Island Life by David Slack

Are you with me?

There's plenty in this new government for a bemused Australian to chuckle about, and look - The Australian is bemused and chuckling about it.

Assisted by our very own Fran O'Sullivan it has a story headlined "Bad joke Foreign Minister for Kiwis", the thrust of which is that Winston Peters - an outspoken, anti-immigration protectionist who promotes racial profiling of Muslims - will become the public face of New Zealand on the world stage.

Of course, Australia has heard that one before. Take a bow, Sir Les "I'm that low I could parachute out of a snake's arsehole and still have room to free-fall" Paterson, cultural attaché to London, and fine role model for the newly-elevated Minister for Courtenay Place.

Just for curiosity's sake, I photoshopped Winston's Italian locks into a Sir Les mop of grey hair.

It's pretty instructive. Even with disheveled hair, your Maori scrubs up way better than your Sydney Catholic pisshead.

So no danger there. He can look the part. And if he's prepared to read the executive summaries of the executive summaries that I'm informed they used to scribble for him last time he held a Crown Warrant, well then, he'll do what's required of him, no worries.

Of course, this position gets him way the hell away from the tent altogether, to use this week's most over-used metaphor. For those weeks when he isn't out spreading the good word about Tolerant, Inclusive, Progressive, Nuclear Free New Zealand in exotic locations, though, what's Helen Clark going to do to emulate Jim Bolger's highly effective late night coalition-management sessions with Winston over a bottle of hard liquor?

Perhaps she might be well-served by adding a useful item of equipment to the beehive gym. You know those mechanical bulls they have in Texas bars? Stay on for 10 seconds and you win a 32 ounce steak -that kind of thing? I think if you were to put one of those next to the cross-trainer, it might be a good idea for H1 to hop on to the bull each morning and see how long she can stay in the saddle.

If she can hang on to that, Winston should be a piece of cake.

Oh, but you have to laugh. Who knows? Maybe this is a perfect expression of the extremely pragmatic nature of our politics, and of that ultimate political survivor. Helen Clark.

You push to the right to get yourself a stable majority, and in the process, by cuddling up closer to a clutch of centrist policies, you also soak up some of the oxygen of the party that had given you a hell of a fright.

To the extent that National fashioned a platform out of resentment, this potentially cuts out a good bit of the supporting timber.

In rhetorical terms, it leaves them less room to move on Treaty issues, less room to move on Tax, and less room to move on Nanny State and PC criticisms.

It also resurrects an old First Past the Post favourite: the marginal electorate. Look at those resuscitated prospects of central government roading money for Tauranga and Wellington, and ask yourself how much that differs from, say, Think Big Money for the marginal seat of Whangarei in 1981.

Pragmatism through and through, then. Enough to make you, well, Green around the gills if you're of a more idealistic persuasion.

In my interview with Andrew Sharp for the Civil War book, I asked him about the large part that pragmatism plays in our politics. He said we don't like our ideas played out and exposed and shown for what they are. He also said he thought those characteristics in society have both good and bad effects. If either of those things changed a lot, he says, we'd change.

From the point of view of people like Rod Donald and Jeanette Fitzsimons, that must be starting to seem like something of a remote prospect.