24 October 2013
Many years ago, when I was a Labour MP, there used to be a weekly debate in Caucus about the theme for the week. If it was a quiet week, or one the government would rather forget, the default theme was always splits and divisions in the Opposition.
I do not know whether Labour still operates that way (it is over 19 years since I left the Labour Caucus) or whether National does likewise, but it seems that the news media certainly do.
Last week was proceeding quietly enough, with all the focus on the Auckland Mayoral circus, until John Banks’ resignation after being committed for trial on electoral fraud charges. A media feeding frenzy quickly developed (reminiscent of David Lange’s reef fish) about the government’s consequent apparent instability. One commentator referred to the government as “as stable as a blancmange”; another had me packed off to Canberra as High Commissioner, despite my having no interest in the job at all; and, they all had John Key throwing out a desperate lifeline to Colin Craig to be his saviour.
Amidst all the panic, a couple of small but significant facts were overlooked. The government still has a 64-57 majority on confidence and supply measures in the House; and there is over a year to run before the next election. A lot can change in that time. After all, as they keep reminding us in other circumstances, a week is a long time in politics, as Len Brown was discovering. So today’s drama is tomorrow’s fish and chips wrapping.
Now I am not criticising the Press Gallery. Theirs is a thankless job, at the best of times, trying to report coherently on events that often just happen, in an environment where cock-up beats conspiracy every time, and where the wonderful irrationality of humankind is frequently demonstrated. So, their attempts to spice up dull and turgid times are perfectly understandable, but it is a pity when in their enthusiasm for a fresh angle a few basic facts get lost.
Whatever happens to Mr Banks, the government will retain its majority and stability and will go on to at least the next election. There will be inevitably be more alarums and excursions along the way to be reported with breathless excitement, and splits and divisions will continue to be the default debate when the going gets quiet.
Just as our weather patterns are predictable anticyclones from the west, pushed away by depressions from the south, all within a few days, our political weather is follows the same pattern – big highs chased away by the lows. But at the end of it all, the worst day in Government still far outstrips the very best day in Opposition.
Enjoy the coming long weekend – Christmas is less than nine weeks away!