Coalition Talks Myth Busting


As we all wait for the results of the special votes to determine the final numbers for the 2017 election, there is a good deal of noise coming from media and political commentators. Much of the commentary is misleading, not based on fact or is just pure political spin.

Sadly writers and publications that should know better are buying into fabricated myths about MMP and conservative, ill-informed views of how coalitions should be progressed. Even the editorial in the latest Listener encourages the continuation of First Past the Post (FPP) thinking.

I would like to respond to the nonsense.

MMP IS FAILING

The reason MMP was supported in the first place was to stop the unfair outcomes of the previous FPP system when a party could substantially lose the popular vote but, through electorate wins, capture large majorities. 

FPP created what was essentially a two party system, there was little diversity in parliament and many large and important communities were not represented. In 1993 (the last election under FPP) 21 women were elected out of a possible 99 seats. In the same election the Alliance won almost 20% of the vote but only got 2 MPs (under proportional representation they would have been entitled to 19). National was able to govern alone with only 35% of the popular vote (50 MPs), while 65% of votes went to parties who were only able to muster 49 MPs in total. If MMP had been in operation National or Labour would have had to negotiate with Alliance to get them over 50%. 

Even when we have two dominant parties, as in this latest election, at least the proportional outcomes more accurately reflect voting. Although we have lost many minor parties in the 2017 election we still have a situation where a coalition can carry the day. Good democratic process should take time to ensure stable governance and appropriate representation of the majority of voters. We should allow for solid negotiations to ensure the best possible workable agreements.

MMP could be improved by lowering the threshold to 1% so that the Maori Party and The Opportunities Party (TOP) could have MPs (they jointly received around 80,000 votes). The "coat tailing" provision that allows parties that win an electorate seat to bring in more MPs even if their overall vote was beneath the threshold should also be removed. A number of recommendations came from the Electoral Commission along similar lines but these were shelved by Judith Collins and the National Government under dubious circumstances that reeked of self-interest. 

THE NATIONAL PARTY HAS A MORAL RIGHT TO LEAD ANY COALITION

This is clearly nonsense. Unless a party achieves more than 50% of voter support then any of the parties can form a coalition or agreement to provide confidence and supply that captures the required majority. 55.6% of voters did not support the National Party after special votes were counted. 

If morality is brought into any discussion about the right to rule then one could also talk about the morality of the National Party campaign. Much was made of the fact that the last nine years of National Governance has benefited New Zealand economically and yet there is ample evidence that any prosperity has not been fairly distributed. Public and private debt have both increased dramatically under National and our productivity growth is low compared to other developed countries.

The National Party also ran a negative "Post Truth" campaign that was built around false facts or lies. Claiming  that there was an $11.7 billion hole in Labour's budget was not supported by any independent economist. Labour was not going to increase taxes and the claimed threats to the farming sector from a future Labour/Green coalition were based on extreme scaremongering. National's moral prerogative to form a government, based on their election result, is actually very shaky indeed.

A THREE PARTY COALITION WOULD BE UNSTABLE

Again this is nonsense, there is ample evidence in NZ, Germany and elsewhere that more than two parties can work well together. Over the last three terms National has relied on three other parties for confidence and supply and to push through legislation. 

Labour, New Zealand First and the Green Party worked together under Helen Clark's Labour Government very well. While Winston Peters did rule out the Greens as a coalition partner the Green Party still worked with that Government and had leadership roles in select committees and in semi-cabinet positions (leading energy efficiency programmes, Buy Kiwi Made and Jeanette Fitzsimons chaired the select committee charged with shaping new local body legislation). This time the relationship between the Greens and New Zealand First has strengthened and the two parties worked together in areas such education and the manufacturing enquiry. The previous Green Party Chief of Staff was a past NZ First MP. Campaigning rhetoric needs to be regarded as what it is and for all their differences there is much greater policy alignment between the Greens and New Zealand First than either has with National.

A coalition between the previous three opposition parties would have a three seat majority over National after special votes were accounted for, this is a stronger position than for the last National Government. Just before the election National had a one seat majority and relied on agreements between United Future, the Act Party and the Maori Party for votes and confidence and supply.

THE GREEN PARTY SHOULD CONSIDER A COALITION WITH NATIONAL

There have been numerous opinion pieces stating that the Greens should just become an environmental advocate and be open to work with both National and Labour. This ignores the fact that the Green Party is part of a global network of around 85 Parties (Global Greens) that has democratic governance and social justice included in their shared charter. No Green Party just advocates for environmental issues because it will need a holistic approach to solve the big problems that exist on planet Earth. Climate change will impact on the poor more than the wealthy and any attempts to address pollution will need to be socially responsible. The Green Party also has the most progressive policies to address child poverty.  The "Teal Deal" is unlikely to happen. 

The National Party comes from a neoliberal mindset that wants to shrink government and shift the responsibility of social and environmental issues to individual responsibility and market forces. Nowhere in the world has this approach worked and the most stable and sustainable economies are the Scandinavian ones that have large governments and well resourced public services. 

Of course the Green Party would consider an approach from National, but there would need to be a complete shift in philosophy and culture from both for even the possibility of a coalition or a confidence and supply agreement. 

The idea that the Green Party risks its very existence to this perceived intransigence is also nonsense. There are a number of reasons why the Party has dropped in support (some of it of its own making) but there will always be a solid core vote for a genuinely progressive party. The Green Party will never really be a minor party if one takes into account its substantial membership, its financial base and its comprehensive bank of policies (that are continuously reviewed and updated). All parties suffer from fluctuations of support as Bill English is fully aware when National received only 20% voter support under his leadership in the 2002 election.

