National’s problem next election is support. That qualifies its recent lift in the polls, which in any case coincides with its protracted standoff with the Maori Council and the Waitangi Tribunal over water (very faint echoes of Don Brash).
ACT is all but dismantled. Peter Dunne is down to one uncertain seat. The Maori party is over-dependent on its two co-leaders who have said they want to retire and say the party voted against National more often than did Labour in 2008-11. Colin Craig is presentable and definable but National has yet to work out if it wants him and, if so, how he is to get seats (a 4 per cent threshold might help — but it would also help Winston Peters).
So National could get 47 per cent in 2014 and not have enough to govern — at least not enough to govern with confidence and stability.
But National does have support: from the left — that is, from the left-of-the-left. Out there the real enemy is Labour and where once its voice could be heard only in cells of the like-minded, now it is amplified through the blogosphere.
Thus, in the wake of the army deaths last week, some drew parallels between a supposed subservience to the United States in Afghanistan, to which Helen Clark committed troops with striking alacrity in 2001, and the concession to the United States to send a token force to Vietnam 35 years earlier, which Clark opposed when she became politically aware.
And when Duncan Garner last week unstitched the Cunliffe v Shearer wound and divined some septic material, left-of-the-left blogsters lit up and their excitement got wider coverage via the New Zealand Herald’s republishing of politics lecturer Bryce Edwards’ media-scanning “Politics Daily” email.
“Mainstream” commentators expanded this into a litany: David Shearer making mistakes, exhibiting too much (well-founded) hesitancy, not keeping discipline in the ranks (Su’a William Sio’s attack on Louisa Wall’s marriage bill as turning off conservative Pasifika) and failing to “hammer a few stakes in the ground”, as the Herald’s magisterial John Armstrong put it.
That will reheat National’s nyah-nyahing in Parliament about weak Shearer and David Cunliffe itching to pounce. The fact that the Labour party outside and inside Parliament would not wear Cunliffe in December and probably wouldn’t now is irrelevant. National’s tactical point is that, as in 2011, the more unstable Labour is or appears to be in 2014, the less credible it is as a potential government and the greater National’s chances of a workable third term, even given its support challenges.
The Maori party, for the record, is likely to be part of that support. There is too much foreshore/seabed history with Labour and other real and imagined slights for even nice Shearer to medicate away (at least not yet). It fears its one big policy gain, whanau ora, would atrophy if it left National or folded in with Labour. And major iwi leaders want the party in with National.
Thus Key is on strong political ground in the argument with the Maori Council over whether the partial sale of Mighty River Power affects Maori claims on water when he insists (correctly) that the law is clear, and clearly on the government’s side. As to a High Court challenge, the point of the cabinet “considering” the Waitangi Tribunal’s report is to eliminate issues of whether due process has been followed.
Part of the tangled water politics is that the Maori Council has been superseded by the iwi leadership groups which have direct high-level access to the Prime Minister and senior ministers. And, while there are commonalities on water among iwi arising from a shared animist worldview and from article 2, iwi jealously guard their autonomy over their particular rights and claims and leaders jealously guard their intra-iwi status. The council, created 50 years ago by a National government seeking to “integrate” (and, as a result, detribalise) Maori, was already an anachronism in the 1990s. Hekia Parata in 2009 drafted a member’s bill to abolish it.
Due process was at the core of another wrangle last week, over Kim Dotcom’s case against extradition.
Police mounted an Apocalypse Now, United States-style raid — guns, helicopters, a secret force — and bungled it. The Chief High Court Judge found the raid warrant to be unlawful. The police took far more material than the law allowed. Dotcom was jailed and his family harassed. The Crown Law Office, supposed to be the governmental guardian of our constitutional freedoms, served the United States prosecutors who operate in thug-like ways that usually are, or were, foreign here.
The Dotcom affair ranks with the sorry Tuhoe affair. How it is handled henceforth and what guidance ministers give Crown Law as to its proper role under its new Solicitor-General is of far more lasting importance than National’s support in 2014 or who Labour’s leader will be then.
Politicians come and go. It is important that our freedoms don’t come and go too.