The pork barrels now being rolled out by an apprehensive National Party squaring up to the Peter Pan of politics has turned the Northland byelection into an unusually interesting event, with a number of uncertain consequences, none of which appear helpful to the government, that is, if they lose the seat.
The term "pork barrel politics" would have confused my grandmother, living in rural England pre-war, with no electricity or running water. She kept a highly salted pork barrel in her larder and regarded the contents as a mark of her economic security.
The Oxford English Dictionary dates the modern sense of the term from 1873. Commonly used in the US Congress to describe spending benefiting specific constituents in return for political support, particularly during an election process, the term appears to have acquired a derogatory meaning following the American Civil War.
Unsurprisingly, pork barrel politics in the US is usually about spending large sums of money on roading improvements or building bridges within specific electoral districts at a time of political uncertainty.
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This suggests the present Government is merely executing a well-tried vote sweetener with its pre-election announcement committing considerable sums to improving a number of Northland's antiquated bridge structures.
While the Prime Minister has assured the nation that the expenditure was long-planned, cynics ponder if the byelection had not arisen, would the eagerness to rebuild Northland's bridges have eventuated so swiftly? Particularly as a number of the one-way structures are located in comparatively isolated areas with only light traffic. Some Aucklanders might pause to dwell on the number of their own busy inner-city streets that also have one-way traffic problems, such as the particularly narrow sections in Middleton Rd, where motorists negotiate a daily number of one-way stopping areas and might ask, 'When do we get a pork barrel handout in our neck of the woods?' Unfortunately, this category of expenditure does seem to favour those residing in comparatively isolated areas.
My favourite example of pork barrel extravagance originated during the 2008 US presidential campaign when a Republican Senator proposed to Congress that the small Alaskan town of Ketchikan sorely needed a bridge to link with Gravina Island, where the local international airport and 50 residents were located.
The bridge was projected to cost US$398 million ($544 million) and was expected to be almost as long as the Golden Gate structure and considerably higher than the Brooklyn Bridge.
Even in the obscure and sometime murky world of American politics, accustomed to blowing money on a grand scale, the project was perceived as a bridge too far and the preliminary planning work was halted.
However, although the bridge itself was cancelled, Senator Sarah Palin's (remember her?) administration still managed to blow more than US$26 million building a new highway specifically leading to where the bridge was supposed to be built.
Nicknamed the "Road to Nowhere", it is a supreme example of how taxpayers' money can be misused in a blatant pork barrel attempt to build a edifice that proved way beyond the financial realism of the political promoters' efforts merely to gain a few more votes.