Still bearing the cuts and bruises of one
of New Zealand’s most tightly contested elections since it introduced the Mixed Member Proportional (MMP)
system almost ten years ago, all sides of NZ politics are treading wearily back
into the ring as the summer draws to a close and MPs slowly return to work.

While the NZ silly season saw a faithful
round of beach safety and weather stories, sun-seeking Kiwis were treated to the odd
political beat-up over the break, with NZ’s often hapless Greens the common
target. Berated after being caught lighting an illegal fire on her property in
NZ’s hippy north, Greens leader Jeanette Fitzsimons then had to contend with
allegations from the National Party that two of her new advisors were being
improperly funded with money earmarked only for Ministerial expenditure.

Not a
good start for a party that recently lost its charismatic co-leader, and which,
after cosying up to Helen Clark during the election campaign, was summarily cast
out into the cold by Clark’s bizarre yet
successful post-poll coalition building.

Buoyed by the close election race which saw
it come close to forming a Government (before Clark
struck a crafty deal with Winston Peters – NZ’s answer to Pauline Hanson) the National Party is sure to provide some of the more
interesting stories of the NZ political year. A number of young turks in the
party are seemingly intent on making sure leader Don Brash (a Tory Bob
McMullan) makes good on his campaign pledge to step
down if the Nationals didn’t win the election.

The young and popular but untested
Member for Helensville (near Auckland), John Key, is likely to stage a
challenge for the top job some time this year, despite Brash’s poll success. Brash’s now annual address to the Rotary Club in
the North Island retiree enclave of Orewa, to take place at the end of January,
is expected to shed some light on the National Party’s agenda for 2006, and just how much
fight the 65-year-old Brash still has left in him.

Brash has spent the summer popping up in
women’s mags trying to address some of National’s election failings – in a
nutshell, his less than comfortable relationship with the ladies. Polls
showed that National’s tax-cut focused campaign was significantly more
appealing to blokes than to Kiwi women. Brash says they saw it as sacrificing
spending on education and healthcare for their kids. The party’s hardline policies on abolishing Maori “welfare” are also
thought to have scared off some of its more liberal support
base.

Peter Fray

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