Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The year in retrospect - Part 1

A few bloggers have been retrospective for 2005, and since I am fleeing to France for Christmas, I thought I should list who I think deserve some mention as 2005’s greatest successes and failures politically:

New Zealand’s great political survivor Award: Helen Clark

After the disappointing budget, the reactionary approach to race relations and bungle after bungle, she is the first Labour Leader to win power in three consecutive elections. Only the first Labour government won three elections, but with Savage then Fraser as leaders. Regardless of the ins and outs of it, she pulled off a nailbiting finish against the National Party, shored up the leftwing vote and lost only a small percentage compared to 2002. She runs Cabinet and this government with an iron fist, and only Cullen comes close to her in terms of power and influence, (excluding H2). She is an intelligent, organised and hard working individual – and has a high level of political astuteness, and she knows what she wants and believes in. She will sell out her friends for power (Greens) and will sell her soul for it too (deal with Peters and Dunne), but knows that she is on top. I strongly dislike her politics, her view of the state and so much of what her government has done – but Helen Clark remains number 1.

The great comeback Award: National Party

Just look to see what a bit of backbone can do. National came back from the brink in this year’s election and we have an Opposition again. This is due to Don Brash. To rescue National from its worst ever result of 21% - a result of Bill English’s mealy mouthed inability to appear to stand for anything or to offend anyone was a monumental task while the economy continues to ride well with high international commodity prices, and the dynamism unleashed through the reforms of the 80s and 90s. However, Dr Brash did it. He got a higher proportion of the vote for National in 2005, than it got in any MMP election and more than it did in 1993 when it won by a slender margin. He did it by focusing mainly on two issues – race relations and tax. He campaigned, mostly, on eliminating race based laws and funding, which many New Zealanders could relate to – and on cutting tax, instead of increasing welfare for families. He proved that taking a principled stance won votes, and by far his biggest blunder was to prevaricate on any other matters of principle. Nuclear ships, the brethren campaigning issue – all of those weakened his image of credibility and honesty. The left were terrified of Brash, and still are. Only John Key matches Brash for a clear mind and principled approach – National has learnt it can turn its back on the vapid soporific nothingness of the Bolger and English leadership and win votes. National has captured rural and provincial New Zealand by storm - it has yet to make enough inroads in Auckland, Wellington or Christchurch - this is where it needs to focus. If it keeps up the focus on principle and strategy and screwing down the government's failures - it should be able to take the Treasury benches after the next election.


Politically lost but personally won Award: Winston Peters

Having lost his personality cult like Maori constituency to the Maori Party, some of the greedy grey grizzlers to the National Party – Winston Peters played a rather half hearted trump card in choosing the party with the largest number of seats to provide confidence and supply, and now he is invisible. Winston saw his party slip from 10.4 to 5.7% of the vote, he lost his electorate, lost a legal challenge to the newly elected MP Bob Clarkson, and after campaigning against holding the baubles of office – now enjoys first class air travel around the world as Minister of Foreign Affairs outside Cabinet. He can’t speak up against the government he supports credibly – he doesn’t have influence on policies decided in Cabinet, because he isn’t in it. In short, having been stripped of his Tauranga electorate base, Winston, now 60 years of age, is setting himself up for retirement. So has he lost? Personally no. He is getting lots of trips, getting a Minister’s salary and can enjoy the quiet life having been a major force for change in NZ politics for over 13 years. Winston almost cost the National party the 1993 election, and he shook up Maori politics more than any other party before in 1996. He will have given support to keep Jim Bolger and Helen Clark –arch opponents – as Prime Ministers, and he helped the campaign for MMP. Winston can spend the next few years looking back on a remarkable political career as a maverick, and live comfortably for it, and convincingly kept his private life, by and large, outside the purview of the media.
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Man happiest to step back from Cabinet Award: Paul Swain

With a sexy wife (Toni Reeves-Swain) just over half his age, Paul Swain is thrilled to step back from Cabinet and enjoy himself, with her. He can spend time with his new daughter, did I mention his sexy wife? Good for him. If only more Labour MPs would just live life to the fullest and stop trying to run everyone else’s.
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Phew we made it, but that's it Award: jointly won by the Greens and ACT
With the peak oil campaign flop, no big issue was in front of the public and some Greens supporters were more concerned about keeping Labour elected than voting for their potential (always potential, never actual) coalition partner. The Greens slipped in with 5.3% of the vote, and then found themselves cast adrift by Helen Clark, as the numbers looked better going with NZ First and United Future. Once again, the Greens are on the sidelines, for their third term in Parliament - not in Cabinet. Having lost one of their more important MPs (Rod Donald) they look bereft, and many voters are tiring of their armageddon vision of the future, and "do what we say" view of environmental politics. It will be hard work for Jeanette Fitzsimons to turn around.
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ACT was decimated by Don Brash bolstering the Nats and giving it a chance to win, not helped by opinion polls that made a vote for ACT seem like a wasted vote. ACT had always won votes because the National Party looked like it wouldn't win, or had lost its way in terms of being a principled party on the right - well the Nats found their way, took ACTs tax cut policy (watered down), its race relations policy and law and order policy - ACT had little left beyond "me too and more of it", but most voters were not convinced. Despite having a principled leader in Rodney Hide who believed more in the libertarian ideals of ACT than many of its backers and his fellow MPs, it floundered because a vote for ACT seemed pointless - it was National that was the real opposition for once. Rodney Hide focused on Epsom and took it, from a staid and virtually irrelevant Richard Worth - he saved ACT from what would have been oblivion, and now it is on life support with 2 MPs. It will be a challenge to see if he can differentiate ACT from National and win new votes for the centre-right - at the moment it doesn't look promising.
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The God Works in Mysterious Ways Award: Destiny, United Future and Christian Heritage
Having hooked his wagon to the former Christian Democrats, Peter Dunne got a powerful network of soft Christian supporters peddling United Future as a party of the Christian right, ready to defend the family and commonsense morality. However, it was stuck between the urban liberals who liked a party of the centre, and the Christian supporters who opposed civil unions and the like. Furthermore, many Christian voters saw little point in voting for a party which kept Labour in power for three years, which was seen as the source of "anti family" legislation - they either slipped towards Destiny or supported National. They were more motivated to get Labour voted out, than to vote for a soft Christian party. A vote for United Future was seen as a vote for nothing in particular and its vote halved. Peter Dunne is now propping up Helen Clark for another three years expanding the welfare state - great for a family party. Once he retires, this party is gone too.
More delightfully after marches of black t-shirted largely Polynesian and Maori men in Auckland and Wellington, Destiny Church's Brian Tamaki's Destiny NZ party (sorry he isn't the leader - no) got a paltry 0.6% of the vote. This is around what the Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party got in 2002 - fire and brimstone fundamentalist Christian Ayatollahs are not welcome in New Zealand.
Finally, following the disgrace of Graham Capill, Christian Heritage is a mere shadow of the party that nearly slipped into Parliament (with what was the Christian Democrats) with 0.12% of the vote. Soul searching time indeed.

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