Friday 11 November 2011

Something Borrowed, Something Blue

Like A Lamb To The Slaughter: The Powers-That-Be are not about to let a Labour-Green-NZ First-Mana combination take power - not while National can lay claim to winning more votes than anybody else. That's why the Greens are already being fattened-up for the role of National's "responsible" coalition partner. Would you care for some mint sauce with that cabinet seat, Russel?

CAN’T YOU HEAR THEM? The wheels spinning within wheels? The subtle change in the whine of the engine? The Machine is changing gear. The Powers-That-Be are preparing to offer us something new. A National-Green Government.

Don’t believe me? Just take a look at the way this election is being covered. Whose stocks are being talked up? Whose leaders are being praised for their “realism” and economic “savviness”? Let me give you a hint: It isn’t Labour.

Of course, it’s only an insurance policy at the moment. Something to reach for if everything goes horribly wrong on Election Day. But that’s the thing about insurance – it’s very hard to acquire after the event. You’ve got to be ready.

Ready for what?

Could be a number of things.

Could be the polls wildly overstating National’s support. Could be the voters, not relishing the prospect of Mr Key governing alone, deciding to cast their ballots elsewhere. Could be that instead of receiving 56 percent of the Party Vote, National has to make do with just 46 percent.

Could be that, when told to jump, “the good people of Epsom” refuse the fence. Could be that, faced with two (very) old National faces, the Epsom voters opt for the comparatively youthful features of Mr Paul Goldsmith. That would put Act out of Parliament, and leave the Prime Minister dangerously bereft of trustworthy coalition partners.

Could be a sudden, last-minute surge towards the Left. An unexpected wave of support that pushes the Greens up to 15 percent of the Party Vote and heaves Labour, coughing and spluttering, into the mid-30s. Hone Harawira could stride up the beach with Annette Sykes under one arm and John Minto under the other. That would leave Phil Goff perilously close to being able to cobble together some form of Centre-Left government.

Could be that Old Brown Eyes – Winston Peters – croons his way back into the hearts of the over-60s. Could be that they warm to the idea of NZ First sitting on the cross-benches, wielding one of those “Stop/Go” signs: Asset sales? Stop! School meals for the children of the poor? Go! Could be that, in the pundits’ opinion, Winston’s return presages John Key’s departure.

That’s why the Powers-That-Be have to be ready.

Editorialist and political commentator, John Roughan, pointed the way last weekend:

“National’s winning margin this time could be nearer 10 points than 20, which means it could be displaced by a Labour coalition. What would happen then? I suspect the electorate would feel cheated. The result wouldn’t seem right. The government would be held in general contempt. Nothing it did would command much respect. A small army of MMP’s old advocates would come to its defence, reminding us that it had always been possible under MMP for a winner to be defeated by second and third. That would not help at all. We would resolve to change not just the government at the next opportunity but to elect a party that promised to fix the system.”

You get that? Is that clear enough for you?

Fail to allow the party which wins the most votes to govern and you can kiss MMP good-bye.

Never mind that our constitution guarantees power only to the party, or parties, commanding a majority of the seats in the House of Representatives. And forget completely that in spite of the fact that it won more votes than National in 1978 and 1981, Labour never got to form a government. All you have to remember is that if National wins more votes than any other party on 26 November, it must be allowed to go on governing – or else.

And you know already who the designated fall-guy, the patsies, are going to be.

Yep, poor old Russel Norman and the Greens.

They’re Mr Key’s insurance policy; his Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free Card.

And believe you me, once Russel and the Greens are ushered into the Powers-That-Be’s government-making machinery, saying “No” will not be an option.

This essay was originally published in The Dominion Post, The Otago Daily Times, The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 11 November 2011.


Robert Winter said...


Anonymous said...

Most astute observation.

Anonymous said...

The greens do not nessisarily have to enter a coaltion with national, they could offer a confidence & supply agreement in exchange for somthing big like stopping asset sales. Thus the party with the most votes gets to be the goverment but the greens minimise any fallout for themselves and maximise their influence.

Olwyn said...

That makes perfect sense Chris. Furthermore, it establishes the beginnings of a dialogue that runs counter to the possible claim that even though the Nats got the most votes as a party, the left got the most votes overall, spread across parties, and are thus legitimised.

The tone of the public dialogue preceding this election makes me feel as if I am a minor character in a Simpsons episode set in North Korea.

Brendan McNeill said...

"Hone Harawira could stride up the beach with Annette Sykes under one arm and John Minto under the other. That would leave Phil Goff perilously close to being able to cobble together some form of Centre-Left government."

Chris, I don't think you could reasonably call any Government that contained the likes of Hone Harawira, Annette Sykes and John Minto Center-left.

