LIKE THE EXCLUSIVE BRETHREN in 2005, the Taxpayers’ Union is poised to launch a well-funded, last-minute attack on the Greens. According to Richard Harman’s Politik website, the right-wing, anti-tax, lobby group is about to send a personalised letter to every homeowner whose property is valued at more than a million dollars. The letter “explains” how the Green’s proposed 1 percent Wealth Tax on property valued at more than one million dollars will apply to them.
As Harmon makes clear in his post, the cost of sending a direct mail shot as big as this is, almost certainly, beyond the means of the Taxpayers’ Union. When questioned by the veteran broadcaster and journalist about the source of the sizeable funds required, the Union would say only that the money had been raised in response to a special appeal for financial support.
Harmon also makes clear that the Taxpayers’ Union has registered itself with, and obtained all the required approvals from, the Electoral Commission. The latter has duly authorised the Union to spend up to $338,000 on its “political campaign” against the Greens’ tax policy.
Naturally, any campaign directed primarily at the Greens will likely be of considerable benefit to National and Act. But, since the letter makes no direct appeal for its recipients to support either of those parties, the cost of critiquing the Greens’ Wealth Tax cannot be deducted from the spending caps of the campaign’s principal beneficiaries. Like the Exclusive Brethren before them, the Taxpayers’ Union is taking full advantage of the fact that there is nothing in the Electoral Act which prevents individuals and groups from attacking the enemies of their friends.
Viewed from the perspective of the 2020 General Election as a whole, the intervention of the Taxpayers’ Union confirms the Right’s growing sense of desperation that the campaign is slipping away from them. With hundreds of thousands of voters having already cast their ballots in favour of the Labour Party, the opportunity to turn around all those former National voters who have shifted their allegiance to the Labour leader, Jacinda Ardern, grows smaller by the day.
Throw into the mix the internecine squabbling that has re-emerged within National’s ranks, and the widely shared opinion that Judith Collins has become her own (less than brilliant) campaign manager, and the readiness of outsiders to do something – anything – to stop the rot is easily understood.
For most strategic thinkers on the right, the only viable path to victory for National is over the dead body of the Green Party. If the Greens can be driven below the 5 percent MMP threshold, and the so-called “Trash Vote” pumped up to something approaching 10 percent, then a combined tally of National and Act votes of around 45 percent should be enough to reclaim the Treasury Benches. Assuming Act stands firm on 8 percent, National need only lift its Party Vote to around 37 percent for it to be “Game On!”. So, the 84,000 vote question is: “What will it take to shift that many voters from Labour’s column to National’s before 17 October?”
The Taxpayers’ Union (and whoever is bankrolling its direct mail shot) is betting that the prospect of having to pay a Wealth Tax of $10,000 (on a $2 million property) will be enough. They are confident that people with that sort of asset base are smart enough to know that while a Labour Party able to govern alone might be trusted to keep its promise not to introduce a Wealth Tax, a Labour-Green government could not. The Taxpayers’ Union is confident that, in the cold light of day, those asset-rich/cash poor voters will come (albeit reluctantly) to the conclusion that the only safe vote is a vote for National or Act. The bet is also that, as anxiety about the Wealth Tax percolates through the wider electorate it will shave just enough off the Greens Party Vote to send them below the threshold.
How sweet a victory that would be! Labour would find itself in exactly the same position as National in 2017: holding a clear plurality of the Party Votes cast, but, stripped of its Green ally, commanding insufficient seats in the House of Representatives to form a government. Presumably, all those who denounced this outcome as unfair – unconstitutional even – just three years ago, would bite their tongues in 2020.
There are, however, two important factors working against the Taxpayers’ Union and its Sugar-Daddies winning their wager.
The first is that the National Party’s “bucket”, in which it is hoping to collect the voters bailing out of Labour, may have a hole in it. As fast as all those asset rich/cash poor liberals dribble back to National, an equal number of disillusioned social conservatives and angry evangelicals may be dribbling out a hole in the base of National’s big bucket and into the little pails of the New Conservative Party and Advance NZ positioned directly underneath. Judith Collins can kneel and pray until Doomsday, but it won’t erase her name from the list of those who voted in favour of liberalising New Zealand’s abortion laws.
The second factor is driven by left-wing solidarity – something which, to be fair, the leading lights of the Taxpayers’ Union cannot be expected to know a great deal. If, over the next few days, Labour’s pollsters discover that the Right’s desperate strategy is working, then Labour has only to let the information percolate through the Left and wait for its more radical adherents to draw the obvious conclusion. That the best way to help Jacinda and Labour to retain power is to cast a Party Vote for the Greens. What’s more, if the situation were to become really and truly hairy, then all Jacinda needs to do is let it be known that if Labour’s supporters in Auckland Central have a strong desire to poke the Taxpayers’ Union and their secret backers in the eye, then they should think seriously about giving Chloe Swarbrick their Electorate Vote.
Every New Zealander who wants to progressivism to be given three more years and a fighting chance, owes Richard Harman a hearty vote of thanks. Forewarned is forearmed. The Taxpayers’ Union and its backers (whose identity is legally required to be revealed after the election) may be desperate, and even though there is a better-than-even chance that their “Hail Mary!” attempt to fly under the radar will end up harming, not helping, the National Party and Act, we would be most unwise to dismiss their strategy as hopeless. As the Right repeatedly fails to grasp the power of solidarity; we on the Left are far too prone to underestimate the terrible power of selfishness.
If the Right’s plan looks like it’s working, every Baby Boomer who has ever voted for Values, NewLabour and/or the Alliance knows exactly what they have to do. Because, if the Greens go down, so, too, does the Left.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 9 October 2020.