Oh how I love Democracy. What is it about Election Day that makes everything feel better? From the first cup of coffee in the morning to the final single malt scotch enjoyed as the TV coverage winds down in the early hours of the next day, everything has a better flavour. The sky looks bluer, even though it isn’t and everyone out and about has a keen and purposeful look in their eye.
To the polling booth then…..
Personally, I don’t rush to be there early. The exercising of one’s right to vote is better savored slowly like a good scotch. So I take my time over it and finally present myself at the desk around lunchtime. Get my ballot papers and find the funny little cardboard booth that feels just right. The nasty orange marker pens are something of a letdown I always find. They lack a certain gravitas. But then I spend my customary few moments in quiet remembrance of that brave Chinese lad who stood before the tanks in Tiananmen Square. Would he have cared what he got to vote with? He’d probably have been happy with a bit of charcoal or a wax crayon just as long as it got him that which so many of us take for granted. Thank you fellow, whoever you were. I won’t forget you and I hope nobody else ever does either.
On with the voting. I already know where my ticks are going and have done so for a long time. ‘Undecided Voter’ is just another word for Slack Brained Cretin in my book. I then wonder if I’ll inscribe my ticks with a sharp flourish or do them slowly and with care. Always a tricky one. I compromise this time and do the party vote one way and the candidate the other. Then of course comes the feeling of wanting MORE! Deposit the ballots in the appropriate boxes and it’s all over. If it wasn’t for the long delayed batch of home brew that I put on to mash earlier and have to get home to, I’d be here for another hour or so, getting in the way and passing the time of day with other voters.
When all is said and done, it hasn’t been a bad election campaign. A couple of months ago I felt it might all be a bit of a let down, what with National looking so strong in the polls and Labour stuck in that morbid first term of opposition. But then came the resurgence of ‘The Thing From Tauranga That Would Not Die’ and the PM foolishly soiling himself in public. Suddenly the whole race came to life and a jolly good thing too in my view.
So lets study ‘The Form’ as the sporting fraternity would have it. Starting with….Oh let me see now…..
ACT. Oh dear oh dear. Not since the demise of the Alliance has a party gone into meltdown so totally. Now I’ll say it right here and now, I voted for ACT in ’99, ’02, ’05 and ’08 and felt fine doing it. Over the years this has led to many of my mushy liberal friends wailing things like; “But…But I thought you were a NICE person!” As if I’d suddenly declared a fondness for puppy strangling or running down elderly people with my car. Sorry folks, but the fact is I simply don’t trust leftist politics. And I have nothing but contempt for Conservatives either. Too many starchy bores, repellent rednecks, loud-mouthed rugger buggers and creepy God Botherers in National for me to ever feel simpatico with that lot. It’s like finding out you have to spend the evening with a room full of used car salesmen and the bar is SHUT. So ACT always seemed like the party for me. Or at least it was until poor old Rodney Hide, (Bless his little bald head) went and got hoist with his own petard. Suddenly it was Don Brash and John Banks, just the kind of people I was trying to avoid, politically speaking. It would be rude of me to state that in my opinion Brash is a dotard and Banks is a crook. So I won’t.
But you know….
Now Labour on the other hand is a party for whom I have a lot of respect. I’m not saying I would ever VOTE for them, in fact I think my hand would snap off at the wrist if I ever tried, but there have been times, like ’99, ’02 and ’05 when I was relieved to see them back in power. Helen Clarke gave the country good value for money by and large and her concession speech three years ago must surely rank as one of the most impressive and dignified performances I’ve ever witnessed. Her rise to power and wealth at the UN is well deserved. But, as that nice Texan lady with the guitar observed once, “The secret of a long life is knowing when it’s time to go”. By 2008, Helen Clarke must have known that another term would be a guarantee of rapidly diminishing returns. Labour left the country in better shape than they found it and made hay while the economic sun shone. But with a worldwide slump parked outside the door and sounding its horn, Labour went out with their standing undiminished and Clarke herself pulled off the rare trick of avoiding the traditional shame, failure and disgrace that usually ends a political career.
What I do find sad however is that her party then went and lumbered the capable and intelligent Phil Goff with the thankless task of party leader for the first term on the opposition benches. This is always going to end in tears. Just ask Bill English, he knows what that feels like and where it all leads.
Any party fresh out of office after a good run is going to spend a bit of time dealing with internal stresses and fractures as it rebuilds itself for next time. In less stable countries it may well be possible to unseat a new government after a single term but here in sane, sensible New Zealand it would take some serious weirdness on the part of any party to be fated to just a single term. This, I feel, is something for which we should be very, very grateful, no matter how much we may want our party of choice back in.
So labour might have been better handing that thankless job to a safe, but ultimately disposable, pair of hands like Michael Cullen. He was quitting anyway so why not have him sit out the first three years before handing the refreshed and detoxed party back to Goff for a better run at it in ’14? That way he could have worn the generous splatterings of manure that the Shane Jones and Chris Carter debacles threw about and no harm done.
