Opinion: The Country's Jamie Mackay takes a Bathurst-pun-laden look at the contenders for the 2020 election, to help farmers decide who they want to take poll position this weekend.
Well folks, we're finally on the finishing straight of an election race that's had a few more laps added to it courtesy of Covid and we're all wondering whether anyone or anything can beat Jacinda? She's certainly firing on all cylinders at the moment.
With Bathurst upon us this weekend, it would be easy to fall into the trap of more bad car racing puns: Judith (going backwards not Ford); Winston (barely Holden on after 40 years); David (an upstart self-made Mini challenging the two big V8s); or James and Marama (an underpowered EV running out of charge on the last lap).
But I'll resist the temptation and instead offer some free voting advice to all the undecideds out there, especially provincial New Zealand and the farming fraternity. What are your options? Who should you vote for?
Before I do though, I thought I'd better 'fess up about my own checkered past at the ballot box. Even though I blew out 61 candles this week, and am officially only four years away from one of Winston's free trips to Waiheke Island, I was young and stupid once.
And to prove it I voted for Bruce Beetham and Social Credit in my first two elections (1978 and 1981). I blame parental abuse because my mother was, for some absolutely unfathomable reason, a card-carrying member of Social Credit. In 1984, like the rest of the country, I was sick of Rob Muldoon and tactically protest-voted for Bob Jones and his New Zealand Party.
The cure was initially far worse than the disease and we ended up with the most transformational government of my lifetime, with David Lange and Rogernomics, even though history eventually proved Finance Minister Roger Douglas to be a visionary when it came to subsidy-free farming.
In 1987, disillusioned with Rogernomics, I was far too busy feeding sheep on my Southland farm in the morning in order to catch a midday bus to play club rugby to bother voting. Apathy reigned. It was mid-August, there was no early voting option back then and the country was riding on the back of a sharemarket boom (that came horribly unstuck two months later) and Lange subsequently waltzed home.
It was only in 1990, when a young man fresh out of Treasury by the name of Bill English came along in my electorate, that I finally found someone I really wanted to vote for. I've been a centrist or centre-right voter ever since.
But, 30 years on, in 2020 I'm not so sure. I'm hanging out until Saturday because I might just make my first tactical vote since 1984 (the year that is, not the George Orwell novel).
For 26 of those past 30 years, I've made a crust in the media. More specifically, rural radio, with a strong bent towards politics and the economy, having regularly interviewed every Prime Minister of the day since Helen Clark way back in 2000.
So at no cost to you, the reader, here's my beginner's guide for undecided farming voters. In order of popularity from the latest political poll, here goes my summation of your options:
Pros: Love or loathe Jacinda, and lots love her, she has largely steered us through the Covid crisis, alongside her loyal finance deputy, Grant Robertson, with a safe set of hands. She has the same "rock star" appeal of John Key - she's charming, great in a crisis, has empathy by the bucket-load and talks a good game when it comes to provincial New Zealand. But I don't necessarily buy that. Her natural constituency is the urban, left, liberal beltway.
Cons: David Parker and his freshwater reforms. Swimmable rivers, at any cost, are his legacy issue, his raison d'etre. All good farmers are natural conservators who want clean water and a good environment. Jacinda needs to point out the difference between a carrot and a stick to the myopic and blinkered Mr Parker.
Pros: Traditionally National has always been the farmers' party. No one could accuse Judith Collins of not following in the long line of Nat leaders (Keith Holyoake, Jim Bolger, Jenny Shipley and Bill English) who come from the land and love the land. But you need more than farmers' vote to win the Treasury benches. Judith's well-practised praying technique might yet be her best hope.
Cons: Who needs enemies when you've got a back-stabbing caucus like Judith's got? This election has the odour of English's 2002 trouncing about it.
Since the untimely departure of the all-powerful triumvirate of Key, English and Steven Joyce, the Nats have slowly but surely been in a spiralling self-destruct mode. And, from the outside looking in, they're doing a pretty good job of it.
Pros: To the ardent left-leaners David Seymour is like a projectile vomit that's come from nowhere. But look more carefully and you'll see an engineer (his previous vocation) who's manufactured and crafted a smart image. Sure he looked like Mr Bean on Dancing with the Stars with his jerky twerking but his work around the End of Life Choice Bill was a whole lot smoother. A Yes vote on the euthanasia referendum will ensure his political legacy – win, lose or draw – on Saturday.
Cons: ACT still struggles with the neo-liberal, rabid right-wing, bugger-the-poor, they'll-look-after-themselves tag. Just like the Greens on the other extreme of the political spectrum, they have a politically palatable ceiling point they can't go past. And you do have to wonder about the gene pool on the ACT Party list if they end up going 10 or 12 deep.
Pros: To be fair they're not my natural political bedfellows, but I have a strange affection for James Shaw. Even though I don't agree with many parts of it, he did a good bipartisan job of getting the Zero Carbon Act through the House. Personally I rate him.
Cons: I just wish they'd stick in their (cycle) lane when it comes to sane and rational economic policy. Oh for the good old days of Rod Donald when it was all about the environment. That is the Greens' natural habitat, not the shrill, ear-piecing economic utterances of the loony left. Tax is not love.
Pros: If you're looking for experience, it's hard to go past a man who's been in the Beehive for more than 40 years (albeit for most of those five decades he's been standing outside the tent, peeing in). He has been a useful handbrake in the coalition government and he has a genuine passion for provincial New Zealand.
Cons: Fashions change, and Winston is now unfashionable. There has been a generational change at the helm of New Zealand politics. The tide looks like it's
well and truly out for my two favourite political orators. Winston's drowning and Shane is stranded, metaphorically of course, on the beach. I'll miss them when, and if, they're gone but I'm in a select minority there.
So, where does all this leave the undecided farming voter? If you're looking for the most farmer-friendly party it's probably NZ First. But voting for a party that's registering at just over 2 per cent - unless there's a dramatic shift in the polls in the last week - is probably a "wasted" vote (even though no democratically cast vote is ever wasted).
So, whatever you undecideds decide to do on Saturday, please make sure you do one thing. And that's vote! If you don't, you'll get the government you deserve.
Remember it's your pit-stop at the polling booth that will decide the Queen of the Mountain this weekend.