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Polity: The Greens’ proposed pre-election deal

Written By: - Date published: 2:45 pm, April 10th, 2014 - 58 comments
Categories: greens, labour, MMP, nz first - Tags:

polity_square_for_lynnThe original of this post by Rob Salmond is here.

Last night, via One News, the public became aware that the Greens had proposed a pre-election coalition with Labour, but Labour had rejected it.

To understand the contours of the possible deal, you need to know a little about pre-electoral coalitions in general:

First, pre-electoral coalitions are quite common. According to Penn State political science professor Sona Golder, about 20% of post-WW2 elections in advanced democracies result in a government that was conceived in a pre-electoral coalition. There have been over 240 pre-electoral coalitions of parties running together in advanced democracies since 1946. So there is nothing weird about the Greens’ proposal.

The proposal for a proportional cabinet, by the way, is also entirely normal in other PR countries. The political scientists have even christened a law called Gamson’s Law that describes this very common method for sharing out cabinet seats.

Second, however, pre-electoral coalitions are more common in electoral systems that are not quite like New Zealand’s. New Zealand has an especially pure, fair form of proportional representation (so long as you can pull 5% of the vote). A single national district for sharing out list seats, along with the Modified St Lague method we use for assigning them, are the elements that make New Zealand’s system so fair.

In many other proportional systems, there are various ways to provide disproportional rewards to the single largest party or bloc. Sometimes these are based on electoral formulas or districting schemes tilted towards the largest party/group, sometimes there are even explicit bonuses. Prof Golder finds that it is in electoral systems featuring more of these Biggest Group Advantages where pre-electoral coalitions are most effective, and most widely used.

The basic idea here is that a pre-electoral deal is an especially good idea if it gives the group of parties a leg-up in the mechanical process of transferring votes into seats.

New Zealand does not have any of those advantages for the Biggest Group, so the incentive to form a pre-electoral deal, rather than just wait and form a government post-election, instead, is not as strong as in many other countries.

So while the Greens’ offer is nothing unusual internationally, New Zealand’s comparatively fair electoral system doesn’t provide Labour much incentive to accept it. Which, I think, makes Labour’s rejection of the proposal much less noteworthy.

58 comments on “Polity: The Greens’ proposed pre-election deal”

  1. blue leopard 1

    A deal between these two parties would have have provided a clear illustration of the good working relationship between them. As I mentioned elsewhere, as the larger party Labour could have responded to the Greens idea by asserting areas that they were not prepared to share. This would have made it much clearer to voters where Labour stands and a good idea of what path a Labour/Greens government would be taking.

    Instead we are, yet again, left in the dark as to where Labour really stands.

    There comes a time, Labour, where you have to define yourselves. I really don’t think prevaricating and keeping your options open is really going to get you the popularity you both crave and need. I think people really like and want something and someone a bit more assertive and defined to govern their country. If you continue to be like floating leaves on the wind – that doesn’t exactly inspire confidence as to how the country will be run under your party.

  2. Tracey 2

    a pre election coalition would make it harder for labout to be national lite. the hilarious thing is that labour believes being national lite will win them the election.

  3. Some will see it as Labour not wanting to scare middle NZ.
    Some will see it as Labour hedging their bets to go with nz1st or the greens depending on the vote post election result.

    Some, like me, will see it as a missed opportunity to show a united front against national and all their dodgy coalition prospects.
    Personally, I’d like to have seen all the opposition parties (pre mana selling itself to .com) sit around a table and tell it like it is, stating we will work together after the election to get key out, so a vote for any of us, whatever your flavour, will achieve this.
    The only variable left is cabinet seats to divvy up according to the share of party vote, and that’s up to the voters on election day.

    How effing hard does it have to be?

    • Tracey 3.1

      yup, labour too scared to work together to bring down national. maybe they are scared greens will push 20%

  4. fambo 4

    Probably a mistake for the Greens to ask and a mistake for Labour to be so blunt in their rejection. It just gave an easy point to the opposition

  5. George 5

    Who is in the “leadership group”?

  6. Ant 6

    What’s in it for Labour? it just means that they’ll get bogged down having to defend all their own crap and all the Greens crap as well.

    99% of the people who support it seem like Green voters who ignore any downside to Labour because they only care about the upside for the Greens.

    • Zorr 6.1

      Agreed with this

      Despite the hay that is currently being made by the MSM off this it is nothing compared to the material that would be thrown against Labour if the ShonKey Python thought he could tie Labour to Greens.

