National will try to keep what they push through Parliament as uncontroversial as possible and be promoting the improving economic outlook as much as possible. They will sell Genesis shares and then try to consign their Mixed Ownership Model to the past. A number of their MPs have already announced their retirement at the next election, leaving openings for new talent.
Their ideal aim would be to get a majority on their own but this is very unlikely to happen (and National know this). Last election their +50% poll support eased back to a near majority but the electorate ensured they would need other party support. Their options for other parties this time are looking shaky but options are likely to emerge.
John Key will continue to hold up National support. He remains popular and despite some mistakes and lapses is mostly a masterful politician with an ordinary touch.
National would be doing extremely well to match their 2011 result (59 MPs) but are likely to ease back off this unless coalition options look unlikely and voters are scared too much by a lurch left alternative.
Labour have struggled to recover post Clark/Cullen. Goff never enthused the electorate and the Shearer experiment was a failure that took to long to rectify.
David Cunliffe did well to win the leadership battle but he has struggled to define himself clearly. He has become known for yeah/nah and talking out of both sides of his mouth to different audiences. This highlights one of his biggest challenges, how to satisfy the more left leaning party activists but attract the bigger centre-left vote. Tying Labour’s chances closely to the Greens makes this more challenging.
Labour are still very light on policies and what they have announced don’t look like election winners. Their power policy looked more like an anti-National anti-asset sale keep up with the Greens reaction rather than a well thought through policy. Their massive house building programme will worry voters about spending despite Labour’s claims the policy will eventually self-fund, and it also has a risk of appearing to be a housing lolly scramble that will only benefit the lucky.
Cunliffe had a few months to find his way followed by a timely holiday break. He has most of the year to define himself, his leadership and his party. Finding the right tone and an electable balance will test him.
Labour also have to grapple with the harder left and much closer association with the Greens – they have changed over this term from a major party competing one-to-one with National to a party dependent on the Greens as a minimum and possibly also Mana and NZ First.
Even if Cunliffe manages his own party’s political mix well Labour has to also hope that other parties to their left don’t scare the voters too much.
Labour should improve on their last election record low result (27%), but they have already conceded they won’t compete on their own with National. They will do well to make the high forties.
The Green Party Improved very well in their last term to fourteen MPs and had hoped to continue an upward trend, but polls have shown this may not be easy for them. They have pretty much flatlined – and this has been substantially helped by Labour’s lack of traction. If Labour rise then Greens will struggle to go up with them, they could even slip a bit.
The Green rise has created a problem. They have changed from a quirky environmental party with substantial partial support to a power player with aims of major financial influence in the next government. This scares many voters who otherwise like to see someone speaking up for the environment.
Russel Norman did well to appear as the de facto opposition leader through most of the year but slipped back as Cunliffe stepped up. Norman has fought some good fights but there’s significant resistance to his economic leanings.
Co-leader Metiria Turei highlights a major Green contradiction – an obviously well dressed well fed academic upper middle class party fighting for the poor and fighting against poverty. They appear to be speaking for but not with their target constituency. Do-gooders out of touch reality.
And even on their environmental campaigns Greens are annoying some of their potential support. Most people don’t see a prosperous future for cyclists without jobs.
Green ideals of green energy and green jobs and green printed money look like little more than slick marketing.
And too much talk of taxing more to hand out more, of equal everything regardless of effort, is worrying many people.
Greens may do well to hold their number of MPs but may be disappointed in a lack of improvement, especially if Labour reverse their lacklustre efforts and make a bold showing.
NZ First are an unknown – will they make 5% or won’t they? Apart from Winston Peters their MPs haven’t made much of an impression, living in their leader’s shadow toeing his line ensures that.
Peters is showing his age and his lack of being anything other than a scattergun spoiler with far more failures than successes. Even his success last year were hardly election saving, some scored him for his attacks on Peter Dunne but his failure to back up his accusations with any evidence at all left a major taint.
In Parliament Peters is still prominent but it isn’t always pretty. He often seems to be struggling. He is fading.
