If Mike Moore wants a debate on the wisdom of New Zealand becoming a republic or having a written constitution, he has chosen about the worst possible time to try to ignite one.
While the former Labour leader may cite the ad hoc introduction of new election finance rules as reason enough for a wide-ranging constitutional debate, there will be a distinct lack of enthusiasm on the part of most politicians to trample in what amounts to a political "no-go" area in election year.
Moore seems to be saying in his Perspectives page piece in today's Herald that someone else is about to thrust republicanism on to the agenda "in a fit of populism" or as a diversion.
It is difficult to see the political advantage in anyone doing so. Nevertheless, Moore wants to short-circuit this happening by setting in train a managed process for considering potential constitutional reform.
His suggestion is likely to be ignored by most parties inside Parliament and run into a wall of indifference outside.
Labour will have made it a point of principle to turn a deaf ear to whatever Moore has to say about anything after his labelling of Helen Clark as "Muldoonist".
His assertion that constitutional change is happening on an ad hoc, incremental and therefore "dangerous" basis will be interpreted by former colleagues as him having another go at the Prime Minister by slyly implying she is pursuing her dream of New Zealand becoming a republic by surreptitious means.
Clark's push for a republic long ago foundered on the rock of public opinion.
Regardless, no matter how genuine Moore's call for a managed debate on enshrining constitutional protections might be, the last thing Labour would want to do is start election year by associating itself with something which might be misinterpreted as a vehicle for promoting a republic and thus getting too far out of sync with majority thinking in the fashion the party did with issues such as bans on smacking or smoking in pubs.
Likewise, while National might see merit in formally protecting constitutional rights in the wake of the row over election funding, that party would not want to jeopardise its lead in the polls by being linked to a process which might be seen as opening the door to radical change.
For both major parties, it is a case of not "scaring the horses". There are more votes to be lost than gained in talking about constitutional reform. Those doubting how conservative the public is to change on such fundamental matters need only look at the unsuccessful campaign to redesign New Zealand's flag.
Polls may show most people believe it is inevitable that New Zealand will become a republic one day. They may show support for a republic is growing slowly. But they predominantly show the majority still supports the status quo.
Also, as recently as 2005, a special parliamentary committee was established to conduct an inquiry into New Zealand's constitutional arrangements, largely at the prompting of United Future's Peter Dunne.
It was a fizzer. The committee's report concurred with Moore in saying things sometimes happen without Parliament and the public sufficiently appreciating potential constitutional ramifications. It suggested a permanent select committee might be set up as a "watchdog" to ensure law changes with constitutional implications got proper attention. But that was about as far as it went.
Nothing happened. The report was shelved largely by reason of its own conclusion. It found there was a lack of consensus on what might be wrong with current constitutional arrangements or how they might be improved. The absence of consensus meant the "costs and risks of attempting significant reform" could outweigh those of persisting with those current arrangements.
In other words, if it ain't broke, why fix it - especially when no one can agree on how to do so?By John Armstrong Email John