Tuesday, 18 March 2014

A Snap Election (In Slow Motion)

Are You Ready? Why are we going to the polls 70 days early? The answer is as simple and straightforward as it is brutal and self-serving: because holding the election two months early offers National a huge political advantage.
 
LET’S GET ONE THING STRAIGHT: John Key has just called a snap-election – albeit in slow motion. The Prime Minister’s threadbare excuses notwithstanding, there is absolutely no valid constitutional reason why New Zealanders should be trooping to the polling booths 70 days early.
 
There have been no defections from the National Party’s coalition: the Government is in no danger of losing its majority on the floor of the House of Representatives. Neither has Mr Key’s caucus dissolved in bitter acrimony. Nor has a vital component of the Government’s legislative programme been defeated in a parliamentary vote.
 
So, why aren’t we going to the polls on the last Saturday in November – as we have done for most of this country’s post-war history?
 
The answer is as simple and straightforward as it is brutal and self-serving: because holding the election two months early offers National a huge political advantage.
 
Mr Key has examined the political entrails and determined that the longer he delays the election the higher the probability that the parties of the Left will attain sufficient political momentum to unseat his government.
 
By bringing the election forward he is hoping to deny Labour and the Greens the full electoral effect of rising mortgage interest rates and electricity prices. Labour-Green policy on both issues offers the voters considerable relief. The less time people are given to work that out the better it is for the Government.
 
Mr Key and his strategists were also aware that Labour was pinning its hopes for victory on persuading a quarter of the 800,000 people who abstained from voting in 2011 to cast a vote in 2014. Logistically-speaking, that was a huge ask – especially for a political party woefully short of both experienced election workers and the funds required to make them effective.
 
National’s strategy team clearly decided to deprive their opponents of two months’ worth of crucial training and fundraising time. Viewed realistically, the scale of this curtailment has almost certainly torpedoed Labour’s main election strategy. If there’s a Plan B at the back of Matt McCarten’s cupboard, now would be a very good time to dust it off.
 
The other tactical advantage of going two months early is the hugely disruptive effect Mr Key’s announcement is bound to inflict on Labour’s campaign timetable. Budgets will have to be redrawn, advertising space and air-time reconsidered, policy finalised faster, travel schedules re-worked, fundraising efforts intensified.
 
While this is unlikely to produce panic in Labour’s ranks, it will bring down what soldiers call “the fog of war” and all its attendant evils: inadequate information; impaired decision-making; unnecessary and morale-sapping losses and defeats.
 
These would be big enough problems in a tightly run and fiercely united political party, but in a party riven by the most bitter factional infighting they’ll likely prove catastrophic. Public disunity in the midst of an election campaign (and that’s precisely where we all are) would not only make a Labour victory inconceivable but, by making a National victory seem inevitable, it could also have a devastating effect on turnout.
 
It is here that the sheer mendacity of National’s strategy shines forth in all its Machiavellian brilliance.
 
If Labour’s voters, seeing no hope of victory, decide to stay at home, and the participation rate of eligible voters drops even further than it did in the record low turnout of 2011, then with just a few thousand more votes than they received last time it is entirely feasible for National to win an outright (i.e. 50 percent + 1) election victory.
 
This is where the slow-motion aspect of National’s snap-election strategy kicks in. The more frenetic, disorganised and disunited Labour appears; the cooler, calmer and more collected the National Government is bound to appear by contrast.
 
To win, Mr Key has only to appear pleasantly prime-ministerial. Making the most of his photo opportunities and taking great care project the image of a leader who knows exactly what he’s doing.
 
Smiling, waving – and winning – in slow motion.
 
This essay was originally published in The Dominion Post, The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 14 March 2014.

10 comments:

paul scott said...

Here is Mr Chris at his truth

quote " By bringing the election forward he is hoping to deny Labour and the Greens the full electoral effect of rising mortgage interest rates and electricity prices. Labour-Green policy on both issues offers the voters considerable " unquote

Lets examine that.
Someone else will pay for your power prices to bring them down.
Of course we would like to believe it is the dirty corporation.
Facts Chris. It is well proven now that power prices rose magnificently under labour.
Read the raw data which is out now,
oh dear another right wing fascist representation, censor and edit now Chris

Davo Stevens said...

