The victor takes the stage and eloquently frames the historic moment for the cheering masses. He understands the grave economic and other perils facing the nation, and the need to tackle the problems collaboratively, and extends a bipartisan hand to his beaten opponents.
The sad thing for NZ is that, bar the odd kiwiblogright fanatic who has strayed this way, no-one reading this would mistake it for NZ last night. Our new prime minister’s delusions notwithstanding, the difference between this week’s two victors is measured in light-years, and is captured in the contrast between the election night speeches.
NZ’s new leader has demonstrated little grasp of the economic situation confronting the country, or of what leadership entails. He sleepwalked his way to power, winning an election notable for the lack of excitement and charisma on display. The small parties provided the interest. Otherwise, it was a tawdry, uninspiring affair.
His party’s win was not a triumph of policy. National has spent the last couple of years frantically trying to convince people it would not undo much of what has been achieved over the past nine years. The party won, but its ideology lost. (Although not completely. Labour’s third-way social democracy has been a corporatist compromise with neo-liberalism rather than a repudiation of it.)
Nor was it that the “men couldn’t cope with the idea of being led by an intelligent, idealistic, free-spirited woman … voted [her] out of office” as Chris Trotter argues. Certainly Clark has benefitted from the devotion of a generation of women (and some of their daughters) who were socialised in the 1960s and 1970s. There may be an element of male chauvinism, but if it were simply about that, how to account for three election wins in a row (albeit against weak opponents)?
If anything, the electorate succumbed to Helen-fatigue, or was repulsed by the arrogance with which initiatives such as the anti-smacking and electoral finance bills were imposed rather than sold, and economic policy rolled out. Clark’s not the only culprit there, but her own superiority complex did not equip her to rein in such behaviour by others. NZ voters will put up with a lot if they perceive competence and decisiveness (rightly or, as in the case of Muldoon, not), but inevitably there is a corrosive effect.
For the meantime though, John Key has the helm, and he will need our goodwill and support if he — and we — are to manage the issues that beset the world. He has a great deal to learn. I sincerely hope that he is up to the challenge.