Key Points:

I'm often busy with mashed banana and the kindy run, so am hardly keeping up with the nuances of constitutional law, but do the mechanics of this election have to be quite so obscure?

Surely one shouldn't have to ring up Mai Chen simply to find out the basics of who gets first dibs on being government after the election?

I was so confused about the whole thing, I rang beltway expert Mai to ask her what the law says about who has the first go. Her answer: stuffed if I know. I'm paraphrasing, but the gist of her answer was: there is no law to refer to.

This just confirmed my suspicion that this is a crazy system of make-it-up-as-you-go-along government.

Maybe it is because we are all getting more familiar with the wonky world of MMP, or maybe it is because of small parties' showings being anyone's guess, but this time round there have been even more unanswered questions than usual about what might happen after the election this time round.

Even the conventions are vague. Does the party that gets the most votes have the authority to try to form a coalition first? (No.) Does the Prime Minister have to be the leader of a major party? (No.) Is it simply an unseemly early Sunday morning scramble to see who can corner the Governor-General in his dressing gown? (Quite possibly.)

We do have a 1986 Constitution Act but that is no help as it says little about government formation. The Cabinet Manual, updated in April, offers some guidelines - if you can call the following any help: "The process of forming a government is political and the decision to form a government must be arrived at by politicians." Knock me down with a feather.

Governor-General Michael Hardie-Boys, a lawyer, in a series of speeches and articles before the first MMP election in 1996, gave some guidelines about his role but they are turning out to be less and less use as time goes on. What he said was: "My task is to ascertain where the support of the House lies."

Victoria University's Dean Knight says Hardie-Boys specifically addresses - and rejects - the myth that the largest party has the (first) right to form a government. All that counts is whether a leader is able to survive a confidence vote in Parliament.

His role in all this harks back to a crisis in Canada in 1920 involving Governor-General Lord "Bungo" Byng, who said the country's Conservatives, as the biggest single party in Parliament, should be given a chance to form a government before he called an election. Bungo got his marching orders.

The irony is that one of the arguments for introducing MMP was because under first past the post it was possible for one party with fewer total votes to command the Treasury benches - as happened with National in 1978 and 1981.

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I still dig out old issues of the English magazine the Spectator to read while eating dinner - Jeffrey Bernard's "suicide note in weekly instalments" and the wonderful Auberon Waugh, now dead.

But its latest move - to force all New Zealand subscribers to adopt a separate Australian version of the magazine full of boring stories about Kevin Rudd - is just dumb. I don't know that even Australians would want to buy the Spectator to read the same dreary stuff about their own country. New Zealanders certainly don't.

It won't be getting any gravy drips from me.

deborah@coneandco.com