SUMMARY

I do wish we had a mainstream media that took an educational approach to what it presents to the public rather than giving print and air space to multiple commentators who clearly have an agenda or bias around outcomes. I find Newsroom refreshingly balanced and intelligent in what it presents, if only our newspapers and main TV channels took the same approach.

What we want in the end is a government that bases decisions on evidence and is future focused regarding our economy and the very real social and environmental crises that have exploded under National. We want a country that leads the world in areas that are really important rather than becoming known as the very worst

Comments

Paranormal said…
A post that shows Green naivety.

National in no way can be considered 'neo-liberal' (whatever that may mean in the leftist lexicon). The current National incarnation are a left of centre party, far to the left of say the Democrats in the US. This is why Labour have struggled - the Nats have taken their oxygen. By going even harder left Labour have lost the majority of supporters and hoovered up Green supporters.

As for Greens not going into coalition to achieve their goals for their supporters, do you consider the German Greens class traitors?

As for the NZ Greens, by voting to not go into coalition with National you have blown a massive opportunity to get concessions for your policies. It doesn't matter that you wouldn't go into coalition with National, what matters is that now Labour know you have nowhere else to go. There is no downside for them sidelining you, you've lost all your negotiating leverage. A fundamentally stupid mistake.
bsprout said…
Paranormal, you are welcome to your opinion but proof of ideology isn't in words but in actions. National have just done enough in terms of social and environmental spending and rhetoric to give the impression of substantial action when the reality is quite different. For example a true centrist government would maintain a reasonable welfare safety net and yet this government tried to privatise social housing and have seriously underspent on the maintenance and replacement of existing stock. Housing NZ was expected to pass on dividends back to the Government coffers and now Bill English estimates the cost of delayed repairs and maintenance is around $1.5 billion. We are now ranked at the bottom of the developed world for the quality, availability and affordability of housing.

The level of corporate subsidies and the extent of inequality and poverty in New Zealand places us at the most extreme end of the developed world. What we are experiencing has all the hallmarks of a strongly imbedded neoliberal economy.

On election night 55% of voters ticked parties that supported greater levels of social and environmental investment and this is likely to increase after the special votes are included. The Greens, Labour and NZ First have far more in common with each other than National.

Most NZ First supporters voted for the party because of its anti-National stance and Winston would risk the destroying the party he created if a coalition with National occurred. Labour and NZ First need the support of the Greens to replace National, and both understand that the Green Party membership would not support an agreement that doesn't address key policy areas. The Greens do not have to grease up to National to manipulate a strong deal as you suggest. There has already been a lot of engagement between the three parties leading up to this point and a good deal of the ground work has already been done.

National's vote was lifted at the last minute form a "post truth campaign that was blatantly dishonest. As I said in my post, it has no moral right to many of the votes it received based on extreme scaremongering, it has essentially lost its social licence to govern. I do not understand why you loyally support corruption and lies.
Paranormal said…
See there you go again. What you on the left call neoliberal is anything you disagree with. You just use it as a derogatory term.

There are many policies that show the Nats are anything but a liberal government. You use a key example - giving corporate welfare. That is a sign of a leftist command and control economy picking winners - just like Cullen and Clark.

The specials will be interesting this year. Most were cast at a time when Green and NZF voters were abandoning their parties. It may well be what we traditionally see in the specials doesn't happen this election. Certainly election night was different to what we would normally expect. The percentages didn't change all night - even when the South Auckland seats came in.

Have you actually spoken to any Winston first voters? The majority of voters don't understand what their preferred parties stand for. Certainly the Winston first voters I've spoken to want Winston in there to give the Nats some spine. You're right Winstons policies are more left/Muldoonist, but most Winnie supporters wouldn't know that. You have to understand that those of us that take an interest in politics are a very small minority.

97% of voters voted against Winston, and yet he's still holding the balance of power.

Given all that I think Winnie will go with Labour and it will not make a full term.

You only think that the Nats campaign was dishonest because you haven't looked at Liarbours budget. It was a mess with holes you can drive a truck through. Things like five years in a row guesstimating growth at 4 to 5 %. If that's not dishonest you wouldn't know what is.
bsprout said…
I totally agree with you that few people follow politics in any depth.

'Neo-liberal' does have a clear definition and according to Wikipedia it means: "economic liberalization policies such as privatization, austerity, deregulation, free trade, and reductions in government spending in order to increase the role of the private sector in the economy and society."

If you look at every aspect of government spending and major policy shifts, this encapsulates National's approach, whether it is health, housing or education. There is also an element of corruption and conflict of interest when Judith Collins used her Ministerial role to support her husband's business interests, when John Key supported his lawyer mate with ensuring the tax haven continued with little regulation and Joyce ensured his old company got government favours.

There is a reason why we have the worst housing, one of the biggest education inequity and the highest youth suicide rate in the developed world...neoliberal governance.

Also GDP growth based on immigration, tourism with little infrastructure and exporting huge qualities of powdered milk from overly intensified farms, is not sustainable. The fact that per worker productivity is dropping is also an indication of an economic sham.

You are a follower of spin and nonsense Paranormal and even Paddy Gower called out National's "post truth" campaign.

Maria Roberts said…
Good article and thanks for giving the definition of neoliberalism in your comment @bsprout

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