[New Zealand Politics] Jumping At Blue-Green Shadows

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Consider New Zealand’s 2017 election results:

  • National: 44.5%
  • Labour: 36.9%
  • New Zealand First: 7.2%
  • Greens: 6.3%
  • ACT: 0.5%

And the most recent Colmar-Brunton Poll from December 2018:

  • National: 46%
  • Labour: 43%
  • Greens: 5%
  • New Zealand First: 4%
  • ACT: 1%

The threshold for achieving parliamentary representation in New Zealand is getting 5% of the vote or winning an electorate seat (we have a proportional MMP voting system borrowed from Germany). After the last election, Labour and New Zealand First formed a government, supported by the Greens. National and their client party, ACT (who never get 5%, but which get handed an electorate seat by National in Epsom) are in opposition.

Now, you may notice, that despite being the largest single party, National struggles to actually form a government, because it lacks allies: basically, the right-wing vote in New Zealand is cannibalised by one large Tory Party, while the left-wing vote is more splintered – which under MMP is advantageous, so long as the splinter parties remain above the threshold. All well and good, so what can National do about its predicament?

It really has four options:

  • Boost its support so it can win a majority in its own right. – Unlikely, unless there is a large economic downturn between now and the next election (due September/October 2020).
  • Convince New Zealand First or the Greens to switch sides. – New Zealand First is economically centrist and socially conservative, with a populist streak. The Greens, are, well, the Greens: socially liberal and environmentally focused. The Greens, obviously, would not support National (economically right-wing and socially centrist), but New Zealand First might, on paper. Problem is, there is enough bad blood between National and New Zealand First leader Winston Peters to fuel an entire season of Game of Thrones (minus the sex), and Peters seems broadly happy working with Labour (economically centrist and socially liberal).
  • Create/rehabilitate a potential coalition partner. – From a strategic angle, this is really what National should be doing. Problem is, the ACT brand is toxic, and there just aren’t enough conservative “right of National” voters to get a small right-wing party across the 5% threshold (I think there would be if the threshold were 3%, but it’s not).
  • Kick New Zealand First and/or the Greens under 5%. A parliament consisting of just National and Labour (and puppet ACT) – hitherto unthinkable under a proportional electoral system like MMP – would mean a National Government.

The fourth option is what National is currently doing: attacking Winston Peters whenever they can – which is why the Penguin devotes so much attention to him. This brings me to the real subject matter of today’s post: the imminent formation of a Blue-Green Party led by Vernon Tava – a “new” environmental party that (unlike the existing Green Party) would prop up the Nats.

Well, that’s the cover story anyway. The Herald article and various right-wing commentators are portraying such a party as having a “good chance”. They don’t. The sort of person who would support such a party is voting National anyway – so why bother? They aren’t remotely getting 5% unless the National Party collapses 2002-style. The real motivation here – as Chris Trotter correctly recognises – is to split the Green vote, kick the Greens under 5%, and hence out of Parliament. Which is what National wants.

I agree with Trotter that, ideologically, a Blue-Green Party would be irredeemably compromised – it would essentially become a Tory greenwasher/apologist. Where I disagree is the extent to which this would actually be a threat to the Green Party:

From the hints he has so far thrown out to the news media, Tava’s strategy would appear to be to match the Greens in the “responsible environmentalists” stakes, while highlighting the outlandish and seriously alienating words and deeds of the Greens’ social revolutionaries. The more of the latter he is able to bring to the electorate’s attention, the more likely Tava is to detach at least some of the Greens’ more conservative supporters. The Greens leaders should be aware that there will be no shortage of generous right-wing donors lining-up to resource a Blue-Green Party dedicated to dividing and demoralising the Greens’ electoral base. 

The implicit assumption is that the Greens have attracted the occasional environmentally conscious conservative, and such people are vulnerable to Tava’s charms. This, incidentally, is also the conclusion of the Nats’ Pet Troll, Mike Hosking, who thinks there is a constituency of people who are concerned about environmental issues, but who don’t agree with Green Party social activism.

This assumption founders on one basic problem: “conservative” environmentalists don’t vote Green as it is. They already vote for someone else.

New Zealand Green Party voters – despite what the Green Party likes to think about itself – tend to be well-off, well-educated, urban, and socially liberal. The seats where the Greens exceeded 4000 party votes in 2017? Auckland Central, Dunedin North, Mt Albert, Port Hills, Rongotai, and Wellington Central. University-infused social activism is a feature for such people, not a bug. Moreover, when the Greens do perform outside this core base, it is not through attracting small ‘g’ green conservatives, but through attracting the vote of disgruntled Labourites. In short, anyone voting Green in New Zealand – at least in 2017 – does not have the least bit of interest in seeing a National Government, and by extension, would not respond favourably to a Blue-Green Party whose raison d’être is “less social liberalism” and “more co-operation with the Tories”.

Ergo, the Blue-Green Party will be a flat failure, and if they end up taking 1-2% off anyone, it will be National itself. Trotter is jumping at shadows.

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