Political year review – the parties 2018

A lot of politics and politicians fly under the media radar. Some MPs make the headlines, because the have prominent jobs, because they seek publicity, or because publicity seeks them, or they cock up. Here’s a few of my thoughts and impressions on the 2018 political year.

Party-wise I don’t think there is much of note.

National and Labour have settled into competing for top party status through the year, with the poll lead fluctuating. It’s far too soon to call how this will impact on the 2020 election, with both parties having problems but still in the running.

Greens and NZ First have also settled in to competing for second level party honours. Nothing drastic has gone wrong for either, but they are both struggling to impress in the polls, and they keep flirting with the threshold. again too soon to call how this will impact on the next election.

ACT is virtually invisible, and unless something drastic changes will remain largely an MP rather than a party.

TOP is trying to reinvent itself without Gareth Morgan leading but Morgan is having trouble letting go of his influence. They have a lot of work to do to build a new profile with whoever they choose as new leader. As with any party without an MP they have an uphill battle with media and with the threshold.

The New Conservative Party is not getting any publicity, apart from their deputy leader posting at Whale Oil, which won’t do much for their credibility. The media seem disinterested, which is the kiss of political death.

No other party looks like making an impression.

With NZ First and Greens expected to struggle to maintain support while in Government (as have support parties in the past), one prospect is that the political landscape and the next election will be a two party race, with Labour and National competing to earn the votes to become a single party Government, which would be a first under MMP.

It’s too soon to call on this. A major factor could be whether voters are happy to see support parties fade away out of contention, or whether enough voters decide small party checks on power are important to maintain.

If the latter this may benefit the Greens IF voters aren’t too worried about a Labour+Green coalition who would have confidence in getting more revolutionary with a second term mandate.

For NZ First much may depend on how let down some of their support feels over a lack of living up to their promises on things like immigration and dumping the Maori seats. A lot may also depend on how Winston Peters weathers another term and whether he stands again.

Winners?

Labour have won back a position as a top dog party after struggling for nearly all of the nine years they were in Opposition.

National continue to win a surprising level of support as long as individual MPs aren’t trying to sabotage the party. The Ross rampage is unlikely to be repeated as other MPs will have seen it as little more than self destructive of an individual’s political future.

So joint winners, sort of but with no prize, and no party deserving of a runner-up place.

Do we really need fewer MPs?

ACT have announced policy that would reduce the number of MPs from 120 to 100, and reduce the number of electorates. Are the targeting the real problems?

Our system of MMP was introduced in 1994 after a referendum supporting it in 1993. The system was reviewed in 2012 but the size of parliament was excluded from this.

In the last non-MMP election there were 99 electorate seats. In the first MMP election in 1996 there were 120 seats – the number was increased so that the reduced number of electorates didn’t get too big, and there were sufficient list seats to ensure reasonable proportionality. The number of seats varies slightly, and has ranged from 120 to 122 under MMP.

Estimated population of New Zealand:

  • 1996:  3,762,300
  • 2018:  4,749,598

Number of voters:

  • 1996:  2,418,587 – votes per electorate 20,155
  • 2017:  3,298,009 – votes per electorate 27,483

Number of eligible voters:

  • 1996:  2,739,057 – eligible voters per 120 electorates 22,825
  • 2017:  4,174,167 – eligible voters per 120 electorates 34,785

These numbers are calculated over all 120 electorates.

Comparisons if we had a 100 MP parliament:

  • 1996: eligible voters per 100 electorates 27,391
  • 2017: eligible voters per 120 electorates 41,742

So that means a significant reduction in voter power.

There are other and probably better ways of decreasing the cost of democracy without reducing the value of votes.  ACT addresses one of these:

“It will also restrict the number of high-paid Ministers to 20. Our Executive is far too big – currently standing at 31 people.

“Almost half of the Government MPs hold a position in the Executive. We have too many pointless ministerial portfolios. They are not improving the lives of New Zealanders and this bill will do away with them.

