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The Greens & the Coromandel: Labour Begin To Move

The long Labour weekend, rather than providing the mid-way break in the election campaign, instead became what could potentially become the most significant. The Green Party timed the launch of their election campaign perfectly to coincide with a Sunday Star Times poll which shows their chances of making it back to parliament are good.

And faced with the figures Labour leader Helen Clark has finally begun to move towards what could be a crucial accommodation with the Greens in the Coromandel – by far the most significant seat of the looming election.

The Sunday Star Times Poll of the Coromandel put Green Co- leader Jeanette Fitzsimons on 34 per cent, three per cent behind National’s encumbent Murray McLean on 37 per cent. The only other significant polling in the seat is that of Labour’s Margaret Hawkeswood on 15 per cent.

As it looks likely that ACT will not run a candidate against McLean in the seat it is looking difficult for McLean to build his support much further. Fitzsimons meanwhile will be hoping Labour supporters in the seat will be switched on enough to realise that a vote for Hawkeswood is essentially a vote for McLean, and potentially a vote for another term of a National led government.

McLean on 37 per cent is looking very shaky with the Greens and Labour holding 49 per cent between them. With the Alliance holding five per cent and NZ First about the same there exists a wealth of anti-National vote in the Coromandel, with only one candidate, Fitzsimons, who can unseat McLean. All that remains to be seen now is how this left vote is to be harnessed.

With the Greens polling around the three per cent mark the three or four MPs they would bring to parliament could give the left the numbers to form a new government without the undesirable result of having to rely on Winston Peters. Right now Labour and the Alliance simply do not have the numbers and Helen Clark, for the first time ever, has started to make noises about tactical voting.

Clark has said while she will not instruct Labour supporters in the seat to vote for Fitzsimons she acknowledges the seat is a two way race between Fitzsimons and McLean and that voters should be aware of that. Clark knows Labour has nothing to lose and everything to gain through assisting a Green victory in the Coromandel and these initial noises may be only be the first.

Clark has said the position in the Coromandel is constantly under review however Labour’s Margaret Hawkeswood has promised to give 100 per cent in the campaign and has ruled out standing aside or endorsing Fitzsimons. She says closer to the election it will become obvious to Labour supporters that in order for a change of government - which she says is her ultimate aim - her supporters may have to vote tactically, but she will not be instructing them to do so.

Fitzsimons has ruled out supporting a government of the right so Green seats in parliament would be a major insurance policy for Labour and the Alliance. In admitting that her party would have no truck with the right Fitzsimons admits she has reduced her bargaining power and could as such never hold the ‘balance of power’ as it has come to be known. She says her approach is more honest and she endorses the fashion in which Labour are dealing with the situation in the Coromandel, saying it is an honest approach that still gives voters the option of supporting whoever they prefer.

This is where the difference between the left and the right is clearly apparent. National and ACT play harder politics with MMP than Labour, the Alliance and the Greens. There is a fundamental difference in approach as can be seen in National completely and openly pulling out of Wellington Central and Ohariu Belmont to support ACT’s Richard Prebble and United’s Peter Dunne.

Although the race is far from run and nothing can be ruled out, Labour are playing the game a whole lot softer in the Coromandel – a seat which is likely to be of much more importance than Ohraiu Belmont or Wellington Central. And this raises further issues in other seats.

With pressure mounting on the Alliance’s Phillida Bunkle to withdraw from Wellington Central to aid Labour’s Marian Hobbs’ race against Prebble, would a similar accommodation – if that is what it is - that Labour are ‘offering’ in the Coromandel be acceptable from the Alliance in Wellington Central? It would seem not.

Despite her promises to the contrary, it is looking increasingly likely that Bunkle may not be represented on the ballot paper. Were this the case, such a move would throw up further issues and further highlight the lack of planning and foresight of the left in this campaign. Both the situations in Wellington Central and the Coromandel could have been seen a mile off. Nobody is surprised at the way things have panned out because they have both been reasonably predictable.

Why then were these events not planned for in order to prevent the mixed signals, the confusion and coded talk which is now happening in these seats? Why weren’t plans in place from the outset of the campaign? If there were such plans both parties could avoid knee-capping their candidates late in the piece and thus keep their local supporters informed and therefore more happy.

Alliance leader Jim Anderton is looking particularly inept in his handling of the Coromandel developments. Despite support for his party plunging new lows in the polls Anderton says he is unhappy about a third party being involved in a new government. This looks just plain stupid from Anderton because he simply can’t do anything about it. All the polls have shown that a third party was always going to be required, primarily due to his own party’s huge slump in support from the last election.

The Alliance have now lost the opportunity to publicly broker an accommodation in the Coromandel in exchange for the withdrawal of Bunkle in Wellington Central. Now if they decide to withdraw Bunkle they will be getting nothing in return and will again look like they are being bullied by Labour in the most high-profile seat in the country.

And if they do decide to withdraw Bunkle will they also withdraw their candidate Tony Bird from the Coromandel? Although he is only polling around five per cent will Anderton, like Clark, admit that the Coromandel is a two horse race and encourage Bird’s supporters to consider tactical voting? Not likely!

The Alliance is still very bitter over the Greens decision to split from them and, other than Anderton carping on that he wants Labour all to himself, no clearer can this be seen than in the Coromandel where Tony Bird is publicly comparing Fitzsimons to Alamein Kopu.

While the Alliance continue to flounder in the polls they should get used to a three way coalition on the left, with one party or the other, and put their misplaced pride aside. And fast. If their candidate is continuing to run a campaign based on denigrating the woman who could finally get Anderton into government then commonsense suggests Anderton should stop it. Fast.

If the Greens do manage to make it into parliament, and this is still far from certain, Anderton and the Alliance are going to have to move on. They should start this process right now because, like Labour, they too have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

The rise of the Greens has seen National launch a campaign against them over the last weekend. Press releases have been issued attacking their top five candidates and with National knowing that the Coromandel could eventually determine their political status for the next three years this looks set not only to continue but to intensify.

The Greens look like they may get to parliament on their own merits but the road has not been easy and it promises to get much, much worse. National and ACT will throw everything they can at this small party and, with the Alliance opposing them as well, if they do make it to parliament they will certainly have earned the right to be there.


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