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How National Can Lose The Next Election

Dave Griffith
Dave Griffith

Two years out from the next election and the Key led Government is so strong that National could govern alone. I bet some days at their cabinet meetings John wishes they were. It is a long shot but they could lose the next election. For that happen, the three ticking time bombs of the Maori Party, Auckland Super City and the Environment need to be defused, before they go off and do some political damage.

1. Antagonize the Maori Electorate

It was a bold move to bring the Maori Party into the fold, but it is laden with risk. Long serving loyal MP’s like Georgina Te Heuheu were cast aside to bring in a Maori Party who were on the rebound from a messy breakup with Labour. But as most of us know rebound romance often doesn’t last. Even a mild right wing policy platform from National is likely to cause problems. The fracas over the Super City Maori seats was just the beginning. If too many policies come to pass that are detrimental to the interests of Maori then the Maori Party runs the risk of eroding their support base to stay in power.

We only have to look back to the 1990’s when New Zealand First held most of the Maori seats for a short time to see how quickly this electorate can swing. The mana of having a Maori Party Minister of Maori Affairs is diminished somewhat if that Minister is seen to be more ornamental than policy driver. 

Even if the Maori electorate does remain loyal, there will be an inevitable erosion of support for National from some of their own supporters uneasy with their choice of flatmates in the Beehive.   

The Maori Party only got into Government because National wanted to guarantee that Labour was defeated by removing a potential left-wing coalition partner. The union between National and the Maori Party was never a great coming together of likeminded politicians. It was an arranged marriage born out of short term political expediency and was never designed to be a lasting romance.

2. Sell out the Environment for ‘Economic’ Development.

The only way the Greens are going to get back to the relative safety of a couple of points above 5 percent and be a meaningful partner in a potential left-wing coalition at the next election is if the Government gives them a cause to rally around.

At the moment they are too low profile and the leadership is not getting the media mileage they need. To be fair anyone following in the footsteps of Rod Donald and Jeanette Fitzsimons is on a hiding to nothing. What the new leadership needs to understand and follow is the kind of politics that made Rod and Jeanette so personally respected even among their ideological enemies. They stuck to their policies with integrity, put on a positive face and didn’t buy into the petty politics of the other political parties.

If the Key Government gets too radical with its amendments to the Resource Management Act and sells out the environment in an attempt to fast track consents, then this is fertile ground for a boost in support for the Greens.

If actions on climate change and renewable energy development are sidelined because they hinder ‘economic’ development, this will only serve to rally opponents against the Government. Core support for the Greens sits below the 5% threshold vital to survival under MMP. More than anyone they exist as an ‘issues’ based political force. If the Key Government can provide them with enough issues then their resurgence is a certainty.   

3. Mess up the Auckland Super City Merger.

The National Party has wisely let Rodney Hide be the Minister and poster boy for this potential fiasco. That way they can step in or stand back depending how it turns out. Regardless though they have allowed it to happen under their stewardship. New Zealand is one of the few Western Democracies where Local Government politics is largely removed form mirroring National politics along political lines. The local electorate tend to vote for the best people rather than blindly following a political banner. To drag local politics into the national political arena, regardless of how well intentioned it is, has not happened on this scale for decades and is fraught with risk

Successful local Government requires individuals capable of putting ego aside and working with the whole of the elected Council in consultation with stakeholders and the broader community to do the best they can for the area under their authority. Just because Auckland governance as a whole had become divided and dysfunctional, did not necessarily mean that it needed the radical surgery that has been prescribed for it.

A Regional council with greater powers to coordinate decisions that crossed authority borders would have been a far more cost effective solution. But when someone like Rodney (the politician – not the in again out again district) is on a ideological crusade then nothing short of radical invasive surgery will do in order to make a point.

In monetary terms what is proposed is far more expensive especially in the short to medium term than the status quo. But this was never about money although that has been wheeled out as a major reason. It is about putting power in the hands of a few to make decision making faster.

The problem is that often decisions that from the outside appear to be slow, take some time because there are a lot of complex issues to work through. The bulldozer approach will not work. Decisions will be challenged more and more outside of the orderly structure of Council meetings and consultation and enter the public arena of mass protest action, as disenfranchised districts within the Super City fight for their voice to be heard.

Make a mess of the Super City and it could backfire on the government as well as discredit the ACT party, the only ideologically similar friend National has with a parliamentary presence. I exclude Peter Dunne because he is a political chameleon and usually waits until a lot closer to the election before he decides which colour to paint his banner. 

Rodney is in danger of doing a Winston Peters and successfully vapourising himself politically. Without Epsom, ACT is toast.

With two years to go before the next general election it is hard to see plain sailing ahead for National. Rodney Hide, Tariana Turia and Hone Harawira are a dream team for inflammatory quotes. Throw in John Banks as a potential Auckland Super City Mayor and we might just have the ‘perfect storm’ for negative media coverage. Despite this the chances of National being defeated are very slim while John Key remains so personally popular. Phil Goff does not have the charisma or the strategy to challenge him, so the threat to National in this term will always be from within.   




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