It is often claimed that every government has a handful of very good ministers, and the rest middling to mediocre. The number of Ministers and Ministries is a valid target for better efficiency and performance.

What about the number of MP support staff – advisers and PR staff. MPs need help with good advice, but the overhead of spin doctors deserves scrutiny. The number of ex journalists who are now employed in Parliament is probably significantly greater than the number of active press gallery journalists.

Also worth considering are number of paid members of working groups and inquiries, and paid consultants.

What about other elected bodies like DHBs? Merging some of them would reduce health sector overheads.

Councils? Would we be better off with fewer councils, or at least fewer councillors? A smaller number of full time councillors may be able to do a better job. Most people voting in local body elections don’t know most councillors.

It may seem like political sense for ACT to focus on a simple populist policy like cutting MP numbers, but it may not give us better democracy. It would certainly dilute our vote.

It’s easy to diss MPs and demand we have fewer, but reducing the number of them may simply increase the number of bureaucrats, advisers and consultants.

At least with MPs voters have a three yearly option to vote them out.

Voters have no power over non-MPs who are mostly faceless, unknown. They would have more power if we cut the number of MPs, and we the people would have less.

See:

The Government must ensure that its decision to remove the cap on public service numbers will not see bureaucracy spiral out of control as it did under the last Labour Government, National’s State Services spokesperson Nick Smith says.

“Between 2003 and 2008 under Labour, public service expenditure grew by 50 per cent with no improvement in outcomes for New Zealanders.

“Today’s announcement carries the risk that we’ll see another blowout of the public service and taxpayers’ money will again be frittered away on pointless bureaucracy.

“It comes at a time when the Government has outsourced most of its work to 122 working groups which could cost up to $1 million each.

ACT second in attempt to attract some support

NZ First, ACT second? That’s how it looks with new ACT policy announced at their annual conference today, but while taking on NZ First policies may have attracted a bit of media attention the party needs to find a way of attracting more supporters than they got to their conference.

The policy is to reduce the number of MPs to 100, reduce the number of electorates and scrap the Maori seats.

I guess that would give ACT a chance of improving their power in Parliament fro  1/120 to 1/100, but with National out of power it is closer to 0/0.

If Seymour’s member’s bill got drawn (a long shot) and made it through Parliament (I doubt there’s any chance of that this term) it would then go to a referendum.


ACT will deliver fewer politicians

ACT is drawing a line in the sand on the size of government with a new bill aimed at rolling back the the state.

Party Leader David Seymour today revealed his Smaller Government Bill which will reduce the size of Parliament to 100 MPs, limit the size of the Executive to 20 Ministers, and remove the Maori seats.

“The growth in government over the past two decades has not delivered better outcomes for New Zealand. We need smaller, smarter government”, says Mr Seymour.

“New Zealand has too many politicians for its size. Our Government costs more and delivers less than it did 20 years ago.

“The Smaller Government Bill will cut the size of Parliament 100 MPs, bringing us into line with other developed countries.

“It will also restrict the number of high-paid Ministers to 20. Our Executive is far too big – currently standing at 31 people.

“Almost half of the Government MPs hold a position in the Executive. We have too many pointless ministerial portfolios. They are not improving the lives of New Zealanders and this bill will do away with them.

“The bill will also remove the Maori seats. New Zealand is a modern, diverse democracy. There is simply no longer a place for one group of people to be treated differently under the law.

“We now have 27 Maori MPs, 20 of whom were elected through the general roll. Even without the seven Maori seats, Maori would still be proportionately represented in Parliament.

“Our plan would also require all parliamentary candidates to stand in an electorate, and all elected list MPs would be required to open an office in the electorate in which they stood.

“List MPs serve an important function in our democracy, but they should be required to serve New Zealanders and solve real problems, not just collect a salary and spend their time in a Wellington office.

“New Zealand needs smaller, smarter government. ACT is the only party with a practical workable solutions for achieving just that”, says Mr Seymour.

A silly ACT

David Seymour getting desperate for attention?

