Sunday, November 27, 2011

New Zealand election 2011 - Verdict 1

Whilst National is savouring victory and Labour nursing its wounds, far too many commentators still think in First Past the Post terms.   It looks like a landslide, yet it is not.  National is barely able to pull together a government, and if special votes go to the Greens (as overseas Kiwis disproportionately like voting for an image that they don't need to pay for), the Nats could face needing the Maori Party.  

National gained two seats, but ACT lost four.  This isn't a great victory, it is in fact a bleeding of support to the left, with the winners being the Greens and New Zealand First.   National's gain is mostly due to ACT supporters abandoning what they perceived as a sinking ship that may not make it.  National gained precious little from Labour, and lost more to the Conservative Party, easily costing it 3-4 seats (and the Conservative Party ate in a little to United Future, much more and Peter Dunne would be an overhang MP).   

So the truth is not that plain.  It is quite likely National faces government needing the Maori Party on confidence and supply, and that is a party that also has not had a good election.   It lost two seats, with Labour picking them up, but with the votes going to the Mana Party.  That is in part because Hone Harawira has taken the radical Maori nationalist/socialist vote, but also because of perceptions that the Maori Party is too close to National.   Let's be clear, there is no prospect for a credible government that is not National-led at this point.  It is difficult to envisage the mess that Labour-Greens-NZ First-Mana-Maori would look like as it too would also need Peter Dunne.  
So expect the Maori Party to demand more, even though by numbers, it ought to be able to demand less.  However, that is what MMP brings up, the leading party by miles is now more than ever needing support by a party that had its support halve.  

So those hoping for "steady as she goes" may find it isn't quite so steady, and that Pita Sharples and Tariana Turia will be seeking a bigger pound of flesh for their constituents.  Yet don't think National isn't aware of what it must do in the next three years.  A key long term strategy of National is (or logically should be) to woo Maori voters.  The demographics of the country are such that this is critical and the Maori Party is one vehicle that the National Party hopes to do this through.   No longer are Maori votes balkanised in four seats, but are nationwide in every electorate through the party vote - although it is notable that the Maori Party still gets more support concentrated in Maori seats than in the party vote overall.   

National will also look to do a deal with the Greens.   The obvious areas for this could be energy, conservation or transport.  So expect that you might have higher power prices, that mining on conservation land stops or suddenly a motorway is stopped for an underground rail loop.  Pulling the Greens away from Labour has to be a core strategy for National, but the Greens will be wary about that going too far, given that it will instantly scare off many of their supporters.

The Labour Party will feel hurt, but it need not be too concerned.  It is 6% higher than National was in 2002, and it is obvious where its support went.   Its loss of support roughly matches the gains of the Greens and NZ First, in short Labour needs to improve its marketing and focus, but also cater for its base of "working class" voters.  NZ First's support comes from those who see National as a party of suits, but Labour a party of academics, teachers and politically correct liberals.  These are the people that want a hardline on crime and have little time for singling out initiatives for Maori or other groups.

MMP was strongly supported by left wing political activists and supporters because they knew it would deliver for them, at least in stopping any further liberalisation of the economy.  It has done so, in spades.  In 1996 it meant National had to embrace Winston Peters and his agenda of halting asset sales, which gave Labour time to reconcile its differences with the left embodied by Jim Anderton, so that in 1999 a thoroughly tired and discredited National and NZ First gave way to a Labour-Alliance coalition, with the Greens scraping through.   This led to three terms of leftwing Labour government, with the Alliance replaced with the Greens to the left of Labour, although Labour preferred to embrace the floating centre which went to NZ First and United Future at different times to fully embracing the Greens and spooking floating voters to National.   In 2008 National could have had a term of free market reformist government with ACT, but knew it needed a wider base over time so embraced the Maori Party.   Now it needs the Maori Party, and is to court the Greens.   National's true home as the natural party of government and being inherently conservative (as in do not much) is where it is.   Labour need only wait until enough voters are seeking change, and have a leader who can sell it, for NZ First and Green voters to "return home", and quite possible wipe out the Maori Party.

