Nats and Labour likely to switch places on 5% MMP threshold
After its poor start to its second term, National is getting its act together as it prepares for 2014.
Be assured I refer entirely to politics and make no comment about policy.
John Key and Steven Joyce operate under the assumption that governments with bold policy lose office and have their reforms reversed.
There is, of course, little contemporary evidence to support this.
After all, their own government has kept all their predecessor’s major economic changes, including the Employment Relations Act, the weaker 1-3% inflation target, Working for Families, interest-free student loans, the Cullen Fund and KiwSaver. Jim Anderton’s KiwiBank and superannuation entitlements are sacrosanct.
Similarly, in nine years, Helen Clark didn’t reverse National’s benefit cuts or fiscal disclosure regime. Nor did she reintroduce tariffs or buy back Contact Energy. While the Employment Contracts Act was repealed, there was no suggestion of returning to compulsory unionism.
Likewise, Jim Bolger didn’t scrap GST or the Reserve Bank, public finance, state sector or anti-nuclear acts.
Despite this, National has won two elections under the rule that nothing must be done which the first decile to the left of the median voter may not be able to cope with. Its continuing high poll numbers make it difficult to argue with National.
After the past six months’ challenges, it is preparing for 2014 by returning to the operating principle with which it is comfortable and which offers it its surest path back to power.
Labour, of course, is also doing its best for Mr Key.
In 2011, it suffered its worst result since 1996 after a campaign based entirely on opposition to the mixed ownership model (MOM) pioneered in 1998 by Winston Peters when he sold Auckland International Airport (AIAL) and refined by Labour with Air New Zealand.
Notwithstanding this very recent evidence that opposition to the MOM fails to motivate voters, Labour continues to over-invest in the topic, forgetting that the share issues – as Mr Peters calculated when he hailed his AIAL privatisation as “popular capitalism” – will ultimately achieve public acceptance.
Worse for Labour, Mr Key has this week re-positioned the share issues so that opponents are now aligned with Treaty claims for water, while he stands with mums and dads putting something aside for a rainy day.
Labour can’t make any progress on any other issue because there is little else its caucus agrees on, including who should be its leader.
Despite this, National cannot seriously expect to win the 47% it currently averages in major polls.
In election after election, polls have consistently suggested greater support for National than it has achieved. Through its first term, for example, it polled well over 50%, yet won just 47% on election night.
A more realistic 2014 outcome is in the lower 40s, which would still be an extraordinary achievement. Helen Clark, for example, never won more than 41%.
As shown here before, Mr Key will then need Winston Peters’ support – which is in the bag – but also one other party capable of winning over 100,000 votes.
None of Mr Key’s existing partners meet that test, meaning his third term depends on Colin Craig’s Conservative Party entering Parliament.
In a month, the MMP review will recommend whether to reduce the MMP threshold from 5% to 4%.
In their submissions to the review, National argued to keep the 5% threshold while Labour said it should be cut to 4%.
Stand by for them to switch positions.
National remains haunted by 1996, which it hoped to win with the support of ACT and Graham Capill’s Christian Coalition.
In the end, the Christians won just 4.33% of the vote – the best result of any such party in New Zealand’s history – but not enough to get into Parliament.
Labour remembers that result just as clearly.
Mr Craig’s party is good for 4% but getting to 5% would be a major stretch.
A 4.33% result for his party under a 5% threshold would put Mr Key out of office and make David Shearer prime minister – and Mr Key and Mr Shearer both know it.
In 2000, the US Republicans and Democrats both argued passionately about the constitutionality of hanging chads. I forget which took what position but they would have just as happily argued the opposite.
We should remember that when we hear National and Labour passionately declaring for or against retaining the 5% threshold in the months ahead.