Despite losing nearly one in four of its supporters, 300,000 voters, in a little more than six months according to the Roy Morgans, National’s 44% still looks superficially impressive. Until you realise they need to be able to form a majority more or less alone. The Right’s monolithism doesn’t just place extraordinary demands on National’s leader, it’s the root of the current civil war.
While it hurts, the Left can handle a weak Labour party. There are other viable vehicles for Left policies – most notably the Greens. So, even if Labour remains stuck in the low 30s doldrums, a Centre-Left coalition can be formed pretty simply. National, on the other hand, for all intents and purposes is the Right now. It needs to get pretty close to 50% to be able to govern. One dud leader, one dud policy, or simply a public and media falling out love with smile and wave – and holding on to government becomes impossible because all that lost support slips across the divide to the Greens or Labour, not to alternate Rightwing parties because there are none (unless the Conservatives make it into Parliament in 2014, a strong possibility with bad consequences for the neoliberals in National).
The number of parties on the Centre and Left also provides a constructive outlet for differences of opinion and conflicting personal ambitions (thanks, MMP) – don’t like the way Labour’s policies are heading? Go to the Greens; frustrated in your leadership ambitions in the Maori Party? Set up Mana. In a relatively painless process, one Left faction’s party will move into ascendency if it out-performs the other without messy backstabbing. Although for some Labour MPs, their instincts may be to go anti-Green, their political nous tells them that a string Green Party is part of their ticket to government and they just need to do a better job carving votes off National for themselves. The Left as a whole wins.
If you’re rightwing and you don’t like National’s direction what do you do? Or what if you want to be leader and there’s others in that same race? You could start a splinter party, like the Conservatives, but you’re inviting being dumped on from a great height (and you’ll end up paying $30 a vote) or, more practically, you form a faction, try to defeat the other factions, and win the leadership.
So, National has
Most of National’s MPs can be slotted into one of these factions. One of them, or a coalition, will have to come together to win the leadership post Key. I’m picking the Boag/Key and Joyce factions will cooperate and win with a Joyce/Parata or, more likely, Parata/Joyce leadership. With the Brat Pack now firmly anti-Collins after the Nick Smith resignation, she doesn’t have the allies she needs. The Collins faction has clearly made the same calculations looking at the way they’re playing. Undermining Boag and Key and making a play for the support of the lowly-ranked and predominantly female MPs whose jobs are at risk unless they get better list places by getting in the new leaderships good books, with the object of leaving Parata and Joyce isolated, are her only hope of winning.
But what damage will be done in the meantime?
We’re already seeing the infighting breaking out in to the public arena over the ACC affair, and this race has a long way to go yet.