Stuff – Below the Beltway: The ups and downs of the political week

DOWN

David Seymour – The ACT leader is going to be on Dancing With The Stars. He needs to find 15 hours a week to train, which will no doubt cut into the time he has for his Epsom constituents. Also, the show didn’t work out so well for the last ACT leader who took part – Rodney Hide dropped his dance partner during a lift.

Rodney Hide did a stint embarassing himself like that. Publicity stunts via ‘reality TV” are lame at best and likely to do an MP’s credibility more harm than good.

This will open Seymour to ridicule, and it has already started. The Standard:

Seymour’s decision shows his commitment to New Zealand politics. And what a poodle party ACT is.

It’s worse than posing for Vogue, because it drags out the exposure for weeks.

Party websites post-election

An odd thing about the Labour Party website. Under Team / Labour MPs  they only show 28 of their 46 MPs. It appears to be the MPs who have returned to Parliament, with none of their new MPs there.

Their ‘Latest’ news is Our first two weeks, posted over two weeks ago.

I guess they have been busy negotiating and then getting their Government on the road.

NZ First has nothing at the moment:

Website Down for Maintenance

Please follow us on Facebook or party leader Winston Peters on Twitter for updates.

– NZ First

Greens are up to date with their ‘Our People’ page.

An interesting thing with their home page photo:

James Shaw is currently sole leader of the Greens.The will decide on their new female co-leader in April, eight months after Metiria Turei stepped down.

Marama Davidson was placed second on the Green Party list for the election, but she wasn’t given ministerial responsibilities, with Julie Anne Genter, Eugenie Sage and Jan Logie all preferred over her. She is relatively inexperienced, becoming an MP just under two years ago (filling Russel Norman’s place via the list).

The photo shows Shaw and Davidson together in the front and middle. The party PR department doesn’t get to decide leaders, the members do, but this is suggestive of someone’s leadership preferences.

In contrast to the three parties in Government the National party website has been churning out the ‘News’ with often a couple of posts a day. They have more time available to do this in Opposition. I’m not sure that a photo of English with Angela Merkel is a positive given her problems trying to form a government.

National’s ‘Our Team’ page has been fully updated with their new MPs and their new responsibilities.

Remember ACT?

They have an odd home page – they get around the fact that they still only have one MP by showing David Seymour in duplicate.

Promoting his book. I guess they are a party of free enterprise.

The Maori Party website looks little changed from the election campaign. They have only three posts since the election, but have said they will try to come back in 2020. Much will depend on how well Labour do for Maori this term – if they don’t front up then the Maori Party could have a chance, but it will be difficult with no MPs.

The United Future website is still standing. The party isn’t. Their last post: UnitedFuture proud of it’s history, but all good things must end.

 

Don’t rule out all Special Vote possibilities

The current seat allocation (from the Electoral Commission) based on provisional election results:

  • National 58
  • Labour 45
  • NZ First 9
  • Green Party 7
  • ACT Party 1
  • TOTAL 120

This means:

  • National + ACT = 59
  • Labour + NZ First + Greens = 61

There are a lot of assumptions that when the special votes are counted this will change, and the likely change is for Greens or Labour to pick up a seat and for National to lose a seat – this is because last election National lost a seat and Greens gained a seat after the Specials were included.

This is important because if National lose a seat it would give a bit of a buffer over and above a bare 1 seat majority.

Some have suggested National could lose two seats and maybe both Labour and Greens will pick up one each.

But there have been many surprise twists and turns in this election, and there could be more to come.

There are more Specials – about 380 thousand compared to about 300 thousand in 2014 – but this election had quite different factors involved, so don’t rule out other possibilities, which include no change, or any of Labour, Greens or NZ First losing a seat, and National picking up a seat.

Specials have historically favoured Greens in particular and also Labour, and have gone against both National and NZ First.

If NZ First lost a seat and Labour or Greens picked one up it wouldn’t change anything significantly.

But if any of NZ First, Greens or Labour lose a seat and National pick it up that would mean that National + Act = Labour + NZ First + Greens, a tie.

