It’s a strange position to be in. When you’re in opposition, as the Greens currently are, it’s reflexive to want the government to stagger, implode or, best of all, self destruct. And traditional wisdom would suggest that a Act-National-United Future-Maori Party arrangement should have the potential to do just that.
And yet, this electoral cycle, more than most, the Greens have a stake in the government working. With a referendum on MMP in the air we need this cooperation arrangement to put on its best party dress and show to those right wing voters who have previously been suspicious of MMP (partially on the basis that they kept losing under it) that it can work well.
And Key seems to be giving it his best shot. The arrangement he has put together seems to reflect what people voted for. The cabinet he has announced looks a lot more diverse, fresh and representative than it threatened to be a few months ago. The whole thing looks stable and consultative. Which is exactly what MMP should provide.
Personally I think the eight days to put together a government that commentators have been heralding is not such a big deal. I’m happy enough to wait a another few weeks if it means getting things right for the three years. But in this instance, my guess is, from a National-leaning perspective, this whole thing does look about right.
By contrast Helen Clark, who was often cited as the master of MMP seemed to me to have lost the right to that epithet towards the end of her reign as Prime Minister. Her last term where she sidelined the Greens and the Maori Party believing that they were already safe votes to her left in return for securing the support of Winston Peters and Peter Dunne has badly backfired on her party now. There’s a thin line between pragmatic and cynical and Labour tripped over it badly during 2005-08. And the public noticed.
I reckon Key’s biggest MMP challenge is likely to be Dunne. It strikes me that his brand of politics is more self serving and less loyal than Winston Peters’ was. If the media comes to that conclusion too he may find the common sense facade around him does not withstand much scrutiny. I would be surprised if he would willingly fall on his sword for the good of a stable government. Key doesn’t need him for numbers (or should I say number) but Dunne probably does represent an important part of the image that Key is presently trying to paint.
Luckily we now see again that there will be both right-leaning and left-leaning governments under MMP. Change is an important part of democracy. And MMP is the most democratic voting system we have on offer so it has to embrace change. While I want a chance to campaign to change this government (or at least parts of it) in 2011 I’m also glad that it is currently doing its best to show just how good MMP can be.