Jon makes the case for greater bi-partisanship between Labour and National and sets a challenge for Saturday night's winner

In 1992 James Carville, Bill Clinton’s chief strategist, wrote what turned out to be a winning campaign haiku. One of its lines read; ‘change versus more of the same.’ This, it seems to me, is the crux of this year’s tepid election campaign on our side of the Pacific.

Two overseas-born Kiwis I know, both long and astute observers of our politics, thought this was the least interesting of any election they’ve witnessed during over 20 years of close scrutiny of our politics. This made me feel a bit saner because I have felt the same way ever since Helen Clark announced the election date.

It seems like recession hit our campaign and neither of the main party leaders has been able to rise above it.

Labour's and National’s campaigns are solely about winning power. Neither has offered a compelling vision about where they will lead New Zealand. My non-political friends repeatedly describe to me their ambivalence about the outcome. They’re sick of Labour but neither rate nor trust National.

This ‘plague on both their houses’ mindset is hard to shake and over the course of my six previous columns I’ve tried to tease out the quality of change we might encounter after the election.

In the meantime we have seen two voting blocs solidify; Labour, the Greens and Jim Anderton on the centre-left and National, Act and Peter Dunne on the centre-right. Uncertainty remains over the intentions and leverage of the Maori Party and the fate of New Zealand First.

Should the centre-right bloc win, will it represent real change? Given the significant policy inheritance of Labour that John Key has signed up to, given his lacklustre rhetoric, and given his initial cabinet line-up of largely retreads (or experience if you prefer), it’s difficult to equate Key with a step-change in our politics. If National wins the opportunity will still exist for him to progress our politics beyond our post-Rogernomics paradigm. Let’s hope, then, that if he wins a Prime Minister Key can rise to the challenge.

As for the centre-left, Clark is battling electoral fatigue. Trying to defy political gravity needed a strategic upheaval, not more of the same, especially when that sameness included follies like Mike Williams’ last black bag op for the party. Labour ran a risk when it chose to run a negative campaign, especially when it had nine years of accumulated negatives attached to it, with many of its self-inflicted wounds still fresh.

Of course Clark could pull a Truman, so who knows, but whichever major party forms the next government there is one thing they might like to consider.

The bi-partisanship between Labour and National over the rancorous Section 59 amendmenta marriage that was hardly elevated during Monday night’s TV3 leaders debatetells us that when National and Labour come together there is an overwhelming force brought to the matter at hand.

Foreign policy bi-partisanship has also been restored, much to the benefit of its coherence and consistency. So Labour and National can do it, even if political self-interest is the driving force.

For our small country, endless partisanship seems a costly distraction we simply can’t afford.

Why can’t Labour and National pit their combined skills on far weightier and long term policy dilemmas? MMP actually facilitates this if the will exists.

I can’t believe that superannuation policy is still not free from uncertainty. Wouldn’t it be best for we voters if we all had certainty around what the rules are, regardless of whether red or blue is in power, so that we can all plan for our retirements with some sense of certainty?

My personal bugbear is education policy, from early education right through to tertiary. A world class education system, more than any other policy domain I can think of, seems the best incubator for our long term economic well-being.

I would love to see world class educators review our education system from top to bottom, to assure ourselves that we have all the fundamentals right. If we do then well and good; if not then multi-partisan agreement on a long term path is the best legacy our generation can leave its successors.

The reason why education is so crucial to improving the quality of our nation is not solely related to our future economic well-being, but it is also because every well-educated New Zealander is bequeathed more and greater choices. Having choices is freedom, and we want every Kiwi, irrespective of their background, to enjoy the liberation of mind that comes with having choices. That was my luck and I wish it upon all Kiwis.

For those who were raised in less affluent environments, ‘choice’ may lead to hope, then ambition. I’m sure this was John key’s story, not that he’s ever developed it in this way.

Just as we need to make progress in transitioning from a bi-cultural to a multi-cultural national purpose, so too do we have to contemplate shifting bi-polar National and Labour to multi-polar MMP.

And that’s a good way to return to the notion of change. Whether we change governments on Saturday or keep more of the same, real qualitative change in our politics would see an end to the bitter partisanship of the last three years.

The minor parties can show Labour and National the way as they’re better at co-operation, and more committed to it.

In the current situation all parties should give up some of their self-interest to facilitate our staring down the global economic crisis. Mindless partisanship is a luxury we can’t afford in these insecure times so let’s hope our next government sets an early example that would give us all some confidence.

Woodrow Wilson, while still a scholar, challenged his presidents to be the best that they could be, a challenge he rose to and then descended from during his turn as history’s wild card.

That is my challenge for Saturday night’s victor too.

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