Maybe there will be a government this week. Maybe not. To fill the vacuum speculation is the only alternative. 

This is the week we will be told what parties will make up the governing coalition and who will sit on the opposition benches of Parliament. Of this I am sure. 

I know this because Mr Peters mentioned to a journalist that his promise to decide (mediated by the New Zealand First caucus and Board) on who he will put into government this week could be "written on the wall". He could not be more clear than that. Except he was clear some weeks ago when he said we would all know by writ day. Which was last Thursday. 

It is all a bit confusing. It would not be if promises had not been made that were subsequently broken. Only to have it disputed that such a promise was made in the first place. Even though there are recordings of a voice sounding a lot like Mr Peters making the promise. 

Man, it is confusing. But. It is important to remember that the time being taken to form a government is reasonable. Most commentators (including me) thought the original deadline was unrealistic unless nothing much was going to be discussed. So, all that has happened is that we have been proven right and the time frame is still a reasonable one. As long as we get a government this week. Any longer and the way the negotiations have been handled will fold back on itself, tempers in the media and the public will fray and - well, it will not be nice. 

But this is not going to happen because we have a promise. 

Meanwhile, it has been important to fill the vacuum created by a lack of communication from the negotiating parties with speculation about what they would say if they were saying anything. 

The speculation got fast and furious on Monday because the "Caretaker Prime Minister", Bill English, gave a low key series of interviews. He came across as a bit fed-up with the whole damn thing. Speculators interpreted his demeanour to mean that National might be coming to the conclusion that they are headed for 1996 all over again if they partner with New Zealand First. Mr English kept repeating that National had 56 seats while New Zealand First had 9 seats. His forward pack was bigger than theirs, he seemed to be saying, so negotiations should be straightforward. But, that has not been the case.

 In stark contrast, over the weekend an ebullient Jacinder Ardern was reporting on a very productive week talking with New Zealand First. She was so upbeat, even appearing to add a sly wink to her words, that speculators began speculating that Labour had its nose in front in the race to form a government. On Tuesday it was revealed that the apparent wink was in fact a "tick" possibly inherited from a parent - a reminder that speculators need to be ready to revise their speculations.  

The difference in mood projected by the leaders of the main parties (it is worthwhile noting the National and Labout are the main parties while we listen to Mr Peters) has led to many speculators speculating that while they expected National to lead the government, maybe that was no longer true. 

There are at least three days to go before we will learn the outcome of Mr Peters deliberations. And if the announcement is not ready until Friday afternoon, perhaps we will not know until next week. Who wants to announce the new government over the weekend? The All Blacks are playing. They might lose and the headlines would be about them. 

A delay would mean a broken promise. But I think we will find that we were mistaken in thinking a promise had been made. Even though there will be a recording of the promise. 

If the last couple of weeks have caused anyone concern, remember that whatever happens we will have a govenrment in a timeframe that will be the envy of other nations with a proportional representation system. Nothing bad has happened while we wait. All parties involved have been focusing on trying to do their best for the country (putting aside annoying bluster) and when the dust settles we will still have a Parliament of people who mean well and compare favourably with their counterparts in other countries on measures such as honesty. 

In the cold light of a new day, we will debate how things might be done better next time. But with the exception of giving all parties access to Treasury so we can avoid silly debates over holes in budgets, we will find there is no reason to change much. We cannot legislate for personalities. And with the exception of the first proportional representation election in 1996, coalitions have formed reasonable smoothly. In retrospect, this one will appear the same. 

Of course, we could have speculated less and been less annoyed if politicians involved had made the effort to explain the process they were following. Not the content of their deliberations. They have to be free the discuss details in private. But a lot of good would have come from the process being expained. 

Most people do not pay much attention to politics, so politicians should use what we might call "teachable moments" to let people know how the country is run. That they did not do this is a shame. That Mr Peters used his time in the limelight to tell people off for asking questions is also a shame. 

