The election is ancient history with the third National-led government in a row taking office long before the 51st parliament sits for the first time. John Key has this down to an art form, all organized, efficient, and predictable. He tied up deals with Act and United Future before the special votes took away his majority, and therefore before the lone support party leaders could bargain for a better deal.
So neat. Such political savy. So boring. The prime minister has taken the crackle and fizz out of the hard-right’s dream banquet by repeatedly promising to govern for ‘all New Zealanders’, a centre ground legislative agenda for the new term then. Not that I’ll complain about the radical ideologues in the governing party being kept in check.
I can’t escape a feeling of creative frustration as the political elite proceed according to an arranged plan. Automatism reigns supreme now the ship of state has a tested veteran crew. This would be an opportune time to leave coastal lines and set a course for choppier international waters.
If New Zealand is unsuccessful in gaining a temporary seat in the United Nations Security Council, we should be ready nonetheless to make some bold steps in foreign policy. We could start with the environment. If the direction of the Clark government in setting up an emissions trading scheme is unlikely to be redeemed, then why don’t we propose something new? Something that balances the need to be fiscally responsible while renewing this countries clean and green image? No doubt it would have to have some approval from the powerful agricultural community, but that is why a National-led government is well positioned in this regard. A Labour government would be treated with suspicion and contempt by farmers before even tucking into environmental policy.
This could be an opportunity for the blue-green movement (if it even is one and not a PR construct) to prove its mettle, and it would open up competition with the Green Party. The rewards of such a contest could be substantial.
What could happen is the government bog itself down in domestic policy, with its imminent housing reforms taking precedence. I will be watching out for leadership rumbles inside National, which Tracy Watkins believes will be hard to spot in a caucus so large (60 members). We can be fairly sure that there will be no open coup attempt while John Key is in charge, merely because it is not his style to wait for others to act. But if he senses unrest and starts having difficulty with domestic policies it wouldn’t be unusual for him to look abroad for opportunities to chalk up some achievements in foreign affairs.
I haven’t mentioned the TPPA but can not seriously entertain the notion that it would fail to be agreed by parliament. In relation to security ties to other nations and the information sharing that has provoked outrage in recent months, it is a part of National’s blind spot. And they may not have the ability to make their GCSB and SIS reforms truly lasting. I argue this to be the case on the grounds that continuing public discontent will put the issue in the spotlight of the next general election. A new government would probably make another GCSB ‘shakeup’ a priority. So it won’t be a part of John Key’s legacy, at least not as a plus.