Oh Paul, where did that come from? Remember if you can that Max Bradford privatised the power supply companies and the "Retail" too. Going to reduce power prices he crowed!

Max wasn't Labour as I recall. By the time Helen's mob got in it was too late and they really couldn;t do that much so chose to do nothing. Bearing in mind that Helen's bunch were never 'Labour'

Alistair Young said...

I agree with your analysis, the cooler spring weather may also weaken the resolve of voters who see a left victory as unlikely anyway. I wonder if we wouldn't be better forcing our political parties to serve the full term (I think this is the case in Germany) which would put the onus on the various parties to form whatever coalitions were necessary to keep a government together till election date - even if that meant a national/green/mana/act government - no snap elections and no advantages to the incumbent and absolute certainty for all parties and voters about when the big day is.

andrewmahon1234 said...

I'll bet you Mr. McCarten has given up.

thesorrow&thepity said...

I seem to remember Chris an early election in 2002, the Alliance may have been imploding but Clark's govt still had the confidence of the house to pass legislation. The real question is who will still be in Labour's ranks after the post election bloodletting has finished. I remember Mike Moore in his book 'A world without walls' mentioning about the pro Clark Labour faction sabotaging their own 1993 general election campaign in order to oust him, early election or not history looks set to repeat.

The Flying Tortoise said...

Yes I think you're absolutely correct...

Scouser said...

Except providing a much longer notice period than usual pretty much shoots down most of your arguments Chris.

Labour has a much longer period to plan with certitude. They don't need to plan around several possible dates, for instance.

Mark Unsworth said...

41st† 14 July 1984
42nd 15 August 1987
43rd 27 October 1990
44th 6 November 1993
45th† 12 October 1996
46th 27 November 1999
47th† 27 July 2002
48th 17 September 2005
49th 8 November 2008
50th 26 November 2011

Great column Chris .Pity the facts don't match your argument .Here are the dates of the last 10 elections .If this is a " snap " election its a very long 6 month snap I would have thought .

Chris Trotter said...

It is important to learn the distinction between the language of academic rigor, Mark, and the newspaper columnist's rhetorical flourishes.

My column is entitled not simply "Snap Election" - but "A Snap Election (In Slow Motion)". That should have been enough to alert you to the tone and purpose of the piece.

The dates you have selected are just about all the consequences of the genuine snap elections of 14 July 1984 and 27 July 2002. After those it took 3-4 elections to get back to the traditional last Saturday in November.

We arrived there in 1999, only to have Helen Clark derange it all again by going early in 2002.

My point - and it still stands - is that by 2011 we were once again back to the traditional date and there is no valid reason for bringing the election date forward by 70 days in 2014 other than the Government's own political advantage.

Scorpion said...

Chris, i know an extremely politically aware Scandanavian Social Worker (who lives in NZ and who goes out of his way to help a lot of disadvantaged people who in this "Marketplace" ruin of a country are EVERYWHERE)and he believes that Key and his Gang of Thieves will scrape back in.

Because of the shabby lacklustre indolence of the Labour Party with Shane Jones and his compadres determined to make sure that there is NOT going to happen, a Green/Labour Alliance (how Jones and his fellow Douglasites loath the word "Alliance"!!! Except if it is with the National/ACT/Maori Party - all equally rottenly corrupt Pigs-In-The-Trough).

But Chris, one thing, those 800,000 "Missing Voters" for the Left; the NZ Green Party are exactly the same as the Alliance, and stand for exactly the same principles of Socio-Economic Democracy/Fairness, and they politically campaign just like the Alliance even though the Mass-Media reviles them and relentlessly slanders them, just as with the Alliance.

So Chris, it is way past time that you started using your very powerful literary skills to get on the side of the New Zealand/Aoteroa Green Party.

We (and yes, i am a Green Party member and take immense pride in being so) are NOT dope-smoking tree-hugging Hippies; what the Mass-Media are doing everything they can to hide from New Zealand, is that the New Zealand Green Party ARE the only Socialist Party in this country.

The so-called "Labour" party has never been able to regain any credibility as "born-again-socialists" in spite of their half-hearted lacklustre attempts periodically to do so, since the advent of the Roger Douglas so-called "Labour" party.

Talk about the misnomer of all misnomers!!!