- Date published:
2:05 pm, July 26th, 2019 - 36 comments
Categories: australian politics, Dirty Politics, jacinda ardern, labour, national, political parties, Politics, same old national, Simon Bridges - Tags: matthew hooton
Matthew Hooton has a piece on National’s chances in the next election in the Business Herald this morning entitled as “National stumbling to defeat”. I’m not going to link or quote from it as it is behind the paywall. On the eve of the National party conference, it is a pretty scathing review of their chances.
I personally have very little time for Matthew Hooton and his opinions. In my view, he has a very strong tendency to dance on the border between truth and lying by omission and shading of fact. This is done far too frequently based on who is paying him or what his underlying agenda is. Since he seldom declares where he is coming from and the basis of his agenda, anyone looking at him for political opinion would have to treat him as just being slightly brighter than Cameron Slater at performing Dirty Politics. But of course his profession and his business is to be a professional liar without actually being culpable in court.
However in this case Matt (as the diminutive that I will refer to him from here on it) points to the several salient and actually factual points about the current National party illusions that are worth repeating and having comment on.
They have been encouraged by the surprise Liberal win in Australia and I suspect that they will be trumpeting that a lot at the party conference. But as Matt points out, the factors that led to that victory simply aren’t going to apply here.
Firstly, and in particular for the major parties, our MMP system is nothing like the systems used in Australia. If effect there are still all of the advantages and disadvantages of the first past the post system that we used to have here prior to the 1996 election
The Australian electoral system comprises the laws and processes used for the election of members of the Australian Parliament. The system presently has a number of distinctive features including compulsory enrolment, compulsory voting, majority-preferential instant-runoff voting in single-member seats to elect the lower house, the House of Representatives, and the use of the single transferable vote proportional representation system to elect the upper house, the Senate.
The effect is that it allows the kind of marginal seat effects that have largely disappeared from our electoral landscape. The Liberals could happily divert resources from a moderately safe or even marginal seats in NSW to focus on a series of marginal seats in somewhere like Queensland where they had a message that they knew would resonate well. They don’t have to appeal to millions of voters across the whole country to win a party vote. They can refine it down to mere 10s or 100s of thousands of voters in specific electorates. And that was exactly what they did to win the election. It simply isn’t reproducible here.
Secondly in the aussie election, the Liberal leader, Scott Morrison, was by polling twice as popular as the Labour leader, Bill Shorten. There is a significiant portion of the electorate for whom politics isn’t so much about the agendas or the message or even the political experience of politicians, but simply about what my partner calls the ‘sizzle’. And that is as shallow as it is, many voters base their vote almost entirely on how they see the persons who are foremost in representing a political party.
Now as a political entity, I’m aware that I always under-estimate the value of sizzle. I did in the last NZ election where I thought that the NZ Labour party were being daft changing Andrew Little for Jacinda Ardern a few months before the election.
While there were few MPs left inside Labour with cabinet experience including Andrew Little, I figured that his experience with the Engineers and party president were going to be more valuable at winning over floating voters,. I was also a bit distraught at the idea of letting someone who I thought had great political potential being put into a position to lose the election. A few months wasn’t in my view the right kind of time frame to build a rapport with people who like sizzle. And it spoke of the kind of desperation that loses voters who value stability. I am very happy to be wrong on virtually every count… 😈
But Jacinda even as deputy leader had similar leader public polling to the National parties leader, Bill English, and increased rapidly in the months leading into the election. It’d have been fascinating to see what the internal political polling would have shown.
But as Matt icily and accurately points out, the current National leader, Simon Bridges, doesn’t have a 2:1 advantage over Jacinda in leadership polls. He has a 4:1 disadvantage. I’d also guess that he really isn’t improving at all in either his level of public sizzle or even in his level of general competence. As is frequently observed in the comments here, the left would prefer that he remains leader. But fortunately, no-one else who appears to be a possible contender appears to be any more likely to improve National’s standing against Jacinda (please National caucus and members – put Judith Collins in.. She’d be a gift).
Finally, and most importantly there is the issue of underlying electoral support. National has a more fundamental problem related to our near proportional (for major parties) electoral system. They already have had their best electoral votes.
When you look at the actual (rather than polling) electoral history in this country since MMP, it is clear that no major party is likely to get the 50% in actual votes required to tip them into a clear victory. National and Labour need potential political party partners to get them over the edge. Labour, as a party that has spawned so many other long lasting political parties in NZ electoral history, is resigned to this. National, as a party who clearly sees themselves as a born to rule have not.
Since 2002, they have cannibalised the votes and destroyed the parties of the right and centre right, and even those of the more anti-labour than conservative Mari party. They have now killed their potential partners and sucked up their votes.
There simply isn’t anything available to tip National over the bounds, because no other viable political party (apart from the remaining subservient of one electorate and no votes Act) is there to provide them that partner.
Only NZ First is a possible conservative centre right partner. But their members have a natural caution after having had National deliberately set out to kill their party in 1998 and 2008. Not to mention that a high proportion of NZ First members and voters are more akin to slightly morally conservative left wing voters.
The Greens are pretty aware of the mood of their members and voters. They aren’t the kind of conservative conservationist that the repeated attempts by National supporters to set up Blue-Green coalitions requires. But they are big enough and attentive enough to their supporters to weather the occasional doctrinal disagreement that they seem to have every few years. They’re also aware that to work with National is a fast way to let their members and supporters leave.
You can see why this last point depresses Matt. National has managed in the last decade to survive as a possible government by virtue of having a sizzle leader while it has been clear that Labour has not. But even then they have only done so by having residual political party partners spawned in great political divisions of the 1990s. LIke all short-term exploitative thinkers, National didn’t conserve the resources. Instead they have used them up.
National is probably going to have to wait for government. Either Labour to spawn yet another viable political party as they have done so many times before. Or National will have to do the unmentionable as they did with Winston Peters and spawn another NZ First, and even harder – try to nurture it rather than actively try to kill it.
Of course you have to speculate on what Matt’s agenda is in this piece. It almost sounds like an honest albeit disparaging opinion of right despair. But with him, I always suspect that there is an ulterior and concealed motivation. Anyone care to guess what his next piece will reveal as his solution to this National conundrum?