Friday, February 13, 2009

The Natural Party of Government in New Zealand

For the second half of the 20th Century National regarded itself, rightly one has to admit, as the natural party of Government in New Zealand. It did this, so far as I can tell, by representing the values of a certain kind of ordinary New Zealander and providing, so far as it could, good governance.

No party can hope to be the natural party of Government and stand for an awful lot. No party can be the natural party of Government without discovering a pragmatic and opportunist streak a mile wide. Sometimes it will seem that the natural party of Government is ready to use all means necessary to hang onto power solely for its own sake.

Helen Clark's enormous political achievement was to mount a credible claim on behalf of the Labour party for the mantle of natural party of Government in the new century. But after a single term in Government, that is all it is, a challenge.

It seems pretty clear now that John Key doesn't just want to be PM, he wants to lead the natural party of Government in New Zealand. This despite whatever advantage MMP voting may have handed to Labour in this regard.

This will require him to marginalize the idealists and ideologues and he seems willing to do that. It will require him to file the edges off his Cabinet's partisan enthusiasms, and he seems ready to do that. It will also require him to build lasting partnerships with other parties and he's definitely shown he's ready to do that.

In spirit I very much agree with Jordan Carter. We are seeing a very effective counterattack from John Key's government on this territory. (Although the idea that an agressive market liberal government would be National "reverting to type" seems too focussed on certain historically anomalous aspects of the most recent National government. I would argue that typically National has not stood for much, and the danger is precisely that they may be able to achieve this again, while forming a historic alliance with Maori politicians that could allow them to regain the electoral advantage even under MMP.)

I have this picture of John Key going off to the beach over summer with a copy of "Kiwi" Keith Holyoake's biography.

He had a pretty good holiday and it's keeping the smile on his face as he over-rules his minister and increases the minimum wage. When he goes to Waitangi to be jousled by youths and bossed around by Titewhai Harawira he's still smiling. Thoughts of his holiday are definitely keeping the smile on his face when he dances around with the drag queens at the Big Gay Out.

Being so approachable, so available, and such a good sport. It all seems of a piece with Holyoake down at the train station looking for lost luggage:
As Prime Minister he lived a few hundred yards from Parliament's gates and insisted on listing his home phone number in the directory. Gustafson records that on one occasion someone rang to report their luggage missing at Wellington railway station and the Prime Minister walked down to help look for it.

Key wants to be PM for a long time and it's going to be hard to stop him.

To answer Jordan's question:

Question is: where's the left? Do you lot agree with my view, of steely pointless pragmatism? Or do you think there is a Douglas ghost ready to ooze out? Or some combination? Or another answer altogether?

The "ghost of Douglas" won't be oozing anywhere if John Key has anything to do with it.

Finally -- surely the big question for Key this year is should he have been out getting himself a "stimulus package" rather than reading biographies on the beach?

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