New Zealand: The morning after a Great Victory

As Kiwis awake hungover after the mother of all celebration parties, what effect will the great RWC victory have on morale?

A bruising and exhausting victory yesterday at Eden Park, as New Zealand beat France in a tight and engaging Rugby World Cup Final by the slimmest of margins: 8:7.  John Key, the New Zealand Prime Minister, was on hand to co-present the Webb Ellis Cup to All Black captain Richie McCaw, as a monumental celebratory roar from 60,000 engulfed the stadium and explosive fireworks rocked Auckland. This morning the nation wakes to that satisfying feeling of accomplishment of a hard job done well. Will All Black coach Graham Henry now be offered a knighthood?

The immediate cost of the tournament is likely to be more than offset by the long term economic benefits accrued from initiated business-to-business relationships. Eighty thousand extra overseas visitors travelled to New Zealand, many of them company directors participating in seminars and striking lucrative deals with local entrepreneurs. Over time, exporters will boost trade in both new and existing markets, and domestic employment should rise.

Key's National Party was way ahead in opinion polls prior to the tournament. A glowing feeling must warm the party caucus today as they absorb the euphoria which permeates the land. Yet the real political battle begins today, as the clock ticks relentlessly towards the 26 November general election and electoral system referendum vote. Underlying concerns persist. And despite benefitting from a weak official Opposition Labour Party and fragmented plethora of minor parties, National must realise the people appear concerned at the lack of quality governance and the prospect of selling family silver when state-owned enterprises are brought to the sharemarket.

Key is a consumate politician: smiles and warmth, a good bloke demeanour, yet a keen cunning disposition for navigating the tortuously difficult middle ground. Both to his Left and his Right there is wide room for manoevre. The new right-of-centre Conservative Party might cause a stir, and populist New Zealand First might benefit from the manhandling of a stranded and leaking container ship disaster. The Mana Party, a coalition on the far Left, could strip Labour and the Māori Party of vital support. And the polarising state energy firms privatisation proposal might boost the Greens a bit.

The fight starts today for the Beehive and Parliament in Wellington, but Key should be calmly confident as he musters strength for the fray. A second term looks to be in the bag, despite the stumbles of the past three years. 

His party's manifesto should divulge some ambition, for it failed to deliver much more than mere lip-service to aspiration, since last victorious in 2008. Stemming record flows of trans-Tasman emigrants were targetted but unattained, and a promised rapid economic diversification barely transpired. There is so very much more to do, yet the calibre of Key's front-bench team is highly questionable. Brighter yet inexperienced parliamentary youngsters could benefit from post-election promotion. 

Under the complex MMP voting system, coalitions must be formed and the precise make-up of the legistative assembly will determine shades of opinion represented. Should ultra-capitalist ACT or more probably the Conservatives participate in formulating the next government's policy, the emphasis could shift sharply Right.  Keeping the Māori Party onside has until now been a vital plank of Key's agenda, and he might well wish to maintain that socially-binding and parliamentary-balancing link.

Battle lines are drawn, the outcome already appears clear, but the complexion of the Cabinet has yet to be determined. And in politics events could always upset the apple-cart, resulting in an entirely different scenario. This is why elections are typically fascinating and that is why the 2011 vote will also induce drama. But, tell that to the young.

Engaging Generation Y will be a steep uphill task as most have steered away from the debate. Whipping up enthusiasm from them could be important in persuading them to vote in future. If they at least participate in the voting system plebiscite they'll have their say on how future parliaments are concocted. But how do you attract the young when they're more absorbed by social networking and smartphones? 

Having said that, morale is undoubtedly meteorically high at present. Will that translate into an easy ride for National? Most probably, but never certainly. There are pitfalls awaiting John Key and colleagues in this campaign.

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