I’ve followed New Zealand electoral politics for many years, rather rabidly since the Fifth Labour Government was elected in 1999, and have read the New Zealand Herald online pretty much daily since then.
Based in Auckland, the Herald has NZ’s largest newspaper circulation and a slew of political commentators ranging from former Alliance president Matt McCarten on the left to, say, former Act MP Deborah Coddington on the right.
I appreciate the content, still, reading the Herald is akin to reading the Times for Irish politics – not exactly a progressive editorial voice, but a professional media outlet with a well-organized website and lots of grist for the proverbial mill.
To some extent, the Herald’s political coverage reflects trends in NZ politics over the years – they sway in the breeze a bit, in other words. Certainly the Herald was friendliest to Labour when Helen Clark was PM and the National Party was hapless, while it’s currently, shall we say, well disposed toward the Nats who have governed since 2008 under PM John Key.
I think it’s fair to say that the Herald favours centre-right politics overall, and sometimes the appearance of bias is painfully obvious.
Having led the polls with majority support consistently for months, years even, the National Party dropped to 49.5% in the latest Herald Digipoll. “Poll shock,” the Herald breathlessly reported. Oh my good lord, the Nats have lost support and are now, what, still more popular than any other government in a Westminster democracy? Give me a break.
Suddenly the Herald was chock full of stern articles talking about the “surge” of New Zealand First (wow, what a surge – up to 3.7%!) and the scandalous possibility that the Nats wouldn’t win a majority on their own or with their preferred coalition partners.
The worst of the scaremongering came via David Farrar, who runs NZ’s most popular blog, Kiwiblog, and is described by the Herald as a “centre-right blogger” (translation: has worked for four National Party leaders). No surprise, that, though one wishes Farrar would admit to having an agenda. It’s okay. Most of us do, though few of us write for the country’s leading newspaper.
Farrar’s recent column, “What a Labour-led coalition might look like,” is laughable. Farrar supposes that there is a “small swing” to Labour (which, please note, lost support in that same poll) and makes assumptions that are by no means certain or even plausible: that NZ First reaches the 5% hurdle, that the Green, Maori & Mana parties would back a Labour government, that Peter Dunne loses and John Banks doesn’t take Epsom.
Oh come on.
Granted I’m not a big Winston Peters fan – to my mind New Zealand First represents the worst sort of populism, serving Peters’ egotistical need for attention every three years – but objectively, 3.7% being less than NZ First won in 2008, it will be tough for them to reach the hurdle. Even if they do poll over 5%, Labour didn’t exactly have a fun time when it last let Peters into cabinet and Peters has ruled out working with Labour.
The Greens are always considered to be a natural coalition partner for Labour, especially by the Herald, despite evidence to the contrary: that when Labour won its substantial minorities under Helen Clark, the Greens did not go into coalition with Labour. And it’s silly to suppose that the Maori Party, which currently supports the National government, would suddenly, capriciously, without logic or reason switch to supporting Labour, its major competitor for the Maori electorate seats.
As for the Mana Party, the idea that Hone Harawira can work with his erstwhile Maori Party colleagues – or anyone – is laughable. (Am I the only one out there who thinks Hone is the new Winston Peters of the left?)
Farrar’s highly questionable poll and seat distribution analysis aside, his suppositions about the composition of a Labour-Green-Maori-Mana-NZ First cabinet reaches heights of laughable hysteria. My hands-down favourite paragraph:
Gareth Hughes could become the Climate Change Minister entrusted with making sure New Zealand is the world leader on reducing climate emissions. Greenpeace’s target of a 40% reduction by 2020 would need around one third of the dairy herd to be euthanized over the next nine years.
Oh. My. God. If you vote anything but National (or United Future or Act), the Greens are gonna KILL ALL THE COWS!
I suspect Farrar of having another purpose in envisioning this nightmare coalition scenario, snuck into in the column’s last paragraph:
So as we head into the final fortnight before the election, a Labour-Green-NZ First-Maori-Mana Government may become a viable alternative to National winning the election. It will be MMP politics at its best. The more parties you need to agree to govern, the more consensus you get – right?
This election, Kiwis are also voting in a referendum to keep or ditch their country’s Mixed Member Proportional electoral system that has been in place since 1996, and despite polls showing majority support for retaining MMP, Farrar is, in a roundabout way, bricking us over the head with the notion that first-past-the-post would prevent all those pesky five-party leftist coalition governments (that exist only in Farrar’s imagination).
How wonderful it would be for Farrar and his ilk to have first-past-the-post back with a twenty-point spread between National and Labour. Canadians may recall the result of the 1984 federal election when the Tories won 50% of the vote and 75% of the seats, and because of its smaller size, NZ’s first-past-the-post results were once even more lopsided – that’s why voters opted for MMP in the first place.
I’m in favour of keeping MMP in New Zealand, though I prefer a ranked ballot – less kind to smaller parties, but helps to prevent wasted votes and avoids splitting MPs into two groups, electorate and list, along with it the perception that list MPs are beholden to their parties, not the voters.
I really don’t like the MMP exception that allows a party to gain list seats without reaching the 5% hurdle if it elects a single MP in an electorate. Why? It makes no sense to me. A party that fails to reach the hurdle yet elects a single MP should have, well, one MP. In 2008, Act won list seats with fewer votes that New Zealand First because of Rodney Hide’s win in Epsom – not that I was upset to see NZ First out of parliament. Still, don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater and all that.
Farrar’s scaremongering seems even more inappropriate when one considers that John Key and the National Party aren’t indulging in the same rhetoric. Key is a reasonable man, for a Nat, and has done the expected in having a cuppa with John Banks to indicate his tacit support for Banks to win Epsom, thereby bringing Act (and former National) leader Don Brash into the legislature as well – working the system to produce the most stable result for a continuing National-led administration.
It’s not the result I’d prefer but I respect Key for being calm, cool, and collected, and for not insulting our intelligence like certain centre-right bloggers out there.
I can’t be dead certain, but I’m pretty sure John Key has avoided, at least, spurious claims that the Greens take their marching orders from Greenpeace HQ or that the Greens are gonna KILL ALL THE COWS.
Whatever. I’m not that fond of cattle anyway.