The only way of getting a majority would be for NZ First or Greens (or Labour theoretically) to go with National.

As much as we may like to know how our next Government is going to look as soon as possible, this is why decisions are unlikely to be made until the final results are announced on 7 October.

Election – governing possibilities

National have a 10% lead over Labour so have the stronger mandate to form a government, and last night Bill English acted and spoke like a winner, but their options are limited.

English said they will work with NZ First to try to form a ‘stable government’ over the next few days. The outcome of course depends on Winston and his party.

Jacinda Ardern looked and sounded defeated last night but she said Labour would have a good look at the results and their options today, and that they would have a few conversations.

Labour did well to bounce back from their 2014 disaster but they didn’t get a strong mandate to lead a new government.

James Shaw claimed that people had voted for a change of government so would be working to try to achieve that with Labour and NZ First.

This depends a lot on NZ First, who may demand Greens stay on the sidelines again as a condition of supporting Labour.

Greens have dropped from 10.7% to about 6% and have less votes than NZ First so don’t have a strong mandate, and their presumed continued refusal to work with National puts them in a weak bargaining position.

David Seymour is at risk of being left on the sideline if Peters refuses to deal with him combined with National. The alternative, a Labour led government, is also the sideline.

Greens could strengthen their hand significantly if they were prepared to negotiate with both National and Labour-NZ First, but unless their membership has a massive change of heart and gets some common sense this looks unlikely.

James Shaw could try to lead his party to negotiate with National, if he wants to put the interests of the country first, but Greens have a habit of cutting off their nose to spite their face.

My personal preference is for National to continue to lead the Government with the best option between NZ First and Greens. This would be the best guarantee of stability, sound economic management would continue but National would be forced to deal better the key issues of housing, poverty, inequality and the environment.

Ardern did well to lift Labour out of oblivion but she and her party came up short. Ardern would benefit from working over the next three years to rebuild Labour with a new injection of talent (current depth of  talent is not strong) ready for a strong bid in 2014.

Recycled campaigning

Party campaign strategies seem to be trying to put as much out as often as possible. They risk driving people away from the election through overkill.

And to fill their sound bite targets parties are resorting to recycling old stuff.

Yesterday the Greens launched their new campaign without Metiria Turei – by ditching their new slogan and going back to their 2014 election slogan.

Today Labour announced a School Leavers’ Toolkit to equip young people for adult life – which was largely a rehash of policy announced in 2015 with a bit of detail added.

Also today National announced details of a $100m social investment mental health package – which had already been announced in the budget in May. They have just added some details.

David Seymour kept banging on about how different Act are to National – Forget boot camp, fix failing schools – and also attacked Labour – Labour’s civics classes: dodgy dodgy dodgy – and NZ First – Winston’s Racist Attack against Sikh’s Freedom of Religion.

The only original announcement was from peter Dunne, but this was not party news, it was as Minister of Internal Affairs –  NZ govt says Australia’s Joyce is NZ citizen.

So far this week the Aussies are beating us hands down for interesting political news.

Reassessing election prospects

Last week changed the political landscape significantly, with saturation coverage of one candidate, the political demise of one leader and the lame ducking of another.

Election prospects have changed, but at this stage it is difficult to predict by how much. I’l have a go at assessing how things look now.

National 38-48%

They were always going to struggle to maintain last elections 47% with John Key retiring last year and switching to a solid but uninspiring Bill English and a so far uninspiring campaign.

If Labour retains their resurgence the question shifts from where in the forties National will end up to whether they stay in the forties. They are still probably good for low to mid forties but if the stuff something up badly could easily slip.

Labour 29-40%

There is no doubt that Jacinda Ardern has made a big difference to Labour’s prospects. They looked like they were heading to 20 or less under Andrew Little, but now a return to the 30s looks likely.

Labour now look able to pull votes back from the Greens and NZ First, finally compete seriously with National for the floaters, and the effect of the lift in excitement on turning out younger voters shouldn’t be underestimated.

