Hidden In Plain Sight: Philip Glenister plays seedy small-time lawyer, Harry Venn, in the UK television series Hidden. The plot turns on the lethal manoeuvres of sinister business and media figures as they attempt to turn a hung parliament to their political advantage. In eighteen months New Zealand could be living through its very own version of Ronan Bennett's screenplay.
HIDDEN is a gritty BBC political drama series written by Ronan Bennett. Crucial to the plot’s development is a UK general election result from which no clear winner has emerged. As day after day passes without a government, and rioting convulses London, a billionaire businessman, working secretly with a ruthless media proprietor, prepares the public for a right-wing coup d’état. Though the screenwriter never reveals the political identity of the caretaker PM, the inference is strong that he’s a moderate Tory who’s usefulness to the powers-that-be is at an end.
Right here in New Zealand, in just 18 months’ time, life could very easily be imitating art.
John Key, the National Party’s moderate but unpopular leader, faces the near impossible task of creating a government out of an election result from which no clear majority is readily discernible – for either the Right or the Left.
The Governor-General asks Mr Key, as leader of by far the largest party, to try and form a government. Day after day drifts by without any sign of a breakthrough. All eyes turn to the leader of the Labour Party. Can David Shearer succeed where Mr Key is failing?
While Mr Key contemplates the election’s intractable political arithmetic, Mr Shearer begins pressuring the Green Party. He needs to know how badly their leaders want to be Cabinet Ministers. Is it possible that, for the sake of the country, they might step aside and allow Mr Peters and his NZ First colleagues to form a minority government with Labour? And would they then be willing to keep that government in office by voting it Confidence and Supply? When the Greens protest, Mr Shearer warns them that any refusal to step aside will almost certainly see Mr Peters pledge NZ First’s votes to Mr Key.
The Greens are in a quandary. As the third largest party in the new parliament, they should be in the box seat – but they’re not. On the contrary, pressures are mounting for them to be written out of the political play entirely.
Every day the mainstream news media finds a new way of branding the Greens as “too radical for government”. Business organisations warn of dire consequences for New Zealand’s economic future should Russel Norman and Metiria Turei come within a bull’s roar of the Cabinet Table. The country’s international credit rating comes under review and international lenders quietly voice their growing fear of a Labour-Green Government to the Governor of the Reserve Bank.
When the Greens point-blank refuse to rule themselves out of government, the political tension is ratcheted up a few notches. The news media immediately seizes upon the fact that National won more votes than any other party. Never before, they correctly claim, has the party which won the most votes been denied the right to govern. That being the case, thunder the nation’s editors, the onus falls upon the “responsible” parliamentary parties to provide National with a working majority.
With the Greens’ “irresponsibility” taken as a given, and with NZ First’s numbers falling just short of the majority “the country” so desperately needs, the private cell-phones of certain Labour and Green MPs begin to vibrate.
First they are offered the carrot: guaranteed Cabinet seats, High Commission postings, seats around some very important (and well-remunerated) boardroom tables. If that fails, they are shown the stick: video recordings of what they thought were “secret” assignations; terrifying estimates of the tax owing on their undisclosed offshore incomes; pretty-much everything they did last summer.
The Governor-General gives Mr Key just 48 more hours to form a government. Mr Shearer, secretly informed that a critical number of Labour and Green MPs are about to defect, announces his party’s unwillingness to enter into any kind of agreement with the Greens. Mr Peters announces NZ First’s willingness to join in a “Coalition of National Unity”. National’s caucus meets to deliver Mr Peters’ price – John Key’s political head.
The Governor-General invites Judith Collins to Government House.
This essay was originally published in The Dominion Post, The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 7 June 2013.