Friday 7 June 2013

"Hidden" - The New Zealand Version

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.


Conor Roberts said...

"Never before, they correctly claim, has the party which won the most votes been denied the right to govern."

Except when Labour won the most votes across the country but was denied the right to govern, after a number of elections held under FPP.

Conor Roberts said...

P.S - I think a final paragraph would begin with massive popular discontent with a PM, under your theoretical scenario, that hadn't gone to the electorate and had no mandate, given most of those National voters would've been backing Key.

Chris Trotter said...

Quite right, Conor, but in the days of FPP that's not how we decided who had won and who had lost.

The interesting thing to note about the FPP era is that the clear, two-party, majoritarian system its supporters extol only existed for a relatively short period of time - from 1938 until 1954 - just 16 years!

Jigsaw said...

You describe John Key as 'an unpopular prime minister' and I am quite sure that in your circles he is but here in the country and according to the polls that is not correct. Ask anyone around here their opinion of the Greens however and you really get an earful!

Anonymous said...

Amusing, Christopher.
But all a bit conspiracy theorist. We have faced hung parliaments and electoral near deadlock several times, but without the risk of coup of any kind. The system is very robust. However, the resulting governments might not have been anticipated or desired by many!

Your articles often have more than a whiff of hysteria about them, as if you wish our politics were more dramatic, romantic and dangerous than they actually are. It is one of the functions of representative democracy to blunt these tendencies.

Perhaps you should move to Pakistan.

Anonymous said...

Chris, What was the pre '38 system?

Anonymous said...

For what it's worth, in both 1911 and 1928, the party getting the most votes and seats in a hung Parliament didn't form the Government. The assertion that the biggest party gets first dibs is nonsense: all that matters is the ability to count to 61. Either you can or you can't, and incidentally the Governor General would never say to a particular leader that they had 48 hours to stitch something together.

Grant M. McKenna said...

Under FPP voters can predict who will be likely to win safe seats, and so may stay away because they see no purpose in voting.
To assume that Labour would have won had MMP or another PR system been in place, is to assume that the turnout would have been the same; in fact, it is quite possible that many National supporters who didn't bother to vote would have turned up under MMP.
As for your scenario, I would think that the UK's National government of the early 1930s is also possible, with Labour getting votes from the liberal wing of National.

Unknown said...

But there won't be Peter Dunne and United Future next time...

If it looks like National may lose, key will be stabbed in the back...

ak said...

Spot on Chris, but I think you'll find Win wants far more than merely the puppet of those who nearly killed him.

He's the Right's worst nightmare: their own creation run amock. A man with nothing at all to lose or gain but mana, and he watches Campbell Live.

Anonymous said...

But how it ruled Chris.See the oppositions or part of it sprung one of our corporate rulers with their fingers in the till of Parliament usery, fibbing about his Parties membership and right to have their say.

Davo Stevens said...

Yep Peter P. JK will either resign next election or be rolled. Judith Collins is waiting and watching, armed to the teeth with back-stabbing knives! She's another Jenny Shipley!

The elections are just a farcical game we play every three years and it doesn't matter who gets in, it's just more of the same re-branded.

If it were possible and we were able to change the system completely, the likely result would be the Corporate backers of our MP's would withdraw their funding and our economy would collapse.

What NZ needs is a genuine "Leftwing" contender to give us a real choice, not the quasi-left we have now. The Greens leave me with a big ? and Mana is too Maori for most Pakeha Kiwis.

Peter Dunne is in a quandry. He's the Leader of a now non-existent party and he could only stay on as an Independent.

Unknown said...

I don't think that will be the scenario at all. Labour may end up with more seats than National - and may be able to govern alone as a minority government. Could stuff up all the pundits predictions.

Unknown said...

Peter has Dunne it now. The next couple of polls should give us some indication of the future. To be sure, Labour has to get 38-40%. The Greens round 12-14%. Winston can then get whatever he gets! I think Key will be looking for a job - not in the IMF, World Bank or whatever.

Anonymous said...

Early election is on the horizon.Sadly the so called left middle Labour are going to lose.No fire in their belly as they attempt to appease the money lenders, while trying to care for the mass of unemployed by taxing the money lenders debtors.

Davo Stevens said...

You may well be right Peter P. JK still has his job with the Bank of America and the Federal Reserve (he's a board member there) and a US Citizen.

No doubt Goldman Sachs would take him back too after they absorbed Merril Lynch.

I still stand by my original statement; it will make no difference if Lab or a Lab/Green coalition get in, we will still get the same as now. They will just re-brand it.

There is no substantial "Left" now and until we do get one it will make no difference who gets the seats of power.

Anthony said...

Any golfer could explain, to Conor Roberts, the difference between matchplay (FPP) and strokeplay (MMP).

jh said...

Table 1: Evidence of IFDI consequences on host economy
Employment and wages 2 positive (1 skilled is positive); 1 negative; 18 neutral.

The 1995 and 1996 (NZ) studies are the only ones out of 22 that say the overall affect on employment is positive.

That was about the time that immigration policy changed and population growth crowded out business investment.

Who benefited most?
Property Council chief executive Connal Townsend said debate about the future ownership of the 16 Crafar dairy farms appeared to have tapped a racist vein, when the real issue was New Zealand’s willingness to value its own landholdings and provide certainty to people who can commit capital, generate local employment, and encourage economic growth.

jh said...

Look at Tony Alexander etc. These people are the most deadly of the spin doctors.