03 October 2017

NZ election result: winners, losers

First the biggest loser:  

You, that's assuming you're not seeking to extract other people's money from the state.  

You, if you believe that freedom of speech matters, and that there shouldn't be a Harmful Digital Communications Act.

You, if you believe that you own your body and shouldn't be criminalised for what you put in it.

You, if you believe that government should stick to justice, law and order and defence, and should not be involved in the delivery of health and education, that it should not seek to be parent to everyone and should not respond to all of the calls to impose "social justice" (a euphemism for "take money from people we don't like and give it to people we do").

The news from overseas sources makes New Zealand seem like it still basks in the age of the reforms of Roger Douglas and Ruth Richardson.  However, that's only because if you look at subsidies, protectionism and regulatory rent-seeking, NZ looks better than Australia and the US.  If you look at taxation, NZ is much simpler than most economies.  Yet, that relative position doesn't make NZ a free-market haven, and certainly not on personal freedoms.  

So what about the parties?

National, optimistic but too soon to tell will think it won, and to be fair Bill English did shake off his reputation as the biggest loser as a party leader in generations.  He did it by being evasive, by focusing attention on his rival's spending plans, even though his own plans are not fundamentally different.  It is on form, as a party that doesn't really reform anything.  Riding on the back of an economy that gains from the reforms of the 80s and 90s, on high commodity food prices and the spending power of new migrants, its approach to most issues is not to change much.   At best it does seek to cut taxes, but at worst it rolls back virtually nothing Labour does.  The middle class welfare package instituted by the previous Labour Government was kept.  Yet, in an MMP environment the Nats did successfully frighten people into turning out and voting for it.  It deterred ACT supporters from voting ACT (and indeed some NZF supporters too).  Being in a position to get a fourth term is an achievement historically, but you have to ask for what?  Does National exist primarily to stop Labour et al from doing stuff?  The number of National supporters keen on governing with the Greens tells you exactly that.  Principles don't matter, the role of the state doesn't matter, nor is there interest in pushing back against a culture of dependency and statism.  National exists to stop Labour, this time we'll see if it worked.

Labour disappointed but too soon to tell  thinks it has won, because it could conceivably lead government with the Greens and Winston Peters.  Yet it did so mainly by consolidating the vote on the left.  It decimated the Maori Party strategically, it presented a leftwing manifesto and took the Greens back to its core.  Yet the widespread "Jacinda-mania" star status proved to be for little effect.  Few National voters were convinced that a young woman who has never had a job in the private sector, and has never even been a Cabinet Minister could be Prime Minister.  Labour did win the media narrative (along with the Greens) about relative child poverty and river pollution, all without much scrutiny about the statistics (or the causes or better yet, the solutions).  It has a chance at power, but has a long way to go to attract votes from groups other than public servants, beneficiaries, students,  Maori and Pacific Island voters and unionised workers.  It hasn't broken through in most regional towns and cities, nor significant parts of Auckland.  Yes Jacinda has almost done it, but if she does become PM, she'll be getting wagged by the tail of James Shaw and Winston Peters, and that is NOT a winning position to be in.  

Winston Peters won (I mean really, he runs it, it is his) lost seats, but is the master of political positioning.   Seriously, he has won, whilst Bill and Jacinda slut around him for the next few weeks.
 He puts himself in the centre, whilst being a populist who embraces the left (more money for pensioners and opposition to privatisation) and the right (sceptical about immigration, sceptical about higher taxes and opposition to identity politics by race if not nationality).   He leads the only truly fungible MMP party, in that he could support either main party and no longer would he really upset his base of supporters (like he did in 1996, but only because he broke up from the Nats to oppose them, and misjudged that his supporters cared about policy - when they are largely driven by gut emotion).  He'll get a good job and do little with it, he'll give a bunch of ne'er do wells (most of whom couldn't hope to get a job as "highly paid" as an MP) employment, and he'll one or two totemic legacies.  One might be the economically ridiculous idea of relocating the Ports of Auckland to Marsden Point, better would be a referendum on the Maori seats.   Winston won and why are you surprised?  He knows MMP better than anyone else, and no other politician is willing or able to replicate him.

Greens never really lose and were hit fairly hard, not least because it showed itself to be the party of welfare cheats.  Jacinda-mania attracted the airheads back to Labour, but it showed itself to still be a ginger-group of hard-left finger-waggers whose main instincts are to tell people off, tax what they don't like, subsidise what they like and virtue signal.  The good news for the Greens is that they still get an easy ride on most of their policy positions, particularly the constant false claims that "action on climate change" will save lives, the war on fossil fuels and their obsession with identity politics.  The media still loves them, even given the Metiria scandal (which actually exposed their fundamental belief that everyone owes everyone else a living).  Yes the Green Party has never actually been in a coalition, but it is very very influential and relies on new cohorts of optimistic state worshippers being recruited year on year.  