      • blue leopard 6.1.1

        Zorr and Ant,

        If Labour could come out and say exactly what policies they will agree to of the Greens and what they wouldn’t work with – that would cut Shonkey’s spin down to the ground. This proposition of the Greens could have been an opportunity to do just that. But hey, why make things clear for potential voters when you can simply obfuscate?

        I have never voted Greens, by the way Ant, so although people may ‘seem’ like a Green voter when they disagree with Labour’s stance on this one – it might have more to do with how you are drawing your conclusions than any accurate assessment.

        • Populuxe1

          Or just possibly the Greens shouldn’t have tried to strong arm Labour by bring the media into what are unexceptional pre-election negotiations. It just comes off looking desperate.

          • blue leopard

            It might have looked desperate to you, it doesn’t to me.

            I hadn’t considered that Greens would have informed the media – that is certainly plausible. I appreciate the way the Greens consistently communicate with the public and keep us informed.

            Now that I realise that Labour are targeting soft centrist voters I shall be focusing my attentions on the parties that are more closely aligned with my views; Mana and the Greens. Parties that focus on soft centrist voters are too compromised for me. And perhaps Labour need to do fixate on those wishy washy types, or perhaps they don’t. Regardless of that, I would prefer a more cooperative manner from them toward the 3rd largest party in Nz and the largest party they will be working with.

            • Stuart Munro

              Brecht saw this third way rubbish coming way back:
              Would it not be easier
              In that case for the government
              To dissolve the people
              And elect another?

              • Populuxe1

                Brecht was an outrageous hypocrite at the best of times. He had his “worker” shirts made of brushed blue silk

            • Populuxe1

              What you prefer and what will rid us of this National government are entirely unrelated

              • blue leopard

                I’m unclear what you are asserting here.

                Are you saying that you think Labour can rid us of this government alone?

                Or that Labour and NZ First can do so alone without the approx. 14% of support that the Greens bring to the table?

                • Populuxe1

                  It’s more whether centre and swing voters are entirely relaxed about the Greens even now

    • Draco T Bastard 6.2

      70% of Labour members support it and see it as being good for both parties.

      • Populuxe1 6.2.1

        More like 70% of Labour members want National out at any cost, which is fair enough – it has very little to do with being in love with the Greens

        • blue leopard

          Draco didn’t mention anything about being in love.

          • Pascal's bookie

            Nah, Pop just makes shit up all the time.

            The poll the ‘circa 70%’ comes from said 68% of Labour voters would prefer a deal with the Greens to one with NZ first, given a choice.

            Overall 52% of all NZ voters would prefer Lab/Green to 38% for Lab/NZF

            Pge 17 here: http://t.co/Xfic6BlANX

            Pretty obvious which of draco and Pop is closer to mark in describing it.

            • felix

              Curwen seems to think Pop is one of theirs. Makes sense innit.

              • Pascal's bookie


              • Populuxe1

                Really failing to see what that has to do with anything, I still want National out and in all likelihood NZF will still be part of a Labour-Green coalition in some for or other. Do you have a point or are you just farting at the mouth again?

            • Populuxe1

              Labour voters = people who want National out.
              Prefer Greens to NZ First = not neccissarily in love with Greens, it’s called pragmatism.
              Not really seeing what you’re getting at.

              • Pascal's bookie

                No one said ‘in love with Greens’ Pop, and a deal with the Greens is preferred to one with NZF by voters at large, and overwhelmingly so by Labour voters.

                And it’s not ‘pragmatic’. It’s a choice about preferances, not dead rats. Hooking up with NZF and his muddle headed gaing of wogistan spouting loons may be necessary, but it’s not popular choice at all, but a pragmatic realisation.

                There are options though, and things that could be done to make the decision unnecessary.

                • Populuxe1

                  “No one said ‘in love with Greens’”
                  Yeah, least of all me – I was referring to the implication that Labour was idealogically obliged to marry the Greens. NZF looks easily to be hitting five percent which rather suggests it is indeed a popular choice, and trying to portray that idiot Prosser as representative of the entire party is like saying Taito Philip Field represents Labour on immigration, race relations and same sex marriage.

                  • Pascal's bookie

                    What people are saying is that Labour cannot form a govt without the Greens, absent some amazing thing happening in the polls. It’s a pragmatic recognition of reality. And it’s about about a marriage, which would be a joining of the parties, but about showing that the two can work together in the way that will have to if there is to be a non-National government after September.

                    Is Prosser being dropped from the Party? It’s not like NZF has great depth, what with Horan needing replacing, and god knows what they will do about Asenati Lole-Taylor, who I assume hasn’t exactly been a great success. What wonders will ya’ll deliver for us next term.

