It's no secret I'm for robust democratic debate. Civil debate. On-the-issues debate. T'ain't personal. That's why I hope for a loyal, fair-minded opposition out of National's new status. I'm hoping for something more principled from them in defeat. Principled in line with conservatism, not the doctrinaire posture of corporate obeisance they practised in government.

Truly, nine years of that crew was enough. A few more months and they'd have sold off the assets of the country completely, mined the national preserves and tried to get us to drink the kool-aid declaring who needs clean rivers anyway? Let us all just drink Fiji water at five bucks a pop.

Read more: Jay Kuten: RTL guilty of harassing PM
Jay Kuten: Spit out TPP's poison pill

Rather than continuingly hear more high-mindedness from Paula Bennett or high-handedness from Bill English or faux gravitas from Steven Joyce or faux anything from Nick Smith or just faux Jonathan Coleman, I'd endure a week's steady reading of the wit and wisdom of Donald J Trump tweets.

Advertisement

But, out of power, I'm for them. If they're going to be the loyal opposition. Loyal to the country, not just their corporate masters. In the alternative, let them take a look at the fate of their ideological counterparts in the US.

After the crippling legislative logjam they created in Congress from eight years of obstruction to Obama's programme, the Republicans, devoid of any principle - except electoral success based on voter suppression and fear-mongering - were vulnerable to takeover by the Bannon-Trump forces, and stand now at the edge of irrelevance. There's been no conservative idea save disastrous wars and tax cuts for the rich in the past 40 years.

I'm hoping there's more than obstructionism that English and company have in mind in garnering those extra seats on select committees. I don't pretend to understand how Parliament works, but I suspect that a lot happens out of sight in those committees.

National says its intent is to hold the Government accountable. Great. The recent criticisms from English and Smith of Labour's plans point in a different direction. National is giving evidence of walking the same path as US Republicans.

Under the banner of seeking accountability, National seems to be stoking class warfare with the politics of resentment. Bill English and Nick Smith's response to Labour's planned free tertiary education is not about conservative principles but about sowing the seeds of disunity. Why should ordinary folks without a university experience pay for the education of those who pursue a degree - or worse, God help us, the occasional Australian gets in, they argue.

Simple. It's called investing in our future, where critical thinking and the benefits of tertiary education will enable more of our young people to cope with the complex world they'll inherit along with the problems the older generation have created or ignored.

We do need to keep this new Government accountable. The revisions to the TPP they've agreed to need to be rigorously examined to ensure that the Investor State Dispute Settlement section is truly dead on arrival, and also the "intellectual property" clause that allows International Big Pharma to upend our Pharmac.

As of this writing, I'm not persuaded to let Labour and NZ First off easy on their campaign promises. Labour, in opposition, was completely opposed to the TPP. Winston was specifically opposed to the ISDS clause and to the clause on intellectual property. Now they're ready to sign on to a deal that has its origins in benefits for multinational corporations. What's changed?

The proof of this pudding will be the new Government's degree of commitment to citizen consultation. And not only on the TPP but its other policies, differing from National's citizen disregard.

National needs to stock-take and argue for meaningful conservative alternatives while avoiding empty obstructionism for its own sake. Or else they become vulnerable, like the Republicans did, to a populist takeover from an ill-informed, loudmouth TV personality. I can imagine their next candidate for leader as that discard replicant of John Key, Mike Hosking. There's a nightmare left over from Halloween.

Jay Kuten
Jay Kuten

Jay Kuten is an American-trained forensic psychiatrist who emigrated to New Zealand for the fly fishing. He spent 40 years comforting the afflicted and intends to spend the rest afflicting the comfortable.