Opinion: 'Survival is the only thing that matters' - Election season gains substantial momentum

It does not often rate mention, but one of the reasons for holding election campaigns is to test the capacity of those seeking office to endure heavy and sustained pressure.

If it becomes obvious that a candidate cannot stand the heat, then they should not be allowed anywhere near the kitchen.

Source: 1 NEWS

In the run-up to September's general election, the temperature is already rising — and fast.

We are still two months out from Election Day, however, the quaint ceremony which will see a creature bearing the title of Herald of Arms make the proclamation dissolving New Zealand's 51st Parliament is still more than four-weeks away.

The House is still scheduled to be sitting into next month.

However, what had been a very stop-start de facto election campaign has gained substantial momentum as parties seek to get their policies in front of voters rather than see them sink out of sight in the sea of distractions and trivialities which plague the campaign proper.

It is often said that nothing quite concentrates the mind as much as a hanging at dawn.

When it comes to your average politician, the only kind of hanging which concentrates his or her mind is the no small of hanging onto his or her seat in Parliament.

An election campaign is akin to a beauty pageant at a seaside resort, but hosted by the Grim Reaper and without the hokey-pokey ice-cream.

It is a brutal time. It is the time for the culling of the herd. Survival is the only thing that matters. The fear of being a victim of renewal sees outbreaks of what may be termed as "election fever".

The symptoms of this condition are many and varied. In extreme cases, those so afflicted become delusional, lose all perspective and start behaving in a manner which is not necessarily in their own interest.

Greens co-leader Metiria Turei spoke candidly on Q+A today. Source: Q+A

This week's bitter exchanges between the Greens and New Zealand First are a case in point.

Parliament’s supposed peaceniks broke from their supposed guiding principle that when it comes to differing viewpoints, policy-driven or otherwise, they play the ball not the man or woman carrying it.

Metiria Turei, one of the Greens co-leaders, has at times appeared to be a reluctant convert to that modus operandi.

Last weekend, she hammered Winston Peters with a crunching tackle by accusing his party of racism.

That was followed by an outburst from Barry Coates, another Green MP, who warned his party would consider forcing another election if Labour formed a coalition with New Zealand First without the Greens.

Barry who? Well, may you ask.

The former executive director of Oxfam New Zealand has been in Parliament for all of nine months having come off the party's list as a replacement for Kevin Hague who decided to leave Parliament after failing to win election as the party’s male co-leader.

Coates had no authority to make such an incendiary statement. It is hard to believe he did not realise he was right out of line. But don’t shoot the messenger.

It was the message that mattered. And the message was simple. The Greens are not going to tolerate having their stomachs tickled during post-election negotiations only to watch others running off with the baubles of office.

Seasoned observers of MMP elections downplayed the hostilities as a classic example of pre-election jostling.

Voters might have arrived at a different conclusion —that any governing arrangement which lumps the Greens together with New Zealand and Labour will be about as stable as blancmange on a table in the cafeteria of a Cook Strait ferry in a southerly.

It all added up to another headache Andrew Little could well do without. 

For his part, Labour's leader is now locked in a white-knuckle arm-wrestle with the Law of Self-fulfilling Prophesies — that the more the opinion polls indicate that Labour is in free-fall the more likely that will happen.

The Labour leader says polls are interesting but "that’s not what motivates me". Source: Breakfast

Little deserves some kind of medal, however. It takes guts to walk into a meeting knowing —to extrapolate the findings of Monday's 1 NEWS-Colmar Brunton poll —you are not the first choice as prime minister for 19 out of every 20 people in the room.

When it comes to choices for prime minister, it was not just Little who appeared to be getting the cold sweats of election fever this week.

The Race Relations Commissioner has slammed the Government for not doing enough. Source: 1 NEWS

For the the best part of 18-months, Anne Tolley, National's Social Development Minister, has employed every argument she can muster as reason not to establish a high-level inquiry into the systemic abuse suffered by state wards from the 1940s to the early 1990s.

She needn't have bothered. As is his prerogative as prime minister, Bill English suddenly softened his stance last week and indicated he was open to considering "additional steps" to help the victims of abuse.

The final diagnosis in English's case, however, was not election fever, just good politics.

He is unlikely to smile so kindly on the delusions of grandeur being exhibited by the Maori Party. National's tried and trusted support partner had a rush of blood to the head.

It wants taxpayers to fork out the thick end of $350 million on a regional rail network carrying high-speed trains.

As a means of pouring money down the drain, you would have to go back to the 1970s and National’s Think Big energy projects to find a comparable white elephant of that scale.

The first step would see the reopening of the moth-balled Napier-Gisborne line. There is a reason why the line was closed. The only thing it seemed to be good for was transporting empty carriages and empty freight wagons.

Shane Jones, New Zealand First's five-star recruit of all of two weeks poured great dollops of ridicule on the Maori Party's "unrealistic and farcical" plan to resurrect regional rail.

He rather unkindly suggested the party "stick to kapahaka" and leave serious politicians to do the work.

This was a bit rich. New Zealand First has long made the reopening of the Napier-Gisborne a priority. Jones struggled to explain why his new party’s policy would work financially and the Maori Party’s version would not.

What Jones' mouthings did confirm was that he would be totally unsuitable as New Zealand First's future leader when Peters finally moves on.

The truth is Jones is far too smart, sensible, thoughtful, far-sighted, rational and liberal-minded to make a success of that job.