The summer surge of politics continued this week with more big calls being made, especially by National, Labour and the Maori Party. But what do they mean? And where do they lead?
Wise decisions are at the heart of good politics. Judgment is everything when it comes to choosing what's best for our country and anticipating how voters will respond, and this week some big – politically massive – judgment calls have been made.
I figured Friday was as good a day as any to look back and ponder just how wise and wily party leaders have been this week.
First up, John Key. Yes, the early announcement of an election date is unusual. No, it is not bold or brave. Yes, it is a welcome move and good for voters to know that they will have a few weeks after the Rugby World Cup to come up to speed on the issues (which is about all the time most folks give to their voting choice, anyway). But he had nothing to lose and everything to gain in doing so. Everyone in political and media circles had a red ring around November 26 anyway, as the RWC left little option.
In making the call he gets kudos and allows many voters to say, 'phew, I don't have to think about politics again until after the rugby's finished'. Call me cynical, but when you're well ahead in the polls, a switched-off electorate is to your advantage.
Key also announced National's intention not to enter any sort of coalition with Winston Peters, and thereby New Zealand First. As everyone and his dog have noted, this is smart because it makes it harder (though not impossible) for Peters to build up a head of steam and to make hay from his political flexibility (I'm reluctant to call Peters centrist, as so many do. I'm not sure his politics are worthy of that tag). It makes him more Sideshow Bob than Kingmaker Winnie.
However, the decision itself – which while not without risk, was utterly predictable – is less interesting than what it implies. National's greatest hope will be that New Zealand First, as in 2008, does well but not well enough. It's all good if Peters wastes some tens of thousands of anti-government votes. But that's not all
It suggests that National MPs may be getting seduced by the prospect of winning a majority on their own. The chance is there, like a golden ring... if they can just reach a little farther... That, as Helen Clark learnt to her strategic cost, is a risky strategy and doesn't always go down well with voters.
The other punt that Key is making is to lean heavily on ACT in particular, and the Maori Party. And that at a time when association with either risks tarnishing Key's golden image.
If Key is willing to bet against Peters, it says to me that he must have decided to bet on Rodney Hide and ACT. I can only presume after this week that National will not be standing a serious candidate in Epsom. It would be foolhardy for National to adopt a '50% or bust' strategy, and if it needs a coalition partner it doesn't want the Maori Party to be the only cab on the rank.
Therefore ACT, despite all its woes last year, has won a 'get out of jail free' card from Key. And I question how Key can justify that, while expressing such disdain for New Zealand First.
Why is it noble to rule out Peters, but fine to lean on Hide? We all know that Peters has been bad and mad, but Hide spent taxpayers' money on himself and his girlfriend, bullied his deputy and divided his party, and endorsed an MP who stole a baby's identity. How is Hide any more right and proper than Peters? (Answers below. I'm sure you'll have some!)
What about the response of Phil Goff and Peters, who say its undemocratic to rule out New Zealand First before voters have spoken? Well, that's nonsense. Frankly, it's Key's party to lead and he can do as he wishes. What's more, both of them have effectively ruled out working with ACT, so they're in no position to condemn.
But Peters should not be ruled out. I remain convinced that, however quiet they are at the moment, there is a constituency for his message. The only question is whether he can get the required attention and whether he can mobilise them against an incredibly popular PM.
And don't forget, Peters hasn't announced which seat he'll be standing in yet. The right choice (Epsom?) could really throw the cat amongst the pigeons.
Goff's big call of the week was his caucus reshuffle. He copped flak last year for not renewing enough – and his own wizened self, politically speaking, is a problem for his party – but this time he's taken a deep breath and backed his yoof. And it is a punt, you've got to say. ACC and education are both weaknesses for National, and the job of tackling those has been given to two 32 year-olds, Chris Hipkins and Darren Hughes, respectively.
I'm not sure it makes a fig of difference for voters directly, but it means journalists can't bang on about a 're-heated' Labour government, and so quite apart from the necessary rejuventation, it takes some of that sting out of the public conversation.
We all know that Grant Robertson is picked for big things, and Health should offer the spolight he needs to get ahead quickly. Shane Jones gets back near the top, but not so close as I would have expected. Still, it's probably enough for him to get the attention he needs, should he wish to challenge for the leadership within the next year or three. He remains a real asset for Labour, when it looks to white, middle-class and snobby.
Robertson's promotion puts him at the top of the new-ish boys list – ahead of Charles Chauvel, interestingly – and in a spot where, should he perform this year, he can be considered when people start musing about who might take over from Goff. Cunliffe and Jones are still on the front of the grid, but if the party wants to do a Miliband or Cameron and skip to a new generation, Robertson is now in a position to benefit.
Where Goff erred was in his musing about the future of Parekura Horomia. It's hardly 'mana enhanching' to have your career's end speculated on so openly by your leader.
And finally, Hone Harawira and the Maori Party. Neither the MP nor his party's officials look good when they talk about proper kaupapa and discretion on one hand, while leaking emails and tweeting their anger on the other. They look dishonest.
I'm still curious bout Te Ururoa Flavell's motivations for laying a formal complaint, rather than getting together with Harawira and having it out. Was the Sunday Star-Times column the final straw? Is he really concerned about his position as heir apparent in the party? Does he simply think Harawira's outbursts are bad politics or contrary to discussions held internally?
Whatever, if Harawira wants to stay in the party he has to discipline himself. He can't bitch and moan about internal matters one week and then, having made the debate all about him, rabbit on about the need to focus on unemployment, welfare and "the issues of the moment" the next.
The key political point here is that Harawira supposedly wants a more left-wing government after the election. We all know that's a long shot, but the only, only chance of that is if a) the left combined win enough votes for a coalition to be viable and b) if the Maori Party chooses Labour ahead of National.
If Harawira is sacked from the party, or his reputation with his colleagues sullied, then that latter path will be the road not taken.
He needs to think strategically: Maori Party voters also vote Labour. Flavell, Katene and even Sharples all have political views that tend more to the left than the right. The Maori Party did well out of National this term, but may do well to show its adaptability and independence by choosing Labour this year.
In other words, if he wants the sort of Maori Party and government he says he wants, he needs to pipe down and stay where he is, not force a confrontation.
And that is enough for a Friday. Happy Waitangi weekend everyone. Don't we live in a fantastic country?