MMP report hands Key a third term
Labour advocated strongly that the one-seat electorate seat threshold – the Epsom coat-tails clause – should be abolished, and that the party vote threshold cut by about 22,000 votes from 5% to 4%. The Electoral Commission review panel recommended both changes today.
Interestingly, National argued the opposite, wanting to maintain the status quo on both issues.
The reason Labour’s recommendations are good for National is twofold.
First, abolishing the one-seat rule means it can finally drop the tea-party-type nonsense with the ACT and UnitedFuture “parties”.
In ACT’s Epsom, National's rising intellectual star Paul Goldsmith – set for a senior finance role in a future Simon Bridges or Amy Adams government – is developing his retail political talents and can be expected to now win the seat, securing himself a permanent place in parliament.
Don’t rule out John Banks throwing in the towel for ACT before 2014, and acknowledging the hitherto denied fact that he is already simply a National MP in ACT’s yellow drag.
In UnitedFuture’s Ohariu, National list MP Katrina Shanks is believed to remain interested, but may face a challenge from Mr Key’s departing deputy chief-of-staff Phil de Joux, now heading to Air New Zealand in order to add private-sector experience to his CV, which is currently completely lacking.
Either would easily win the seat.
Freed of the temptation to play tea-party-type games, National now knows exactly the necessary form of its third term. As I have been arguing for some time both in the NBR and elsewhere, this will involve it being propped up by both Winston Peters’ NZ First and Colin Craig’s Conservative Party.
The reasoning is straightforward.
Realistically, National can’t expect to get more than the 47% of the vote it won in 2011.
A more likely outcome, given the passage of time, the probably slow erosion of the prime minister’s brand and the usual accumulation scandals and bungles, would be closer to the 41.6% National is currently forecast to win on iPredict.
This means it will need two new coalition partners.
The first of these, Mr Peters, is a near certainty, regardless of what he says now.
He is far too proud to want to play third wheel to a Labour/Green coalition. Mr Key can give him things Mr Shearer or his successor couldn’t possibly: the deputy prime ministership (bad luck, Bill English), the foreign minister’s job (ditto Murray McCully) and, of course, the knighthood that Labour is philosophically committed to abolishing.
Faced with the possibility of handing over power to a Labour/Green/Mana/Peters alternative, these are prices Mr Key would – and should – gladly pay.
The second coalition partner is Colin Craig’s Conservatives, which is why the MMP review report is so important.
After a brief campaign, Mr Craig’s Christian-values party achieved 2.65% of the vote in 2011, a creditable achievement under the circumstances. With more time and similar money, it is certainly capable of more.
But Mr Key – or at least his team – will remember 1996. That awful night saw Graeme Capill’s Christian Coalition, after huge publicity including Mr Capill standing alongside Jim Bolger and Helen Clark as an equal in leaders’ debates, winning just 4.33% of the vote – centre-right votes that ended up being wasted.
The MMP review’s recommendation means a similar disaster would be avoided.
It would mean National’s vote could fall as low as 40% but as long as NZ First was above 5% and the Conservatives above 4%, Mr Key would win his third term.
This all requires National to do a u-turn on its stated MMP policy, but that is easily done.
All Mr Key has to do is accept the recommendations of the independent review and Labour Party and argue that it is better for constitutional change to be made as recommended by independent experts and with the bipartisan support of the two main parties.
Anyone who accuses him of being self-interested in doing so might be making an interesting observation, but Mr Key can hardly be seriously criticised for taking the proper constitutional path.
The bigger criticism, of course, would be him dealing with Mr Peters, so rightly disgraced over his extraordinary dishonesty to the media and public over the pledge card and Owen Glenn affairs.
But Mr Key has kept his options open on that issue, making clear that his promise not to deal with him was limited to the elections of 2008 and 2011, with no decisions yet made on repeating the promise for 2014.
Arise Sir Winston. And welcome to the Cabinet, Mr Craig.