Our voice in Canberra: Helen Clark’s mission

Very soon after they were elected Prime Ministers within a week of each other in 1972, Norman Kirk and Gough Whitlam made contact. That marked a new era in trans-Tasman relations after decades of distance.

Malcolm Fraser and Sir Robert Muldoon, who followed those Labour giants, disliked each other but practised mutual toleration in the interests of a by-then necessary neighbourliness. The same went for David Lange and Bob Hawke. read more

The issues

NZ Politics Research Group election conference: 18 Februrary 2000

The issues

“Issues” is a slippery topic. Allegedly, voters decide elections on “issues” and surveys are conducted to find out what they were. Until the official programme arrived I had thought my topic was “policies”, which would have been much less challenging – a scan of what the parties said, when campaigning, they would do if in or sharing power. read more

What will happen when the honeymoon ends?

Two months in and the government’s honeymoon is still in full glow, the rosiest for decades. Why?

One reason is that the change of government was not just a switch of parties after nine years of National. It was also a switch of policy tone after 15 years of free-market governments. That has intensified voters’ sense of change. read more

From lofty republicanism to small tinkerings

Here is a tale of the ingenuous and the disingenuous, of a defeated Prime Minister and one in youthful bloom.

Jenny Shipley accused Helen Clark of an ill-considered diplomatic affront to Britain in raising the republic issue on Waitangi weekend.

Excuse me, but there was not a skerrick of ill-consideration, since we became fully independent in 1947 on Britain’s initiative 14 years earlier and in any case it will not be Britain’s monarchy we abolish. read more

Colin James’s piece on F16s for Herald news

Australian authorities are likely to respond to a decision to cancel the F16 fighter contract with “exact correctness”, Centre for Strategic Studies director David Dickens has found.

This will mask deeper reactions which could affect relations between the two countries on other fronts, especially if it is not accompanied by a commitment to replace the Skyhawks eventually – though if instead New Zealand committed to some new equivalent expenditure, such as attack helicopters, Australia would be “sympathetic”. read more

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. read more

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. read more

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. read more

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. read more