Wellington, October 24, 2020
Analysis: There are only crumbs for the Greens from Labour’s table; National’s caucus backs Judith Collins but there is anger in the ranks over what went wrong; and the huge swing to Labour indicates that there could have been tactical voting on an unprecedented scale.
Not much for Greens
Talks between Labour and the Greens about forming a government began this week and will go into next week, but it is already clear that there will not be much in it for the minor party.
After the landslide victory, the mood within Jacinda Ardern’s party is for a Labour government, not a Labour/Greens government or a Labour-led government, the Herald reported.
A coalition agreement with seats at the Cabinet table is off the agenda, Newshub reported on Tuesday, and that has not been challenged.
What is left is a Confidence and Supply Agreement along the lines of the one the Greens had with Labour in the previous Parliament, or an even looser cooperation agreement.
Ardern said during the campaign that she wanted any arrangement to be ‘straightforward,’ which has been taken to mean nothing getting in the way of what Labour wants to do over the next three years. She has clearly in no mood for any “handbrakes” after putting up with New Zealand First during her first term.
Outside Cabinet posts
Under any arrangement, Ardern could offer ministerial posts outside Cabinet and the most likely would be Greens Co-Leader James Shaw continuing to hold the climate change portfolio.
The Herald’s Fran O’Sullivan saw a good reason for that, reporting that her paper’s Mood of the Boardroom survey ranked Shaw fifth within the overall ministry.
“The Mood of the Boardroom report said that his centrist style was representative of the modern climate change activist and it was well-received in the business community,” she said.
When Ardern tells the Greens precisely what they are or are not getting, the Party will have to decide whether to accept or sit on the cross benches on their own.
One former Green MP, Catherine Delahunty, told RNZ that the Party should stay on the outside.
“The messages that we are hearing from Jacinda Ardern indicate a very Centrist Government. So, I think that the Greens should go hard for independence right now and not be subsumed into any form of deal with Labour that actually mutes their ability to speak out,” she said.
Ardern’s vision of 2023
While Ardern holds all the cards and Labour does not need the Greens to form a government or pass legislation, she will also be aware that 2023 could be a different story and she will not want to alienate them completely, since another landslide likely.
Criticism in National’s ranks
While Ardern was welcoming her huge 64-member caucus, National was saying a sad goodbye to the casualties of its drubbing at the Polls.
Leader Judith Collins pushed the “we’re moving on” line but during the week there was intense criticism of the way the party ran its campaign.
Former Labour Party President Mike Williams told the New Zealand Herald: “I have never seen a worse campaign by a political Party and I have been involved in 40 election campaigns in Australia and New Zealand.”
He said that rolling (National Leader) Simon Bridges was the result of “poll-driven panic” after adulation was heaped on Ardern for the way she was leading the country through Covid-19.
“National should have kept their nerve but instead they chose the wrong leader (Todd Muller) who quickly stood down because of mental health. Instability in political parties is the smell of death to a lot of voters,” he said.
He also had a crack at Collins for her comments about obesity being a matter of personal choice, saying it caused outrage. “I have never seen anything like that. You have got to be just loopy.”
Leak angers National MPs
Speaking to media before the caucus meeting MPs pledged their loyalty to Collins. They were angry but it was not directed at her, it was the MP who leaked Denise Lee’s email criticising Collins’ style which had upset them the most.
Collins said the leak had cost the party five points, or about 100,000 votes.
One of the surviving MPs, Melissa Lee, said that the result had been devastating and she was “really angry” about the leak. “We just look like politicians who can’t actually keep it together,” she said.
Barbara Kuriger, who held her Taranaki-King Country seat, agreed it was ironic National ran under a “strong team” banner.
“We were not the best team. If you have got people dropping the ball, or not being able to do the right thing, then you do not win and that is what happened,” she said.
Tim Macindoe, who lost Hamilton West, had some wise advice for his surviving colleagues: “To be fit to govern you must be absolutely united, you must demonstrate a very clear vision for what is important, and also demonstrate fundamental decency.”
Collins, who has said she intends holding on to the job through to the next election, is not in immediate danger despite the election rout. But she has to stop the leaks and that could be difficult.
As MPs gathered for the caucus meeting Newshub reported: “They have only been at Parliament for a day after their disastrous defeat but already National MPs are leaking.”
One was quoted as saying that it was “highly, highly unlikely she (Collins) will lead us into 2023”.
National supporters may have switched
The unprecedented swing to Labour across the country indicated tactical voting by National supporters who did not want the Greens to be part of the government, but there is no hard evidence of that. Some callers to talkback radio said they voted tactically for that reason but the extent of it is not known.
Collins suggested it had happened. “We have certainly heard from some media who have asked, and some parts of the farming communities, that they voted Labour because they wanted to stop the Greens,” she said.
A Stuff analysis showed Labour won the Party vote in every South Island electorate, including National’s Southland fortress.
The irony is that if there was extensive tactical voting, Collins could have intensified it by trying to scare voters into believing Labour would “buckle to the Greens” and implement a wealth tax after the election.
RNZ’s Tim Watkin wrote: “With the wisdom of the crowd, centre-right voters have seen National’s internal problems, looked around for a handbrake on a Labour-Greens transformative government, and landed on a fascinating champion – Labour itself.”
Peter Wilson is a Life Member of Parliament’s Press Gallery, 22 years as NZPA Political Editor and seven as Parliamentary Bureau Chief for NZ Newswire. The above Report and Pictures have been published under a Special Agreement with www.rnz.co.nz