Wednesday 22 September 2010

Standing On Shaky Ground

Self-Destruct Mode? The moment he accepted the candidacy of David Garrett, a man who'd admitted to stealing the identity of a dead child to secure a false passport, Act leader Rodney Hide placed the entire edifice of the New Zealand Right at risk. The seismic pulse from the Garrett scandal threatens to destroy not only Act but also John Key's hopes for a second term.

IT NEVER RAINS but it pours. As if a real earthquake in Canterbury wasn’t enough, John Key now faces an earthquake in Epsom.

And it’s a big one. The extraordinary revelations concerning Act MP, David Garrett, have not only put paid to his political career, but the aftershocks seem certain to destabilise – and ultimately destroy – the whole Act Party.

John Key cannot stand aloof from these developments. Act has always been a critical factor in the electoral calculations of the Centre Right. Bluntly speaking: National’s ability to form a stable government depends upon Act’s unequivocal support. Remove Act from the political equation and the Centre Right’s electoral problems no longer have a solution.

TV3’s political editor, Duncan Garner, disagrees. He insists that Act and the Maori Party are interchangeable factors in this equation: that Mr Key’s shrewd decision to lure the Maori Party into the Centre-Right tent in 2008 has given National all the insurance cover it needs to rebuild an effective administration if Act falls over.

I’m not so sure. By 2011 conservative New Zealand voters may have had about as much of the Maori Party as they’re prepared to swallow. A year from now the unease surrounding the repeal of the Foreshore & Seabed Act will undoubtedly have been heightened by the ramifications of a "Constitutional Review" – the last (and potentially the most divisive) item of unfinished business in the Maori Party’s confidence and supply agreement with National.

It’s equally possible, of course, that by 2011 Maori voters may have had enough of "their" party’s association with National. There are strong indications that a second term National Government will intensify its public-spending cuts; throw open the gates to foreign investment, increase immigration and sell-off what remain of New Zealand’s public assets. Such a hard-right programme is unlikely to enthuse the Maori Party’s base.

Not that the Maori Party needs to worry. It’s political location in the Maori – as opposed to the General – electorate shields it from any sort of Pakeha backlash. This gives the Maori Party the extraordinary advantage of being able to switch allegiances with impunity. If the party’s leaders are of the view that they (and the Maori people in general) have got about as much as they can get from National, there is nothing to prevent them signalling their willingness to negotiate a new deal with Labour.

No, I wouldn’t be relying upon the Maori Party if I were Mr Key.

Which takes us back to Epsom. Can Mr Key rely upon the good burghers of Mt Eden, Epsom, Parnell and Remuera to be guided by the winks and nods of their National Party friends forever? Is it reasonable to expect Epsom’s voters (among the most sophisticated in the country) to make themselves permanent accessories to this blatant "gaming" of the MMP electoral system?

Let’s not forget, Mr Hide’s seat – like every other electorate seat – is won or lost according to the rules of First-Past-the Post. So, let’s assume (on the basis of the 2008 results) that there are roughly 38,500 votes up for grabs in Epsom, and that about 8,000 of these are rock-solid National voters who simply refuse to vote strategically. Let’s further assume that there are another 8,000 "Left’ (Labour, Green) voters, and about 2,500 hard-core Act voters. That leaves a "Strategic Vote" of around 20,000 electors.

What would happen to Mr Hide if a person with impeccable conservative credentials emerged from the leafy streets of Epsom declaring that: "Enough is enough! If National isn’t prepared to choose a decent candidate – someone who still adheres to its traditional values and is capable of articulating its ‘compassionate conservative’ philosophy – then someone else will have to do the job."?

An accomplished and successful woman, subscribing to the new "Big Society" ideas of David Cameron’s British Tories, could quite conceivably split Epsom’s Strategic Vote in half – gathering up most of the Left Vote as she swept past (especially if Labour and the Greens declined to stand a candidate). That would leave Mr Hide about 5,000 votes short of the total needed to keep Act in Parliament.

