Has National stuffed up under MMP?

There have been criticisms of how National campaigned last election, and how they failed to negotiate a coalition agreement with NZ First (or the Greens). Some have said that National don’t get how to work under MMP.

The latest to slam National is ex-ACT MP Heather Roy (who helped stuff ACT under MMP)  in National needs an MMP Leader:

The National party should have been in government after the 2017 election. They had the most votes by a long shot. But they fought a first-past-the-post campaign. It was 21 years out of date. They don’t have any friends. It’s no longer enough to just worry about getting themselves across the line. They’d like to be alone in government but it seems to have escaped the strategists that MMP delivers coalition governments.

If ever there was an election that shows this, it was the 2017 election. So, until there is an understanding throughout the National party of the importance of playing the MMP game they are destined to be on the opposition benches.

I’m not so sure. It’s not National’s fault that the Maori Party lost votes and all their seats to Labour. It’s not National’s fault that Peter Dunne decided to retire from Parliament (perhaps preventing voter enforced retirement). It’s not National’s fault that the ACT party have made major mistakes, kept changing leader, and lost most of their support except for in the Epsom electorate over the past ten years.

It also ignore’s National’s success in putting together three successive MMP coalition governments.

The 2017 election was impacted mostly by two things outside National’s control. The first Metiria Turei’s big gamble that led to the end of her career in Parliament, and halved the Green vote, almost losing the party a place in Parliament.  And Turei’s implosion led to the second, Andrew Little giving up Labour’s leadership and Jacinda Ardern stepping up very successfully (with the assistance of an enraptured media).

National have been criticised for not doing much more in last year’s campaign to show they would be willing to work with NZ First in a coalition, rather than trying to bury NZ First and go it alone (with ACT and, it had hoped, the Maori Party and Peter Dunne).

Every party takes a gamble with their election strategy. Well out from the election Labour and the Greens gambled on being joined at the hip. After that seemed to have failed, Turei’s throw of the political dice turned to custard. Little’s big punt on an Ardern turnaround paid off for Labour. Opportunist supremo Peters always gambles on getting media coverage and support from an election issue – and that didn’t pay dividends for him in 2017, with NZ First support slipping.

National gambled on not needing NZ First support to form a government. A similar strategy had worked for them in 2014, just.

Would National have got the same level of vote (44.45%) if they had campaigned on a willing coalition with NZ First? They could have been harmed by such a strategy and lost more support than they did – Peters is popular with a small percentage of voters (less than 10%), but he is very unpopular with many.

And there are a number of indications that Peters wouldn’t have wanted to form a Government with National regardless.

He campaigned for change and against a continuation of similar governance – ” “The truth is that after 32 years of the neoliberal experiment the character and the quality of our country has changed dramatically, and much of it for the worse.” However that may have just been vote targeting rhetoric, as he is now part of a Government that doesn’t look like following a hugely different direction. He flip flopped on a number of things once in Government, like switching to support of the TPP (along with Labour).

Peters filed court proceedings against Bill English and other National MPs and their staff just before the election, accusing them of leaking his Super overpayment.

And it’s unlikely Peters would have been able to negotiate as many baubles of power – including a deputy prime ministership and acting prime ministership – with National. He had more to gain playing Labour and the Greens.

I think that National understands MMP as much as any party. They had to play their hand with the cards available to them.

Roy continues:

Next Tuesday the National party caucus has the chance to rectify this sorry state of affairs. In this leadership battle one criteria stands out well ahead of all others to me. If I was eligible I would vote for the candidate who best understands MMP and is capable of cultivating strong working partnerships with like minded politicians outside of National.

Best understands MMP like Key, Like English. Like Joyce? They were a successful three term MMP government.

Of course under MMP it is necessary to cultivate strong working partnerships outside your own party – but that depends on willing partners.

But MMP leaders to be able to cultivate working relationships with non-like minded politicians – it’s essential to be able to work with other parties, therefore with different minded politicians.

