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August 14, 2006 | by  | in Opinion |
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The Week in Politics

The defection that isn’t, the prediction that wasn’t, and the threat that couldn’t.

With the House again in recess, this week’s finger-pointing has been done out in public. Opposition leader Don Brash took a walk on the beach with Ian Ewen-Street, former Green MP, finally disclosing their love for each other… Okay, Ewen-Street is joining the National party to help work on policy. The craven part of me thinks that the tactic of trying to make a more palatable environmental policy for environmentalists to get behind is still out of the 2005 election playbook (get the Greens below the threshold, and cut out a leg under Labour), which did not get the result they were looking for, this reminds me that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results.

Yet the more enlightened part of me is starting to realise that the environment is the newest ‘backyard issue’. Twenty-years ago, environment was indisputably a political issue on the fringes, now the environment is just another consideration, with other traditional concerns like tax, education and health, all of which have policy impacts that hit that key voter group: urban liberals. It’s undeniable that Labour will also be working on a climate change policy – certainly their discussion document released earlier this year shows that the party doesn’t know where to go yet. But National has been able to gain the exposure, and sometimes, being seen to be doing something is better than having nothing done at all.

Put another way, why are National looking outside the party for insight on environmental policy? Are they accepting that there is no one in the party in it that can think green? In one sense, National is using the same political strategy that Labour has used very successfully over the last decade: look to the British. The recruitment of Bob Geldolf by the British Conservative Party to work on policy serves only to make the public aware that the party is active and can appear to be working with their former political enemies. It’s had moderate success in Britain; time will tell if the public are swayed here.

The Maori Party, internally disappointed with the low result of the Maori roll, went to their 2005 election playbook this week: blame Labour for everything. Tariana Turia (Maori, Te Tai Hauauru) attacked unions and the Labour party for working on a campaign to get people to switch from the Maori to the General roll. If anything, the party would actually benefit from this. CTU Maori Vice-President Sharon Clair then pointed out that they had been in coalition with the Maori Party (Te Tai Tonga electorate) in encouraging more Maori to join the Maori roll. Gerry Brownlee (National, Ilam), at his best (or worst), criticised the election option campaign as a failure of the Maori seats and a tremendous waste of money, so he hasn’t changed his tune either.

Let’s cut out the spin. While the party may be publicly happy with the increase in Maori on the Maori roll, the fact that their own projections were woefully missed, and the media’s focus on the Maori party almost as the only group who were supporting more Maori seats, turned this option into a quasi-vote of confidence on the Maori party in their first year. The result: a B- and a ‘could do better’. They shouldn’t be so happy.

Could someone tell me what is wrong with this. With the exception of the Progressives, United Future and the Maori Party, any party that complains about some other party’s inappropriate spending of parliamentary funds is not seen as hypocritical? For me, the upcoming Auditor-General’s report into the allegations is a welcome report, but I don’t think for a moment that anyone will finally say ‘yep, our bad, sorry about that’, and that is the problem. No legislation will change the mindset of political parties trying to find every possible way to get money to further their political argument. Politics and money are like rain on a footpath, they get into every crack and crevice.

Finally, National MP Bill English is apparently feeling bullied by David Cunliffe (Labour, New Lynn). This is all over Cunliffe pulling up previous cases of visa applications during the previous week’s question time. It was alleged that Wayne Mapp (National, North Shore) had accepted cheap dinners from the owners of a Thai restaurant for whom he had successfully arranged three work visas. It’s hard to take English’s allegation seriously: It was hardly a surprise that Cunliffe would step up his responses to questions by Lockwood Smith (National, Rodney). But bullying is wrong, so at least he sets an example to threatened children all over the country by telling the teacher.

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