I find myself extremely relaxed over what decision Winston Peters may make. This wasn’t the case in 1996 when the tension over the decision was huge.
What I have found interesting is that a fair number of National MPs are pretty sanguine over the outcome also. Like me, they would rather National was in government – but they definitely see downsides also in being chosen by Winston – especially if he demands too high a price.
Obviously, I would like to see Bill English remain prime minister. I think he’d continue to do a great job, and would manage a government that makes both economic and social progress. A change of government would see huge backwards steps in areas such as education. I think New Zealand would be worse off if National is not in government.
But from a selfish point of view, not being chosen by Mr Peters will probably be better for National in the long term, and they may have a golden opportunity to knock out both the Greens and NZ First and send Labour back into a lengthy term of opposition.
What happens if he chooses Labour and you have a government propped up by both Greens and NZ First? A number of things.
For the first time the biggest party isn’t government. Sure the political scientists and Twitterati will proclaim that is how MMP works. But they are not representative of the population. Never before has there been a change of government by negotiation, rather than a clear election result. In 1999 and 2008 the government changed on the night. In 1996 and 2005 when there was a hung Parliament between blocs, the largest party got to govern. Those who say there will be no backlash don’t understand that not everyone is a political scientist. Many will see the government as illegitimate. It will be called the coalition of the losers.
Jacinda gets tainted
If Winston doesn’t go with Labour, Jacinda Ardern is massively favoured to become prime minister in 2020 and could well govern for a lengthy period after that. But if she becomes prime minister despite “losing” in 2017, then she will be seen as not having earned the job by some. Her honeymoon will be shortened. She is prime minister because Mr Peters chose her, not because she won an election. National wants to find a way to remove the stardust around Ms Ardern. Well having Mr Peters choose her will do just that.
A strong opposition
Emma Espiner has written on how National will be the Opposition from Hell if Mr Peters goes with Labour. She concludes by telling Ms Ardern and Greens leader James Shaw that if Mr Peters goes with National, it could be a lot worse. She is right. Go read her article. Ms Espiner incidentally is a former Labour staffer so no secret Tory.
Most governments that enter opposition have lost lots of seats, are dis-spirited, irrelevant, and out of touch with the electorate. It takes a while for the electorate to want to hear from them.
National will have more seats in the House than Labour and Greens combined. They are only 3% away from being able to govern again. So they only need to gain 1% a year. A party entering opposition with 45% of the vote is very different to one entering with 30% of the vote.
National will be in opposition because Mr Peters went with Labour, not because they had a bad election result. Pretty much every National MP thinks National ran a good campaign, and Mr English was a great campaigner. So it won’t be infighting as Labour has done in opposition. It will be a hungry beast that will want to devour the government.
Most electorate MPs will be in opposition
As I blogged yesterday it would be a first to have more electorates held by the opposition. In fact of the 64 general seats National has 41 and Labour 22. That means you will have the local MP railing against the government in two-thirds of the country. That can and will have an impact.
On economic policies there are some common areas between Labour, Greens and NZ First. On other issues there are massive differences. Mr Peters attacks refugees. Greens have a refugee MP. Mr Peters is against the Maori seats and Labour holds them all. Mr Peters is a fan of Donald Trump and Brexit, while Labour and Greens see them as totally bad.
The government will start off with discipline, but especially in this age of social media, the three parties will end up constantly slighting each other
A provincial/rural backlash
Mr Peters choosing Labour and the Greens (regardless of whether or not Greens get ministers) will go down like cold sick in much of rural and provincial New Zealand.
Around half the population live in provincial or rural NZ (outside three main cities).
Greens may be toast
If the Greens do get to be part of government, it may be their last one. No minor party without an electorate seat has survived a term in government.
Government is about hard choices and compromise. The Greens are not good at compromise.
NZ First may be toast
Winston has a slightly bigger safety margin than the Greens, but also no electorate seat. A provincial/rural backlash will hit him the hardest.
Even if he only gives Labour supply and confidence, he will still be seen as responsible for enabling their policies, their political correctness etc.
Yes he will get some policy gains, but most of them Labour and Greens will claim they were going to do anyway.
It’s the economy stupid
Yes National is leaving behind a pretty good surplus but the spending demands of the three parties is huge. Add to that the fact they have lots of other policies that will all negatively impact the economy and you have a reasonable chance of rising unemployment, higher interest rates and higher inflation.
Also bear in mind that a global economic shock is overdue.
If the economy does go South, National will campaign hard to pin this on Mr Peters choosing Labour and the Greens. And National is seen as vastly more credible on economic issues so attacks from them have more resonance than Grant Robertson complaining about the level of debt under National.
My head wants Winston Peters to choose National as that is better for New Zealand
It would be a shame to hand over education policies to the teacher unions, industrial relations policies to the labour unions, welfare policy to the unemployed workers union etc. I especially want the social investment approach to continue as this is what makes the biggest difference in helping the most vulnerable in society.
But my heart wants Winston Peters to go with Labour and Greens as that is better for National
The chance to make Labour a one-term government and knock both NZ First and Greens out of Parliament is enticing. Of course there is no guarantee. A Labour/Greens/NZ First government might govern for nine years of stability. But National is positioned to be an incredibly strong opposition that could make life hell for the government. You only get a honeymoon when you win an election. You don’t get one when it is a coalition of the losers.
So the options for National are a fourth term of government or being an incredibly strong opposition with a real chance to knock out Labour’s coalition partners and send them into opposition after one term.
It is close to six of one and half a dozen of the other. Either way National wins.
So ultimately does heart triumph over head? For my 2c I hope so.
Pollster and political commentator David Farrar posts at Kiwiblog.