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Our very own House of Cards

Published in Insights, The New Zealand Initiative’s newsletter, 10 November 2017

As House of Cards is ending in sad circumstances, the TV series has a real-life successor. It is the New Zealand House of Representatives.

The theatre on our 52nd Parliament’s opening day was highly entertaining. And it made for better TV than any fictional stories about US Presidents ever could.

The plot was genius: An opposition pretending it had a majority in the House due to absences on the government benches. To be clear, it was a legitimate try. But for the government to fall for this bluff is a twist that most screenwriters would have deemed too implausible.

It was just like National claiming there was a hole on Labour’s side – except this time Labour believed it.

To add colour to the plot, we heard friendly banter between newly elected speaker Trevor Mallard and Bill English. And to both English’s and Mallard’s credit, these two warhorses of New Zealand politics understand that parliamentary politics is often not about policy. It’s show business.

Winston Peters delivered an even weirder sideplot without even being present. Which was, of course, the reason why the government appeared low on numbers.

But even in his absence, the Deputy Prime Minister dropped a bomb on Parliament’s first sitting by having legal papers delivered to journalists, politicians and bureaucrats.

How is that for a plot? The same character who, until only three weeks ago, was considering a coalition with National, now prefers to sue them instead. It is an idea so wild and unexpected, it would be in the running for best original screenplay at the Academy Awards.

Despite what you read in some newspapers about all this being bad signs of things to come in this Parliament, there is a positive side to it. The new Parliament promises to be a place of high theatre.  It will be the stage for heroes and villains of Shakespearean proportions.

And more than that, the more this policy-void theatre goes on, the less time our politicians will have to make any actual policy mischief.

So don’t worry about the lack of seriousness in the House and the noise created. Our politicians only want to play.

And we want to see them play. After all, we can no longer watch Frank Underwood with a good conscience.

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