Month: March 2015

Labour and the moral high ground

Since Andrew Little began his tightrope walk regarding whether Northland voters should or shouldn’t vote Labour, there has been much philosophising as to whether a “dirty deal” did or did not go down.

To my mind, quite clearly, no deal occurred. A deal requires some form of reciprocity. It requires agreement between parties. In Epsom, over the last few elections, a fair amount of conversation obviously went on between National and ACT; in 2011, the stage-managed “cup of tea” made it perfectly clear that a deal had been done.

In Northland, however, Labour’s actions were unilateral (unless some extremely surreptitious and plausibly deniable discussions occurred, that will only surface in a decade’s time in someone’s political autobiography). Labour realised they had no show of winning, figured Winston had reasonable odds of severely embarrassing National, and changed their message to give him the best possible shot. Serendipitous for Winston, but not something he had sought.

Nonetheless, given Labour’s (in)actions in Northland, can they continue to claim a moral high ground when, in 2017, National again gives David Seymour and/or Peter Dunne a free ride in their respective electorates?

Many journalists, commentators and, of course, Right-aligned bloggers, have been happily labelling Andrew Little a hypocrite. Moral high ground lost. The right to lambast National for Epsom-style deals gone forevermore.

Such analysis has, predictably, enraged many of the good folk over at The Standard (see ‘By-elections are FPP‘), while others on the Left such as Rob Salmond and Danyl Mclauchlan provide their reasoning as to why Northland and Epsom are Different. As Mr Salmond writes:

Here are three core differences:

  1. Labour was never going to win Northland, whereas National could win Epsom just by clicking its fingers. Labour’s motivation is to engineer a loss for its major opponent, while National is trying to engineer a loss for itself. Which of those do you think is more legitimate in a competitive environment?
  2. Labour’s actions in Northland were quarantined to Northland only. They only affected who is the MP for Northland. National’s deals, on the other hand, are specifically designed to work around New Zealand’s rules about proportionality. National’s deals try to engineer a 5-for-1 deal on ACT MPs (which is exactly what they got in 2008.) National’s deals rort MMP; Labour’s avoid FPP vote-splitting. Those are not the same thing.
  3. Labour’s actions were unilateral. Labour did not receive any assurance of anything from Peters before making the call to change tack. Labour looked at the facts on the ground, and changed its plan accordingly. National, by contrast, makes a big show of obtaining a quid pro quo in advance. Labour had a strategy; National made a deal.

Personally, I agree with the reasoning of Salmond, Mclauchlan and Bunji at The Standard. Yes, by-elections are FPP. Yes, there was no “deal”. Yes, Northland was never Labour’s to win. Northland and Epsom are indeed different.

The problem though is that, at a glance, they also look suspiciously similar. Which is why Gower and Garner et al are so easily able to characterise Labour’s actions as hypocrisy. And explaining is losing.

For those who care, the distinction between Northland and Epsom is patently obvious. To the casual by-stander though, Labour and National are just as bad as each other. And no amount of explanatory blogposts are likely to change that…

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Victory for Winston

And Winston Peters will be the new MP for Northland…

Until that final TV3 poll – the one showing Peters above 50%, with Mark Osborne languishing about 20 points behind –  I hadn’t thought Peters would get there. Nonetheless, it’s a convincing victory: a 9,000+ National Party majority has become a 4,000 majority for Peters.

So what now?

Will NZ First get a new MP? Throughout the campaign, Peters continually refused to answer questions as to whether, if he won, he would resign as a list MP. “The question hasn’t even crossed my mind,” seemed to be his stock response. Quite how the question could continually fail to cross his mind, given the number of times he had been asked it, escapes me.

Well, this morning, in typical Winston fashion, he told Radio NZ’s Morning Report that there was never a question as to whether he would resign as a list MP:

“Of course I’ll resign, I don’t know why it was ever a material question.”

Unfortunately, we’re still no clearer as to who will replace Peters from the NZ First list. Ria Bond, who’s next on the list, still hasn’t showed up, having, for reasons unknown, apparently been sent into deep cover by her party.

But where to now for National, having suffered an embarrassing by-election spanking? Presumably, they want Northland back, come 2017. Their best bet is probably to ignore Peters as much as possible. He’s made a lot of expensive promises that he cannot possibly deliver. So National should simply do in Northland what they promised – build their roads, build their bridges, get their ultra-fast broadband up and running. Then they can compare their record against Peters’, who will be found wanting.

Oh, and they need to find a decent candidate, and find one early. Northland is a large electorate, geographically. In 2017, Peters will have the advantage of incumbency, and his name is already known no matter where in Northland you go. That’s a lot of ground for any candidate to make up…

And Winston Peters proves me wrong…

So there I was, confidently predicting that Winston Peters wouldn’t risk the humiliation of losing in the Northland by-election…

At the end of the day, perhaps the most important point is that Winston Peters really doesn’t like losing. He won’t put himself forward as an outside chance. His ego simply won’t allow the likely humiliation of losing to an as-yet-unknown National candidate.

Which is why this blog is called Occasionally Erudite, rather than Always Erudite… For of course Mr Peters announced last week his candidacy for the Northland by-election.

So what’s Peters doing then?

I presume, firstly, that Peters really thinks he can win it.

Presumably, Labour knows they can’t win. But they know they’ll look like hypocrites if they pull their candidate, given their previous denunciations of National’s stand-a-candidate-but-don’t-actively-campaign-against-ACT/Dunne deals. Peters will therefore be expecting a “go-slow” campaign from Labour; a nudge and a wink to say “we don’t mind if you vote for Winston”.

A nudge and a wink still won’t be nearly enough though. Mike Sabin received 18,269 votes in the last general election, or 52.74% – that’s a majority of 9,300 over Labour’s Willow-Jean Prime. In the party vote, National received a healthy 49%, with Labour well back on 16.6%, only just ahead of NZ First on 12.8% and the Greens on 10.8%.

It’s a huge ask for Peters to over-turn such a majority, especially since he can’t count on the entire anti-National vote flowing his way; Willow-Jean Prime will certainly continue to attract a share of the vote, regardless of any Labour “go-slow” campaign.

The major factor that Peters will be counting on will be turnout. Turnout always decreases in by-elections. If the left can mobilise a significant proportion of its 2014 support, while Mike Sabin’s former voters stay home in an apathetic funk, then, just maybe, it’s conceivable that Peters could scrape over the line. And Peters’ political star power will undoubtedly drag a few voters over his way.

Given that a win for Winston will mean National is reliant on two, rather than one, support parties, there’s certainly an incentive for left-leaning voters to support Mr Peters. Conversely, it also provides an incentive for right-leaning voters to flock to the National candidate’s banner.

Regardless of whether Peters does or doesn’t win, he can be reasonably assured that the National majority in Northland will no longer be as healthy as it was after last year’s election. That’s Peters’ backup “victory” – plucky underdog slashes governing party’s majority…