If Mr Key persists in relying upon Act’s gaming of the MMP system to secure the numbers he needs to govern, then something resembling this scenario will almost certainly unfold.

The problem, of course, is that if Mr Key does do the decent thing, and severs all ties between National and the discredited Act Party, he will be left several seats short of the total National needs to remain in office.

He could, of course, appeal directly to the New Zealand electorate for an unequivocal and unencumbered mandate. Unfortunately, no single party (even under FPP) has won more than 50 percent of the popular vote since 1951.

Mr Garrett’s earthquake threatens to reduce much more than Act to rubble.

This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 21 September 2010.


Adolf Fiinkensein said...

Dream on, Mr Trotter. Dream On!

You need to broaden your horizons.

Chris Trotter said...

I'm afraid the dream is over for Act and its accolytes, Mr Fiinkensein.

Victor said...

"An accomplished and successful woman, subscribing to the new "Big Society" ideas of David Cameron’s British Tories,"

Don't keep us in suspense, Chris. Who do you have in mind?

Anonymous said...

Adolf is correct. The "most sophisticated voters in the country" will swallow a rat.
The threat of Winston Peters will make the rat taste better.

Anonymous said...

The irony of the left is amazing at the moment. They bleet on about how National should get rid of Act because they are dishonouring the role of Minister.

Lets think of few names from the last government....Taito Philip Field, Winston Peters, Helen Clark....

All these and many other ministers did things that brought the role of Minister in to disripute.

When the right called for them to go did Labour listen? NO

So it is a bit rich that lefties are asking for the heads of ministers now.

(not that this post in particular is saying this).

Bill Bennett said...

National centre-right calculus depends on Act winning Epsom AND gathering enough party votes nationwide to pick up additional seats.

Even if Act retains Epsom it will almost certainly lose votes elsewhere.

That has to concern National party strategists.

If Act's nationwide party vote collapses - and I'd say that's now a distinct possibility - then Act gets one seat in Epsom (which would otherwise be National) and, maybe, one other seat.

The price for that "maybe one other seat" is the taint of being associated with Act, which may ultimately cost National more than one seat - especially if disaffected voters switch allegiance to NZ First.

I'd hate to be the person making those calculations inside the National party.

Mark said...

Chris, you are correct and I cannot believe so many are arguing that Act is finished and that the Epsom voters will leave National at the mercy of the Maori party.
People who live in Epsom are sophisticated voters because they are, on average, more successful and smarter than the average Kiwi which is why they are richer than the average Kiwi.
Much as the left would love to con National into trying for an unachievable 50% of the vote there is no way Key would be that dumb.

Chris Trotter said...

National's touching faith in the Maori Party's loyalty puzzles me.

Why would the Maori Party stay with a party that's conceded just about everything its base will bear (and probably more)?

Surely the logic is for the Maori Party to switch sides - picking up from Labour what National can't afford to give?

After all, the only voters the Maori Party has to please are those on the Maori Roll.

Anonymous said...

Isn't Phil Goff standing in the way or a labour party with the maori party on its side?

Anonymous said...

Hone Harawira's new party, Maori Rua, will shave two seats off the original Maori Party. Maori Rua supports Labour.

Cnr Joe said...

imo the right are such shits they'll vote act in cause thats whats required to rule, they'll just do it - for the bigger picture - leafy burgers and all

Mark Wilson said...

Cnr Joe - you don't think that the left would do the same if their voters weren't too dumb to be able to work it out?

Mark Wilson said...

Hey anonymous - want to bet that Hone won't get any seats at all? He couldn't get elected on his own if he was giving away free money!

Anonymous said...

Mark Wilson have you heard of Te Tai Tokerau?

Bruce Thorpe said...

