Predictions are notoriously difficult in the fickle business of politics but there are plenty of safe ones to make for 2008.
We’ll be reminded ad nauseam for the next 11 months or so that we are in “election year”. This will be drummed into us with incessant polling and excited discussion of the multitude of possible election scenarios and new coalition governments we could expect.
Personalities will dominate debate between National and Labour. Policy issues will focus on the shades of grey which differentiate the big parties and these will be magnified to suggest there are significant differences.
The self styled centre parties, New Zealand First and United Future, will become more vocal as they try to “differentiate” from Labour and present themselves as the voting choice to keep the big parties honest. All rather tawdry. Who could possibly have confidence in Winston Peters or Peter Dunne to keep themselves honest let alone anyone else?
The Greens will continue to be the party in parliament which more frequently advocate policies based on principle and concern for the wider community. Their voice is the most honest among the hubbub of free-market apostles who dominate parliament.
National’s hollow men and Labour’s iron woman will slug it out for public favour and given the tendency for New Zealanders to vote against governments, rather than for them, National will remain the clear favourite.
Many of us will issue an audible sigh with all this because in reality the election is just a vote to decide whose turn it is to run the free market economy on behalf of big business.
Sometime in 2008 Taito Phillip Field will face trial on charges of bribery and corruption as an MP. He says he is looking forward to clearing his name but whatever the outcome in court he should be ejected from parliament. He has stayed silent while the people of his Mangere electorate – the lowest income electorate in the country – have fallen further behind. Pokie machines are sucking the lifeblood from families, loan sharks are mushrooming in the gap between family income and family need while the obesity epidemic is raging out of control. Field gives the impression of a ineffectual, pompous, self-righteousness parliamentarian without giving any evidence to the contrary.
On March 5th the depositions hearing will begin for the 17 people arrested in nationwide “anti-terror” raids on October 15th.
Another attempt will be made by their lawyers for a stay of proceedings. The widespread publishing of suppressed evidence by the media means the public pool of potential jurors has now been so polluted as to render a fair trial impossible. It’s likely the application for a stay will fail, the trial will proceed and some of the 17 will be convicted for relatively minor firearms offences. The judge hearing the case will express grave disquiet, say the defendants are lucky not to have been charged more seriously and will praise the police for their vigilance in keeping the community safe.
At some point the police will apologise to the people of Tuhoe who were caught up in the raids. These are the people Police Minister Annette King contemptuously referred to as “collateral damage”, an American term for civilians injured or killed during US military attacks.
It will be a carefully crafted apology from Howard Broad which will attempt to restore some Maori confidence in the police. The rest of the country will move on but the smouldering resentment of the police action will remain.
Assorted other court cases will dominate headlines and create more fear and anxiety. Some will be prosecutions for violence against children in struggling families. Media outlets and the middle-class will wring their collective hands and say “its nothing to do with poverty – most poor people treat their kids well”. The second part is true but not helpful. It conveniently sidesteps the fact that the risk factors for children escalate rapidly with poverty.
It’s a safe prediction that the most interesting developments won’t happen anywhere near parliament. They will take place out in the real world, particularly among working New Zealanders in low income areas. Various initiatives are underway – some well established and others finding their feet.
One such initiative is the proposed merger of the National Distribution Union with Unite and the Service and Food Workers Union. This will create a single large union for low-paid workers with the potential to campaign and win a much better deal for the kiwis trampled in the corporate rush for profits.
These community based efforts are where our best hopes lie for a better future from 2008.