And don’t underestimate the Kelvin Davis effect – his elevation makes Labour more competitive against the Maori Party and NZ First.

I think the only question is how far into the thirties they can climb – as long as Ardern doesn’t trip up significantly. On the other hand, given the volatility of modern elections I wouldn’t rule out Labour sneaking into the forties.

Greens 8-12%

As dramatically as Labour’s fortunes have turned for the better, Green prospects have probably dived from record highs in the polls.

Metiria Turei’s beneficiary gamble looked like it was a winner but has turned to custard. James Shaw looks worn and weak. Turei and the Greens still have some staunch support, but the icing looks like it has disappeared of their cake.

Of course this could change if Turei bows to pressure and steps down as co-leader, but a lot would then depend on who replaced her. Marama Davidson would probably only appeal to the dedicated Greenies and lefties, but Julie Anne Genter would have wider appeal.

NZ First 6-16%

A week or two ago Winston Peters was confidently counting his electoral chickens. He disappeared last week, with the media preferring to pander to someone young enough to be his granddaughter.

Winston versus English and Little looked competitive, to media and to a growing number of voters.

Winston versus Ardern is a completely different look. The stuffing seems to be knocked out of the old codger. He’s a determined campaigner, but can he revitalise himself for another shot at glory?

Another factor is the Shane Jones card – he is now going to have to compete with Kelvin Davis for attention and may be exposed. The direct speaking Davis will give Jones some real competition up north.

Maori Party 1-3%

I think that Te Ururoa Flavell still has a good chance of retaining his electorate, Maori have been good tactical voters and returning Flavell and party voting Labour makes more sense than throwing the Maori Party out.

But winning more Maori seats, and getting enough party vote to retain Marama Fox, has probably got harder.

ACT Party 0.5-2%

David Seymour has been trying hard to attract attention and voters but doesn’t seem to be getting any traction. He should be good to retain his Epsom electorate, but ACT’s lack of known candidates other than Seymour doesn’t help their chances.

The media doesn’t usually care about new candidates, unless it’s plucking someone like Chlöe Swarbrick out of nowhere to try to inject some interest into a boring mayoral campaign. And the media seems to not fancy ACT unless it’s negative news. Seymour is likely to remain alone.

United Future 0.1-0.3%

It’s hard to see United Future attracting any more party votes. The media gave up on there being a party behind Peter Dunne terms ago, nothing there for headlines. The party has continued to wither.

Dunne already had a major challenge in trying to retain his Ohariu electorate. Labour have recruited a known candidate, Greg O’Connor. Greens are helping Labour by not standing a candidate.

National have made it clearer than ever that they want National voters to support Dunne.

But what looked like 50/50 prospects for Dunne may have turned against him with Labour’s resurgence. Ardern has not only revitalised Labour campaigners, she may encourage reluctant voters to turn out. This will work against Dunne.

Mana Party 0.1-0.5%

The Mana party is a one man band this election, without the money or distraction of Kim Dotcom. The party vote looks irrelevant.

Hone Harawira was always a chance of winning back Te Tai Tokerau, but with Davis’ elevation that probably got a lot harder.

There looks to be an outside chance only of Harawira getting back into Parliament, and even more of an outside chance that Harawira could make or break a Labour led coalition, but it shouldn’t be discounted entirely.

The Opportunities Party 1-4%

Gareth Morgan had a chance of picking up votes from those who wanted something different and not Winston, someone to ‘keep the big parties honest’. And picking up disheartened Labour voters. Until last week.

If Labour jumps back into contention then TOP will find it really difficult to attract enough media attention, and they will find it really difficult to get the polls up enough to encourage enough voters to get them over the 5% threshold.

The Rest

The nature of New Zealand politics and the reluctance of media to give any credibility to new parties and outsider candidates means that no other parties will have a chance of getting more than crumbs.

But…

There could be another shock wave.

It’s hard to see any other positive leadership change, unless Genter adds some solidity to the Greens.

Who knows what Winston will try to have probably his last shot at the big prize?