None of the five candidates is talking about the real problem – that of having no friends now, and having none in the wings. Not since 1951 has one party, under either of our voting systems, won more than 50% of the votes. No-one to work with means opposition benches under MMP.

Not since ever has a party without the highest vote (by a significant margin) led a government.

Is it’s National’s fault they have limited coalition partner parties? They have been slammed for propping up ACT and United Future.

What should National do? Set up a couple of other ‘like minded’ parties that they can work with? They would be slammed for trying to contrive a coalition. They would lose votes, possibly a lot of votes.

The 2020 election is looking like being an MMP election like no other – it’s quite feasible that either or both NZ First (currently polling below the threshold at 3-4%) and the Greens could fall out of Parliament, leaving it effectively as a head to head battle between National and Labour. If that happens neither of the two big parties are likely to get over 50%, but under MMP they wouldn’t need to. They would only need to get more votes than their main opponent.

A major party leader in National’s current situation has to be successful in a succession of quite different roles.

First, they need to get the support of a majority of their caucus to become the leader.

Then they need to be able to lead and manage their caucus, preventing faction splitting.

They need to be able to look like a Prime Minister in waiting, with their party looking capable of running the country.

They also need to get the Leader of the Opposition balance right, between holding the Government to account, but not being seen as over-negative numpties – the barking at every passing car syndrome.

Then they need to appeal to the public for sufficient votes to be in a position to be able to negotiate to form a government.

It takes an extraordinary person to be able to bring all groups together again without resentments lingering once they’ve been declared the winner. A politician worthy of leadership is one who can bring people together, either within a party or to produce a government. Same thing.

And after the election they need to be bring people and parties together, to be more successful than their main opponent, and to form a government.

It doesn’t end there – they then need to switch into being a successful manager of both the country and the coalition.

It’s important to be able to have good working relationships with other parties, but that’s only a small part of the attributes needed to being a successful leader.

Oh, and on top of all that they also need to be able to appeal to the media, to provide the media with headlines and stories and clicks that enhance their chances in election campaigns.

There’s a lot more to MMP leadership than the narrow musings of someone who wasn’t exactly successful in her own party, let alone under MMP. In her third term as an MP Roy is thought to have been involved in an attempted leadership coup, the ACT party fell apart and they dropped from five MPs to one after the 2011 election.

Before a party leader can get into a position of working with other parties they need to not be a party of their own party implosion.

If they are to be successful National’s new leader will need to demonstrate a wide range of skills – one of which is being adept at adapting to the unexpected in politics. It’s impossible to know what the likely options will be by the 2020 election.


  1. Blazer

     /  February 26, 2018

    National have a history of underestimating Winston Peters ….thank goodness.

    • They didn’t underestimate him in 2008, 2011 or 2011. They successfully formed governments without him.

      • Blazer

         /  February 26, 2018

        Winston began in politics in 1975….Key’s term rode out the Maori Party support as it diminished.Look back over the years and you will see some deep invective towards Peters from National.

        • High Flying Duck

           /  February 26, 2018

          You say that as if he didn’t deserve it.

          • Blazer

             /  February 26, 2018

            whether he did or not was left …for..voters..to decide.

      • Gezza

         /  February 26, 2018

        The big challenge for National will be trying to score hits on him when he’s PM. How can you score hits on someone who just larfs at you & gets away with it?

  2. Gezza

     /  February 26, 2018

    The biggest advantage any government always has is that it has control of government departments, and thus of departmental policies, legislative programmes, & control over the statistics & information that it wants to make available to the public.

    The current government also has the advantage of, as PG says, a media besotted with Jacinda Ardern, which adulation is likely to continue for the whole of her term. Jacinda has shown she & her advisors know how to maximise the already positive msm coverage & to utilise social media to their advantage.

    She remains head & shoulders above her Ministers in her ability to articulate & communicate a just generally “positive vision” & feelgood vibe that polls show is resonating with the public, & increasing both Labour’s & her own favourability ratings in a positive feedback loop.

    She can leave it to Ministers to build the narrative of how much worse things really were under National than people knew, & to use those claims, & the various working party reports they have commissioned, to explain any shortcomings in achieving meaningful results in 3 years.

