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Thursday, September 08, 2005

TV1 Leaders' Debate: reflections

What a great debate! Pita Sharples led by example, reached out and prompted the other leaders to express some positive things about race relations and a multi-cultural New Zealand. It was as if he had lifted some sort of a tapu. I thought that was easily the highlight with the burden of cringing and shame gone.

Clark: has learnt to shut up - kept her nose clean again.
Brash: more confident, sounded reasonable - but struggled.
Anderton: acts as an extra Labour speaker and played his part of attacker competently.
Fitzsimons: sounded reasonable - made strong value statements.
Hide: indefatigable - strong on tax message.
Sharples: positive - but no detail.
Dunne: we've heard enough about families for this election.
Peters: melancholy - negative and openly divisive.

I noticed that everyone support's Cullen's Superannuation Fund except, seemingly, for Hide. The irony being Act's main establishing policy was a super fund. From memory it was Roger Douglas himself who helped enact the Kirk government's one and later devoted books to arguing for a fund (privatised but state supervised - a key but not insurmountable difference). The fund can be individualised later on - but Hide didn't say that - he had the chance of sounding positive and missed it. Oh well.

At one point Peters asked Sharples: "Are Maori part of the Crown?" Now is that a loaded question or what? Which is why he didn't answer it. He should of perhaps said "Are Pakeha?" Can an ethnic group be "part of" the State itself? Which is why I personally love Peters' Treaty bill that will get rid of the "principles" and supposedly supplant it with the actual text! Great! That's what Maori and many Pakeha think should of happened a long time ago. "Part of the Crown" must therefore mean "partner" correct? Does it not follow? Can you be a part of it but not a partner in it - and if you are not a partner then what is your status vis a vis being a "part"? Winston is a classic, but I seriously doubt that he knows what he is saying when he suggests that Maori are part of the Crown. Unless of course he is giving his classic double-signal to two polar opposite groups which simultaneously feel he's on their side because he asks things in terms of rhetorical questions rather than hard answers. His supporters just fill in the gaps with stuff they think they would like to have heard from him.

From the signals and korero of the televised courtship ritual and based on current odds these possibilities present themselves.

Government formation scenarios:
(in following order of likelihood + = on confidence)

#1. Labour-Progressive-Greens Coalition+NZ First

#2. Labour-Progressive-Greens Coalition+Maori Party

#3. Labour-Progressive Coalition+Greens+Maori Party

#4. Labour-Progressive Coalition+Greens+NZ First+United Future

#5. Labour-Progressive-Greens Coalition+NZ First+Maori Party

National-Act coalition would have United Future support... but probably not Winston's support. I just can't see that panning out at the moment. It is a possibility if National is the biggest party - but, as Brash is given to say "that's far from clear."

I think Rod Donald really wants to get into Cabinet... I think he's ready, and I think Labour are ready to have that if it means only relying on one other party for support.

The line up in the debate of Sharples-Fitzsimons-Anderton-Clark on the one side of the moderator, seemed a lot more coherent and harmonious than the negativity and equivocation of the other side, represented by Dunne and Peters. Right side had infighting, Left side had agreement. And yes, I know the Maori Party's flax roots empowerment ideas are hard to put on the spectrum, but I'm chalking them up to the Left.

I will have to revise my odds away from National in light of this unity of the Left regardless of how superficial it is in practice. (Sharples joked about being a cab that hasn't gone yet). Perception is everything.

Labour can now confidently and credibly assert stability whilst the Nats must defend their risk of "structural" instability (ie. NZ First) in any government they could form. This is where the incumbency advantage of having run a reliable government for six years starts to accrue.

Brash faces, perhaps his most difficult personal challenge ever over the next 8 days

He's 64 years old. This is his one and only shot at Prime Minister. Contrast Clark's detail with Brash's evasiveness or refusal to answer because he doesn't know what policy or even what city he is in. I do not wish to be unnecessarily unkind to the man, but I think his age might be showing. He has said before that being the Leader is far more demanding than what he was used to as Governor of the Reserve Bank. Well it's now ten sleeps to the election and the pressure is between x10 and x100. If he cannot mentally cope because of the physical necessities of the schedule he will either get caught out in a mental lapse so hillarious he will become an instant but of every joke long after the election - or, abandon some of the lesser diary items and be seen, as soon as he misses/defers/delegates his second scheduled item the pressure will go on immediately from the media that his campaign is lagging - spun by Labour and Winston, it becomes "terminal" or "in free-fall" - at which point the media have turned it into reality. Brownshirt will have to step in to front for Brash and answer questions about "free-fall," at which point National's swinging female vote may become terminal. Brownlee will have to deal with rumours of how soon he will take over the leadership after Don did his duty and lost "less badly" than last time.

The only way National could form a government (at this point with the usual caveats) would be if Act was there, United Future had a few, and they could all agree with compromising to NZ First's position on immigration and exports and the Maori Party's position on substantial devolvement of government services to overtly-Maori organisations and not-abolishing the Maori seats. It's one hell of an outside possibility. How badly do the Nats want it?


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