Wake me up when September ends.
The other day on my midday radio show, The Country, we played a bit of Green Day in response to the latest economic policy release from the Greens.
And Wake Me Up When September Ends was an apt song to spin as we, in turn, spin head-first into one of the more economically-defining elections in a generation on September 19. When one of my correspondents facetiously suggested Eugenie Sage would be the next Minister of Agriculture, I was sent into a tailspin of manic panic. So much so, I could not sleep that night, so bedevilled was I by the prospect of what could play out when September ends.
Let me talk you through my rambling dream. Or was it indeed a nightmare?
So it's the morning of Sunday, September 20, and after an all-nighter for many, those who could sleep have awoken to a new Prime Minister. But before we can discuss how this bizarre situation came about, it's worth looking back at five key events that combined, against all odds, to conspire and produce a once-in-a-lifetime political maelstrom.
1. In early July, with his party languishing at 1.8 per cent in the polls, the Prince of the Provinces, Matua Shane Jones decided to roll the NZ First dice big-time in a desperate measure to win over the punters in the winnable Northland seat. After the worst drought in living memory, and knowing that water storage was the way to win Northlanders' hearts, minds and votes, the self-titled champion of the regions decided to THINK BIG on water.
Frustrated by several smaller-scale, shovel-half-ready projects on the table, Jones moved to solve Northland's water woes once, and for all, by converting the Kaipara Harbour into the country's biggest inland lake. All in the aid of irrigation and with the added electoral bonus of an infinite water supply for thirsty Aucklanders. According to Shane, it's as simple as building a sea wall-type dyke, pumping out the seawater and letting it replenish with fresh water. The project is due for completion in 2067. What could possibly go wrong?
2. Following her record run at the top of the best-sellers list, with her autobiography overtaking Colin Meads All Black and The Edmond's Cookbook as our most popular book, Judith Collins enjoyed a political renaissance and resultant surge in the polls that could not be ignored, as much as National leader Todd Muller wanted to.
On August 3, Muller announced that the Nats would follow the Green Party playbook and appoint, for the first time in the party's history, co-leaders. With less than seven weeks until the election, Crusher would join him in a bid to gang up, two against one, on Jacinda. His previous deputy, Nikki Kaye, was left to take over the plum portfolio of Māori Affairs alongside Paul "Hone" Goldsmith, the latter handing Finance to Collins.
3. Not to be outdone, Jacinda also shocked the nation when, less than two weeks later, she won no fans in the deep south by cancelling the August 15 Highlanders v Hurricanes game at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin, so she could run New Zealand's biggest ever indoor political rally. Very much along Trump lines but without the Covid-19, face masks, fake tan and bigotry. However, she did later carry favour when she dispatched her accident-prone Health Minister to Washington in his new capacity as New Zealand's Ambassador.
Yes, in 2020's biggest political shock, in late August, Donald Trump pulled the pin on the US Presidency in the midst of a Covid crisis he could not control nor ultimately blame on anyone else, having exhausted his "Chiiiiiiinah Virus" rhetoric. No other Republican, including his VP Mike Pence, had the stomach for the job. So in an historic first, power was ceded to "Sleepy" Joe Biden who had awoken from a self-induced slumber to find himself the 46th Potus.
Biden's first utterance in power was to ask how New Zealand had fared so well in the fight against Covid? And who could he get to run the cutter for him in Washington? Jacinda, never one to look a gift horse in the mouth, volunteered David Clark, even paid his airfares and accommodation, and simultaneously made two countries very happy.
4. The Greens also had their issues. What's so new about that you say? Well, James Shaw and Marama Davidson had an acrimonious split and parted joint-leadership ways when Marama, single-handedly and without consolation, decided to bump up the Greens' top rate of marginal tax to 66 per cent. James could have possibly lived with this but baulked when she said she would lower the income threshold for the said tax rate to every dollar earned above the level of a beneficiary's weekly unemployment payment. This was to prove fatal.
5. Only one party truly enjoyed the election campaign and that was Act, having won over the libertarians, disgruntled National/NZ First voters and the gun fraternity. The only hiccup the fashionably-dorky David Seymour had was shooting himself in the foot by failing to remember the names of any of his party list when grilled by Wendy Petrie in the last of the televised election debates.
So back to the morning of September 20, the votes are in, and we have a result. Labour 43.5 per cent, National 42 per cent, Greens 4.9 per cent, Act 3.3 per cent and NZ First 1.8 per cent. At first glance, it looked like Jacinda was back in the ninth floor of the Beehive, comfortably forming a coalition with the Greens. Statistics, damn statistics eh?
You see, here's the kicker. The Greens did not win an electorate seat and are out of Parliament. Seymour, as expected, wins Epsom and, because of his lake largesse with Lake Kaipara, Jones just carried the day in Northland. So Act and NZ First are in, the latter by the slimmest (not a word normally associated with Shane) of margins!
The game was all tied up and in the absence of a golden point decider, consensus was hard to come by. Jacinda was once bitten, twice shy, when it came to NZ First. Todd and Judith squabbled over who would take the top gig under a centre-right government. David just wanted to legalise euthanasia and guns. Compromise was called for.
Then I woke up in a cold sweat. Only one person could be the 41st Prime Minister of New Zealand.
Dream or nightmare?