    The Regional Development Fund I think is going to be a winner unless it is poorly-managed, something government departments have proven to be adept at in the past.

    But now National are now cast in the role Labour was. That of being seen as nit-pickers & whiners, whose only real traction so far in the media has been occasioned by their leadership contest. It’s looking like being a harder task to dent this government than I thought.

    • PartisanZ

       /  February 26, 2018

      @Gezza – The Provincial Growth Fund [well named IMHO] “I think is going to be a winner unless it is poorly-managed, something government departments have proven to be adept at in the past.”

      But not always, not by a long shot … and not forgetting how well private enterprise has managed some businesses and corporations … and how well some SOEs have been managed … eh? Need I start a list of names …?

      National have been relatively good at MMP in the 2009 – 2017 environment, but with the demise of the Maori Party [hopefully only temporarily] the ‘playing field’ has shifted axis …

      As neoliberalism unravels in the ‘new’ environment, for the National Party to become “MMP friendly” they will have to UN-BECOME the National Party …

      BIG, TOUGH ASK …

      Surprisingly, Gareth Morgan has provided any political party with a template for the future … get evidence-based and evidence-informed … plus, which he didn’t do quite so well … treat the electorate as though they’re intelligent, compassionate human beings …

  3. robertguyton

     /  February 26, 2018

    National can only succeed if the make themselves deservedly more popular than the Government. They are doing everything to ensure that won’t happen. Just look at their line-up of potential leaders. Look at their behaviour in the House. Listen to the “picking and whining” sound-track that accompanies their fall from popularity. Happy days!

  4. lurcher1948

     /  February 26, 2018

    Well we have all learnt something rightwingers and the altright are sore losers,well moaning whimps really

  5. Alan Wilkinson

     /  February 26, 2018

    Despite Ardern’s fawning and sycophantic media Labour’s future depends on the economy. If they screw it they will be out. And if they let Robertson run it he will screw it. But I think Peters and Jones know that and have him leg-roped at present.

    • robertguyton

       /  February 26, 2018

      So, Alan, your view is they’re unlikely to “screw it up” and their future is pretty secure? National, it would seem, are spent.

  6. Zedd

     /  February 26, 2018

    Natl just do not seem to get MMP.. there whole attitude is FPP; their TV ads, with the ‘blue team’ rowing past a boat with different coloured rowers & recently the ‘blue runners’ doing likewise.. BUT this FPP mentally saw them CRASH & Burn out.. NO Friends to join a coalition with.. “WAKE UP” & realise the reality.. this is an MMP political system in Aotearoa/NZ, not a ‘winner take all’ even with the one ACT dodgy deal seat 😀 😀

    • Gerrit

       /  February 26, 2018

      With NZFirst on 3% you basically have a two party system again under MMP. You have the Labour/Green faction and a National/Act faction, voting will be under MMP but the outcome will be FPTP. Greens would never go with National and ACT never with Labour.

      I think National will cut the ACT ties and regain the Epsom seat plus chance their arm on the ACT and NZFirst votes swinging back to them.

      So Labour/Green versus National.

      With the Greens gutted to a snowflake party, the Green eco warriors (any one heard of their kid wonder, Gareth Hughes lately?) voters may well swing Labour or at a stretch Nationals way if those parties push environmental policies.

      Possibly dropping the Greens below 5% and out as well.

      So back to a winner takes all.
      Only other party to possibly enter parliament is a neo-Maori party splintered from the Maori Caucus off the Labour party.

      Just like the foreshore and seabed tore Maori from Clark’s Labour party, so could water rights and ownership do this to Ardern’s Labour party.

      Hence Peters is so keen for a waka jumping bill as the coalition would not survive. He could potentially loose a few members to the neo Maori party as well.

      • robertguyton

         /  February 26, 2018

        “So back to a winner takes all.”
        The “Gerrits” and their thinking are the Left’s great hope and main chance.