ACT lost badly in part due to the Nats successfully scaring voters on the right to voting National, but also because David Seymour moved too far away from having a coherent position on issues.  He was seen as backing National, but whether it was too hard for him to get traction on multiple issues or he lacked ground support to campaign, the only policy that got a lot of publicity was in increasing teacher pay.  ACT once had a coherent less government, lower tax position that promoted more competition in public services, was tough on law and order and rejected identity politics.  Yet Seymour couldn't break through with such a message.  The brand is mixed, he made statements about abortion which would alienate some, but he tried hard.  ACT needs to work out who it is targeting and what message it is giving.   There is a gap on the right, one that will open up large when a certain Maori ex. National MP finally retires.  ACT can't fill much of that gap, but it sure can grab some of it.

Maori Party is nearly finished as Labour branded it as National's patsies, which was unfair.  Maori are smarter than identity politics warriors fighting "colonialism" as Marama Fox implied. It will probably remain for some time, but looks like it is slipping back to be another Mana Motuhake.  It would have a chance if Labour gets power,  with the Greens, as it could position itself as the Opposition for Maori again.  However,  its real future is threatened by a referendum on the Maori seats, which if it includes Maori who choose to be on the general roll, could completely render the Maori Party obsolete.  

TOP did well for being led by a vulgarian.  For all of the rhetoric, TOP had policies based on a philosophical position, not simply "evidence led".  The philosophy was to penalise asset ownership as a solution to a market failure, rather than address the supply side element.  Everything else it stood for was a redistributionist/environmentalist agenda that competed with the Greens and Labour.  Gareth Morgan got the party attention, but also turned off many.  He topped it off by blaming voters for being selfish and stupid.  What more is there to say?

United Future has no future

The youth didn't turn out in the magical numbers to vote for the left, and if they did turn out they were not a single bloc (who is?).  After all the left is the mainstream.  Besides housing (which has become a problem because of the enviro-left approach to planning, through the RMA and the application of new urbanism to city boundaries in Auckland and Wellington), the narrative about child poverty was from the left (Beth Houlbrooke from ACT was hounded down when she suggested people on low incomes should not have children they expect taxpayers to pay for), the narrative around the environment was partially a banal question around "should there be fewer dairy cows" (the sort of nonsense seen in adolescent level policy debate).

What now?

Winston will make his choice, either Bill English will get to have three years of do little, conservative (literally) government.  Otherwise Jacinda Ardern will suddenly find she has gone from MP to PM without even having sat in on a Cabinet meeting, with Winston wagging her dog and the Greens on the sidelines providing confidence and supply.  I am uncomfortable with the latter, primarily because culturally the bent of Jacinda will be to support more identity politics based on race and sex, less freedom of speech and fewer private property rights.  Not that the Nats are practically better, but Labour and the Greens actually believe in state power and collectivising people over individual rights and individual responsibility.

ACT needs to refocus

For those who think government does too much, who think individuals alone or with others should have more power and responsibility to find solutions to the problems of today, there is little to offer.   The best hope might be for ACT to be in Opposition, regardless.  To campaign more clearly on principles, which should be around private property rights, everyone being equal under the law (including the abolition of Maori-only political representation), opening up education to choice and diversity, tackling the culture of welfare dependency, opposing state subsidies for business, more taxation and more state ownership.  ACT should firmly come down on limiting the scope and powers   of local government, on ridding central government of wasteful politically-correct bureaucracies and taking on identity politics.   Yes it should support other parties when it comes to victimless crimes, but there should not be a unified view on abortion.  It should be tough on real crime, tough on parental responsibility, but also take on measures that governments have done that increase the cost of living.  This includes the constraining of housing supply, and immigration policies that mean new migrants utilise the capital of taxpayer funded infrastructure, without actually paying for it.

What Winston does as his possible swan song is of minor interest, what matters is there being a party that stands up for something different.  For now, only ACT can do that.


Angry Tory said...

After his promises in the debates, English's "do nothing Conservative" government will be even more communism --- and not even by stealth. English will govern to the **left** of Clark and Cullen's first two terms

Anonymous said...

I would still rather have a leftist English than a commie Ardern, since she does not have the mandate from the people! that would be sickening indeed, with election results thrown aside...at least Winston is centrist and not crazy hard left.

Libertyscott said...

I'd prefer English-Peters, but only because in my rational self-interest it is less risky, but that's about it.