We are now officially in election year. In under 307 days, we will have a new government. Or not. We may have the same government. Our freshly minted Prime Minister, made out of retreaded National party leader Bill English, will be leading his party to what he hopes is a fourth term of a National-led coalition. Andrew Little is hoping the opposite.
Whilst I have hopes for the election, some of those are a deep delve into fantasy whilst others seem more likely. On the fantasy end is a Green-led coalition government that actually does something about our environment and responding to climate change before we are all buying seaside bachs at 60 feet above current sea level and drinking eau de silage out of our taps.
If I am ridiculously hopeful, I would be happy with a Labour-led coalition with a Green Party that’s pushed over 12 percent party vote and a Mana-Māori hybrid. Maybe even The Opportunities Party is in there somewhere.
Possible, but not likely, is a Labour-led coalition with New Zealand First and the Greens. I think that Winston will be in the box seat, but with James Shaw at the helm alongside Metiria, the Greens will sell their soul in any negotiations to be in government; all their criticisms of the Māori Party will be able to be quoted back to them.
But what I actually predict for November is a National-led coalition with ACT and New Zealand First. Probably another confidence and supply agreement with the Māori Party. I am not sure Dunne will survive again; I suspect National will stand a strong candidate and say goodbye to United Future. To arrive at these at-best speculative opinions, the following is my analysis of national politics in the year to come.
Bill English is neither the hoped-for disaster that spells the end of National’s golden weather nor the media-spun energetic leadership that ensures continuity of message and connection with people of Aotearoa New Zealand. Bill English is a serious man who has faith in the power of empiricism to discover the Truth, who most people think has done a good job with the economy, and is the living embodiment of socially concerned conservatism. He is not inspiring, he not a populist, but he will not be caught out pulling pony tails.
Most people will likely vote for the status quo because they will vote for themselves, and National will ensure there are enough tax cuts lollies to keep the Baby Boomers loyal. The depression in voting turnout will again help National’s case. But what they perceive as strength, an unchanging selfish conservatism, is also English’s National government’s Achille’s heel; if something unexpected comes up, they will not have any ideas on how to respond or fix it, and Bill is not enough of a populist to joke and lie his way through it.
A focused Labour Party on a war footing, like Helen’s in 1999, could eat this current iteration of National for breakfast. But the only war footing the current Labour Party seems to be truly on is for its own civil war. Whilst Andrew Little definitely wants to win, he’s not particularly focused on the general election. Andrew Little wants to win the next Labour leadership challenge. Most of the policies, and I include the mildly visionary Future of Work, are written and then explained in language that is for one or more of the factions of the Labour Party rather than the electorate.
In addition the Labour Party seems to believe that by-election success has equivalency with general election success, but in an MMP world of party vote and electorate vote, that is delusional. With the election of Bill English and a by-election win it seems like the party went into full on backslapping mode and have entered the New Year with a beer in one hand, a Hellers pre-cooked sausage in the other and wearing an apron adorned with a naked Andrew Little money shot.
Labour could win the next election but they have yet to stumble upon the hot topic that fires the public imagination. They have some of the people who could take advantage of that, but none of them are Andrew Little. They persist in trying to build a Key-esque cult of personality around someone who hasn’t the natural instinct for public perception.
It strikes me that James Shaw and Metiria Turei have not gelled as a leadership team for the Greens. The Greens had an aborted attempt at pivoting towards Māori with Marama Davidson, but her national connections in Māori and iwi communities are limited to Auckland and her home, so this never really flew. So each member of the Greens caucus has ended up banging their own individual drum for their own hobby horses; all worthy causes, but not a vision for the country. They have damned themselves to a likely repeat of the last few elections: a worthy near 10 percent, but not the heady heights they are aiming for.
I have been really impressed with Marama Fox and her social media savvy approach. She is astute, she understands the Māori Party base, and she is easily the best Māori MP in Parliament. She works well with Te Ururoa Flavell who gets to play an elder statesman role. The next election should have looked like a real building phase for the Māori Party, but instead they have an issue. They have a Tukuroirangi, and three’s company. He has aspirations that don’t have a lot of place for Marama Fox, but are focused on rewarding Māori male leaders and iwi fundamentalists. He wants to build the political wing of the Iwi Chairs Forum for the benefit of iwi who have embraced the corporate model. Ideas floating around the Māori Party like you must choose if you are on the list or standing in an electorate seem aimed at blunting Marama; a shame really.
Our two friends in ACT and United Future are probably going to have quite different years. David Seymour has disarmed people by looking like Rimmer, but has proven a reasonably sharp operator by backing a combination of core ACT issues and populist ideas. People love a bit of a celebrity, so he will hold onto his seat. Peter Dunne is in a less certain position. If National stands someone, and that is not clear yet, he will finally leave our Parliament with ministerial pension in tow.
But the winner this year, the man in the box seat, is the old silver fox, Winston Peters. The Trump palaver has given fresh oxygen to the hateful issues from which Winston has benefited so much in the past: immigration; nationalism; the filthy rich; and establishment politicians. He is of course without shame, and so hypocritical that he transcends the word. None of it is about legacy or the good of the party, it is all about Winston, so he is uncoupled from the concerns and anxieties that drove so many of the parties above. And the people love him with a passion. He will burn up the air around him with outrageous statements, and he will push New Zealand First over 10 percent and maybe up to 15 percent.
Winston Peters will decide the formation of the next government. He may even convince one of the parties desperate enough for power to make him Prime Minister.
[The header image is borrowed from Bryce Edward’s blog site. Thanks Bryce!]