Wednesday, October 05, 2005

My verdict on Election 2005

As many others have done so, I thought I would publish my verdict on the election. There are basically three conclusions:

1. This was about a challenge from Don Brash to Labour on two issues - tax cuts and race based laws, with a subtext about trusting Labour given a whole host of issues, like the speeding motorcade;

2. Voters either voted for a change in government (National), with those on the Maori roll going for the Maori party to send a different message. Or they voted AGAINST that change (Labour).

3. All other parties - that is other than Labour, National and the Maori Party - did poorly, because they either did not stand for supporting either Labour or National, risked not reaching the 5% threshold and because almost all voters wanted to choose a government - which doesn't mean a coalition partner or supporter on confidence and supply.

Unlike the last three MMP elections, this time voters stopped dabbling with minor parties. Most voters decided it was a choice between changing the government ala Don Brash and National or not, this is different from endorsing Labour - this was Labour's election to lose, and it nearly did.

Large numbers of people turned out to vote out Labour – they abandoned NZ First, United Future, ACT, Christian Heritage and others to vote National – and they sure did. Brash delivered a result that he should be proud of – because it beats anything Jim Bolger achieved after 1990. Bolger only got 35% and 33% respectively in 1993 and 1996, and the 1990 result was in no small part to him promising to abolish the then superannuation surtax and Phil Goff’s tertiary student fees, and then doing quite the opposite (which spawned NZ First).

Brash lost because he blundered in some debates, was not always speaking naturally as himself by correcting the message when his advisors saw it as being not so popular - e.g. privatisation, nuclear ships. He did not show sufficient passion and courage to defend on principle tax cuts and less bureaucracy. Next time he should sharpen the focus as a battle between nanny state Labour and "we trust you a bit more" National. However, it was hard to fight with the economy buoyant. Brash's key success was that he asked the public two questions:

1. Do you want Maori to continue to have laws and taxpayer funding that other New Zealanders cannot receive?
2. Do you want more of your money back when the government is running surpluses and expanding the bureaucracy?

39% said no, but 41% said yes.

The message resonated for many New Zealanders, as shown by the swathe cut through provincial New Zealand by National. Labour has lost much support in cities like Napier, New Plymouth and Hamilton, only the high party vote in the core support bases of south and west Auckland saved them. Labour remains dominant in the big cities – Labour won Auckland - just. It lost the North Shore, but lower income Auckland was scared they would lose benefits under National. Wellington and Christchurch were also won. Wellington wasn’t a surprise, as public servants vote for the incumbent government as a rule, and Christchurch is the people’s republic. National clearly has struck a couple of chords, and with its substantially refreshed caucus will hopefully continue running with that. The risk is that it has a bunch of MPs who will sell out for power once more, feeling they lost because they weren't centrist enough. This is nonsense - National lost because it didn't stick to the message throughout the campaign. It DID play well in one respect - it ignored Labour's pleas to change the terms of the debate, but it did falter at key moments, and these probably cost it the support it badly needed, particularly in the main centres.

Labour, as usual, mobilised those who were scared that tax cuts meant their beloved state health and education systems would fall apart – it perpetuates the myth, beloved by the vested interests who want more money and no competition or accountability, that constantly pumping money into publicly provided health and education makes a huge difference. The beneficiaries of Labour – anyone who chooses not to work, public servants and unionised quasi-monopoly industries (teachers and nurses) came out in force to continue to vote themselves other people’s money. The na├»ve were convinced that Helen Clark would better spend their money than they could, so they came out to vote. National played against that by listing many areas of poor spending - it could have done more of this, and been credible - but didn't have the team doing sufficient research to fight Cullen hard on this.

Others were frightened by Labour and the Maori Party, that abolishing race based law would upset too many radical Maori, and we could have civil war or something not far short of that. Then there are the legions of voters now indoctrinated by Nanny State's schools into loving the Treaty of Waitangi and the guilt industry built around it.

Labour undoubtedly lost some votes to National, and to the Maori Party (although more electorate than party votes), but it gained some from the Greens, the JAP party (Jim Anderton) and the remnants of the Alliance. While in a time of low unemployment and a reasonably buoyant economy Labour should have won, it shows how Brash’s policies of tax cuts and abolishing race based laws were resonant with much of the electorate for it to be so close.

Those who hate the Nanny State hypocrisy of the government and saw in Brash an honest man who would give people back their money, and end special government privileges for Maori, got out to vote. Labour got out its core vote, and used fear to generate votes for the status quo, and it worked. For that, Clark deserves credit for winning a third election – although that victory may not taste so good when she has to share it with so many. More New Zealanders wanted government that tells them what to do and spends their money, than not. She runs a tight ship, and is a model for future PMs in that regard. There is little tolerance of dissent or side agendas – Helen Clark has spent far too long working to get where she is to let the lesser minds of many of her caucus members derail this government. Heather Simpson and Helen Clark (H2 and H1 in common Parliamentary parlance) tolerated the 1980s Labour government, and the debacles of the 1993 and 1996 elections to go on and reshape government to be more closely involved in most aspects of the economy and society. Just think about how much untangling of funding, bureaucracy and regulation would be needed by a free market oriented National government to wind back what Labour has done. Telecommunications, energy, education, the arts, broadcasting, local government, the list goes on and on.

