EDITORIAL: MMP Comes Of Age.
National Leader Christopher Luxon remains in the box seat to form the next NZ Govt following the counting of special votes. Meanwhile the Greens and Te Pati Maori are riding high, but with a vacuum still unfilled in leadership on the left.
But more importantly - in the last two weeks since the poll - MMP has not really functioning as it is supposed to. Chris Luxon is not yet the "Incoming Prime Minister" he is just the Leader of the National Party until Luxon can command the confidence of the house.
Ever since election night there has been a kind of consensual media march towards a National- NZ First-ACT Govt. This has been presented as near inevitable to the public by media.
This remains "a" likely outcome. And if Winston Peters can agree on terms with David Seymour and Christopher Luxon it will deliver a strong Right leaning govt with an 11 seat majority in the house.
One which would take NZ strongly to the right, delivering cost cutting at a time when the country will be facing the next global financial crisis's headwinds.
But this is not the only option.
And other ones should at least be considered.
The Greens and National could technically form a government with 63 votes in a 123 seat parliament with a bare majority - as could Labour-NZF-Greens-and Te Pati Maori. This coalition would be viable and have a 7 seat majority. Te Pati Maori could enter into a confidence and supply arrangement if they did not wish to be in cabinet.
Winston would probably have to fall out with his current interlocutors for this to happen - but that is not an impossible thing to imagine.
But in order for anything to happen there will need to be someone on the left in a position of power and influence willing to at least speak to Winston Peters. Chris Hipkins ruled this out on election night whilst conceding (illegitmately in my opinion) to Chris Luxon.
For now apparently nobody in the left is willing to pick up a phone to Winston.. Tomorrow the Labour Party Caucus will meet, and hopefully that will fix this.
In simple terms Chris Hipkins declared a loss before a loss had materialised on election night. Effectively giving up before even entering the ring, and so far he has stubbornly maintained this position.
This is deeply disrespectful to both MMP, and the voters who voted for left leaning parties who have just as much reason to expect party leaders to try to deliver on the policies campaigned on as have right leaning voters. This is supposed to be a contest That is how MMP works.
A Watershed Election
In MMP terms this election result is more complicated than most and definitely a watershed in many ways.
It is a maturation of MMP in NZ in my opinion. A further step on the path towards MMP functioning more similarly to how it operates in Denmark and Germany.
In Germany the Govt. often puts together bespoke support arrangements – i.e. cobbles together cross party majorities to address particular policy issues on the fly.
This also happens here also - the cross party support for the Therapeutics Products Bill being one example. This will now die with Winston Peters however.
The scale of the political superstructure is of course a lot bigger in Germany where the main Parliamentary parties have a depth of detailed focus and experience in their caucuses enabling pluralistic policy debate and options to be contested more openly.
Stakeholder groups are also larger and better resourced ,more professional, and perhaps a little less captured than ours - as is the public service.
From observation in NZ we way more often than is healthy tend to suffer from group thinking - within both media and politics. For e.g. the persistent view that “Capital Gains and Wealth Taxes are impossible”when in most of the world they and inheritance tax are completely normal and contribute majorly to tax revenus.
From what I have observed in recent months on my return to NZ there is a tendency for tribalism, special interests (interests of donors and grandees), and loyalty to often prevail over the public interest in terms of good government.
There seems to be too little pride taken in doing a good job. Politics - in lobbyist terms - seems to be gamed in a very unfortunate manner.
During the election itself many of the policy ideas campaigned on were pure hot air, i.e. impossible to implement. Incoherent dog-whistle policy statements on Three Waters and Co-governance were particularly daft. And much of this was not called out effectively in the media.
Divisive Politics Returns
It was also alarming how much of the Brash 2005 (Orewa) era of divisive politics has returned.
And three Waters and Co-Governance cannot be repealed. Doing so would unravel years of work in preparation to address water infrastructure issues which are real and problematic. If the first thing an incoming govt. does is to deliver on this promise it will cause chaos oin regional and local government, and economic and political disruption across the country.
Wiser gallery heads tell me not to worry about this. The manifesto promises will be addressed by tinkering with legislation, and making small legislative changes in wording whist leaving the substance intact.
Co-governance is also not - as Winston Peters said on the campaign debates - “Apartheid.” This is crazy talk.
Te Tiriti is finally being recognised as it ought to be. Incremental progress is being made in reconciling NZ-Aotearoa's post colonial issues. In the Seabed and Foreshore Case the Supreme Court found Maori do have significant rights in relation to governance of water. This has been settled law since 2011 with legislation.
Based on this it is apparent the NZ public have being very cynically manipulated left right and center. National's impressive success to my mind can be attributed to three factors in order of importance.
