Monday, August 25, 2008

75 days

So we in New Zealand come down to the last 75 days before
the next general election, which, it is pretty clear now, will
be held on November 8. To me, it is highly significant that
no one has yet been willing to write the Labour Party off,
when all political wisdom suggests that it has no chance of
winning. By rights, you don’t win four elections on the trot
in this country unless your main opposition is in severe
disarray, which this time National—despite some inevitable
hiccups and slips—has taken great care not to be. For the
first time under MMP National has also got itself a leader
whose basic electability is not in question, notwithstanding
cavils about his lack of experience. So the election is very
much there, on a plate, for National. In Helen Clark and
Michael Cullen, however, Labour has two formidably astute
political operators who, it seems to me, have got a second
wind as they sense that win No 4 is not wholly beyond their
grasp. The very unlikelihood of it has acted as a challenge
on them, rousing the best of their fighting ability: for one
thing, they’ve curbed the tendency, evident earlier this year,
to be shrill and extravgantly scornful in their attacks on
John Key and National, a tendency that was plainly
counterproductive. They do best when they radiate the
sense of surefooted competence in their different fields
(Clark in foreign affairs, Cullen in finance and, now, Treaty
negotiations) that tells voters the country is in safe, steady,
unflappable hands. Plus Clark and her team have always
had a much better handle on coalition politics; so at this
stage it’s impossible to rule out a Labour/Green/Maori
coalition pipping a National/Act one after the votes are
counted on November 8. That possibility alone makes this
a fascinating election campaign. Expect no alarms, no
surprises now; just 75 days of intricate, unwearying,
choreographed attrition.

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