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May 9, 2011 | by  | in Opinion |
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Politics With Paul – Left. Right. Left. Right.

Last Wednesday evening, as I was writing this, Hone Harawira and Don Brash were having it out on TVNZ’s Close Up. While the ‘debate’ itself was largely incomprehensible, it was an interesting culmination of a week that has electrified the political landscape. Moreover, Harawira’s dismissal of the Maori Party as simply a “translation service” for National was one of the best one-liners to come out of the independent’s mouth, and alone made an otherwise painful confrontation bearable.

It once again highlights Harawira’s dissatisfaction with the Maori Party’s performance in coalition with National. Certainly, Harawira’s new Mana Party will no doubt provide significant competition for the Maori vote. This will be the case whether Harawira runs candidates against the Maori Party or not. To be sure, outside of Te Tai Tokerau, the Mana Party is likely to be solely reliant on the party vote anyway.

While a swing in the party vote will hurt the Maori Party, the real ‘victims’ are Labour and the Greens, who both rely on the party vote significantly more. With the Mana Party shaping up to be only partially “Treaty-based”, its radical-leftist agenda manifested in the involvement of Matt McCarten will no doubt pilfer valuable votes from Labour. However, Mana will probably affect the Greens the most, following that party’s move toward the centre, as exemplified by the absence of anyone with a background in worker or trade union issues at the top of their draft list.

At the other end of the political spectrum, it looks as though ACT might finally be rejuvenated into a functioning party, with a consolidated caucus under the leadership of Don Brash. As ACT grows to be a perceptibly effective player, the party will no doubt look to effect some real influence over National.

National haven’t put New Zealand through the huge economic reforms many on the right would like to see. Sure, Finance Minister Bill English adjusted the tax system to be consistent with a centre-right approach, but key Labour achievements such as KiwiSaver, Working For Families, and the interest-free student loan scheme have remained in place. Of course, the upcoming Budget will undoubtedly tinker with at least two of those three, but largely this National Government seems to be following the kind of consolidation strategy that has characterised so many National administrations over the years.

While National tends to prefer these kinds of incremental changes in the economy, Brash is a firm advocate of furthering the neoliberal agenda thrust upon New Zealand in the mid-1980s. Let’s face it, considering that (once again) Roger Douglas is leaving politics at the election, Brash truly is a perfect replacement: a septuagenarian throwback heralding an ideology that has long suffered from intellectual bankruptcy. What is most important here is that while a rejuvenated ACT will likely siphon off those voters who might have given National an absolute majority in November, a National-led Government is going to be able to get away with significantly more in the long-term in coalition with ACT.

Brash isn’t Hide. He will make waves in government, primarily pushing the agenda outlined in the reports from his 2025 Task Force, as well as his strong belief in ‘One Law For All’. In terms of economic policy, Brash’s extremist position will allow Key, and, more importantly, the National front bench, to advance those unpopular policies that pander to the right, like asset sales, while dodging the repercussions by deflecting any criticism to coalition obligations with the ACT Party.

No doubt, it’s these kinds of games that put many voters off MMP. Many voters find disturbing the extreme nature of these radical parties and the perceived influence they wield. However, this is what a democracy is all about, and the existence of strong ideologically driven parties on the left and the right should be celebrated.

It provides voters with real choice and will no doubt boost voter turnout on Election Day. While Labour is languishing in the doldrums, and National is treating victory as a given, the existence of these parties on the extremes give voters some real choice. Because MMP affords these parties representation, dissatisfaction with centrist paths is indicated throughout the political term.

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