With the resumption of Parliament, the first stage of the race for the 2017 election has begun. Parliament has 5 months of sitting time before it dissolves for the election campaign, and as it progresses through its first weeks, the insults are flying.
The election campaign will involve mud slinging – an unfortunate side competition seems to be about who can hurl the stinkiest mud – which detracts from the purpose of fighting an election. Yes, one needs to show they are the best suited to governing, but the immaturity sometimes makes a kindergarten or school playground look more civil. Whether it descends to the level of mud raking that the American Republicans/Democrats sink to, which is often almost litigious in nature, time will tell. But I do not think excessive fear mongering will be tolerated by the electorate.
There is a challenge to the media to report on the campaign issues. Unfortunately in pursuing who said what, the media tend to miss or under report policy announcements that are not made by National and Labour. It is also true that the media behave often struggled with the concept of a centrist/nationalist party and where that fits on the political spectrum. Part of the problem is a love for the sound byte and part of the problem is that New Zealand media, influenced by Fairfax and Rupert Murdoch do not want to acknowledge an agenda admired and respected by many New Zealanders.
So it is not all that surprising – and understandable – that New Zealand First leader Winston Peter gets frustrated with media for misrepresenting his party. It is also perhaps a tribute to New Zealand First that against this bias the party fought its way back into Parliament in 2011, securing 8 seats. And then picked up three more seats in 2014 and a 12th when Mr Peters won the 2015 Northland by-election.
Now, consistently and possibly deliberately, One News, News Hub and other media sources under rate New Zealand First. Is the idea of a centrist nationalist party putting the country it vows to represent and its people first, too much to handle? Maybe, but their job is to report the news, to report the trends. Not to make the news, not to make the trends.
And to report on things like the thoroughly laughable comments by A.C.T. Party leader David Seymour that A.C.T. can be trusted, and that by getting rid of Winston, New Zealand First is effectively dead. A very bold, brave and – rather ironic – thing to say for the leader of a party that only exists in Parliament because National did a deal with A.C.T in Epsom electorate to enable A.C.T. to survive. What if the National candidate Dr Paul Goldsmith had said “No”, and caused a ruckus?
So roll on 2017. I have the distinct feeling there are some big surprises coming in this election.
How they get dished out though, is up to the voters on 23 September 2017.