        • Gerrit

           /  February 26, 2018

          It all depends how many parties that will get elected in the next election. So far only 4 are in the race (based on current poling). I cannot see TOP get to 5%. Not on their granny taxation policy.

          But my crystal ball gazing is as good as another.

          Care to predict your crystal ball prediction?

          Or is it easier for you to sit back and critic like Blazer with no opinion?

          Will NZFirst lift to 5%? Will the Greens lift to 10%?

          As I said with neither ACT nor the Greens likely to change partners, it is a two horse race between the factions.

      • Blazer

         /  February 26, 2018

        Madame Gerrit and his …delicate….crystal balls.

      • Zedd

         /  February 26, 2018

        look out Gerritt.. I think TOP may have something to say about that, I hear they are fully intending to get 5% in 2020 ?! 🙂 😀

  7. Good discussion Pete – thanks, and I’d hoped that my ‘musings’ as you call them would lead to others ‘musings’. My point was that it is very important for the National party leader chosen tomorrow to understand and embrace MMP. I don’t think National are ‘stuffed’ at all, but to win the 2020 election they do need to make good decisions for an MMP environment and that thinking needs to happen from the top. That includes building strong relationships with others. One thing I believe needs to change is the 5% threshold and I’ve written about this on my onesock.co.nz blog previously. I’m in favour of the threshold be abandoned completely – any party that can muster 0.8% of the vote deserves to have an MP. That would be true representation which is what MMP is supposed to be about. The election outcome could have been quite different without the threshold. I’ll have no doubt have opened another can of worms now, but discussing these ideas is what the blogosphere should be about (not personal attacks) and how quality decision making is shaped.

    • robertguyton

       /  February 26, 2018

      Hi Heather. Are your “musings” designed perhaps to revive ACT’s fortunes in any way?

    • duperez

       /  February 26, 2018

      In a happy coming together of things Judith Collins’ ability and willingness as leader to unite the nation and harness all sides for progress and her appreciation of MMP were brought together in one event.


    • Kimbo

       /  February 26, 2018

      “…they do need to make good decisions for an MMP environment…That includes building strong relationships with others.”

      Yeah, nah. Forgetting windmill tilting about a 0.8% electoral threshold, In the context of the next three years, that can mean only one option, NZ First. Forget relationships, National will always be outbid by Labour when it comes to an auction for NZ First’s support. Was always going to be the case in 2017, no matter how the campaign and rhetoric played out. And National don’t want to try and outbid Labour because that forfeits their point of difference and would likely lose them more votes. Also it is unnecessary as Peters’ time is likely limited to this term, and his cult-of-personality movement dies with him. And even if he does make it back in 2020, there is precious little chance he will go with National, or at least as long as the Greens refuse to do the same, but extract no major policy concessions or even an official place within a coalition.

      The way the 2020s are likely to pan out, there will be only three parties in Parliament: National and their implacable opponents, Labour and the Greens. So with a rise in the wasted vote for parties that fail to make the 5% threshold, 47% of the total vote is a realistic government-forming target for National. So it will be a straight drag race between National vs Labour and the Greens, with excellent chances for National to scare centre voters their way with the thought of the Watermelons aging real power, 😀

      Either way, From now until 2020 NZ First is part of the government that National need to differentiate themselves against, including putting the blow torch on the competence of their ministers, Peters, Marks, Martin and Jones. So precious little opportunity to build relationships. Nor, in the light of the failed political vanity projects of Colin Craig, Kim Dot Com or Gareth Morgan, of some new player busting through. So who else. A sufficiently charismatic and high-profile incumbent defector from the current coalition government. Such as?!

      If ACT and a rejuvenated Maori Party add to the tally, so be it and all the better. But National can’t AstroTurf partners or do the job a moribund ACT should be doing themselves. If ACT can’t sell their message and differentiate themselves during the tenure of this government, then it is time to shut up shop, or just accept they will have nothing more in the foreseeable future than the Epsom electorate life support. As per the flaw in the analysis of most ACT cheer leaders and apologists, it is not the number of coalition partners who ultimately form a government, but where the dividing line between the left and right voting blocs fall. After that, the distribution of baubles and policy wins dependfs on the amount of seats and resulting bargaining leverage.

