________________ (_) "The views expressed on this programme ____) are bloody good ones." Fred Dagg, 197? _________________________________________ |||
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Last update: 11 October 1996
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