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Keith Rankin: From Labour "Landslide" to 2008

From Labour "Landslide" to 2008

Keith Rankin, 1 August 2002

If last weekend's election had been held under "First-Past-the-Post" (FPP) with 69 electorates Labour+Anderton would have won 62 to 65 of those seats. This is because, when we only had an "electorate vote", we had to use it as a party vote. So it is the party votes in each electorate which tell us, had we not had MMP, which party would have won that electorate.

Only Epsom, Taranaki-King country, Rakaia, and Clutha-Southland would have gone to National. We would have had a landslide to dwarf all landslides. Much bigger, for example, than the Blair "landslide" in Britain.

Yet Labour only got 41% of the votes cast. Just 32% of registered voters voted for Labour. And, with 754,600 votes, just 26% of 2.9 million resident New Zealanders of voting age voted Labour. (That last figure will increase to 27% once the final count is completed.)

The most important features of this election were the high numbers of sitting electorate MPs returned, and the unwillingness to have both a one-party Government and a one-party Opposition. Not only do we like MMP, which enables us to treat the electorate vote as a personal vote rather than as a party vote, but we like our MPs.

Yes, despite what we say, we like politicians. We like them to get on with their job; to act as our representatives, while we get on with our own lives. We like even Clem Simich and Murray McCully. National was rejected, yet National's MPs were endorsed.

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There was little evidence of tactical voting. Most people simply voted for their preferred candidate and their preferred party. No longer the negative voting under FPP, where we either voted for the party we disliked the least (in marginal electorates), for the party we had always voted for (class-based voting), or frivolously when we knew our vote could not make a difference (eg in safe seats).

I have little doubt that Helen Clark will be Prime Minister until at least 2008. Labour will predominate in the 2005 election, both because of the disarray within National and because the economy will be looking the best it's looked since 1973. So my main interest is in both how the left and the moderate right (ie National) rebrand over the next 6 years.

The Greens, despite their disappointing showing, are clearly the dominant force on the left. Yet they are vulnerable due to the perception that the Greens are a one-issue party (ie just a party advocating for the natural environmental) and due to their not having an electorate base. New Zealand needs a Green Alliance as a stable broad-based political force to the left of Labour.

The Greens are best placed to lead a left renaissance because they are essentially liberal. They are not advocates of big government, and they are not anti-business. But they do share the same concerns for social justice as New Labour and their commitment to Maori issues is almost indistinguishable from Mana Motuhake. (A Green Alliance could contest the Maori party vote in future, leaving the even more radical Mana Maori to stand candidates against Labour in the Maori electorates.)

So here's my scenario for the Greens. For the next 15 months they enable Labour to govern, while waving the flag for left issues such as social justice, qualitative economic growth, food safety, and peace. The ultimatum over the GE moratorium will force Labour to end the moratorium, even if it needs Act's support to do so. While the ultimatum is proving to be self-defeating for the Greens, by going into Opposition rather than into coalition, they will be well placed to build an exciting Green-Alliance in time for 2005.

With a de facto or de jure Labour-United coalition in 2004, United will find it hard to campaign as anything other than a close ally of the government. That would considerably reduce the chance of United joining a centre-right coalition in 2005.

After 2005, it is likely that Peter Dunne will find himself in much the same position as he was in 1996, regardless of whether United forms a formal coalition with Labour. (The last time United and Labour formed a de facto coalition, 1929-30, the smaller party suffered.) Labour will be obliged to look to its left for support. A strong and fresh-looking Green-Alliance - a Green-led movement bubbling with good ideas - would be best from the public's point of view as a coalition partner for Labour. (Labour would of course prefer a compliant partner.)

In 2005-2008, an exciting united left could have its best chance for many years to set the policy agenda. So it is imperative that the left gets its act together by the end of 2004: on organisation, on being attractive to young voters, and by offering a progressive vision backed by just economic policies that are well thought through.

To summarise, I'm looking towards a conservative Labour-led government for most of this term, and a much more radical Labour-led government of the left in 2005-2008. 2002 to 2005 are the critical years for the development of left philosophies.

My other interest is in joining the debate on the near right. It is imperative that both the current government and any alternative government has good ideas to work with. While I may prefer a government of the left, I know we will at times have governments of the right. So it is in my interest to promote good government of the right, because at all times it is better to have good government than to have bad government. In another column I will outline a new vision of the centre that could just make National electable in 2008.

© 2002 Keith Rankin

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