But we are nearly there. No harm has been done. And we will have a government -soon, maybe. 


Comments (3)

by Dennis Frank on October 17, 2017
Dennis Frank

Winston:  "I saw Steve Maharey advising us to recycle Obama's advocacy of teachable moments.  Not a bad idea, so I'm using this press conference as a suitable moment to teach you media folk a thing or two that you're struggling to figure out for yourselves.  Such as how centrists like me can work with leftists:  first step is to use the same language, such as 'teachable moments', and then deploy it in a practical political situation (as I'm doing) to get us all on the same page."

"Another thing I'd like to teach you is that democracy takes time.  I know that a sophisticated concept like this is hard to grasp, but keep trying.  You'll get it eventually.  Half my goddam board wants to go with the left and the other half with the right, so we're obliged to talk this thing through to consensus, okay?  Yes, of course I reserved myself the casting vote!  You think I came down in the latest shower??  But it just so happens that I see considerable merit in both options.  Rest assured the next government will be vastly better than the last no matter which way I decide it.  And once we choose the best policy program for that government, we will have to negotiate a power-sharing structure - or remain outside it so we can control its legislation."

"So what we are teaching our country is how MMP empowers third parties, and reduces the hegemony of the National/ Labour duopoly.  You know how a cartel works?  Same in politics as in economics.  MMP allows other political tribes to form, and by controlling the political center, marginalise the historically dominant NatLab tribe.  Ain't rocket science, go figure.  What?  You still believe National & Labour are competing with each other?  Have you heard of glove puppets??"

"Yes of course the Greens could have spent the past 20 years occupying the political middle ground and controlling our election outcomes instead of me.  But they chose to misprepresent their constituency and only represent the leftist third of the Green movement.  Voters will always punish a lack of authenticity, and they have.  Poor leadership.  Betraying their support base is an extremely stupid thing to do.  And they even have a charter principle that requires them to do appropriate decision-making!  I bet their membership is experiencing the penny dropping on that right now, and when they demand accountability from their leadership group it will be a seriously teachable moment.  If the Green Party decides to reposition itself in the political center so it can represent the entire Green movement on an authentic basis for the first time, that'll be my retirement signal.  Until that day, I'll control the political future of Aotearoa.  So chew on that!"


by mudfish on October 18, 2017

Dennis, isnt TOP a more centrist but still environmentally focussed party? Sure, still redistributive but not more tax. Sorry, but they only got 2% so they don’t count (this time at least).

by Dennis Frank on October 21, 2017
Dennis Frank

The relevant fact was announced by James Shaw when he was campaigning for the co-leadership of the GP:  he informed us that exit polling of voters in the 2014 election revealed that 18% of them considered voting for the Greens but didn't.

I suggested they do further research to discover what proportion of these self-identify as neither left nor right (the traditional non-alignment of the global green movement).  If they did so, they're keeping the results confidential - probably due to the leftist leadership of the GP not liking them.

TOP isn't called the bluegreen party despite Gareth's call for one after the 2014 election.  So, Mudfish, the question of TOP being centrist and environmentalist is somewhat moot, I reckon.  His climate change book was excellent, spot on.  His social perspectives seem center-left much of the time, while he's not yet repudiated neoliberalism as far as I know & is usually described as `dry' on economic policy.

Best to view the green movement as being subdivided into three tribes from the perspective of identity politics.  You can verify this yourself by asking anyone you know who supports green causes "Do you identity with the bluegreens in the National Party or the redgreens in the Green Party, or those in the Green Party who self-identify as neither left nor right?"  As someone who has participated in the green movement for almost half a century (since '68) I see these three tribes as having trended towards parity in recent decades.  Just as most western countries now have as many voters who repudiate the left and right as identify with either.  Greens are a microcosm of this macrocosm - and the way statistics work in large populations and groups supports this comparison (analyses of large samples are reliably indicative).

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