Here’s a few guesses about what’ll happen in the year ahead in politics. Shearer will cement his leadership by turning his back on the old guard who put him there. The Greens will hold on to their gains. National will go hell for leather. Mana will build as the Maori Party dies. Asset sales and the economy will be the big issues – can the Left win the framing?
Labour: I reckon Shearer will grow in his role and be secure as leader by the end of the year. Sure, I thought Cunliffe would be the better leader. And Shearer was put in the leadership by the failed old guard with the idea that Robertson would replace him is he didn’t fire. But he’ll surprise them by being his own man and not rewarding them for their loyalty (these are the strategic geniuses who led Labour to its worst result in over 80 years, remember). Getting good advice and cutting out the old guard will ensure Labour climbs in the polls, and that’s, ultimately, what will make Shearer’s position safe. It might piss off some people who fight politics very dirty but what are they going to do? Launch a coup against a successful leader and fail? Nah. Shearer will go through Labour’s internal polls, ditch the policies that both aren’t core Labour values and are vote losers, re-focus on job creation policies, and have Labour into the mid-30s by year’s end.
Greens: The days when the Greens were an activists’ party are been and gone. The Realos and Fundis went head to head and, as with the German Greens in the 90s, the Realos won. The result is that middle-class, relatively conservative people, now feel they can trust the Greens and they sucked up huge numbers of their votes, which otherwise would have gone to Labour. Undoubtedly a successful strategy, at least in the short-term. But now the challenge is to stay above 10%. With the activist base disillusioned and looking for a new home in Mana and no safe electorate to fall back on, the Greens are one bad campaign from annihilation. I don’t reckon that will happen (despite National’s continued efforts to eliminate Labour’s natural support partner) but it’s a strategic risk if things don’t go well. Meanwhile, the Greens can justly celebrate unparalleled success and the power that comes with it, while preparing themselves for a much higher level of scrutiny of their ideas in the press. I reckon their intake of bright young things is up for it in a way that the previous generation wasn’t.
National: Any government, but especially one that has been elected by de-emphasising its own policies, faces a choice: go softly softly, maintain the public’s confidence and aim for another term, or throw caution to the wind and get everything you can through before the plebs vote you out. National went with option 1 last term. The closeness of this election (a 1 seat majority for asset sales, the Nat-ACT-UF-Maori Party bloc reduced from 69 to 64) and the rising threats of Shearer and the ailing economy will tell National that they will be hard-pressed to win another term even if they do run a softly softly government. So, they’ll go the whole hog. We’ve already seen the intent in the Nats’ arrogant announcements and actions in the last month – most notably Key claiming a mandate for asset sales because 48.98% of voters voted for a party that supported them, and ignoring the polls that show half his own supporters don’t want to flog off the family silver. It’ll be full steam ahead with asset sales, welfare cuts, and attacks on your work rights this year. The tempo will only increase when the Budget shows getting back into surplus by 2014/15 is not going to happen (if it doesn’t show that, we should ask where Treasury’s getting their weed, because it’s clearly good stuff). The economy will continue to suck and National will find excuse-making doesn’t cut it in the second term.
Others: The Maori Party will continue to decline. Sharples will be replaced by Flavell, who has none of his charm or mana. Turia’s health isn’t getting better. Dunne will try to keep his head down – will Chavuel work harder and make everything the government does an embarrassment for Dunne in Ohariu? Winston will still not listen to any advice and will be back in slugging matches with journos, which will mean poor coverage, hurting his polling but he has an important 8 votes in this Parliament, and he’ll use them to maximum effect. Mana will build its organisation, taking up more of the Greens’ activists. There is a place for a fringe Left group. With Davis leaving politics, Hone is safe and Mana can look forward to picking up more seats in 2014. ACT will be a sad joke waiting for the final punch-line. The Conservatives will wisely decline a merger and will stick around to take 3-4% off National in 2014, but not get into Parliament because National’s not willing to give them Rodney.
Anti-asset sales campaign: Russel Norman, in his address in reply speech, said that the Greens are talking with people about getting up a petition for a citizens’-initiated referendum on asset sales. I reckon that’s a goer. Unite managed to get 200,000 signatures with their half-arsed, go-it-alone $15 minimum wage petition. If the Left is smart enough to get together, set up a dedicated group and give it some funding, then getting the 300,000-odd signatures required should be possible. They managed a similar success with the MMP campaign, after all. What a thorn in the government’s side that would be. Any claims to a mandate for asset sales would be met with ‘if you think Kiwis want asset sales, lets have a vote on it’. If the Nats are going to go hard this term, let the Left come back at them hard and undermine the case for their flagship policy at every turn. With any luck, it might at least delay some of the sales, or get Peter Dunne (any campaign worth its salt would make a point of targeting him) to jump ship to protect his seat.