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Election 2014: Dark clouds and silver linings

Sun 21 Sep 2014 In: Comment View at NDHA

To say last night's New Zealand general election took many political commentators by surprise is an understatement. Still, I'll try to make sense of what happened. Despite opinion polls that seemed to show a Labour/Green/New Zealand First triumvirate threatening the Key administration's third term prospects, that scenario did not eventuate. Current results give National a slight absolute majority of sixty one seats, which may fall to sixty when the final special votes are counted, which may mean that the Greens regain an extra List MP, having lost one. Labour lost four MPs, including lesbian Labour List MP Maryan Street. Labour now has three LGBTI MPs- Grant Robertson, Louisa Wall and Meka Whaitiri. The Greens still have two, Kevin Hague and Jan Logie. National has one, Chris Finlayson, certain to retain the Minister of Justice portfolio given the decline of Judith Collins. Mana Internet did not survive the election after Labour's Kelvin Davis won Te Tai Tokerau off Mana's Hone Harawira. Thus, the Key administration will serve a third term. This is a disappointment for those of us who wanted an alternative government to the one that currently occupies the Treasury benches. To be sure, there will be further changes. Despite the fact that he wants to retain the Leader of the Opposition post, David Cunliffe needs to seek a new mandate from the party organisation and membership. Did his perceptible lack of grasp of precision, focus and detail affect the final result, or was it the prolonged machinations by his faction to secure the party leadership from Phil Goff and David Shearer? Was it the Dirty Politics scandal, which may have diverted voter attention from alternative centre-left policies, or the Kim Dotcom sideshow? And if the Labour Party chooses otherwise, whether it is David Parker, David Shearer or Grant Robertson, Cunliffe will need to accept that result and move on. The last thing Labour needs is a repetition of the "Mad Mike" era of the early nineties, when former Labour leader Mike Moore's egotism sabotaged and undermined Helen Clark's ensuing first term as Leader of the Opposition. To be fair to Cunliffe, as I've said beforehand, Labour's problems may not just lie with the leadership, but also with the party organisation, its research unit and communication management. One hopes that Rainbow Labour members play their role in helping to reconstruct the party from this sad outcome. Those were the dark clouds. What about the silver linings? While I have little time for the Key administration's social and economic policies, at least it is a centre-right government. In its second term, Prime Minister Key showed commendable bipartisan social liberal consensus leadership when it came to the passage of the Marriage Equality Amendment Act in 2013. For this, Key and National's centre-right social liberal contingent have been the recurrent subject of carping criticism from the social conservative, authoritarian and opportunist right, namely New Zealand First and the Conservative Party. With a borderline or actual absolute majority, all National has to do is to rely on its retinue of satellite parties to maintain office until 2017, given that ACT retained Epsom and United Future retained Ohariu Belmont (but both remain a single-seat microparty), while the Maori Party was also reduced to a single seat, Wairakei, but picked up a new list MP as Labour took all but one Maori electorate back. This means the Key administration doesn't have to rely on New Zealand First for confidence and supply, or have to kowtow to its binding citizens referenda bottom line, despised and detested by many LGBT and social liberal voters (and even some fiscal and social conservatives!) Furthermore, at least we're also rid of the ghastly New Zealand First List MP Asenati Lole-Taylor and her fanatical crusade against street sex workers. One wonders about whether corruption allegations from that quarter may return to haunt her former colleagues now that the election is over and done with. However, Peters and his sycophants did vacuum up some free-floating votes that might have gone to Labour and the Greens due to his party's duplicity and opportunism. The other silver lining is the continued absence of Colin Craig and his fundamentalist Conservative microparty from Parliament. Despite grandiose fantasies otherwise from its leadership about (variously) winning East Coast Bays, Epsom and Napier from the National Party, such did not eventuate. Moreover, although it polled four percent of the total voter share, that was less than the polls indicated -and less than its Christian Coalition predecessor (1996) when it polled four and a half percent, but fell to pieces after the Christian Democrats and Christian Heritage Party had their messy strange-sect divorce in 1997. Is four percent also going to be the Conservatives high water mark? Granted, the Conservative Party isn't a hybrid coalition party. However, the Christian Heritage Party also had an elaborate series of constituencies, but that did nothing for its ultimate electoral prospects. Christine Rankin has indicated that she will stay with the party, but Garth McVicar may need to retire from active politics. It would be foolish for the Sensible Sentencing Trust to accept him back as its director, given his immoderate expression of partistan social conservative views that are unconnected with criminal justice issues. More amusingly, McVicar's interference may have cost the National Party Napier, retaken for Labour by Stuart Nash. Did the Conservative Party's transparent religious social conservatism turn off many voters from endorsement of the party? It seems as if ardent enthusiasm for parental corporal punishment of children, binding citizens referenda and opposition to marriage equality weren't enough to persuade cross-over voters- to say nothing of Colin Craig's repeated frenzied horizontal hostility toward the National Party. The other loser is Family First. Marriage equality is still there and it's not going anywhere, the Conservative Party still isn't in Parliament and New Zealand First isn't in a governing coalition. It could be better. On the other hand, it could also be much worse. Craig Young - 21st September 2014    

Credit: Craig Young

First published: Sunday, 21st September 2014 - 11:44am

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