Beyond the two big parties, the Maori Party was the other success story. It won because it had a brand, it had an MP who stood up against Labour on the Foreshore and Seabed Bill, and Pita Sharples – a man who at best, is a skilled and passionate educator and communicator. The Maori Party harnessed the vast taxpayer funded Maori broadcast media, and with very little policies, became a nationalist rallying cry. Much of the Maori Party’s policy and some of its candidates had been seen before – in the very nationalist Mana Maori Party. Now those voting in the separate Maori seats had a choice, like had happened with NZ First in 1996. This time the party simply said it would be a voice for Maori – as if Maori have one coherent view on the role of government. Nevertheless it worked, and with an overhang of one, the Maori Party has shown that many Maori voters figured out MMP – voting Labour for their party vote and Maori party for the electorate. The test will be the next three years – how critical will the Maori Party be in granting confidence and supply, or supporting key legislation. Will it press Labour towards taking more steps to please Maori voters specifically, and if so, will this backfire by returning those voters to Labour?

Losses for the other parties were rather catastrophic. As Frogblog has already noted, the Greens lost the lowest proportion of votes of all those remaining in Parliament – but clearly it did face some voters reverting to Labour, to bolster its chances of beating National for number 1 spot, but also because polling for the Greens made their 5% spot not always convincing. Wasted votes are avoided by many voters, and the Greens had little new to sell to voters besides “we’ll support Labour and want to spend more of your money on new energy sources, and petrol is running out ha ha ha”. The loss of Nandor Tanczos will also reduce the appeal of the Greens to voters keen on cannabis law reform.

NZ First suffered a loss of protest votes to National. Winston rightfully should feel humiliated having lost his base in Tauranga and is now playing a careful game of not supporting or opposing Labour being in government. His elderly support base are slowly dying off missing Rob Muldoon and the dark ages, his Maori supporters are drifting away, and virtually all of his MPs are invisible and unknown (who’s going to miss Bill Gudgeon and Edwin Perry!). Unless Winston exploits a high profile issue near the next election that National drops the ball on, he is fading away.

United Future understandably is back down to more usual levels, as much of its support from 2002 went back to National. Even absorbing the Outdoor Recreation party and the irrelevant WIN party, did nothing for United Future, which at best is now a place for those who don’t care about the election outcome – but like Peter Dunne – to vote. The soft Christian family vote has probably left for National as well. Once Dunne retires, United Future will be gone, and not a moment too soon!

ACT is glad it survived – it barely did. Rodney Hide made a great effort in Epsom and I trust he will be a vibrant local MP, and deservedly so. No doubt ACT would have picked up more National votes had Epsom been a sure thing, but then that would not have assisted National in forming a government while Dunne and Peters prefer negotiating with the larger of the two main parties. It now has two socially liberal MPs, and it is about time they thought more about that, and let ACT be free of its conservative instincts. It wont of course, which is why I didn’t vote for ACT in the 2005 election. I did in 1996 and it proceeded to disappoint.

Jim Anderton is back down to his personal cult party – how quaint and irrelevant, it’s Labour in drag with a Catholic conservative bent *yawn*.

Beyond that, those who believed God was on their side were wrong – Brian Tamaki has little support outside his tithing sheeple, following him in his quest to take New Zealand to the Dark Ages. The Christian Heritage Party was damned for having tried to convince the public to vote for Graham Capill too many times in the past – Libertarianz beat them in several electorates for the party vote. Methinks Destiny and Christian Heritage would get together, if Brian's ego wasn't so enormous (oh I forgot, he doesn't lead the party - it has nothing to do with him!).

The Alliance similarly must now be down to its last rites, as Libertarianz also beat it in several electorates on the party vote.

Which comes to Libertarianz – a very poor result, less than one thousand votes, despite a tremendous effort campaigning by a range of talented people, some of whom were cutting their teeth bravely on the campaign trail for the first time. At least the party stood this time, and generally did better in electorates it had candidates than those where it did not. Two of our key messages were central to the election – abolishing race based laws, including the Maori seats, and cutting taxes. Sure we wanted to abolish taxation ultimately, but the principle remained – Brash argued it is YOUR money, Clark argued that the world would end if she didn’t have access to it.

Where to from here for Libertarianz? The message remains the same - small government is beautiful and the state should get out of the way, but the way the message is communicated will diversify. It has to – nobody else on the political spectrum is consistently fighting for private property rights and the right of you to own your body, your life and interact voluntarily with other adults. That is what Libertarianz is about – it is not what Labour, National or any other party believes in.

For New Zealand? Clark will run a status quo government, and be hard pressed to do anything beyond tax and spend more of your money - and pass some legislation that isn't too controversial.

One thing to remember though is that although NZ First and United Future are painted as being centre-right, they are both parties of bigger government. NZ First is inherently conservative, likes the government running businesses and likes banning things it doesn't like (look at how it approached civil unions, prostitution and censorship). United Future is also conservative, and if creating a new pointless bureaucracy called the Families Commission isn't about big government, what is? They will both allow Labour to increase the size of the welfare state in the next three years - no pleading from either party about stable government will deny this fact. If either wanted to legitimately claim they support tax cuts and less bureaucracy they would withhold confidence and supply, and let Labour deal with the Maori Party - and implement its agenda.

I dare them!

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