                    And the fact NZF looks like it will get 5% is by-the-by. What we are talking about is whether they are a popular choice to hook up with. Labour voters overwhelmingly would rather not, and a slim majority of the public at large concur.

            • blue leopard

              @ Pascal’s Bookie,

              I was looking for where that 68% info came from everywhere and had been unsuccessful, thanks for providing the link.

            • weizguy

              “70% of Labour members support it and see it as being good for both parties.”

              This isn’t the same thing. I absolutely would prefer a deal with the Greens, but not before the election.

              I don’t see how a Labour/Greens coalition can successfully form a government if Labour doesn’t win votes from the middle. Labour and Greens are different parties that attract different constituencies. It appears to me that the same voices who complain about the media’s failure to understand that “largest party” is less relevant under MMP are the same voices who are now trying to nullify the benefits of being able to attract different groups in an election.

              That said, populuxe is also wrong. It’s not a National out at any cost – the question doesn’t even consider that. It asks who you’d prefer to work with in Government.

          • Populuxe1

            I see you are unfamiliar with rhetorical style – this is known as hyperbole, it is used for effect

  7. Tamati 7

    If these two parties refuse to negotiate some sort of coalition or memorandum of understanding before the election what credibility do their respective policies have? What would be the point in either party (but especially the Greens) releasing major policies if they can’t stand by their promises.

    There needs to be some formal agreement on what policies a Labour/Green government would bring forward and where the two parties would agree to disagree. It’s fine to negotiate cabinet portfolios after the election, when the number of MP’s are known, but they need to agree on some core policies prior to the election.

    • Populuxe1 7.1

      All potential coalition partners do this anyway – it’s standard negotiations. One party puts something on the table, the other considers it, and may reject some or all of it, and then you renegotiate. It seems to me the Greens overplayed their hand by bringing the media in on the assumption they could shame Labour into agreeing to all of their conditions, and Labour wasn’t playing.

      • Tamati 7.1.1

        Without any formal arrangement neither Labour nor the Greens will be able to deliver any concrete promises to electorate during the campaign. Key knows this so will hammer it home for the entire campaign.

        As I said before, what use are policies if you can’t promise the electorate that you will deliver them?

        • Pascal's bookie

          Same of course goes for National and whatever deal(s) it finally gets around to announcing with Dunne, Whyte, and Craig.

          Will Craig be given his bottom line of binding referenda, being foremost IMO. A fairly major constitutional change.

          • Tamati

            Not really. National will always have options when passing legislation so will rarely need to compromise on any of their policies. If they make a promise, they can deliver.

            For Greens and Labour however, they need to agree on pretty much everything. If one of them pulls out, the legislation falls flat. (Nats may occasionally help Labour out though. eg. TPP legislation)

            • weizguy

              “National will always have options when passing legislation so will rarely need to compromise on any of their policies. If they make a promise, they can deliver.”

              If that were true, why would any party support a National-led government? If you’ve paid any attention to the last few years, you will know that they have made concessions, despite having options.

              • Tamati

                Why would any party support a National led government?
                Well, a ministerial salary and nice shiny car and driver for a start. Pet projects and the right to call themselves the Honorable?

                If you’ve paid any attention to last six years you’d know that National has pretty much free reign over legislation. The only concessions they’ve really made has been splashing out on Whanau Ora and Foreshore and Seabed. Key, was probably pleased to ditch the Brash era racism anyway.

                Charter Schools? They wanted them all along.

                Entirely different ball game c.f. Labour/Greens.

                • Pascal's bookie

                  NZF and Colin Craig aren’t the same as Dunne and ACT though.

                  They have actual constituencies for a start

  8. Wyndham, George 8

    The Greens are a white middle class party whose core emotion in conservative: no growth, no change, not in my back yard.

    Cunliffe has a duty to undo the damage to the Kiwi workers and families over the past 30 years by that other Conservative party; National.

    Cunliffe knows that the core Green member is anti economic development. Cunliffe has to achieve rapid and sustainable economic development when he is PM. Cunliffe has to be real to the core Labour supportes: PAYE workers, the disadvantaged, the marginalised, and the new ethnic groups.

    An alliance at this stage with a narrow spectrum white middle class party will not help.

    • Naturesong 8.1

      In other words, you have no idea what the Green party stands for, or the background of the people which comprise their membership.

      You are corrrect however in that there are a reasonable proprotion of academics and small business owners, some of which come from the middle class.

