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Richard Prebble's Letter from Wellington

Richard Prebble's Letter from Wellington

Richard Prebble's
Letter from Wellington
Monday, 26 November 2001

Alliance Meltdown

Jim Anderton has lost control of the Alliance Party. The executive has pledged to support Matt McCarten and tomorrow's showdown caucus meeting won't solve the crisis - it just illustrates how weak Anderton's position has become. The caucus doesn't decide policy, strategy or, most importantly, the party list.

Under the Alliance constitution (and by law under the Electoral Act) it's the party that determines the list. Jim's plan to go over the heads of the executive and appeal directly to the membership is also futile - what membership does the Alliance have?

Anderton's options are bleak. He can surrender and become the show captain, knowing that after the election he'll be replaced as leader. He can announce that he won't stand at the election, pulling the party down with him; he can abandon the Alliance and rejoin Labour (Labour and the Alliance held talks on a possible merger last year); or he could form a breakaway party with Matt Robson, Sandra Lee and Kevin Campbell.

What Happens to the Alliance?

A possible scenario is that Harre, Jackson and Gordon will campaign as the Alliance on a socialist ticket. The Democrats - formerly Social Credit - will go it alone. Jim, Sandra, Matt and Kevin will either join Labour or form their own party (the New Alliance?). Sorry, there's no home for Phillida.

Who Wins?

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Winston Peters is the first winner out of all this. Most Alliance voters are the disillusioned elderly. Many of them voted for Winston in 1996. Although New Zealand First has done nothing all year, its poll rating has been climbing as Alliance voters look for a new home.

The eventual winner could be National. Those elderly voters originally supported National and Bill English is working hard to win them back. Unreported by the media, Bill has been speaking to pensioner meetings and getting a good response.

Who Loses?

The Left will be the loser from the Alliance meltdown because it will focus attention on the Greens as a coalition partner. The Greens' intransigence on issues such as GM, defence and trade, that wins them poll support, loses the Left middle voters. No one believes Labour can form a stable government with the Greens. Only National and ACT can now credibly say they could form a stable coalition.

Total War

A sign of the level of feuding is that it's been leaked to the Letter that during the local body elections the Alliance parliamentary office printer went through three ink cartridges in 10 days. The cartridges cost about $350 each. One cartridge can print about 10,000 pages - so that's 30,000 pages. If the printing was for the local body election campaign, it must be repaid. The Speaker has asked for a report from the Parliamentary Services Commission.

Snap Election?

No Alliance MP has threatened to vote against the government, so the Labour Party's position in Parliament is, if anything, stronger. Labour is looking at the deteriorating economic situation and also noting that since September 11 there's been a swing in support back towards incumbent governments worldwide.

Labour is tempted to call an early election but it knows an early poll could rebound. An election won't solve the Left's coalition problems.

New Boundaries

The new electoral boundaries appear to favour Labour - particularly the West Auckland seats. It's possible to draw boundaries following communities of interest that would give National a marginal Titirangi seat. These constituency advantages could prove fatal for Labour. Constituency seats are deducted from the list entitlement, so it's the list, not the constituency vote that's crucial. Safe seats tend to reduce voter turnout.

New Maori Seat - Electoral Handicap

The government spent $3,349,582 promoting the Maori option and there was a net gain of 9006 Maori on the Maori roll - just enough for another seat. It's another safe seat for Labour, at a cost of $370 per voter. Labour is creating for itself a formidable handicap because Maori seats are impossible to organise and have a low turnout. Next election, with no real contest in the Maori seats, the turnout could be as low as 50 percent.

Second Anniversary

Tomorrow is the second anniversary of the Labour/Alliance government. The Westpac household survey reports average household wealth has fallen again - it's gone down every quarter since the election.

Jim Anderton promised that NZers would return from overseas - it's taken a terrorist attack and a global economic downturn to reverse the migration figures. Last month saw a 580 net gain in skilled migration - but we are still replacing Otago medical graduates with doctors from the third world. The government is missing a wonderful chance to attract home the 870,000 skilled Kiwis living abroad. A good start would be to scrap the 39 percent top tax rate.

Sponsorship Opportunity

The Letter is offering a sponsorship opportunity to all those businesses who think $176m on Maori TV is not enough, that $362m on Closing the Gaps should be more, and the reason the Ministry of Maori Affairs can't say whether any of this spending is making any difference is because they are not paid enough.

You can sponsor Te Puni Kokiri - actually, their sports teams - for an inter-office tournament. Unlike the taxpayer, at least you'll know for sure that your money's being wasted.

The department, on letterhead, has been shaking down businesses for sponsorship. The State Services Commission, the upholder of public service ethics, seems unworried.

After all, if it's okay for Ministers to ring judges for favours, then a shake down of businesses seems mild. (Sponsorship offer at


On reading media reports that Jim Anderton claimed to have telephoned Matt McCarten and left messages but had not been able to reach his party president, ACT's Rodney Hide wondered how hard it was to ring Mr McCarten. He dialled McCarten's number and got straight through.

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The latest version of the Letter will always be available at All previous Letters from Wellington will be found at

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