(First published in The Dominion Post and The Press, September 19.)
WHAT A CAMPAIGN. Its most striking feature, apart from the unprecedented viciousness on the fringes, has been the attempt by agenda-driven activists – some of them high-profile outsiders – to influence the outcome.This may ultimately count in John Key’s favour. His enemies may have overcooked things.
Voters could well look at the role played by external agents five days out from the election and decide it looks too much like a concerted effort to hijack their democracy.Certainly Kim Dotcom has burned up whatever political capital he acquired as a result of the ridiculous police raid on his home. New Zealanders are over him.
Voters may also feel that the barrage of savage denunciation aimed at Key during the past few weeks went beyond the bounds of fairness. Whether he deserves their sympathy is another matter, since there is ample evidence that he hasn’t been straight with voters.The public may also have wondered at the remarkable number of recent events – protest marches by Women’s Refuge activists, highly political Nigel Latta television documentaries, alarm-laden reports on child poverty, teachers’ union attacks on charter schools – that showed the government in a bad light.
That this crescendo of outrage came immediately before an election is, of course, entirely coincidental.A few other observations:
■ Claims of media bias have been flying from both sides of politics – not from the politicians themselves, who know better, but from their overheated supporters. As usual, the accusations largely cancel each other out.The one area where the media left itself exposed to criticism was in its generally uncritical acceptance of Nicky Hager’s cloak of moral purity. Hager has yet to explain why it’s okay for him to use stolen emails while he simultaneously condemns state intelligence-gathering.
The obvious conclusion is that the Left reserves for itself the right to decide when illegal acts are permissible because of their high moral purpose. Call it the Waihopai Three Syndrome.The canonisation of Hager aside, the worst the media could be accused of was getting over-excited. Journalists thrive on drama and conflict, and no election campaign has delivered more than this one.
■ Winston Peters is again under fire for refusing to disclose which of the major parties New Zealand First is likely go with.But even if he did reveal his intentions, there’s no guarantee he would stick with them. In 1996 he appeared happy for everyone to believe he would support Labour, then went the other way – after first keeping the country guessing for weeks.
If he really wanted to convince us of his integrity, the obvious course would be to guarantee support for whichever party wins the most votes. What could be more democratic than that? But that would deny him the pleasure of playing games and indulging in indignant bluster, which is what he does best.■ Watching party leaders making their pitches at a pre-election conference organised by BusinessNZ, it was clear that the most philosophically coherent parties – perhaps the only philosophically coherent parties – are two from opposite ends of the ideological spectrum: ACT and the Greens.
All the others – with the exception of Internet-Mana, which is the political equivalent of a pantomime horse – are scrambling for the middle ground.Thomas Pippos, chief executive of conference co-sponsors Deloitte, made the point that policy differences between the centre-Right and centre-Left are slight in the context of the overall regulatory framework. The two major parties, in other words, are noisily squabbling over a small patch of turf.
One of the most impressive performers at the BusinessNZ event, incidentally, was Greens co-leader Russel Norman. He was polished, articulate and in command of the policy issues.In his stylish suit and tie, Norman looks almost mainstream. He personifies the transformation of the Greens from the flaky days of hand-knitted jerseys and dreadlocks.
■ Will this election be ACT’s last hurrah? At its peak the party had nine MPs and provided a credible voice for what is often pejoratively referred to as neoliberalism.Jamie Whyte has made an heroic attempt to resuscitate ACT after the dire John Banks era, but he’s too cerebral to connect with voters. His other-worldly quality was cruelly exposed when he had to admit he hadn’t heard of Whanau Ora.
A strong ACT lineup in Parliament would provide a counter-balance to the Greens on the left of Labour and stiffen National’s spine, but it’s hard to escape the feeling the party has done its dash.