    • framu 8.2

      “Cunliffe knows that the core Green member is anti economic development”

      im guessing you wouldnt know a core green member from a bar of salt

      you make the classic, all to regular and utterly idiotic mistake of thinking opposition to certain kinds of business is the same as opposition to all business. Its not – not by a long shot

      its the same strand of thinking that tries to claim no holds barred, neoliberal capitalism is the only form of capitalism

    • karol 8.3

      I was talking to an elderly woman recently – came from a solid working class family, and still stands by original Labour Party ideals – grew up in one of the 1940s state houses. Says she now votes Green.

      • George 8.3.1

        9 long years of Labour, and we didn’t get the 40 hour week, or other basic rights enshrined in law. Now they’re suggesting these be ‘negotiated’ rather than legislated. Yeah, I want a left-wing party, so I support the Greens.

        • Ant

          What have the Greens done? It’s all good being high and mighty when you have never faced the reality of actually governing.

          • freedom

            Dear Ant. National and Labour were both first term governments once.
            Sure, getting rid of National is the primary goal, but let’s just see what NZ has in store?

          • George

            As I recall, they consistently and loudly advocated for minimum wages to be living wages, rather than minimal ones. Since they were shut out of government, they didn’t have the chance to make this or other things a reality.

      • Wyndham, George 8.3.2

        Many Labour people drifted to the Greens because of the weak leadership under Goff and Shearer. Greens developed some left wing stances when Bradford was playing a leadership role. As Cunliffe gets into his stride and it becomes clearer that the Greens are not a party of Socialist ideals those voters will come back to the Labour fold.

        • karol

          You really are going all out to smear the Greens, W,G, using dodgy statements about history.

          You show you know very little about the Greens. Socialist ideals have been a strong strand in the policies and values since way before they were joined by Bradford – goes back to the Values Party days, and then their involvement with the Alliance. They have incorporated socialist ideals with growing awareness of the challenges facing contemporary society such as those to do with the environment.

          The Green Party webiste on their history:

          In 1979 Values was also torn by internal debate about its political orientation with an Auckland-led environmentalist faction and a Christchurch-led socialist/unionist faction. Those strands are still there in the contemporary Green Party but they are in concert rather than opposition.

  9. Win 9

    Labour may be the majority party on the left after this election – lets hope – but they can’t do anything without the Greens. The wooing of Winstone is only possible if the Greens are with Labour. Labour needs the Greens end of story. At this stage Labour won’t have enough votes to govern with only NZF and Mana. Yip over Labour’s apparent want to ‘please all of the people attitude’, half there, half here approach. Agree totally with Gordon Campbell. SO FRUSTRATING LABOUR! I really want to vote for you! You haven’t got a show in hell of getting the 800,000 out to vote if you, as someone so nicely put it, appear ‘National Lite’.
    My preferred choice for government is a Labour Green government (although I do think the ‘coalition’ should have been discussed much earlier on), supported by Mana, the Internet Party and Winstone’s crew.
    Winstone comes across clearly, strongly, at times ‘interestingly’ and apparently he did do a great job as minister. So he’s not a complete waste of space. Interested husband (who is of the white, left leaning, variety – my litmus test) likes some of the things he says as do others I know – which never ceases to amaze me. And I too find myself inadvertently nodding
    Love the clarity and heart of Mana and can see the Internet Party being a ‘goer’ also. Not sure though about KDC. But yeah nah, if it works we should see something beautiful happen. (come on Māori Party – don’t play the ‘someone owns a Nazi book and therefore love Hitler, scare monger card’ – You know that some will react to innuendo and surface features as fact. Typical NACT tact!)

    But come on Labour open, up, put your foot down and lets get this show on the road. Pleeeassss?

    • blue leopard 9.1


    • fisiani 9.2

      Labour were actually quite correct to rule out a formal pre-election coalition with the Greens. It would signal that voters from either party could switch to the other. Labour being the bigger party has more to lose. Why would any party seriously wishing considered for government ally themselves with the Loony Ban Everything Greens. All their wacky policies would be linked to Labour. The Cunliffe was right. Did I actually write that? Wow.

    • rhinocrates 9.3

      Yeah, agree totally. I’d like a Labour-Green coalition… but is it going to happen? Labour has always shown an amazing ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. There’s a Hell of a lot of talent in the back benches (Louisa Wall for example) and Cunliffe has potential, but the aspiring ministers? My God: Goff, Shearer, Thing, Mallard, Hipkins, Sio, Curran, Robertson, O’Connor and fucking Jones…

      I’d have QWERTYUIOP permanently imprinted on my forehead if my palm hadn’t intervened.

      They’re not getting my vote, however passionately I hate NACT. Those lazy, self-obessessed parasites are just not up to the job.

      I want a real opposition, now, please.

    • Win 9.4

      Sorry Winston. Not sure how Winstone got in there.

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