With all the water that has passed under the bridge in the last month or so of New Zealand’s election campaign (and it’s been a torrent), I thought I’d offer some strategic insight if I was in the captain’s seat looking change the government and offer New Zealand a genuine progressive alternative to the last nine years of selfish soul-crushing neoliberalism. This strategy will be brief and not necessarily analyse in depth parties, or policies. Many others have done this so I wouldn’t be offering anything new. I’m by no means an expert of New Zealand politics, but I read about it a lot. This is based entirely on where things are now, and what’s currently on the table. I’ve looked at voting data from the previous election and compared it with more recent data.
So what do we know so far?:
— National’s support under Bill English is slowly eroding. The emphasis being slowly. They are no longer at the dizzying Key era heights of 47% polling. However they have still regularly been in the mid-to-low 40s. That’s not a bad place for them to be in, and governments can still be formed on those numbers. But inevitably they will need a coalition partner. The Labour leadership change might entice some centrist voters back from National, especially middle-class and educated women, and some might switch to Labour. The trend: a slow leak, but not necessarily in a dire position thus far. The latest Colmar Brunton poll that put National at 40%, 3 points below Labour, can’t be taken as a done and dusted sign. However, if the current trend continues I think this is where the result might settle. This is unless, they do something chronic which could see them dip into the 30s, but not by much.
—Labour’s rising star also must be taken with a grain of salt for two reasons. In order for a strong result they need those young, poorer, and non-voting types to actually turn up or the flashy gimmicks will all be a waste. Despite the latest poll that has them just in front, National could pip them at the post if they get their voters mobilised because of the threat of losing out on the coveted fourth term. But secondly, and more importantly, the need to adhere assiduously to the strategic importance of the Green Party as a valuable support partner. They signed the memorandum of understanding with the goal of changing the government to a real progressive alternative. The data from Horizon released this week suggested that 70% of voters who have switched to Labour have done so on the basis of Labour’s new leadership rather than the Green Party’s own internal strife. A little bit of switching was always expected, but if Labour starts sending the message that it no longer needs the Greens they risk losing this partner if they fall below the 5% threshold. Of course they will be flirting with the idea of New Zealand First, but strategically speaking the more coalition options the better. New Zealand First are a risk: they could join a Labour government that shuts out the Greens like 2005, or they could choose to support National. The point is, if you are someone looking for a strong progressive government, New Zealand First are not reliable in the same way that the Greens are. To me, a Labour-New Zealand First government is more tolerable than a National-New Zealand First Government (with or without the Green Party in Parliament). Even if Labour are still looking towards Winston and co., it would be strategically unwise for them to strangle the Greens out of Parliament as they could offer supply and confidence without being in coalition.
—Which brings me to the next party that Labour needs for a viable progressive coalition: the Māori Party. Party President Tokoroirangi Morgan has suggested that the party, on advice from members and constituents is open to working with Labour again. This certainly works well with kaupapa Māori of always having a seat at the table. On current polling the party still needs electorate seats to remain in Parliament. Labour has suggested it wants to hold all Māori seats, which is a dangerous strategy, because National has proven time and time again the importance of coalition partners. Labour seems to forget it is entitled to seats based on the party vote (unless of course you are a minor party that has a good chance of winning an electorate seat). If the Māori party could hang on to a couple of seats that would be strategically beneficial for Labour.
So what does all this mean? Well here are some things if I was Jacinda Ardern I would be thinking about with regards to forming a government on current number, as well as my prediction.
Here's where I see the number's settling. Below I will offer a bit more explanation as well as some basic MMP strategy.
|Party vote (%)||Electorate seats||List seats||Total seats|
I know there's probably a certain degree of optimism, and therefore some bias, but I have tried to generous to even the right block parties.
The electorate seats here are based on my belief that Labour can win back the Maungakiekie, Ohāriu, and Christchurch Central. United Future is at a loss without Dunne, and National voters in Epsom smart enough to give ACT the tick. New Zealand First will pass the Greens as the third largest party, and the Greens themselves will just hang in there. On current polling in the Māori electorates, if Te Ururoa Flavell can hang on to Waiariki, and if Howie Tamati can pick up Te Tai Hauāuru from Labour, then that's two seats Labour ought to take advantage of. Given these numbers Labour can put together what I believe can be a working coalition of Labour, Greens, and Māori to provide a one seat majority of 61. The remaining parties would add up to 60. In this scenario New Zealand first could offer confidence and supply. This also means National's chances of coalition forming are seriously diminished because not only would they be the second largest party (Winston goes to the largest first), a coalition with ACT seems unworkable.
If Labour was serious about using MMP to its utmost advantage it would have to think like National. It needs coalition partners. If too many Green voters jump to Labour, say 1-2 %, it will make the Labour-New Zealand First scenario inevitable. To anyone putting together a real progressive coalition this is massive disappointment, as the Green Party wouldn't even be in Parliament as a cross-bench or confidence and supply party. Labour can guarantee support partners by allowing the Māori party to retain its current numbers and one other radical strategy: withdraw Grant Robertson from Wellington Central to guarantee the Green Party an electorate seat in the event they fall below the 5% threshold. This is of course a risky strategy and the backlash from National and the media would be phenomenal. Electorate deals are acceptable for National but not Labour would be the message. However, I see the probability of both Labour and Robertson giving this seat to the Greens (even given its strategic value) as a snowball's change in hell.
Whatever happens, Labour needs to be pragmatic rather than attempting to have its cake and eat it too. Don't campaign at the expense of allies, because it's going to be a tight one.
Post script: Here's the "Wellington Central" strategy numbers adjusted from the above table.
|Party vote (%)||Electorate seats||List seats||Total seats|