      • Gerrit

         /  February 26, 2018

        100% agree, well said.

        • Kimbo

           /  February 26, 2018

          Was a repeat and advance on the analysis in your post above. Only way that NZ First could be shaken loose is if the Greens grow a pair and decide to use their potential leverage effectively during and after the 2020 campaign. But that means being prepared to open the door to National, on confidence and supply at least. Yeah, right! No matter, NZ First still has to run on their record in 2020, which means up to and including the election campaign they have to align themselves with the existing coalition.

          Sure, as per Harold Macmillan’s dictum that “events” are the driving force in politics, a new centre or right party may emerge, with whom National must compete, but also maybe cooperate for mutual political advantage. But you deal with that as and when it arises, including maybe capitalising on any voter dissatisfaction that could give rise to a new party with policies and positions that preempt it. But as always, government competence, including and especially in economics will be the deciding factor that will determine the result in 2020, not trying to preempt the voters and manipulating them with potential coalitions that patronise them as inhabitants of some pre-determined electoral reservation.

          In the absence of Heather Roy specifying who these potential MMP partners of National are, and how a “strong relationship” can be built with them that does not also compromise National, then running an old fashioned FPP campaign with the potential bonus of a strong personality leader to differentiate from Jacinda Ardern is the way to go for National in 2020. If nothing else, it will produce a clear cut winner in both the campaign and government-forming stakes, 😀

  8. lurcher1948

     /  February 26, 2018

    Well we have all learnt something rightwingers are sore losers.

  9. robertguyton

     /  February 26, 2018

    In case you missed it:

    “patricia bremner …
    26 February 2018 at 11:40 am
    Amy is for the farming lobby, and if she takes Bridges as DP he will be for the Oil and Gas lobby, meanwhile Steven will cook the books?

    Mitchell will be kept on the back burner, as Key was with Brash.”

  10. robertguyton

     /  February 26, 2018

    And this;
    “Stuart Munro 12
    26 February 2018 at 12:17 pm
    Meh – National should split into several parts.

    The state misappropriation profiteers should be incarcerated – there’s simply no excuse for them.

    Then you have the hard right wonks – fanbois of Hayeck or Rand, they should be in ACT, but they want seats so they lie. Lying erodes the validity of the parliamentary model and should not be tolerated. Hopefully Curran’s media reforms will shine a bit of UV on this type.

    There’s a large bunch of ant-social Gnats with no particular policy position except anti-Green or anti-left. These are the salauds, typified by the whale, though of course he is not fit to lead them.

    And then there are moderate social conservatives who may or may not have been duped by media rhetoric about Bill English’s financial competence. They are not intrinsically bad and regret the association with the salauds and the wonks. For National to prosper this is the group they must pretend to be until their vote recovers.

    Might take a while.”

    • PartisanZ

       /  February 26, 2018

      Well said …

    • Kimbo

       /  February 26, 2018

      You mean split up the broad church (yes a genuine broad church, not a series of warring academic, union, LGBT and ethnic factions that is Labour and that’s before factoring in the Greens and NZ First!)

      …that has made National the “natural party of government” since 1949? Well, at least someone round here is competing with Heather Roy for the “worst political analysis and advice award”, 😂

  11. Alan Wilkinson

     /  February 26, 2018

    Key had the right strategy and it just needs reenacting. Push Labour to the Left. Deny Peters oxygen by denigrating and refusing to work with him. And split the Maori vote.

    Brilliantly conceived and executed. Repeat to win.

  12. PartisanZ

     /  February 26, 2018

    That’s the Right strategy all Right Alan!

    Full of positivity and “building strong relationships with others” …

    The National Way.

    Cloning John Key ain’t so easy … fortunately …

    • Alan Wilkinson

       /  February 26, 2018

      Got to play the hand you are dealt, PZ. Key was a master player and the Left always under-estimated him.