James Griffin is a columnist for Canvas magazine.

James Griffin: Richard Prebble

Former NZ government minister Richard Prebble. Photo / David White
Former NZ government minister Richard Prebble. Photo / David White

Richard Prebble stands in front of a mirror. The man he sees is not a relic from the past.

The man he sees looking back at him is not a mad dog, as many used to call him. The man Richard Prebble sees looking back at Richard Prebble is a visionary, a shaper of destinies, a man who still has the magic.

Richard Prebble stands looking at the mirror. His head, as always, is full of numbers. Five is a very important number to Richard because 5, as in 5 per cent, is the threshold; the key to door to the halls of power. But 5 seems a long way away when the current number is 0, at least according to the polls. Mind you polls do have a margin of error of 3 so that 0 could actually be as high as 3, which is a lot closer to 5 than 0 is. Then again it could also be -3, which is even worse than 0.

Richard Prebble frowns into the mirror. Is it possible to score -3 per cent in an election?

Wouldn't that mean that people would have to actually cross out the Act Party from the ballot paper and write in someone else? Surely that isn't allowed.

Richard Prebble smiles into the mirror, a knowing smile. Because Richard is pretty sure that if you deface a ballot paper it is invalid so it is legally impossible to score less than 0 per cent in a general election and 0 per cent is a lot closer to 5 per cent than -3 per cent is so therefore when you have 0 the margin of error can only ever work in Act's favour. In Richard's astute political campaign-managing brain he knows he has, simply through the power of his mind, already got the numbers moving in the right direction.

But Richard Prebble sees a flicker of doubt in his face in the mirror. Yes 3 is a lot closer to 5 than 0 is, but it is still not the magic number. Unless, of course, you apply the margin of error of 3 to the 3 the margin has already given them, in which case the number could really be 6, which would get them across the line with 1 to spare. Unless, of course, the margin takes away the 3 from the 3 to give them 0 again.

Richard Prebble's head starts to hurt as he stares at himself in the mirror. He really hates working with numbers this small. Why are the small numbers the hardest? How can such a small number, like 5, seem so damn big? Five per cent is nothing. Well, no, 0 per cent is nothing, which is what they've got. But 5 per cent is 1 person in 20. Surely for every 20 voters in New Zealand there must be 1 willing to vote for Act. Crikey, you walk the streets today and you see more of those strange, bewildered hobo people than that. What sort of country is it where there are more bewildered people than Act supporters?

Then Richard Prebble's brain starts to tick over as he stares at himself in the mirror. What if he somehow managed to engineer a campaign where every bewildered eligible voter turned to the Act Party in their electoral hour of need? That could work; that could give them the numbers they need.

Then Richard Prebble's brow furrows, as he stares at himself in the mirror and realises that pitching an entire electoral campaign towards a voter base of the bewildered is fraught with the danger of political blow-back. Probably best to stick with the sane and rational, like the universal flat-tax rate idea and leave the bewildering stuff to the Conservatives.

Richard Prebble takes a deep breath as he takes a good long, hard look at himself in the mirror. If 5 is such a big number, then that number needs to become a smaller number like, say, 1. Yes, thinks Richard, 1 is a much better magic number. One seat, 1 Epsom and then 1 is almost just as good as 5. Sure they haven't got a Rodney or a Banksie to rally the Epsom campaign round but they do have ...

Richard Prebble shuts his eyes, rather than look at himself in the mirror. He hates it when names escape him. Forgetting the name of your only candidate with an actual shot of winning is not a good look in a campaign manager. David! That's the name! David Lange.

No, no, not that David. David something beginning with S. Seymour! David Seymour. He's the man for the job. Well, he's the man they've got for the job so he'll have to do.

Richard Prebble opens his eyes, looks at himself in the mirror. The journey from 0 to 1 has begun and he is just the man for such a journey.

- NZ Herald

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James Griffin is a columnist for Canvas magazine.

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