An early election in 2011?

Written By: - Date published: 2:30 pm, June 2nd, 2010 - 19 comments
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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.

19 comments on “An early election in 2011?”

  1. Zaphod Beeblebrox 1

    Key, Joyce and English are hardly risk takers and early elections are always risky. Winter makes people cranky so do governments wh are seen as opportunitic. People tend to think you have something hide. I also doubt the economy will have shown many signs of recovery in 8-9 months time.

    Don’t agree with Farrar on much but I do on this one.

    • Bunji 1.1

      I disagree with your reasoning, but agree with your conclusion…

      They will got after the World Cup precisely because Key is a risk-taker (he made his living as effectively a professional gambler after all). Gambling on not just the tournament making us feel good, but that given more time his government will have magically made the country better despite their policies that aid inequality, and fail to even deliver their promised growth.

      captcha: merits – what this government is lacking.

      • Rich 1.1.1

        How will it affect National’s chances when the French boot us out in the semis.

        Or will Key promise to get drop-kicks banned if re-elected?

  2. Fisiani 2

    Your comments on weather affecting election outcomes have been comprehensively debunked.
    No matter when the election is held in 2011 don’t blame the weather for another Labour defeat.

    • lprent 2.1

      Cite a credible reference (ie not kiwiblog) showing that for NZ.

      All of the evidence that I’ve seen in NZ for the two early elections during my voting history (and the subsequent elections while we head back to November elections) says that there is a marked effect when you look at turnout amongst eligible voters.

      I’ve even seen it in the electorates I’ve dealt with after the 2002 early election.

      Basically I suspect you are just spinning your usual line of bullshit.

      • Lanthanide 2.1.1

        I really despair about the crap that Fisiani spouts. It disturbs me to think that someone could honestly believe the tripe he comes out with, or alternatively that someone would deliberately spout it while not believing it hoping that they could influence others. I’m sure that sort of thing goes on, and works, all the time at kiwiblog, but the audience here is obviously much less receptive.

  3. sweetd 3

    I thought govts. that went early were generally punished at the polls. I think the election will be held in the ‘normal’ period, that is end part of 2011.

    • gingercrush 3.1

      That’s what people believe. They’ll cite 2002 and point to Clark and Labour being at 50% and then not being close to that. Personally, I think that’s mostly bullshit. She was destined to win. National were awful. Labour voters in South Auckland felt safe many right-wing voters stayed at home. Maybe they Labour were punished but I don’t really buy that myself.

      I also don’t believe the weather caused that low turnout. That low turnout can easily be explained by a party everyone knew would govern. An opposition party destined to fail that election cycle. An ordinary campaign by Labour and a horror one by National made it a certainty turnout would be low. I don’t know enough about any other early election. But certainly 2002 is a poor election to use for an example of a government being punished nor as an example people don’t like voting in winter.

      But that’s just my opinion.

  4. Santi 4

    You mean Farrar has not been paid yet by National to disclose the date. Wait. he will.

  5. Bunji 5

    “The late announcement of a change to the traditional three-month period for regulating election spending”

    I’m sorry, this seems to have slipped by, and seems shockingly dangerous. A search for information came across a single short Herald article, noting the change as a late announcement.

    With no retrospective period, why wouldn’t a government start its campaign 2 or 3 weeks before announcing the election, and thus be allowed a much larger amount of spending and coverage than other parties? Surely the 3 month period was to defend against this?

    Why has the opposition not been crying foul?

    I note that the bill is currently receiving submissions. I think this needs to be protested against – make sure you have your say.

    • The opposition has not been crying foul because they agreed to it – likely for two reasons:

      1. A retrospective period is fundamentally wrong in principle.
      2. There is going to be a (sensible) change to Parliamentary service spending rules, prohibiting any communications during the regulated period with Parliamentary money. If there was a retrospective regulated period, parties would be paying a whole lot of money back!

  6. There should be eternal vigilance of the spending by the third parties. If this goes up in the first part of next year then it is likely that Mike’s prediction will come to pass.

  7. IrishBill 7

    July makes sense. There’s not only the danger of losing the cup but the increasingly likely chance of an infrastructure fiasco.

    The nat’s will also be concerned about poll slippage. Labour’s poor performance has been a gift to them but it may not keep on giving until October next year.

  8. ianmac 8

    Though the adage that Governments loose rather than Opposition winning is why it is important to keep searching the chinks like constantly tongueing that sore tooth!

  9. “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.”

    At the moment iPredict are not running stocks on the date of the NZ election. Perhaps you should recommend them?

  10. EminenceGrise 10

    Keep an eye on the global economy. If it tanks, all bets are off.

  11. Heidi 11

    I don’t get people who know about the contents of Roger’s book Unfinished Business and still paint him as the enemy of the working poor.

    I am in a low-income household and would implement the whole lot tomorrow if it were up to me.

    • Sam 11.1

      If you think Douglas’ ideas are any more than hocus pocus clap trap designed to screw anyone by the mega wealth you are deluded.

      Read something that was written by someone without dementia. Or better yet, someone with some basic understanding of economics.

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