A referendum on the Treaty as proposed by David Seymour seems absurd. It is the founding document of our country
- House owners are struggling financially and they want house prices to rise - and National was pretty much saying they would do this.
- The age old idea of letting the other team have a go
- The bad blood hanging over from the covid mandates and the Parliamentary grounds occupation
- Poor campaigning by Labour
The Politics of Wealth
From a overseas resident perspective the politics of wealth in NZ seem deeply dysfunctional. NZ is nominally one of the richest nations in the world per-capita up there with Singapore and Switzerland.
Labour’s last two terms finally addressed the goal of enabling greater home ownersip by assisting families into housing. But the work has barely begun.
It is vital for this to continue to prevent NZ turning into a nation of haves and have nothings. The risk now is that a right of center govt. with a Roger Douglas / ACT / Libertarian perspective on fiscal policy could result in this progress coming to a screaming halt.
A majority of NZers still live in rentals, and renters in NZ have next to no rights. Roughly 40% of NZers own all the housing and a much smaller group a substantial portion of the rental housing.
Here in NZ have now been talking about inequality and the precariat now for a couple of decades - but have not really done anything meaningful to address it. Fiscal austerity now will make things worse.
By way of contrast In France it is illegal to evict a tenant in winter. And if you evict a tenant over the age of 65 you have to find them an equivalent rental at the same price.
The "apparent" incoming government, ACT and National, stood and were well rewarded by the electorate on a campaign platform focused on sticking a blow torch under property prices at the high end of the market targetting $2 million plus homes. This policy seems specifically designed to assist the wealthiest property speculators in the country to get even more wealthy.
Meanwhile the much critiqued “captains call” on wealth tax by Chris Hipkins is doubtless one of the causes for Labour’s routing in the polls.
The public are far from enamoured with either party as a result.
Unfortunately the lure of incrementalism and Kiwis’ built in penchant for not rocking the boats of the loud and privileged few maintains an upper hand in NZ .
This is why more creativity is needed on the left to prevent what could be a catastrophic level of damage done to NZ's economy and society by an ill-prepared and inexperienced National-ACT Team.
As things stand monopolies or near monopolies abound.
Our Commerce Commission is a damp squib. Our Australian bank overlords, who have mortgages over a vast portion of our alleged national wealth make 40-50 percent profit margins. Westpac even closed down all its branches in Wellington bar one during Covid. Today it was announced that their profit in NZ had fallen from $1 Billion to $800 million.
An incoming super-neo-liberal National-Act Government with Libertarian like purist approaches to protecting the interests of the wealthy is not what NZ needs. And Winston is not a natural partner for this.
This term is likely Winston's swansong - and this outcome would be literally the antithesis of everything he has achieved over a very lengthy period of political influence
Winston has been the politician who has most effectively navigated MMP, over and over again.
Now he is once again in a position to potentially put a break on a lurch to the right but over the past week seemingly nobody in the media thinks it is possible for him to even consider doing so.
Global Finanical Headwinds Warning
All of this would be alarming enough – but the headwinds NZ is about to face in the wider global economy – which is definitely now heading for a global recession – are such that complacency & walking backwards ought not to be what we are planning to do.
Yet that is precisely what Christopher Luxon, David Seymour, Ruth Richardson, The Taxpayers Union, and Alan Gibbs appear to have planned for us.
We are sleepwalking towards a dangerous dystopia at this point focussed around talking points rather than policy, National MP Mark Mitchell - of Dirty Politics Fame and possible Police Minister claims he will get gang members to put on makeup to cover their tattoos. Good luck with that.
It would greatly appreciated if the currently apparently somnolent left party leadership - Rawiri (TPM), James(GRN) and Chris(LAB) would at least engage Winston in a conversation about the future of NZ, instead of hiding away and leaving everything to Luxon and Seymour.
As I said at the beginning of this editorial there is a path to forming a Centre-Left Govt in the results of this election.
It would be a Labour-Greens-NZF-TPM Govt. It is no more legitimate or illigentimate than a three party Govt led by National. It would have a 7 seat majority which should make it stable. The electorate also voted for this just as much as they did for a National Govt. And many of the older left leaning voters who switched votes to Winston in the closing weeks did so expressly for the purpose of wanting Winston back in a position where he could put a break on National-Act excesses. This is not a new rodeo.
It is time for the left to wake up and for the prospect of a center left coalition to be talked up. This ought to be at least pursued if only to increase Winston’s leverage with respect to policy excesses that a Luxon-Seymour Govt. has told us it intends to pursue.
But the main reason it should be pursued is because if it is not, then the Labour Party, Green Party and Te Pati Maori could be reasonably seen as disrespectful to their electorates.