Brian Rudman 's Opinion

Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: Scramble for civil unions as parties chase mates

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Kim Dotcom. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Kim Dotcom. Photo / Brett Phibbs

The pre-election fumblings behind the bikesheds as our increasingly twitchy politicians seek a mate for the next three years are beginning to become rather R18. As the sap starts rising, our leaders seem to be abandoning all sense of shame - or ridicule.

The thought of German internet millionaire and refugee from the FBI Kim Dotcom courting Hone Harawira, the scourge of white "motherf*****" interlopers, at a garden party at his Bollywood Coatesville palace is weird enough. Just who would fetch the breakfast in bed in that relationship?

But Prime Minister John Key has bested that by putting himself out to hire for, it seems, any party that might hook up with him regularly after the election.

First up were Mr Harawira's former Maori Party partners, who charged "15 specially selected leaders" $5000 a head to join them at the exclusive, creeper-clad Auckland bastion of white motherf*****dom for a confidential game of musical chairs.

For a $5000-plus donation to the Maori Party, the Northern Club guests were told Mr Key would slowly move around the dinner table, stopping a while so they all had a chance to rub shoulders, or stare into his eyes across the table, whispering sweet nothings.

The guest list has not been revealed, but I'm guessing there weren't many Maori Party voters among those paying for their meal. More likely, National Party "volunteers" reporting for duty.

Next Wednesday, Mr Key is donning his bib again, this time as "guest of honour" at a fundraising dinner for National's other "civil union partner", the Act Party. It's a fundraiser for Act's freshman Epsom candidate, David Seymour. At a measly $200 a ticket, Act is eschewing the quality, footsie-under-the-table experience, going for quantity instead. Mr Seymour is hoping for at least 100 guests.

Meanwhile, off-stage, Green co-leader Russel Norman tried to trap Labour leader David Cunliffe into some kind of pre-election, pre-nuptial agreement. Mr Cunliffe wisely ran a mile. It had all the signs of what in the insect world is known as sexual cannibalism. Praying mantises specialise in it, the female devouring the partner during or immediately after copulation.

The Greens have been nibbling away at the Labour vote for years. At the 2011 election, the Labour organisation as good as handed out the knives and forks. It ran a one-tick campaign promoting electorate candidates at the expense of the leader - then Phil Goff - and brand Labour. The result was predictable. Labour candidates got 35 per cent of the candidate vote, but Labour got only 27 per cent of the crucial party vote, which decides the split of seats in Parliament. In other words, nearly a quarter of those voting for a Labour candidate then cast their party vote for the Greens or New Zealand First or whoever.

For Labour to pledge its troth to the Greens before the election would have been to signal to Labour voters that the informal straying that last election lost Labour so much of its potential party vote was now officially okay. Labour and the Greens were one happy family, feel free to vote for either. Who knows how many more Labour voters might have strayed to the Greens on election day after such a marriage. Or, even worse, decamped elsewhere, unimpressed with the Green message.

It was a risk no Labour leader could have taken. As Mr Cunliffe said: "I'm the leader of the Labour Party and my job is to maximise the Labour party vote."

Others have argued he turned the Greens down because another potential ally, NZ First leader Winston Peters, would have refused to join any coalition with the Greens. Perhaps, but uppermost for Mr Cunliffe was the need to defend the brand.

Meanwhile, Mr Key is now making it plain why he thumbed his nose at the Electoral Commission's proposal, after the 2011 referendum on the electoral system, that the "coat-tail" provision in MMP be abolished. This quirk in the system allows a successful minor party electorate MP to bring in extra list MPs on his/her coat-tails without having to wait for the 5 per cent voter support threshhold to kick in, which parties without an electorate MP face.

This matters to National because, despite its lead in the polls, it will still most likely need an ally to govern. It continues to fall short of the 51 per cent support needed to govern alone.

The Herald-DigiPoll survey in early March had National almost there with 50.8 per cent, and a February One News Colmar Brunton put them on 51 per cent. But several other polls around the same time had National running short on between 45.5 and 48.5 per cent.

Mr Key can cross fingers and hope that after the September 20 election NZ First will land on the right side of the 5 per cent threshhold. In the meantime, gaming the MMP system in Epsom with Act has delivered him an ally in the House for the last two elections. Hence next Wednesday's $200 a-head dinner.

As for Mr Key's Maori Party allies, the $75,000 plus raised at the Northern Club might just help one or more of their electorate MPs to struggle back. In extremis, anything is worth a try.

- NZ Herald

Brian Rudman

Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman's first news story was for Auckland University student paper Outspoke, exposing an SIS spy on campus during the heady days of the Vietnam War. It resulted in a Commission of Inquiry and an award for student journalist of the year. A stint editing the Labour Party's start-up Auckland newspaper NZ Statesman followed. Rudman decided journalism was the career for him, but the NZ Herald and Auckland Star thought otherwise when he came job-hunting. After a year on the "hippy trail" overland to London, he spent four years on Fleet St with various British provincial papers. He then joined the Auckland Star, winning the Dulux Journalist of the Year award for coverage of the 1976 Dawn Raids against Polynesian overstayers. He has also worked on the NZ Listener, Auckland Sun, and since 1996, for the NZ Herald as feature writer and columnist. He has a BA in History and Politics.

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