Oh, what a difference a day makes.
On Tuesday night, I visualised Tony Ryall going through one of those minor anxiety attacks, when he sees his entire political career flashing before his eyes, and a glimpse of that stunning future in an alternate public life that was never going to be. But for a few words.
Except, I thought, it wasn’t Tony Ryall’s career that he was imagining were in tatters, but Bob Clarkson’s. Clarkson himself might have had that dramatic epiphany, except he was too stupid to conceive it.
But political epiphanies do not always eventuate. The sudden doom and gloom that strikes a career MP, when he is suddenly under siege and cracks—does not always end in calamity. Often, if they’re lucky—or stupid—the lack of awareness around one’s own actions and the potential to lasso one’s own star with a short string of silly syllables—has little effect. It’s part of that baffling charm of politics. Logical questions, such as: “How did this fucker ever rise this far beyond his level of competence?” fly out the window.
Logic suggests that such ghastly figures as Jill Pettis, Jenny Bloxham, Judith Tizard, and Judy Keall should never be lifted over the bar. Yet they do. And they stay. And they continue to ridicule themselves without any understanding of the mockery they make of the noble art of politics.
Bob Clarkson, of course, may learn quickly that when allegations of sexual harassment are being hurled at him, it is unwise to play with his balls in front of a journalist. Then again, he may also learn that there is a point in this game when the shit just doesn’t stick, and the voters don’t care. The more preposterous the claims against him, the more the locals back him. After all, few in Tauranga would suggest that Vivienne d’Or is the most likely target of sexual harassment—and if the allegations are true, then at most, Clarkson could be described as having very poor taste.
In the main, the voters are tolerant of the “rough diamonds”, as Don Brash aptly described Clarkson. This electoral baptism of fire should have taught Clarkson when to shut his mouth. Perhaps not. Time will tell.
Conversely, one guy who tried to keep everyone’s mouth shut, and another who never can keep his mouth shut—Michael Cullen and Trevor Mallard—have all but destroyed Labour’s chances of winning this election. The student loans fiasco is the final straw. Already, the gloom and disappointment among Labour supporters is evident: that non-violent scallywag, Millsy, has already conceded defeat. And he’s already trying to apportion blame.
And so they should. Labour have not possessed the agenda at any time during this campaign. They produced an appallingly-judged budget that preached fiscal austerity and loudly proclaimed that there was no room for tax cuts, and then proceeded to up the ante by entering into a bidding war with the state purse. Their entire crusade was based on attacking the personal integrity of National’s leader, rather than trumpeting its own successes.
To be fair, National has engaged in some fuckups of their own, which logically should have killed their chances to wrestle the Treasury benches off Labour in times of boom; but like Bob Clarkson, the shit hasn’t stuck. Instead of wallowing in the mud that Labour has thrown, National has brushed it off, recomposed itself, and moved to its next platform.
Labour, of course, has been stretching the bounds of credulity to excess. They cannot continue to make Don Brash’s ability to lead the entire focus of their campaign, and maintain that he doesn’t have the strength to govern. That argument gets tired quickly. And after a while, the public start to realise that the only reason Labour has paid him so much attention is that they have nothing else in their arsenal.
Labour being Labour, there will be recriminations. Trevor Mallard and Michael Cullen will be quickly removed. Steve Maharey, who has chaired Labour’s communications strategy, will be similarly ditched. Pete Hodgson, the cunning strategist who designed Labour’s collapse, has much to answer for.
And then there are those who will emerge crisp and clean, without rancour or culpability. Phil Goff has taken a low profile throughout this campaign, and is the most senior Labour MP with genuine leadership potential. Annette King would provide an unthreatening, logical choice for deputy. So too would Paul Swain, except that Labour would never allow two men to hold the two senior party offices. David Cunliffe is sufficiently brazen to inherit Mallard’s turd-kicking role.
But after that, the numbers get very thin. Labour will take a very long time to regroup. Mike Williams won’t survive the presidency, but Ross Wilson is a likely contender from the CTU.
Either way, on election night, there will be a lot of red on the floor at Labour Party Campaign Headquarters. And it won’t all be streamers and popped balloons.