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Wednesday 08 October 2008


Posted in: Comment
By Craig Young - 9th September 2008

On the upswing: Helen Clark
I expect the Clark administration and Greens will be pleased at the latest Roy Morgan poll, which indicates that the National Opposition's once-fearsome poll lead is slipping away.

More ominously for the Opposition, the Greens are on eight percent in this poll, which suggests that there could even be a fourth term for Clark and her Labour colleagues.

I'm reminded of a similar German federal election result, in which the Social Democrat Party's voter share was faltering, but the centre-left was saved by the Green Party's poll surge. I suspect that this will lead to whingeing on the Opposition benches, and still more ruminations about the need to replace MMP with SM. No, not sadomasochism, although given National's New Right welfare and industrial relations policies, one could be forgiven for thinking that. SM is a barely proportional electoral system that would be little better than First Past the Post.

National's nightmare is probably this. New Zealand First may not be represented in the next Parliament, unless the mercurial Winston Peters can manage a minor miracle in the midst of current donor investigations. If National takes Epsom back off ACT, then Rodney Hide would be gone as well. If not, then Hide and Heather Roy might be back together, but in the long term, can ACT survive such minimal levels of representation? In this 'blue whale' scenario, National is terrifyingly alone on the centre-right. It would be akin to Scandinavia, where entrenched social democratic governments are the rule. Mind you, Helen Clark has expressed admiration for Scandinavian social democracy in the past, so I suspect she'd be quite happy at such a state of affairs.

Then there's the "Australia 1993" outcome. In this unfolding scenario, although Labour is bedevilled by the recession, the Opposition's antidote frightens the voters, and insures the incumbent government a further term of office. That happened with John Hewson's "Fightback" New Right policies in Australia's federal election fifteen years ago. So, is this happening here? Are National's ACC. welfare, industrial relations, and road tolls policies leading to the conclusion that John Key's beneficent centrism is nothing more than a facade, concealing the same old New Right murk beneath? What was UK Tory Lord Michael Ashcroft doing when he visited John Key, especially given that Lord Ashcroft is an opponent of donor accountability laws and electoral finance regulation back in the United Kingdom, as well as a leading Conserative Party fundraiser, and donated considerable funds to Howard's federal Liberals?

And meanwhile, what about the Christian Right? The Maxim Institute's nzvotes website is up and running, and it seems to have sidestepped the question of Electoral Commission regulation after pointing its browsers to more informative other websites. There is no sign of a Maxim Institute candidate or party questionnaire yet, although its various candidate meetings are scheduled for Central Auckland (Greenlane Christian Centre, September 16), Pukekohe, Whangarei, Christchurch and Dunedin.

And what was it thinking of, scheduling demoted National MP Richard Worth, UFNZ List MP Judy Turner and outsider Richard Lewis (Family Party) against a disciplined, sharp senior Labour Cabinet Minister like Phil Goff at its first debate ?! Anyway, the Institute doesn't sound quite so sure about National's MMP abolition schemes, and I imagine that its ACT/Business Roundtable supporters would feel much the same way. Not to mention the three fundamentalist parties- the Family Party, the Kiwi Party and Pacific Party. Apart from the latter, the former might siphon off additional centre-right votes into electorally unviable sinkholes, denying National an election victory.

And religious extremism? Is Family First's pro-belting fanaticism leading to backlash from angry social liberal voters and concerned child welfare and development professionals, determined to see that the Christian Right doesn't overturn a significant step forward in children's rights like Section 59 Repeal? Has that contributed to the Green surge?

If this state of affairs continues, then it seems Labourmight well end up shrugging off alleged 'incumbency' fatigue to secure Helen Clark's fourth term of office, feeding off National's declining 'soft support', the prominence of green issues, and the possible collapse of New Zealand First's voter share to achieve what many thought was almost impossible only a few months ago.

And with a secure parliamentary majority, we'd probably be assured of unfinished LGBT business like provocation defence and inclusive adoption reform during that fourth term. Especially if we significantly mobilised to achieve that in metropolitan electorates, especially Auckland.

Craig Young - 9th September 2008