Faulty logic from Martyn Bradbury

Martyn Bradbury confidently predicts at the Daily Blog that NZ First won’t get over 5%. Now I’m certainly not confident enough to predict at this stage in proceedings whether they’ll get there or not. What I am sure about is that if they don’t get there, it will be for different reasons than Mr Bradbury posits.

Mr Bradbury’s thesis is built entirely on the notion that the electorate will come to the realisation that Winston Peters has no intention of entering into a coalition with Labour. With the Greens being over-whelming favourites to be the third largest party in parliament after the coming election, Mr Peters will baulk at the notion of “being the smallest fish in a Green/Labour coalition if the option of being a bigger fish in a National coalition is on offer”.

Bradbury goes on to state:

Winston’s electoral magnetism is built upon his opposition to Government, not being part of the status quo, but once voters realise he is simply going to be a prop for National rather than a change of Government, that loss of magnetism will drop him below 5% alongside the Conservative Party cannibalising NZ First’s right faction.

The problem is that there are enough viable coalition options that no one can really know for certain what on earth Peters will do, should he end up in the position of kingmaker:

Option 1: There’s the option that Mr Bradbury sees as the only possible outcome, with National and NZ First forming a coalition. ACT may or may not be there, depending on the numbers.

Option 2: Labour and NZ First form a minority government, with the Greens offering confidence and supply.

Option 3: National, ACT and United Future form a minority government, with NZ First operating from the cross-benches on a vote-by-vote basis.

Option 4: Labour and the Greens (and possibly Mana) form a minority government, with NZ First on the cross-benches.

Is it likely that Peters would forsake Ministerial baubles and take the cross-benches route? Matthew Hooton certain believes so:

“Mr Peters’ greatest driver is to be at the centre of events. The best way for him to achieve that in 2014 is to stay outside the government, offering no one confidence and supply. That would enable Mr Key’s government to limp on but without Mr Peters having to take responsibility for its decisions. Even more attractive, whenever he was so inclined, he could engage on an issue, putting himself on centre stage. To pass a Budget, the government would either have to negotiate with him for months in advance or – more likely – have to present it to Parliament with no surety of passage. Dramatic concessions could then be demanded in exchange for NZ First’s votes. No doubt it would all end in tears but it would be a rollicking three years. Mr Peters would love it. He could then retire to the north, go fishing and have a good laugh with his mates.”

But back to Mr Bradbury’s faulty logic. Given that Peters’ first instinct is to bluff and keep the punters guessing, I would be highly surprised if the voters got enough of a feeling that he would side with National that they desert him in droves.

Further, I don’t believe that most of Peters’ supporters really categorise themselves in terms of left or right wing politics, subscribing instead to a conservative world view. They distrust both National and Labour, perhaps fearing Labour’s social liberalism but hating National’s economic agenda. They want Peters to hold the government to account, whichever party that may be, and whether that involves a formal coalition that includes NZ First or three years of Peters sniping from the cross-benches.

The more likely reason for NZ First not reaching the 5% threshold is alluded to, but not analysed, by Bradbury – cannibalisation of NZ First’s vote by the Conservative Party. Colin Craig and Winston Peters are largely aiming for the same constituency – social conservatives who don’t look too closely at the muddled 1950s economic “theory” that both leaders espouse. That’s a limited constituency, and if Craig can get some traction in the polls, Peters will find it tough to get near 5%. Together, NZ First and the Conservatives got 9.24% in 2011, but that was on the back of Peters’ teapot tapes boost and the collapse of Labour’s party vote. The native small-c conservative vote is likely well below that 9% mark, meaning that if the Conservative Party gets up to around 3%, Peters may well be in trouble.

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