With the Australian Labour party politically to the Right of National, such an election outcome in NZ would see a mass exodus across the Tasman of not just low skilled Kiwis' as is apparently the case today, but of the skilled, and the entrepreneurial. Not to mention a flight of capital to more business friendly shores.

The only thing left for Minto and Co. to redistribute would be bounced welfare cheques.

It's hard to imagine a worse outcome for New Zealand, and the people of this country, but this of course is the weakness of MMP. Let's hope it doesn't happen!

Shona said...

Of course, Chris and so many of us former Green voters have seen this coming ever since Sue Bradford lost the leadership challenge and departed the Green Party.
The self importance of Turei coupled with Russel's deluded vision of business as usual only with green technology (don't forget to wear a SUIT now) brought that old saying about dogs gonads to mind.

Dave Kennedy said...

This is an important debate to have before the election, Chris. If the vote was dominantly left of centre, even with the vote split between two or three parties, voters have clearly indicated their preference for the left. If National won 46% of the vote but a coalition of the Greens, Labour and New Zealand First won 54% then a left coalition of those three are more likely to form a stable government. A National Green Coalition would mix too many diametrically opposed individuals to ever function cohesively.

With the demise of Act and the rise of Mana we are actually witnessing a strengthening of the left. National's clever tactic of making this election a popularity competition around who is the best "bloke" between Key and Goff has successfully shifted the attention away from policy. One survey even suggested that most people preferred Labour's policies to National's but they would rather stick with Key.

We should do a survey like one in the UK where policies were put up without reference to parties and people indicated their preferences on the policy alone. If I remember rightly the English Green Party received a high level of support but ended up with only 1% of the final vote.

We have the potential of falling for a television marketing ploy and then, post election, get stung by a package of policies we didn't expect because no one read the fine print.

Victor said...

Thanks Chris

You have given me food for thought.

As a non-partisan voter on what could loosely be described as the center-left, I don't find any substantive policy issues pressuring me in the direction of either Labour or the Greens.

Both, from my perspective, share many of the same good points, as well as many of the same defects and both are far preferable to National.

And so, I decided, several months ago, to make a largely tactical decision on polling day.

In favour of voting Labour is the danger of the party going down to an ignominious defeat, which would ensure a National hegemony for many years ahead.

In favour of voting for the Greens is the thought that Labour cannot hope to govern without them and they might just make the requisite difference.

Moreover, if , as has thus far seemed likely, National is anyhow going to triumph at the polls, the Greens might not be as bereft of influence in the ensuing parliament as would Labour.

So, thus far, that's only one reason for voting Labour and two for voting Green.

But I think you're right that New Zealand would not easily accept a "coalition of losers", if National were the largest party by a clear margin.

That probably wouldn't be the case in a country with a long-established PR tradition.But we're not there yet.

Certainly, National would, if it was the highest polling party, expect to be given first option on trying to put a government together.

The Greens would then be on the horns of the same dilemma as were the UK Lib-Dems last year. I recall our exchanges of that period and acknowledge that you were right and I was wrong. So chalk one up!

The only difference would be the option of a "confidence and supply" agreement, something that the Brits still have difficulty getting their heads around. But I'm not sure that consideration makes all that much difference.

If the Greens, refused confidence and supply and made the country effectively ungovernable, voters would take their revenge in what would probably be a rapidly ensuing further election.

Conversely, confidence and supply, let alone a formal coalition with National, would probably have a devastating effect on the Green's own internal unity.

So it's back to the drawing board for me. Damn these "interesting times"!

Viv said...

You say "All you have to remember is that if National wins more votes than any other party on 26 November, it must be allowed to go on governing – or else."
I don't understand how this should be so. If the combined total of votes for Labour, Greens & the Maori party happened to be higher than National, but National still had the highest individual party votes, surely a coalition of the 3 parties must be allowed to form a coalition. I was under the impression that under MMP there were more options available for forming a government than just all prizes going to the first placed party.

Brendan McNeill said...

Could this election be reduced down to two basic ideas?

Wealth generation on 'the right' verses

Wealth redistribution on 'the left'?

Certainly if you were to listen to Labour's TV advertisements filled with more State spending you might easily reflect that this is the case. Although National's plan for asset sales to offset debt financing appears to be a short sighted measure as well.

As I have said before in this blog, New Zealand needs more wealthy people, not less, and yet there seems to be general resistance to this notion, particularly on the left.

It's depressing to consider that the politics of redistribution could triumph, when our aspirations should be so much higher for all our fellow kiwis.

Especially when you consider that without real wealth creation, the politics of redistribution is an 'end game' that ultimately leads to modern Greece.

Moral bankruptcy preceding economic bankruptcy.

And perhaps that's the unspoken issue of this election. Once we have abandoned the notion of a 'virtuous society' then it really doesn't matter who wins the political race, the final outcome is all too predictable.

Victor said...