Still, the generally dignified and intelligent campaign that Labour has run this time around stands in stark contrast to the ill tempered outpourings of their so called ‘Supporters’. I have had to give up on Facebook over the last few weeks as the incessant stream of trashy bile and vitriol issuing from disgruntled Labour and Green types is making me queasy. Can it be that the ugliness that we’ve seen in America from the so called tea party is becoming the default setting for people whose particular political preferences are not being adequately catered to just at the moment? I really hope not. But there it all is…Equating your opponent with Hitler? Check. Describing them in hateful terms? Check. Wailing that the incumbent is ‘Destroying the country and all it stands for’? Check. Behaving like spoiled and stupid redneck BABIES just because the party you happen to like just doesn’t have any traction right now? Check. It’s got so bad I’m waiting for some idiot to start raving about John Key’s bloody BIRTH CERTIFICATE next.
Sit down, Grow up, Shut up.
So how are National doing? Apart from astoundingly well by all appearances? Actually, they are doing horribly. Cast your mind back to the appalling spectacle of our new Prime Minister arriving at his victory rally flanked by huge goons and delivering a speech that had me for one convinced that he’d spent the last hour or so face down over a glass topped coffee table building up his self esteem with certain proscribed stimulants?
It was not a pretty sight. (I should point out that I am not saying that our new PM really did indulge in class A drugs on election night, merely that he looked and behaved as if he had done so, which in this day and age is just as bad).
So began the dangerous Cult of Personality which, let’s face it, will be Mr Key’s undoing in the long run. When a leader becomes bigger than the party he leads then the elections become increasingly presidential and the leadership style itself gets harder and harder to control. Public appearances become increasingly embarrassing and the rest of the cabinet begin to look less like a hard working team and more like the entourage of some fatuous Hollywood A-Lister.
Still, it seems that enough voters in this country are actually watching the extensive foreign coverage that the age of the internet affords us and have decided that while John Key has an unctuousness about him that may be slightly unsettling, the bleak economic woes of the world are such that the National Party are probably the best option for New Zealand at present. Oh yes, and here comes the moaning chorus, “Moan moan, whinge whinge, asset sales, moan moan, environmental stuff, bitch bitch, not FAIR, moan moan….”
Well sorry, but that’s just what a workable majority of people seem to feel right now so don’t blame me.
Suddenly, from my left, (Indeed from most people’s Left) comes an aroma of incense and herbal tea. Can it be the newly energised Green Party? Indeed it can. If any party really deserves to look a bit pleased with themselves this time around it’s the Greens. Their polling has been impressive, though how much of their new support will revert to Labour next time remains to be seen. Right now they look set to gain large chunks of the new parliament and I wish them well with it.
But would I vote for them?
Not really. You see beneath all those carefully cultivated bland smiles and caring cuddly personas I can’t help but detect a whiff of something a tad more sulphurous. The thing is guys, I remember you from the Student Union thirty years back. Not you exactly of course, but your general type. You had ‘Atomic energy, No Thanks’ badges and horrible woolly hats. You smelled of patchouli and took the writings of Marx seriously. You gave off a beastly aura of smug, sanctimonious self righteousness, rode stupid bicycles and you never, ever shut up whining at parties when decent folk were trying to get drunk.
I didn’t trust you back then and I still don’t now. One on one you are delightful people of course but get you in a group and I just can’t help but find you toxic. I well remember back in 2002 when Whathisname with the silly hair came over for an electoral meeting at the Surfdale Hall. What a thick fug of self congratulation and mutual back patting was there! Then I stood up and asked a question that wasn’t in the script. Nandor himself fielded the question with ease but the venom from the rest of the room would, in any other circumstances, have been a bit scary. Luckily of course you were a bunch of old hippies so I was able to leave unscathed.
Why do I suddenly have the urge to paraphrase John Lennon?
‘You have spin doctored smiles when you speak on TV,
And you try to show caring and credibility,
But you’re still hard left zealots as far as I can see…..’
Oh don’t mind me girls and boys. I’m just a nasty old Libertarian at heart and you are welcome to bale me up at the Ostend market and tell me how flat wrong I am on pretty much everything. I won’t mind.
Anyway, time is marching on and the TV coverage of the event is going to start soon so I’d better get this wrapped up and posted before the huge caffeine buzz I have going wears off and I decide to moderate some of my more vexatious observations. I’ve just heard that some poor mad bloke has blown his car up in Wellington. Good going that chap. Now let the local bobbies take you back to their place and find you a nice long flight of stairs to fall down…..
I could blither all day about the other parties but I’ll just content myself by saying I hope Peter Dunn finally gets a good kicking at the polling booths and that I firmly believe that if Honi Harawera and I were ever to sit down together over a few cleansing ales we’d get on like a house on fire.
Let me conclude for now by saying that ultimately I love THE GAME better than I love the individual players and that if politics in this country gives me hours of delirious pleasure then I have proportional representation to thank for it. MMP is quite simply the best thing to have happened in New Zealand and if you were so lost to common sense as to have voted to remove it then you are a fool, and an ass and a prating coxcomb a you don’t deserve a vote.
Now, sit back, pour yourselves a tall glass of something tasty and let the coverage begin.