Ubiquitous Tory blonde #5 (Jo Goodhew?) was on Backbenches last night. At the factory where these Nat backbenchers are stamped out, they’re programmed to say ‘John Key’ whenever possible. It went wrong, though, when Goodhew said she was proud to be a reelected member of the John Key Party. It was a slip that told the truth: National, and the Right, is now completely dependent on one man.
In the next Parliament, 96% of the Right’s seats will be held by a single party, National. That party’s popularity is entirely dependent on John Key’s popularity, which is why its backbench Greek chorus of the bland is instructed to repeat his name at every opportunity. Key’s personal popularity outstrips the party’s by about 20% and the party’s popularity in turn outstrips the popularity of its major policy by about 30% – Key makes the party a lot more popular than it would be if people were considering its policies alone.
So, what happens as Key’s star fades, something which already began during the election campaign? National becomes the opposition, that’s what. We saw the ugly face of Key in the last two weeks of the campaign and National’s support fell 5% from an outright win for National alone to a hairline majority for the Right. Key himself has admitted he cannot stay popular forever. It won’t take one of the supposed scandals or conspiracy theories we regularly get emailed to take him down, it’ll be the slow erosion of broken promises, unmet expectations, and unpopular policies.
Under MMP, all Labour has to do is take about 5% off National in the next 3 years and it will lead the next government (which ipredict is forecasting will be the case, and which is why it is all the more important that Labour choose a new leader that people can see as PM).
Cameron Slater gets the strategic problem for National: it is alone and it has only one vote winning asset. Which is why he is so pissed off that Key and National didn’t expend some political capital more forcefully backing a campaign for changing the voting system to a less proportional system like SM that would advantage the largest party and National in particular because its candidates face negligible splitting of the rightwing vote in the electorate vote. That would have made it easier for the monolithic Right to win in the future after Key. But the truth is that National doesn’t have the political capital to spend.
Look at the election result. 47.99%, likely to be about 47.4% after specials, for National may look impressive but actually all National has done is eat up nearly all the rightwing vote. It’s allies are now 1 seat pip squeaks. Whereas last term, National had 58 seats and could make a majority with ACT alone, this time it will have 58 or 59 and need not only ACT but Dunne as well and possibly the Maori Party too to pass anything. Could National have afforded to be seen to be self-interestedly campaign for FPP or SM and risk losing a percent or two? We could be looking at a hung Parliament right now if that had happened.
The beauty of MMP is that is allows parties on the same side of the spectrum to specialise while having much in common. The Left gets this: it has an environmental party, a working class party, a centrist ‘responsible’ party (and if you want to count NZF and the Maori Party as Left – a social conservative/economic left party and a Maori party). This allows voters to switch between parties of the Left, rather than going Tory when the party they did support displeases them (eg Labour votes going to the Greens). Not having each party trying to please everyone from extreme Left to centrist also allows the Left create a broader collective appeal. The Right has the John Key Party. As people turn off him, they don’t have anywhere else on the Right that’s viable to go, and they have across the line to Labour, NZF, or the Greens.
Eating the other rightwing parties and subsuming itself to its leader’s brand has helped National win 2 elections and become by far the largest single party but it has also made its hold on power very brittle. It is now all on Key to somehow swim against the tide for 3 years and match or better National’s result this election. It’s an awful lot to ask.