I think we’re ready for the election. The campaigning is becoming oddly repetitious, with some political parties constantly re-stating their policies that we now know well, while others continue their approach of attacking the ideas of their competitors.

As the major parties have continued to follow a consistent script, I notice that much of the attention has gone onto the minor parties. The media have become fascinated by the resurgence of NZ First and the Winston Peters show has been a major beneficiary of the boredom elsewhere.

And why not? Despite your political views, you would be hard pressed to find a better political campaigner than Peters. When it comes to personal presentation, charisma and the ability to focus on a small selection of topics that people genuinely care about, he is in a league of his own.

But the Peters charge notwithstanding, I sincerely hope that our next government does not get distracted by the minor parties.

New Zealand has some pretty big issues at the moment. In fact I cannot recall us being in worse shape. Everywhere you look, we have challenges that appear worse than they have ever been. Despite what they will tell you, our economic performance under this government has been woeful.

Beyond the economy, our core services have seen a massive decline in performance. As a result, crime is out of control, health services are failing, and educational achievement has become something we used to do. Our ability to look after those who struggle to help themselves, once something we did so well, is now such that the aged, addicted and bullied, have nowhere to go for help.  And then there are those with mental health issues who, despite record levels of funding thrown at their cause, are worse off than ever before.

Let’s not diminish the size of these problems. If not addressed, these are the issues that can lead to the collapse of our society as we know it. At worst we will become uneducated, broke, and sick, while criminals and the gangs they lead will overrun the rest of us.

With big issues like these, we need big solutions. Hard hitting ideas. Strategies for a rapid turnaround across too many ministries to mention. As the saying goes, we need stuff that will “move the dial”.

And that’s the problem with our minor parties. In order to find a place on the fringes of the political spotlight, they tend to major in minor things. As a result, there are calls from the minor parties to lead the world on environmental matters, or to ensure a better deal for Maori. There is loose talk about sustainable power generation or the need for anti-vaping laws. And then there are free dentist visits and whether we should have fluoride in the water. Until recently, there was even a call to support the Palentinians.

Whilst I’m sure that many of the causes are worthy in themselves, they are not going to make the top ten priorities in a government saddled with the challenges outlined above.

In an MMP environment, a major political party will usually have to rely on minor parties to ensure a parliamentary majority. The risk of such an approach is that we end up with the tail wagging the dog. In other words, the major party does a deal with the minor party, by ensuring that the minor party gets some of their priorities into the government plan.

In 2017 our newly installed government offered up a $3billion “Provincial Growth Fund” to NZ First as part of the coalition deal. While I’m sure that the money was spent, I’m not so sure that we have $3billion of game changing outcomes as a result.

This time around, we can’t afford such largesse.

An interesting side fact of MMP politics in New Zealand is that those minor parties who become part of government tend to come out of such relationships looking worse for wear.

One reason is that when forced to play as cohesive partners in government, alongside their bigger partner, these minor partners get swallowed up and become invisible. But the other reason, which is less obvious, is that they fail to focus on the things that really affect people. They tend to move into their government offices with a view to pushing their minor party agendas, while the majority party quite rightly focuses on the stuff that impacts the people. Think law and order, health, education, tax and so on.

There is no doubt that there are plenty of things in poor shape. The list is longer than ever. But we have to focus on the top twenty percent of issues, that will make eighty percent of the impact.

Let’s hope that the minor parties can see that. There is no future for them or us, in playing around on the fringes.

This article was first published on Newstalk ZB Plus. Thursday 12th October, 2023