And Peters cannot bet on being gifted the media attention he wangled over the cup of tea fiasco last election. His opportunism requires opportunities and he may not get them on a plate next time.
Last term Peters could devote all his time to campaigning. This time he has to share that with appearing to be credible in Parliament and running a party. It will be tough for him, and his toughness is waning.
Making the threshold is possible but will be difficult, especially if voters are scared off a Peters dictated coalition.
The Maori Party continue to struggle. They have to battle against their close association with the current Government even though they more often vote against National. And they have struggled with leadership transition.
Te Ururoa Flavell will have to step up as Pita Sharples and Tariana Turia retire. And the party will have to compete against strong Labour attacks on their electorates.
They should hold a seat or two, but that would be slipping from their current three.
The Mana Party should be safe with Hone Harawira’s seat and could manage to rise to also get a list seat but that’s as far as they are likely to get. On numbers that may not be a big improvement but it could put Mana into a powerful position of having the votes that decide a coalition, and also the votes that decide a lot of legislation if a Labour lead left bloc succeed.
This may help Mana’s chances of improving their party vote. But it may also make it harder for a left bloc to get enough votes to form a coalition – there is much wariness of a possible Labour-Green government but those concerns increase substantially with Labour-Green-Mana.
The Act Party is in disarray again. John Banks was a ring in that managed to succeed, but he is now dropping out under a major cloud. As has been the case for the last couple of elections Act is being written off by many.
But they have a chance of surviving. John Boscawen is working hard in the background and is determined to revive their fortunes.
If Act can come up with a viable candidate for Epsom they could hold that electorate (with National’s help). And if that candidate looks genuinely Act and they can put up a strong list they could be seen by voters as a legitimate alternative to National to get another seat or two. But it’s a big task.
United Future are again totally reliant on Peter Dunne. Last year was disastrous apart from the surge in membership, but if the party doesn’t get it’s act together that may hope may have been in vain.
Dunne has a reasonable chance of holding Ohariu. This will depend a lot on how much help he gets from National (it seems likely he’ll get some) and how strong a candidate Labour pout up and how strongly they contest the electorate. Greens have effectively left the electorate up to Labour by withdrawing Gareth Hughes from contention reducing the chance of splitting the left vote.
Dunne will have a big battle on his hands but seems determined to have a go at redeeming himself. He may succeed.
But United Future continues to have a major problem appealing to voters. The party is not doing a good job of even appealing to their new member base. Unless there’s a major change in approach, or unless they manage to recruit more high profile electable candidates, United Future will remain, at best, a single MP party.
The Conservative Party currently has every opportunity of making a mark. John Key has indicated he may boost their chances to help National, and late last year the media flocked to Colin Craig. This gave the party a huge lift in exposure, but it wasn’t always good exposure. The party didn’t lift in the polls.
How much help National give the Conservatives will determine their chances, especially if Craig is given a win-able electorate by National. That could get them one MP. And it could help their chances of making the 5% threshold. But that is still a huge target for an MP-less party that has stayed in the 1-3% range in the polls.
If money can buy power then Colin Craig make make it, but a huge budget failed last time. This time round it’s too soon to call.
The Civilian Party is a wild card. It has been promised by Ben Uffindell, riding on the success of his satirical blog. Starting a political party from scratch is a much bigger task, but Uffindell has proven he is innovative and smart, and has made a lot of friends in the media.
Uffindell’s biggest challenge will be motivating a younger constituency to vote, and to vote for non-status quo. How he approaches this will be interesting. How the party is positioned may matter in the balance of votes, even if The Civilian Party fails to make the threshold.
There’s huge disillusionment in New Zealand politics. If Uffindell sell something different and tap this huge voter base it could get interesting. Of course this depends on whether Uffindell launches a serious party or not.
Offering something entirely different has far more chance of interesting a few of the many who opt out of voting, and The Civilian Party may have a much better chance of doing this than the Labour-Green approach of convincing the dis-enfranchised that the same old socialism is worth voting for.
It will be an interesting year. It could be very interesting.