I am a Keynesian moderate Social Democrat with a concern for the environment.

Please give me five good reasons why I should vote Green and not Labour.

This is not a rhetorical request. You may convince me.

Fire away!

Anonymous said...

Theres an easier way out of this. National is permitted to try to form a government first. If National cannot form a government, the next biggest party is asked and so on. Not hard, and respectful of prior practice.

JohnM said...

Roughan: "I suspect the electorate would feel cheated. The result wouldn’t seem right. The government would be held in general contempt."
" had always been possible under MMP for a winner to be defeated by second and third."
Not only under MMP!
The Australian 1998 Federal Election produced the following result: Labor-67; Liberal-64; National-16.
I don't recall any argument about the legitimacy or otherwise of the resulting Lib-Nat coalition in that parliament, where the largest party in the house was on the opposition benches!
This whole thing is just a right-wing beat-up to preemptively delegitimise any possible "left-wing" coalition grouping. I hope voters are not fooled but, given the current discourse in mainstream media, I do worry.

Victor said...


Of course you are correct

But whether such a result would be viewed as fair and reasonable by the voting public is another matter, particularly if there was a pronounced gap in seat numbers between National and Labour.

And complicating matters would be the proclivity of the right wing media for describing the situation as unfair and unreasonable.


Australia's Liberal and National parties have been joined at the hip for decades. Their situation is analogous to the CDU/CSU linkage in Germany.

But if the Greens and Labour, having contested the election as rivals and having each polled considerably less than National, tried to form a government, it would not, I suspect, take long for the "coalition of losers" argument to raise its head.

It may be that they could nevertheless form a government or that Labour could form a minority administration on the basis of a confidence and supply deal with the Greens.

It could also be that we need to go through this experience as part of the maturing of proportional representation in New Zealand.

But it would be a bumpy ride for a government taking over in such circumstances.

Anonymous said...

It is the membership of the Green Party that makes the decision on any coalition arrangement, not the co-leaders. It is rather naive to think they would allow a National led govt to form with Green support if a Labour led govt could be formed instead.

paul scott said...

The alternative is the Rod Donald position, we are too aloof and beautiful, and wonderful to be in a Coalition with NZ GOVT NAT.
We can do better outside Cabinet.

Michael said...

Who would you rather hang out with - the most popular guy in school, the captain of the first fifteen, or the geeks and freaks that linger in the corner of the playing field? For me it probably is (and was) the geeks and freaks but that might not be a popular option. Russel and Metiria might fancy playing with the big boys, albeit the 'first fifteen' generally looks a pretty ratty team. I'm picking green voters are genuinely concerned about the environment (more so than about labels), are more sophisticated than many and would accept National carving them a really hearty chunk of eco pie in a Green coalition. Making John Key turn green is not to be snorted at, and would set a useful precedent preparing the greens for a role in any future government of any hue.

Anonymous said...

"But whether such a result would be viewed as fair and reasonable by the voting public is another matter, particularly if there was a pronounced gap in seat numbers between National and Labour."

It might not be, but I can guarantee that it would be viewed more favourably than immediately scheduling another election and asking the public to do it again. Even the stupidest voter can see that forcing the Green party to self immolate by going into coalition with National is not something that any reasonable person would expect the Greens to submit to.

"And complicating matters would be the proclivity of the right wing media for describing the situation as unfair and unreasonable."

They'll whine until their readers and viewers get sick of it, which won't be long.

Victor said...


Your view is not without merit or appeal.

But I wonder what the consequences would be of Labour going down to a truly ignominious defeat, such as National endured in 2002.

How long would it take the party to recover from such a rout? Might it, in fact, never recover? And would this not ensure long-term National hegemony?

At the same time, might not the Greens sacrifice much of their future electability by seeming to prop National up in power?

Alternatively, might not the Greens be left "waiting at the church" by Key as he engages in a complex courtship ritual with a resurgent Winston?

Red or Green? I'm still undecided.

There are so many 'ifs' and 'mights' and 'buts' involved in tactical voting. I grow dizzy at the thought of them.

But with Labour moving slightly leftwards and the Greens rightwards, it's hard to base a choice between them on anything other than tactical considerations, be these of a short or long term variety.

In effect, we now have a choice between two moderate Social Democratic parties, on the left of centre, divided less by policy than by founding traditions, branding and style.

Labour clearly has the advantage of greater experience of government. But that also means that it carries more baggage.

And, of course, a further distinction is the Green's greater ability to find a policy niche within the National-dominated political spectrum. Is that a plus or a minus for the Greens? Again, I'm not sure.

Or perhaps I'm wrong and there are substantial policy differences between the Greens and Labour? If so, apart from Labour's enhanced readiness to raise the age of NZ Super, I've yet to detect them.

Am I alone in being baffled by this conundrum? Somehow or other, I suspect not.