For those who embrace centrist politics, the next three years will be a celebration.  It wont be radical, it wont see the size of the state grow or get cut, and taxes wont change overall.  The left's hysteria about partial privatisation will be shown up for what it is when it happens, as nobody will notice much difference.  There was nothing else they could attack National for, as no other policies were much different.

Indeed, the Greens, NZ First and Labour must quietly fear that if National can "get away" with part-privatisation, that the bogey of this issue - whipped up by economic illiteracy, fact absent legends about past privatisations and old fashioned xenophobia - will have been neutered somewhat.

The future of left-wing politics may be seen in whipping up fear of the current economic uncertainty and some class warfare - which can be seen in some blogs (e.g. Tumeke, the Standard) and the rhetoric of the Greens and Mana.  The Greens barely campaigned at all on environmental issues, as the brand Green already delivered that as a presumption.  However, while left-wing activists  are always disappointed that the people they claim to speak about rarely are motivated or interested enough to vote for them, it remains that they have the upper ground when it comes to rhetoric, political discourse and media attention.  Consider the attention Winston Peters (who I consider left-wing as he is Muldoonist left-wing) and Hone Harawira got from the media compared to Colin Craig of the Conservatives, or the attention any ACT slogans or policies got.  

The Gramscian approach to political philosophy, seen in media and inculcated somewhat in the education system, has worked, for the commentators and as default position for many.  The only reason it doesn't deliver a solidly leftwing government is that the "masses" are apathetic, indeed it has almost always been that socialists are disappointed that the people who they claim to be motivated about are themselves people lacking motivation for anything more than instant gratification - which is, in one part, why they are in the circumstances they are in. 

Yet the free market libertarian "right" has little hope at the moment too.  National barely talks the talk on personal responsibility and less government interference in people's lives.  It isn't in its blood, and unless Labour takes a swing to the left, National will see little traction in talking about freedom.   ACT had so much noise around it about Epsom, John Banks and the recording, that it couldn't get off the block on it.  Moreover, the media and most commentators only have a couple of reference points for talking about less government - Rogernomics and the USA.  It is an uphill battle, but despite the hysteria of the far left, this government wont be "selling all our assets", operating for the "interests of bankers and the rich" or seeking to take money from the poor - they only wish it was, for without the legend of the right the left doesn't have a scapegoat or bogeyman to point to, so that voters can trust their vision.

Curiously, Maori voters are now split three ways.  A significant proportion of those in the Maori seats now support a radical separatist and neo-Marxist vision for New Zealand that would divide the country.  The rest support engagement in the current political system.  Mana's 1% seems insignificant, yet the question is what it bodes for the future.

Most New Zealanders wont be too upset about the election.  Those on the left will be disappointed, yet the Greens will still be partying as they will think they are pushing Labour over a bit.  The NZ First faction is small, but it will be thinking they have cocked a snook at the media - when the media delivered for them.  However, the left does have a solid bloc of support of around 45% that it can tap and the fact National plays on the turf of the left in terms of rhetoric, objectives and debate shows that things have not changed that much.

The conservative right will be happy, as Colin Craig has set aside the demons of the Kiwi Party, Family Party, Christian Heritage, Christian Democrats et.al to form a single conservative right wing party of some standing.  Indeed it did better than ACT, Maori and Mana combined in terms of party votes.  Targeting NZ First voters may be fertile ground to help cross the 5% threshold, as will aiming at a single constituency (although Rodney looks promising it may need to be somewhere else).   National may want to quietly encourage this.   

The liberal right of course are not happy.  ACT is finished and most of those who believe in less government ticked the boxes for National.  Hopefully those of a conservative persuasion in ACT will go to their logical new home (as above), and those of us who are libertarian need to sit down and figure out where to go to from here.

It isn't a significant election as it does, as I said before, look like a pattern whereby when the likely result is predictable, the vote for the second party dissipates to the minor parties.  National had this happen, with United Future and ACT doing well in 2002.  Now it is Labour's turn with the Greens and NZ First.   Yet the balance is still fairly slim between the centre-right and centre-left, so you might pardon for not getting too excited.

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