In politics there are always winners and losers when it comes to general elections – it is the inescapable truth that gets party supporters out every cycle in the hope of either winning or retaining Government. There are billboards and advertisements, debates and speeches, town hall meetings and now Facebook live.
Then, usually by 9pm on a Saturday night the nation pauses, holds its breath and its done. Over the last few decades the New Zealand political cycle has been evolving its way through a system called Mixed Member Proportional. In the old days it was an easy thing – the Party with the most electoral seats would win and that would be that – but under MMP coalitions need to be formed and in their formation two things happen.
The first is the parties need to negotiate where they have things in common, the things that are at the top of the list and the things that can be traded away to another day. The second is that these things take time.
Over the last few weeks New Zealand has been going through the negotiation of a coalition Government led by one of the grand old men of politics – Winston Peters.
Peters is of the old school – kind of like a dapper Dan with the perfectly waving hair stuck firmly fast to the scalp, double breasted pin striped suits walking briskly around the corridors of power with a manila folder or two stuck to the breast of his upper torso.
He is, in fact, one of the few politicians in the nation’s history to have held three electoral seats (Hunua, Tauranga and Northland), sat as a List MP, been Deputy Prime Minister, Foreign Minister and even Minister of Maori Affairs. There isn’t much the man hasn’t done which is why it is no surprise that he has gone with the New Zealand Labour Party into Government this time around.
And its that word time that is so important. Now in his seventies the reality is there isn’t that much time left for Winston Peters to make his mark on the country. But this time around he was stuck middle of two vastly different characters – to the left was Jacinda Ardern, the young, dynamic and untested new leader of the New Zealand Labour Party and to the right was the ship’s Captain – steady as she goes, nothing to see here move along Bill English. Many New Zealanders would have expected Winston to have gone with what they all believe he knew – old school. But he didn’t. He went with the future and the future is largely unchartered.
In doing so he will come into a Government that has been in Opposition for nearly a decade which is an important thing to understand – because what Labour will need right now is all its collective knowledge to return and build its corporate knowledge of what it needs to do in Government and as a Government at a time when it is going through generational change. Large reforms are on the agenda, and not just tweaking around the edges. New Zealand, over these last few decades have largely had stable and consistent economic policies no matter what the colour of the Government in power – but that is about to change. So, on the one hand you have the dapper dan of Winston Peters and on the other you have Jacinda Ardern ironically now stuck in the middle with James Shaw to the left of her.
Whatever happens the country voted for change and in fairness nine years is a long time to be in Government. The sad thing is Bill English also deserved to have fought and won an election. Sure he had some clowns to the right of him – but in large part he served his country well.
When former Labour Prime Minister Peter Fraser died the Evening Post, who was often critical of him said:
“The young crusader and the old conciliator were the same man in many essential qualities. The serious-minded youth read and read, and talked and considered with a Scottish zeal for education that surmounted all obstacles. He lived on in the elder statesman who was always inquiring, always eager to widen his understanding. The young man had to overcome handicaps, and he denied himself pleasure to acquire learning. The older man had equal perseverance and sacrificed leisure and ease so that he might gain all knowledge helpful to the task. The reforming zeal remained, too, in the older man, still inspired by a wide and personal humanity, but guided by the wisdom and experience which had shown him that there was no short cut to utopia, no easy road to be travelled without thought and effort. They failed to perceive, as he did, that the spirit of reform mattered more that the method or the institution. So, the man who had urged militancy in his youth had to content with the later militancy which he saw could be only disruptive while he wanted to build."
This next term of Government will be about both the legacy the past dictates and the potential a bright future hold. Whether Winston and Jacinda can pull it off is anyone’s guess but try they will and yes there will be both clowns and jokers to the right and left...stuck in the middle with you…
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