Cultural reconciliation is the greatest challenge

This weekend is a reminder of our greatest political challenge: the reconciliation of two dissonant cultures and two ethnically separated peoples.

Beside this, the great political debate of the 1980s and 1990s, over which precise point on the scale from socialism to free-market capitalism we should occupy, pales into a squabble.

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The survival of MMP

In November voters achieved a change of government, just like in the old first-past-the-post (FPP) days. But will that save MMP?

MMP has been on life support since Winston Peters, who had made a career of accusing other politicians of breaking promises, put back into office a man he had said was not fit to be Prime Minister. Big majorities of voters have consistently told pollsters they want back to FPP.

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Can ‘nation-building’ knit a fragmented society?

Helen Clark is aiming to finesse the tangled arguments over Waitangi Day by dedicating her day to “nation-building”. The logic is that creating a new sense of nationhood might knit together the fragments of a society from which many of the certainties of the 1960s and 1970s have gone.

Not least among those lost certainties is that of European paramountcy. Whether we like it or not – and many do not, hence the appeal of ACT’s treaty stance – we are now a bicultural, not a monocultural, society. This has splintered politics, as it has society, hurling fragments to the periphery.

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National's Tactics

National’s usual route back to power, 1975 excepted, is to let Labour dig its grave and push it in.

The assumption is that National, as a broader-spectrum party, is closer to ordinary folk and therefore can more often command the centre and so a majority, while Labour in power veers into minority pursuits.

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Politician of the Year

All new governments look pleased with themselves. This one, reciting a liturgy of fairness, frugality and (intra-coalition) fraternity, is almost incandescent.

It will even relish today’s debate on the tax rise because it is sure it has the moral high ground. As one former minister said this week, there is little point attacking it for the next few months because hardly anyone will hear.

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Where is the open economy?

Where is the faultline the 1980s revolution opened up in politics? Between Labour and the Alliance. That is the underlying reason why they agreed midyear the coalition agreement could be about only process, not policy.

Monday’s skimpy “peace in our time” document is as unusual in its lack of even a general programme as was the National-New Zealand First coalition’s doomed attempt to tie everything down.

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Cuddling up to small business?

How the parties drooled over small business in the election campaign. Did they really mean it? Ask in three years and your answer will likely be no.

Parties ritually proclaim that it is small business that creates most jobs. To this in recent years has been added adulation of high-tech startups as the country’s deliverance.

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Can Labour become the normal government?

Helen Clark has a couple of economically comfortable years ahead, forecasters say. That, some Nationalists are pondering ruefully, might usefully fund a Labour-Alliance re-election spendup in 2002.

But what happens in the economy this parliamentary term has been mostly determined by events in the term just ended. Underlying the boomlet ahead are deeper issues. What happens when United States consumers stop spending and we still haven’t got to the haven of the “knowledge economy” – and what is that anyway?

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Campaign Score card

The Greens stole the campaign. Written off a year ago, struggling all year to break 2 per cent, they are now looking likely to be back in Parliament in greater numbers.

In part this was others’ doing. The genetically modified foods scare was a godsend. Helen Clark, needing an insurance policy, signalled loudly to her supporters to give co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons the Coromandel electorate seat. Jenny Shipley blundered into Coromandel and gave the green bus another shove.

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