Hone Harawira has got the Te Tai Tokerau seat for the foreseeable future, which is way longer than Sharples will hold Tamaki Makarau, and even Tariana's continuance in parliament is unlikely to be long term.
One problem for Key if he maintains the electorate deal with Hide is that a number of voters who switched (or abstained) in his party's favour last election will be alienated by the dreadful PR of Hide's leadership.
Prebble has always predicted Goff could be a winner at the next election, and Understand Mike Moore has expressed a similar view. These are fairly expert opinions in New Zealand parliamentary politics.

Anonymous said...

If Tariana and Sharples go who would the new female co leader for the maori party be?

Chris Trotter said...

A good question, Anonymous.

Presumably, Rahui Katene would have to be in the running - although, as the rising dissatisfaction with the Turia/Sharples leadership begins to bear fruit, two new candidates for the seats of Te Tai Hauauru and Tamaki Makaurau are bound to emerge.

By 2011, National will almost certainly be all "mined out" in terms of what it can realistically offer Maori without provoking a full-scale rebellion among its own electoral base.

The logic of that situation requires a turn to Labour. But, if that is to happen, the Maori Party will have to (at the very least) rid itself of the irrationally anti-Labour Turia. Sharples, too, will have to go - thanks to the strong political partnership that has grown up between himself and John Key.

As a classic "brokerage" party, the Maori Party must constantly "deliver" for its people. So far, the things delivered have been predominantly symbolic (which is only to be expected given the nature of its National Party ally).

Unfortunately for National, the tangible benefits urgently required by the Maori Party's socio-economically deprived electoral base are much more likely to come from the Centre-Left than the Centre Right.

A change of faces at the top thus becomes a political necessity.

Annette Sykes for female co-leader anyone?

jh said...

Meanwhile the news media aren't reporting the Green party position on the foreshore and seabed. Perhaps they don't see a story or perhaps it isn't the right story:

"The signing of the Treaty in 1840 saw Māori cede kāwanatanga, or governance, to the Crown, and in exchange the Crown guaranteed to Māori tino rangatiratanga, or chieftainship, which meant the right of Māori to control their lands, villages, and other treasures. The base of all negotiations must be that Māori held recognised sovereignty rights and continue to hold those rights, unless the rights associated with that sovereignty have been legislated or alienated by some legal and defensible means. "

Anonymous said...

National will almost certainly be unable to govern after 2011. They are alone in thinking otherwise.
Labour has an unshakeable core base. Unionists,schoolteachers,beneficiaries,interest-free loan recipients,Maori,Pacific Islanders,Indians,refugees,working-for-families beneficiaries,envy-driven people,peace activists,demonstators.
There is no policy that National can produce that would encourage any of these groups to vote for a party of the right.
Winstone First (anti-immigrant voters, Grey Power, anti-establishment backers ) will only ever have a choice of a Labour-led Coalition.
The Maori Party will go with whoever can form a Government (but Labour as first choice anyway).
Greens will always go to left.
Dunne (ex Labour independents etc) will go with the baubles.
ACT is in death throes.
National's best chance is from a backlash against the "list MP" (and troughing) farce that is destroying any regard that people might have had for politics and politicians.
There might also be a backlash against the Len Brown Mayoralty/unbridled Super City spending, which could favour National , if voters forget that ACT/National introduced the Super City concept.
And Goff,Cunliffe,Mallard and Carter look increasingly dysfunctional.
But National's biggest problem is that their Party machine is at an all time low in membership and street-level manpower, and is simply unable to counter the ebbing tide as the MSM trivialises serious discussion of NZ economic prospects.
The money is going to run out as the smart mobile wealth creators, and people with skills and work ethic, head offshore.
So Labour it will be after 2011.
Just don't ask where the money will come from.


peterquixote said...

Can anyone tell me why Act are on shaky ground.
Is Dave Garrett news.
Can anyone really believe that Epsom will not vote for a NZ NAT Govt.
Mr Trotter put your money down now.
Hide to take Epsom I give you odds at 2 to 1.
Put you money down Chris.

I have