Both of our major parties refuse to work with each other, despite having basically the same ideas. They rely on tribal politics – red vs blue – to hold themselves together as they battle for the hearts of “middle New Zealand”.
Since we have had MMP, Kiwis have refused to give either large party an outright majority. We seem reluctant to hand them unbridled power as they had in the 1980s and 90s. We prefer coalitions as they keep the large parties in check. So Labour and National have had to rely on working with smaller parties to command the Treasury benches.
Some of those parties, like ACT and the Greens, refuse to work with the other side, which effectively makes them part of the two-party system. This hands enormous bargaining power to parties in the centre who are prepared to work with either side. This role is often known as the “king (or more appropriately these days, monarch) maker” as it decides who leads the government.
For a long time this group of monarch makers included UnitedFuture and the Māori Party. But the former is finished and it is unclear whether the latter will recover from the last election. In this term of government, the monarch maker has been Winston Peters. Can we put a price on his support? You betcha! It is $3b and is known as the Provincial Growth Fund.
United Future is dead and buried. And I have no idea what’s going on with the Māori party. Both Te Urora Flavell and Marama Fox resigned as co-leaders in August 2018, yet 16 months on the party is yet to elect new co-leaders.
It does seem like to me that there is a fair amount of discontent from within the Māori community about this government, but if the Māori party can’t even get new leaders in 16 months then I wouldn’t bet on them returning to parliament.
Sustainable NZ is one of the few other parties that could realistically be king maker – but they are just here to sink the Greens. And even if they aren’t, the environmentalist party has received zero press coverage since it’s inception so unless something radical happens, Sustainable has no chance of making it into parliament.
So NZ will be left at the whims of NZ First – if they make it back into parliament. If they don’t, things get worse as we end up with a one party government.
To avoid being held ransom to NZ First, New Zealand desperately needs sensible parties that are prepared to work with Labour or National. Sadly, the cost of setting up a new party that can get over the 5 per cent threshold is enormous, and the waka-jumping legislation killed off the possibility of new parties appearing from inside Parliament.
That’s the main reason why the 5% threshold should be lowered, and why the waka-jumping bill is terrible. No minor party has ever gotten into parliament without first having an MP already there. More political parties with a say in parliament is better for our democracy, yet their chances of actually getting there are slimmer then ever.
The short-term answer to this conundrum is strategic voting. The electorate battles that take place around the country make very little difference to the outcome of an election, which is ultimately decided by the party vote. However, if a minor party wins one electorate, it gets the electorate’s full party vote. It is a bizarre quirk in our current system, but that’s the way the game goes at present.
Strategic voting is Kiwis’ best hope of displacing NZ First from the monarch maker role. Instead of conservative populism holding the most powerful position in New Zealand politics, this spot could be held by a party that wants to take the country forward. A party with a vision to deliver a clean and clever economy rather than a dumb and dirty one. One that is focused on fixing our country’s biggest problems, such as the housing crisis.
There’s Simmon’s big pitch. He’s the leader of the TOP party, the only other party that could realistically be king maker. However, TOP no longer has access to Gareth Morgan’s pile of money so I don’t think they’ll have the resources to improve their share of the vote.
His dream of kiwis strategically using their electorate vote will probably never happen either. While I’d love nothing for more for that dream to become reality, tribalism runs deep when it comes to electorate votes. Even if it didn’t, TOP probably still wouldn’t have the resources required to pull it off.
Still, a great column from Simmons highlighting the flaws with the current system.