Recent posts and comments on the Standard have suggested that National may call an early election in 2011 because the Rugby World Cup’s halo effect will be more valuable to them before the tournament than after it’s over. David Farrar on Kiwiblog has downplayed the idea, and suggested November 26 as the likely date, but hasn’t told us whether he has put money on it in iPredict.
Leaving the Rugby World Cup aside, the National government’s rules for financing the the election campaign and the MMP referendum, now in separate Bills before Parliament, create scenarios that make an early election much more of a distinct possibility.
The combination of the prospect of privatisation and a referendum on MMP will ensure that the 2010 election will be dominated by money, lots of it.
The big money has always hated MMP. Shirtcliffe’s 1993 campaign reportedly spent $1.5million on negative advertising to stop it coming in and failed only narrowly. Now he has switched to supporting Supplementary Member, which is not proportional it could be described as first-past-the-post with a thin veneer. Unlike the law for citizens-initiated referenda, there will be no spending limits for the referendum in 2010 and the resurrected campaign can once again advertise on TV and radio. There are no limits on who may donate or how much they give, or any requirement to disclose any donations to referendum campaigns.
Money, big and small, loves privatisation. In 1987 a lot of money was given by Fay, Richwhite and Hawkins, all asset buyers, to support Roger Douglas, who is now back in Parliament in National’s coalition partner ACT. Sir Roger hasn’t changed his spots, just has unfinished business. In 1987 there were no rules regarding disclosure of donations to political parties. Fay and Richwhite shifted their support in 1996 to the National party, funnelling $250,000 through a previous National Party President’s trust account to avoid the disclosure rules introduced then. All quite legal; none of it known at the time.
In 2011 it is highly likely that all those who would like to get a piece of the country’s assets Kiwibank, electricity, water, and so on, – will be ready to fill the National party coffers. They are already putting their hands up. A donation of $10,000 or less does not require to be disclosed to the public, but the donor is known to the Party. 100 such donors make up a million dollars.
The Hollow Men describes the vehicle National uses to collect the donations the President’s Council. These are people invited to ‘be encouraged to use their membership as a vehicle to express their views and make political comment on New Zealand’s future. Our aim is to acknowledge supporters of the National party by giving them personal access to the President to voice any political issue…You will also have the opportunity to met the Leader of the National party and other National caucus members as my guest.’ The price of access to the President’s Council – $10,000.
And time or rather timing is just as important as money. The late announcement of a change to the traditional three-month period for regulating election spending is a very recent development that makes an early election scenario even more likely. The recently-tabled Bill runs the regulated period from the date of announcement of the election by the Prime Minister. When Rob Muldoon called a snap election in 1984 the equivalent period was a little over four weeks; when Labour was polling at 52% and Helen Clark did it in 2002 the period was a little over six weeks. However in both those cases the three month rule for regulated spending still applied retrospectively. There was no incentive to game the date for financial reasons.
Here’s how the dots could join up in 2011.
National is desperate not to be a one-term government they would like to be there for a long time. John Key is on the record as preferring Supplementary Member, which is much more favourable to National. He tried to spin it as proportional, which it is not, but which is an indication of the line which will be used. Steven Joyce reminded the National Party in 2003 when he was campaign manager that under MMP the period immediately before the regulation kicked in was also important for advertising purposes.
John Key alone will know the date of the election, and he will consult with Steven Joyce.
Calling the election early suits National’s long-term aims. There are no rules against collusion they can liaise freely with Shirtcliffe’s anti-MMP campaign, which can spend as much as it likes on TV and radio. If Shirtcliffe is told the timing for the election announcement and date, he can plan his campaign to maximum effect to peak at exactly the right time; also he can have the massive advantage of also being able to buy advertising space early, synchronise and get the best spots and spread.
The window regulating spending by political parties becomes much shorter, so National can spend in six weeks what they would under the old rules have to have spread over three months. Unlimited money available to be spent in the pre-regulated campaign then has more salience and impact as it is spent much closer to election day.
Running an election in winter and risking bad weather on election day doesn’t matter so much to the National Party either lower turnout is more likely to disadvantage other parties.
I don’t see any good reason to change away from the three month period. There is going to be a lot at stake, particularly in the 2011 campaign; a fairer electoral system and what’s left of our assets. If the rules stay as they are currently proposed I’m picking Key will weigh the odds as being in National’s favour and go early. He of all people knows that money talks. It’s a buy.