Magazine article New Zealand Management

Can She Do It? (Politics)

Magazine article New Zealand Management

Can She Do It? (Politics)

Article excerpt

Members of Parliament are slowly getting the hang of managing MMP. Another couple of Parliaments and they might be there.

They have been held up making progress because--for those in the two old parties at least--they have been responding to the old system's incentives. In making her unspoken but nevertheless unmistakable bid for an absolute majority, Prime Minister Helen Clark displayed that mentality.

But now she has a different prize dangling in front of her and it is one worth every bit as much to a major party leader as majority rule. It offers long-term government on the Scandinavian model.

MMP, as practised in Germany, is a two-main-party system little different from the one we used to know. Either the Christian Democrats or the Social Democrats hold power, with a small party, and there are one or two small parties.

This loosened a bit in the 1990s, partly because of the rise of the Greens and because of the absorption of the old east Germany, with its communist rule hangover.

The logic of our system is that it would fine down to a two-plus-two arrangement. Until early this year that seemed to be nicely on track.

Then came National's decline.

What Clark can now see beckoning is something more like the Scandinavian model: a strong centre-left party flanked by a party to its left and a party to its right versus a fragmented right opposition around a weak centre-right party, National.

National's original rationale was to be the conservative alternative to a reforming and at times radical Labour party. But National cast that off in the 1990s, taking on the mantle of radical reformer. If Clark takes over as the principal conservative, albeit of a slightly left variety, what is National's role? What distinguishes it?

The right did not noticeably fight the July election on economic, tax-cutting grounds. Those grounds have lost their primacy with an electorate that supports tax cuts more than it worries about service cuts.

So the right parties fought on crime, the Waitangi Treaty and, in the case of New Zealand First, immigration. These are psycho-social issues, not socio-economic ones. They do not fit into the electoral mould from which the old two-party system was forged.

These are issues on which the left parties are inherently weak. …

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