The MoU paradox

Vernon Small brings up a reminder of the paradox of the Labour-Green Memorandum of Understanding in the aptly headlined Ready or not, it’s election year and the annual theatrics have started – a key aim of the MoU is to present Labour and Greens as a joint ‘government-in-waiting’, but it terminates on election day, before the haggling over coalition arrangements begins.

But the two parties are sailing into a paradox that will only be made more stark by their closer co-operation.

If they are a presenting themselves as a “government in waiting” why does their memorandum of understanding (MOU) formally expire on election day?

We all know why, of course. Because as much as the Greens would like a more enduring pact, Labour does not want to indelibly ink a deal ahead of polling day for fear that will ostracise Winston Peters and NZ First – and give him reason to opt for National if he holds the balance of power.

It makes the sales pitch of a two-party government in waiting too cute by three quarters.

It is a contradiction the parties ought to resolve before election year gets very much older.

Perhaps Labour have indicated a resolution may be coming – Andrew Little attacked Winston Peters over his theatrics over Pike River.

Labour has to compete with NZ First for votes, especially any that National might shed, but Labour will also be keen to get back support that NZ First has been picking up.

The union of Labour and Greens will be emphasised in a week with their joint ‘state of the nation’ act.

While Greens will be pleased with this arrangement, according to Small some in Labour are not so sure.

But the most significant move yet has been that decision by Labour and the Greens to step up the momentum of their agreement to cooperate, with a joint “State of the Nation” event in Auckland next week.

There were misgivings in Labour over the move, with some questioning the wisdom of doubling down on their memorandum of understanding, which had already seen leader’s speeches at their respective annual conferences.

The concern is that greater and greater efforts to present as “one Opposition, two parties” will alienate centrist Labour-leaning voters who are spooked by the Greens – and to be frank there are those inside the Labour caucus who would rather not tie the party to the Greens, full stop.

Labour’s problem is that their support has slipped so much they have a couple of choices:

  1. Concede major party status, accept that they can’t compete with National on their own any more, so semi-join with another party.
  2. Revitalise, rebuild and make a determined effort to be the best supported party again.

They have tried the latter a number of times – including trying four leaders – without any  success.

So last year Labour chose the former, hence the MoU. It is too late to change before this year’s election.

The MoU paradox is still there, despite the Peters attack and the planned joint ‘state of the country’ speeches.

The latter could give us a better indication about the state of the parties, the state of the MoU, and whether Labour is prepared to stop trying a bob each way on NZ First versus Greens.

It would be a nonsense if Labour and Greens campaign together as they are, with the degree of togetherness that next week’s speech emphasises, but to leave prospects of a Labour-Green coalition  up in the air as a maybe, if it suits Labour at the time.

It hasn’t been the game changer some predicted, but Labour is harming their prospects if they buy into Winston’s ridiculous persistence in refusing to let voters know in advance what coalition arrangements they rule in and rule out.

We know that the Greens have to go with Labour if they want to be a part of Government unless Green Party members have a major change of heart about dealing with National.

Perhaps we will get clarity on Labour’s post-election aims from Little’s speech next week, alongside Metiria Turei.

If not the paradox will keep highlighting Labour’s duplicity.