Ardern may keep Labour’s resurgence going, or she could trip up. Kelvin Davis could stuff things up, his agttack on English and other National ministers on Q+A yesterday looked ugly and counter productive to Ardern’s clain of positivity.

National still have the benefit of incumbency plus very good economic conditions, relatively low unemployment, and a record of steady management – but may have trouble attracting media attention.

National also have the advantage of being by far the biggest party, and they will probably only need one other party, or a repeat of the current handful of insignificant parties, to get over the line.

But housing. Auckland is shaping up as a big influence on the election.

And National has to find an effective way of countering ‘the Jacinda effect’ and the current media obsession with her.

The elephant in Labour’s room

Ardern has eliminated Labour’s biggest millstone, Andrew Little. Labour look to be on the rise.

But they have a major challenge too – Labour + Greens + NZ First

I think that many voters have real concerns about how this triumverate could possible work in a coalition.

Unless Labour can rise enough in polls to look like they might only need one of NZ First or the Greens then this remains an issue.

There could even be a voter resistance to Labour + Greens – many like a Green influence but have strong reservations about Greens calling the shots too much.

In any case for Labour to get close to 40% it’s hard to see Greens also keeping their current share.

The NZ First factor

Whether Winston finds a way to dig up something that gives him a last burst of hope or not, voters have to consider and compare National + NZ First versus Labour + NZ First as likely alternatives.

Both National and Labour can’t ignore this – the one of them that does best at convincing voters they can work with Winston but resist baubling him may succeed.

Here it is advantage to National.

National 45% + NZ First 6% looks quite different to Labour 35% + NZ First 15%.

But of course this balance of probabilities could change over the next few weeks.

ACT claim ‘minimum 600,000 new homes’

ACT claim that bu cutting ‘red tape’ and allowing subdivisions anywhere around Auckland that it would “allow, at a minimum, 600,000 new homes in areas like Waitakere, Karaka, and Clevedon”.

ACT reveals massive housing negligence

ACT Leader David Seymour has revealed the massive scale of potential home-building that has been blocked on the edges of Auckland.

ACT WOULD CUT RED TAPE TO ALLOW, AT A MINIMUM, 600,000 NEW HOMES in areas like Waitakere, Karaka, and Clevedon,” says Mr Seymour.

The figures were presented at the launch of Mr Seymour’s new book, Own Your Future, which opens with a story about a Waitakere family denied the freedom to subdivide their land and provide housing for their daughter and others, because their property lies just outside the Rural-Urban Boundary.

“By failing to open up this land like this for housing, successive Governments are guilty of gross negligence.

“Land use restrictions are now responsible for 56 per cent of the average Auckland house price, according to one of the Government’s own reports released last month.

“This cost is THE SINGLE LARGEST CAUSE OF POVERTY, INEQUALITY, AND SICKNESS IN AUCKLAND AND BEYOND.

“The poorest 20 per cent of households now spend 54 per cent of their income on housing. When the RMA was passed in 1991 it was only 27 per cent. That’s why we see kids living in cars and garages, going without.

“ACT says IT’S CRAZY TO BAN PEOPLE FROM BUILDING HOMES DURING A CHRONIC HOUSING SHORTAGE.

“National say they’ll build 34,000 houses in Auckland over the next decade, Labour says 50,000. ACT will rezone land for hundreds of thousands.

Here is how many homes could be built if just two restricted zones were reclassified as residential:

  • Countryside Living zone – 223,560 homes
  • Mixed Rural Zone – 403,965 homes
  • TOTAL: 627,525 HOMES

These house numbers are estimated on the basis of 27 homes per hectare (the same density as the Hobsonville Point development) on just one third of each zone’s land area.

WHERE WE COULD BUILD

Blue: Current residential, bordered by Rural-Urban Boundary
Yellow: Where ACT would allow homebuilding (Mixed Rural, Countryside Living)

They give a number of examples.

Freeing up enough land for 600,000 plus houses does not mean anywhere that number would be built.