Political Distraction

If the Covid-19 pandemic had happened in a non-election year, would this or any Government’s response have been different?
 
At the best of times, election campaigning can be a distraction for politicians. But supposing the Government’s first decision early this year after it learned of the approaching pandemic was to postpone the election by perhaps six months, might leadership decisions have been more focused?
 
After all, it is hard to see how a fragmented parliament spending precious energy on politics as Kiwis struggle to recover from a major crisis is the best situation for New Zealand.
 
Without an election in the back of their minds, Ministers would be solely focused on protecting the country from Covid-19. A postponed election may even encourage – and make it possible for – members of the Opposition parties to pitch in and help with the recovery effort without anyone concerned about others making political gains during that time.
 
Such a process has existed before. For example, prior to the Second World War, the United Kingdom maintained an all-party coalition War Cabinet under Sir Winston Churchill. The Brits knew normal politicking was a distraction that only drew precious mental energy away from the greater national effort.
 
So, assuming that political distraction is partly to blame for some recent scandals and mishandling of border quarantine, had New Zealand adopted a similar War Cabinet model it could have avoided much of the political drama. Then again, other scandals might have replaced these stories. In other words, it is hard to tell if the election distraction is part of the problem or not.
 
Yet a mechanism to set up a War Cabinet in times of national crisis is worth considering for the future. Such a mechanism must include all MPs with the best and most relevant leadership experience across parliament and clearly outline a sunset clause when the election process can be resumed.
 
After all, an effective government must be able to deal with emergency circumstances with as few distractions as possible. In Select Committees, parties already cooperate on a broad consensus basis when debating new legislation. Temporarily connecting them as a solid front during a crisis would not be too much of a precedent. 
 
The last few months have proven that a distracted Government, like a tired driver, makes mistakes which can put the country at greater risk. Should Kiwis expect that elections are to be delayed by default in times of natural disasters? Perhaps.  

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