One Dog, One Vote


A dog was enrolled in a NZ country electorate. Just how it voted is likely to remain unknown.

What has emerged, however, as Helen Clark prepares to form her third government, is a move within the reconfirmed National opposition to try to push away from the hard right-wing stance that may have cost it office.

Now, ironically enough, it is the Nats who have to try to avoid the sort of internecine warfare that threatens to devour the ALP. The Nats’ talk of a retreat from the sort of race and immigration policies that have helped keep John Howard in office in Australia exposes a sharp division between the two neighbours, extending even to a definition of what makes a conservative.

Illustration of Helen Clark as a paper doll by Jo Thapa.

Astonishingly, Labour, finished with 41.1 per cent of votes, dropping just 0.16 per cent of its vote compared to three years ago, and won 50 seats. The National Party, which finished just two per cent behind Labour (with 45,000 fewer votes), won 48 seats.

Meanwhile, it was the lowest vote for minor parties since the Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) voting system started nine years ago. A lot of that is due to the tactics of the NZ First and United Futures parties in pledging that they would support whichever party won the most votes.

The Right ate its own, with the Nats’ increase in party vote adding up to the precise percentage loss of the four minor conservative parties.

The Nationals’ carrot of tax-cuts-for-all may have cost Labour some votes, but these are thought to have been replaced by voters who previously ticked NZ First or United Futures.

Having got 5.7 per cent of the vote, New Zealand First won seven seats to the Greens six (5.3 per cent), Maori Party four (2.1 per cent), United Future three (2.6 per cent), ACT two (1.5 per cent), and Jim Anderton’s Progressives, Labour’s coalition partner, one (1.1 per cent).

It is reported that Helen Clark is most likely to form a minority government by stitching up ‘working relationships’ in parliament with the Greens, NZ First and possibly United Future. She needs to command or be assured of the support of 61 votes in the 121-member house.

Still enraged that its people did not gain control of all foreshores and the seabed around New Zealand, the Maori Party will not formally join a coalition, but is likely to back it in crucial votes.

Any swing to the Nationals must, however, be seen in the light of its massive defeat three years earlier. Labour MPs with big majorities in 2002 have had them cut, while previous National and marginal seats that fell to Labour three years ago have either been reclaimed or won by the Nationals.

The election showed gaps in the Nats’ policies and poor leadership. Waffling by Don Brash and his inability to grasp detail was embarrassing when compared with Helen Clark’s astute grasp.
There is talk of a revived Nationals in 2008 but, of course, with a new leader supplanting the failed 65-year-old Brash their seemingly competent Treasury spokesman, John Key, is ready to take over.

The National Party’s historian, Barry Gustafson, has now revealed a moderate push within the party, with a group of party notables joining together to back the Treaty of Waitangi, which the basis for Maori-White negotiations. Gustafson believes the Nats’ platform on Maori and immigrants this time around was the work of the ‘radical Right.’

‘From time to time,’ he says, ‘the more free-market ideologically-driven radical Right manages to seize control’ of the Nationals. This has been one of those times and is at odds with the prevailing conservative philosophy within the party. Gustafson says,

You’ve got all kinds of people in the National Party with a range of experiences and knowledge who, I think, will not be satisfied with over-simplified slogans. That’s fine for billboards during an election campaign, but they will want to discuss the detail of policy, and I think we’re going to have a major debate on all kinds of issues including the Treaty and Maori.

The MMP system also meant that a weakened National Party was caught up in a constant battle for attention not only with Labour but also against splinter Right parties, NZ First and ACT, some of whose leaders ruthlessly exploited sound-bites on New Zealand’s shallow, all-commercial TV.

For six years, then, Labour has been chiefly opposed by a divided, demoralised and fractured National, bound up with almost ALP-like acrimony (if that is possible) and bloody leadership spills.

Returned with almost twice the number of MPs it had three years ago, the Nationals now have the strength, and money, to shove minor parties aside and take the fight up to Clark.

One worry for Labour is that, in contrast with the Nationals, not a lot of bright young talent is joining its benches. Not many up-and-comers are thrusting themselves forward for Cabinet posts and the reinvigoration through retirement is slow.

Still, the Labour Party president Mike Williams said that he felt like he ‘had just dodged a bullet’. And being back in office is its own reward. All Clark needs to do now is work out how to stay there.

Meanwhile, a detective in Queenstown must decide whether to prosecute the protestor who enrolled his dog. A change, at least, from the donkey vote.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.