By Peter Dunne*
Early voting is now open which is great for the 80% or so of the population whose vote does not change from one election to the next. They can go out and vote at their convenience without having to wait for election day.
But for those who are yet even get on the roll, or who are still undecided, it is probably just as well there is still over a week to go for them to either make up their minds or be persuaded about their choice.
For the first time since I began voting, I find myself in the genuinely undecided category of voters.
It is not that I do not know what I want from our politicians – it is more that I do not see any of them or the parties they represent presenting that.
Yet my wants are quite straightforward – a party with a sense of liberal compassion that knows how to balance the government’s books.
My expectations of any government are that they understand there “are four things that matter to people: they have to have somewhere to live, they have to have food to eat, they have to have clothing to wear, and they have to have something to hope for,” as Norman Kirk said so powerfully all those years ago.
The rest is over to us.
I am not interested in big spend-ups that will cripple the country for years to come, nor bold promises that have little chance of being achieved. But when I look at the parties on offer today it just seems to be one big promise after another. None of them come near my modest expectations.
Labour are too “all care, no responsibility” and “we know best” for my liking. I worry deeply about the way they have borrowed and spent so freely on the response to Covid-19 and am concerned about the long-term impact that will have on my children’s and grandchildren’s futures when the time comes to pay back the debt they are building up. I am not begrudging the government’s response to Covid-19 to date, although I think a lot of the spending programmes have been on very dubious causes, but it does bother me that Labour seems to have no alternative strategy, other than the modern version of borrow and hope. Moreover, beyond a popular Prime Minister and one or two competent senior Ministers the party as a whole looks like a largely talent-free zone, that inspires little confidence for the future.
But then National is no better. It has less heart than Labour, and increasingly inspires less confidence in its ability to manage the books properly either. National still seems to be at sixes and sevens after its long spell in government, as events this year have shown, and is struggling to get a clear message across to voters about what it stands for. At this stage, it is hard to see what it would do differently from Labour were it to end up in office.
ACT has been the surprise package of the election in so many ways. Although it has tried to soften its image in some areas, it still comes across as too strident and doctrinaire to inspire confidence that it could grasp the subtleties and make the compromises necessary in government to be truly effective and reliable in that role.
Then there is New Zealand First, still promoting an introspective xenophobia more reminiscent of the 1950s than the dynamic world of today. It is a subtle haven for some of the deeply held prejudices in our society about immigration and diversity, which is why time and most people have now largely passed it by. And so have I.
The Greens have infuriatingly and consistently paraded themselves as Parliament’s only “party of principle” but, as their u-turn to support party-hopping legislation which they always previously opposed strongly, and the Green school funding controversy have shown, those principles count for little when the pressure goes on. Nevertheless, their environmental credentials remain strong and it is a great pity that they just do not stick to their knitting in this regard. But by tying themselves irrevocably to Labour, and ruling out ever working with National, they have compromised their autonomy, which is sad for environmental policy all round.
To compound the problem, the parties outside Parliament are no better.
The Māori Party continues to have good ideas from time to time, but every now and then goes off the edge, making it difficult to attract and retain the support of mainstream Māori voters or attract wider support beyond that, which is a pity. Yet by virtue of its very existence the Māori Party continues to exert an influence on government, but not for now, it seems, through Parliament.
That leaves the New Conservatives, Advance New Zealand and TOP. The New Conservatives are really just the old bigots with a name change and Judith Collins was quite right when she summed up the prospect of working with Advance New Zealand as “insane”. TOP just gives off the feeling of a group of enthusiasts with a whole lot of nice theories that they would be keen to try out in government to see if they work, which is hardly a basis for putting people into Parliament.
All of which explains my current undecided state.
One thing is for sure though. Between now and election day I will come to a decision, so I can vote. It would be a bonus if any of the parties were to give me a positive reason before then to do so.
*Peter Dunne is the former leader of UnitedFuture, an ex-Labour Party MP, and a former cabinet minister. This article first ran here and is used with permission.