So today is the day when New Zealand goes to the polls and ultimately determines which political party (or parties if coalition is required) will govern for the next 3 years?
6 months ago it really did feel that it would be a landslide for the incumbent Government, The coalition of three parties appeared to manage the Covid 19 crisis in a manner that was both timely and direct and we came out of our 4 week Level 4 lock down with clear indications that if not eliminated, the virus had been contained and community infection kept to a minimum. In the weeks that followed restrictions were eased and eventually the country returned to our version of normality.
There were those who concentrated their concern on the cost – to isolate those infected, those returning New Zealanders from countries where the virus was running more rampant than here and of course, the cost to our economy. The Government had paid out money in wage subsidies which kept many businesses solvent and the employees compensated by monies close to their usual take home pay. There is an economy of size and many small businesses didn’t survive because the ratio of wages to all the other costs (rental, local body rates, etc) was so much less, so a wage subsidy didn’t necessarily mange to save those businesses. None the less it still seemed that the incumbent Government would come out this election with an even stronger mandate.
Our “second wave” struck and while there was community transmission it was again contained quickly and again travellers were placed into 14 day isolation, with an ongoing small number of cases arising every day or so. What changed however was the public perception – it was if cracks in the fabric of Covid management were appearing – mainly related to the security of how returning New Zealanders were being managed there has been a number of individual break-outs by potentially infected people. There were concerns expressed for the testing of those involved in the caring for people in 14 day isolation and many other similar concerns expressed. But probably most telling for this election there was the opportunity for more robust questioning of why the Prime Minister was the face of the response, suggesting that she and her team had managed this on their own capabilities. With time to think clearly people began to acknowledge that while there may have been a Government mandate, the actual work was done by many, many, more people to achieve the good outcomes that New Zealand has experienced.
Our lead up to elections in the past has generally balanced personality with policy and I think it was generally about an even balance. This election and the one three years ago significantly changed that balance and our political choice was dominated by the personality of each leader. We have experienced a move toward the same glorification that we see with the Republican masses in their support of Trump – a terrifying comparison to make but a valid one. Nothing was more telling than the last televised leaders debate when the incumbent Prime Minister stated that she would not stay on as leader if the party did not return to power. Here we have the Prime Minister who to many, has achieved the highest accolades and demi-god like awe, saying that if her party is not returned to power then she will step down. The kind interpretation would be that she felt that if her party didn’t fare well she would step aside and let a new dynamic personality lead in their own style. The less kind way of seeing it is that the voting public were confronted with the choice – vote me in or lose my demi-god like care and attention for the future.
So my friends and to all those who share a love of antiques and curios, the next few hours will be fascinating for New Zealanders. It looks as though interest is high and the vote will be larger in numbers than we have seen in the past, There will be winners and there will be losers, but hopefully the public of New Zealand will end up with a Government, perhaps better than we deserve or expect, but one that at least commits to putting the country as a whole, on a path for economic recovery and social well-being. I believe it was Billy Connolly who said "the desire to be a politician should exclude that person from ever holding office". A harsh summation perhaps but it does highlight the concern - being a politician is a public service and not a position from which to seek accolades or profits