Island Life by David Slack


Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a Brasher future.

Take one step forward, everyone who likes MMP. Clark and Key, where the hell do you think you’re going? Helen Clark may well have come to love this ugly little monkey as her own, but she was agin it at the time of the vote. You might also recall the sick look on her face on election night 2005. Had she gazed into the crystal ball and seen the pinstriped consequences?

John Key says he likes MMP. But John says he likes everything and everybody.

He’ll tell you he likes you right up until the moment he’s taken your job as leader and then decided your face doesn't actually fit as a heavy-hitting shadow spokesman.

He’ll tell you on the phone that you’re his special friend right up until the moment you give him a special price on a trade and then, even as he goes on telling you what a great guy you are for doing him a favour, he’ll be gesturing to the boys in the dealing room: he took the bait. We got the special price. Pile in!

He tells Pita Sharples in private that he won’t scrap the Maori seats because he likes Pita and he likes Maoris and I’m one of you fullahs.

John Key gets MMP. But really: who can say whether he likes it or not?

We do know that as a tribe, the Nats hate MMP. Jim Bolger understood MMP. He threw away the long spoon and sat right down next to Winston to sup the whisky on cold winter nights. But the Nats were sore filled with rage and did cast out the great helmsman. Even as the country cried abandon Shipley! That Williamson guy is an idiot! the Nats believed they were right to turn their back on the traitorous and odious and loathsome Winston.

Meet a National Party member at a cocktail party and stand by to hear how wrong-headed MMP is and how much better this country would be it if it were run like a business. (Merrill Lynch, for example?) I explored this canard once before. It never goes out of fashion and neither does its paucity of vision.

So what does a Nat dream of as Colmar Brunton whispers in his ear? 50% and better. We could govern alone!

"Ah, but it can’t be done," say the commentators. We cast our minds back. "Even under First Past the Post, a party only got more than 50% in the 1951 Waterfront election." We say to ourselves: must go and check that.

I checked. Those of us who have said such a thing are awry. Here are the numbers. Seddon’s Liberals managed it at will, but the landscape was so different then, a comparison is all but meaningless.

In more recent times, with two major parties splitting to the left and right, the comparison is more useful.

Labour garnered 51.3 in 1946, then the Nats beat them in 1949 with 51.9 and in that infamous election of 1951 they collected 54%

It didn’t happen again. Not in the Labour landslide of '72, not in the Muldoon one of '75. And then along came MMP. See the big parties shrink! 1996 Labour gets 28, National 33. ACT, the Alliance and NZ First all get stonking big numbers. The trend since then has been back to the big parties. Last election, Labour got 41, the Nats 39.

What does that leave us? It leaves us with 50% looking like more of a possibility for one major party than it was a decade ago. But it’s still a very big number. Surely too big. What’s more, for a majority - assuming a Maori Party overhang - John could need 52% to go alone.

Can’t see it. So then it’s ACT and Peter and maybe Pita. If you want to sketch what the next National-led coalition will look like, you must factor in the ACT party, and ACT party philosophies. John seems happy enough to embrace any old ideology as long as he gets the flash job. Roger should do fine. What will you choose, punters? Will it be a Brasher future?

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