They are off and running

February 19, 2021 by Michael Kuttner

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As every Australian and New Zealander knows the second Tuesday in November without fail is the date for the running of one of the most famous horse races, the Melbourne Cup.

Michael Kuttner

I remember that without fail my work colleagues would organize a sweepstake. We would all pick out a slip of paper from a container and written on it would be the name of the horse. There was no choice as to whether one was allotted a hot favourite or an old grey mare. One just took one’s chances and hoped that somehow or other your blind choice would somehow manage to cross the finishing line in first, second or third place so that you could collect your winnings.

Melbourne Cup Day was and still is an annual ritual which attracts a faithful following. Although not a public holiday in New Zealand all work would come to a standstill as the race commenced and all sweepstake participants clustered around the radio to follow the commentary. No televisions at that time meant that the race commentator had to be an expert at generating tension and describing the race as it unfolded.

Why am I reminiscing about the Melbourne Cup and what relevance does it have for us Israelis these days?

We may not have horse racing here but we have something fairly similar, which also generates intense emotions and unpredictable photo finishes. It is called the general election handicap and although not held on an annual basis (thank goodness) does occur at fairly frequent intervals.

One of the differences is that there can be guaranteed to be a very crowded field with veteran nags facing competition from up and coming stallions and mares all of whom fancy themselves as potential winners by more than a length. It does not seem to matter whether they have a track record of success nor are novices to the race or even whether the jockey in charge has a clue how to control his or her steed. None of these considerations is seemingly relevant as they all jostle for prime position at the starting gate.

In the latest race due to take place on 23 March, we will have a crowded field of thirty-nine aspirants all of whom will be striving to cross the finishing line in sufficient strength to enable them to grab the Knesset Cup and perhaps to be crowned champion leader of the pack.

Even before the starting gates are opened there is still time for last-minute scratching. For those unfamiliar with horse racing terminology, this does not mean uncontrollable itching but rather dropping out of the race for all sorts of reasons. It covers the field from parties failing to get their act together in time to defections by the jockey, trainer and supporting team. Those who fail to start are usually so irretrievably incapacitated that they may even have to be “put down” which results in them sinking into political oblivion.

Positioning at the start is all-important because it can determine the ultimate place at the finishing line. Those on the extreme left close to the fence think they have the inside running but frequently find themselves hemmed in and unable to break out of the bunch. Those on the extreme right outside may have room to maneuver but could discover that the extra stamina required to overtake the leading candidates vanishes at the critical moment. All who believe that being in the centre of the field is best because they can weave left or right at will are likely to discover that in actual fact their ability to outrun the pack diminishes with each galloping stride.

The pre-race hype and inflated claims of a runaway victory will have either boosted the chances of some or more than likely will have turned off the majority of punters who have had their fingers burnt in previous races. It all comes down to performance on the day of the race and how well the jockey and his team manage to perform.

Will they peak too soon and run out of steam? Will it be a photo finish or will one party clearly outrun the rest of the field? How many will limp and fail to make it round the first bend and how many will cry foul and blame the public and officials for their dismal showing?

The main difference between the Melbourne Cup and our electoral race is that in the former there is always a clear winner while in the latter the party which crosses the finishing line first is usually never guaranteed to end up with the winner’s cup.

Without fail there is always a period of “horse-trading

” ahead which can be excruciatingly tortuous and more painful than an annual visit to your dentist. Unlike the jockeys who failed to achieve first, second or third place, those leaders of parties which finished distant lengths behind the winners, will all maintain that in actual fact they performed splendidly and that they are deserving of all the goodies which will be dolled out.

Election Day in Israel is a public holiday and an opportunity to spend time with family and friends enjoying nature and forgetting about the mess our politicians manufacture. Given the diverse nature of Israeli society with a record number of ethnicities and opinions, it is a miracle that the country has reached so many world-class achievements.

Unfortunately, we still have not managed to make politicians accountable to the voters that sent them to the Knesset. It is high time that the system is reformed so that instead of Members of Knesset being beholden to the party machine and the inflated egos of those in charge they should be answerable to the citizens of the country.

Is this flogging a dead horse?

It has been up until now but there is always hope that at some stage in the near future electoral disgust with the antics of those elected will result in major improvements.

It still won’t be a one-horse race but at least it will thin out the field and make the result more clear cut and equitable.

Meantime place your bets for the 23 March and take a punt on the outcome.

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