Hard News by Russell Brown

Looking like a winner

A good part of looking like a winner is acting like a winner, and as John Armstrong says today, Helen Clark is wasting no time doing that. Lots of handshakes and hongi, and a very clear intention to project a sense of business being carried on. You'd never guess from the countenance of the caretaker Prime Minister that it was very close indeed on election night, or that until the special votes come in, she can't conclusively claim to have won at all.

On the other hand, I'm struggling to recall a worse election-night performance than that of Peter Dunne - you'd have to go back to Mike Moore's infamous "long, cold night" speech in 1993, but even that was just an unfortunate ramble, rather than the strutting, pompous effort that Dunne put on. "The people have spoken!" he declared, neglecting to mention that "the people" had removed five of his eight MPs. His tirade against TV One's election night anchor Mark Sainsbury - preceded, apparently, by an abusive email to TV3's John Campbell - was simply embarrassing.

Amusingly, his extraordinarily presumptuous ultimatum about refusing to support a government where "the Greens sit around the Cabinet table" appeared to have evaporated by close of play yesterday. The realities of coalition politics may yet mean that Rod Donald doesn't get his Cabinet post, but by any measure the Greens have come out of Election 2005 with more credibility than Dunne and his silly party.

Meanwhile, it would appear that Tariana Turia’s Maori Party colleagues have been making some effort to remove the chip from her shoulder. On election night, in what should have been an inclusive speech, she basically called "our people” cowards for giving Labour the lion’s share of the party vote, even as they delivered four Maori Party electorate MPs. (Actually, that seemed to me to be a pretty savvy voting strategy: they knew that it was important for them to keep out National, and they could effectively get two MPs for the price of one if they split their votes.)

On the Sunday morning Checkpoint special she insisted that her party had never really believed that National would carry out its promise to abolish the Maori seats, and said she believed that it could still be subject to negotiation with National. When Katherine Ryan pointed out that they’d just spoken to Don Brash, who had in no uncertain terms reiterated that that the abolition of the seats was a “bottom line”, Turia simply refused to acknowledge it. Yesterday's official release from party president Professor Whatarangi Winiata took a rather different tone, acknowledging that both Labour and National, each lacking an absolute majority, would naturally wish to talk to the Maori Party "but we will not resile from our earlier statement which made our position clear, that we will do our utmost to ensure that the National Party does not make it to the Government benches."

Former Act Party leader Richard Prebble did his bit for the cause yesterday, with a withering assault on National's election strategy and on Don Brash himself:

National ran a brilliant first past the post campaign. Unfortunately it was MMP. Don Brash is dreaming that he can form a coalition when he has eaten his allies. On the present results a National led government would have to rely on the Maori Party. Not credible. Our advice to Brash is to tell Murray McCully to stop plotting and concede that National cannot form a government even if the specials result in the Greens falling below the threshold …

A very large number of the 210,000 specials to be counted are invalid. Voters not on the roll who turn up to vote are given a special vote. If they do not have a late valid enrolment the vote is not counted. We doubt that there are more than 120,000 valid votes to count, unlikely to change the result.

Prebble also endorses John Key as "the candidate from central casting - he never forgets his lines." It think it's a pretty sound piece of analysis, and not likely to be the last given that Prebble has set up The Letter with its own website. (But is it really "NZ's largest email newsletter"? I think not.)

I'm actually happy enough to see Rodney Hide back in the House. He's an effective MP, and, with its wackjobs dismissed and its two best MPs returned (ie: Rodney and Heather Roy), Act now has the perfect platform from which to sort itself out. I would expect that unless he does anything really stupid, Rodney will own Epsom for as long as he wants it. And I bet National won't campaign against him the way it did this time.

Prebble is also on the money when he looks at what won Labour the election: its successful strategy of seeking to mobilise its vote in safe urban seats. The work put in there was work that didn't go into marginal seats in the regions - where Labour is starting to disappear from view. This is certainly a problem for Labour - it should start finding strong candidates in those seats as soon as the dust settles - but it's also a problem for National, which needs to find some way of getting the raw numbers out of the cities.

Brian Rudman explored the same theme, concluding that Labour should be very grateful for its core urban support:

While their fair-weather supporters deserted them in provincial towns such as Timaru, Invercargill and Hastings, Aucklanders stayed staunch, and in particular that goes for the Pacific Islanders and Maori of South Auckland, where party officials say the turnout was not only heavier than usual but also predominantly in favour of Labour.

It was the votes in these high-turnout seats, reported in late, that nudged Labour into the lead on Saturday night.

Colin James intones grimly on the need for the next government to "remarry town and country", but I'm not sure if the divisions exposed by the election are all that intractable. Labour's greater problem is that under-performing electorate MPs have been returned to Parliament on its list, and that they're there at the expense of fresh talent. Sure, Shane Jones and Maryan Street arrive, but bright young candidates like Phil Twyford and Stuart Nash, who fought well in hopeless suburban Auckland seats, have to wait another three years for a real shot. I seriously doubt that Labour MPs will get list placings simply for being there next time around. (Or that Labour would go into another election without a better tax policy.)

National, on the other hand, has an excellent intake, led by Tim Groser, who, even given his lack of Parliamentary experience, is surely the answer to its need for a safe pair of hands in Foreign Affairs. As close as National got - and for all the kind words spoken about Brash on the night - I think it's now time for National to move on. A National team fronted by the likes of Key, Groser and Katherine Rich would look modern, relevant and formidable.

And moi? Fairly shattered. Unlike seemingly everyone else, I didn't get terribly drunk on election night, but I'd already done that part the night before. A bunch of us went to see David Kilgour and SJD at the King's Arms. David was good, quite low-key, and SJD were the unlikeliest Friday-night-at-the-pub band you could imagine. When they dip into 1970s LA white funk it is so uncool, and yet it's lovely and entrancing. There was a nice sense of warmth and community there on the night; like church, only more out-of-it. There were not a lot of National voters in the house. (Oh, and cheers to the various Hard News punters I ran into on the night - I did enjoy having a rave.)

On Sunday, I did what I like to do on important days, and fetched some of the usual suspects around for a slap-up lunch and too much wine, then fell asleep on the couch. I find all that immensely satisfying, although the kids took some justifiable amusement in me conking out before they did.

So it was a little bit of a struggle to get out the door last night for the special preview screening of Serenity, but it was well worthwhile. It was actually the second such screening - the first, in a 250-capacity, cinema, sold out instantly, and there were upwards of 400 excited geeks there when the doors opened on the mega-screen last night. UIP has hopefully learned a useful lesson about the power of grassroots fandom.

I promised Paul Brislen I wouldn't give out any spoilers (the film's not back until November), so suffice to say that if you're familiar with the worlds of Joss Whedon you won't be disappointed. There was even a special pre-recorded message from Joss himself before hand. What a nice man.

PS: An apology to Span for not acknowledging her good work on profiling the political affiliations of New Zealand bloggers when I quoted the results in The Listener lately. That was remiss of me. Help me make up for it by going and visiting Spanblather.