The Road Ahead for New Zealand’s Political Parties

With National winning a landslide election on Saturday many political parties will have to rethink and ultimately reform many of their policies and political strategies

 
 

What a resounding triumph for National in the New Zealand election 2014

National won a remarkable 48.1 percent of the vote, which increased by 0.8 percent from 2011. Only two other parties improved their nationwide party vote from 2011: New Zealand First and the Conservative party. Labour, the Greens, Maori party, ACT and United Future all saw decreases.

The voter turnout was comparatively low for the second election running: with only 77.04 percent of the eligible electorate taking to the polls, the numbers were only slightly higher than the record-low participation rate of 2011. However, voter turnout can’t be used as an excuse for failure. There will always be a large chunk of New Zealanders who won’t vote – as is the norm in most democracies. So the focus for improvement will have to be on policy, not voter behaviour.

As a direct consequence of the results all of the parties will likely find themselves forced to realign with the reality of how the electorate voted – which will mean a rethink, revamp and reform for many of New Zealand’s political parties.

National: business as usual but with a sense of humility

With 61 seats in parliament the National Party can govern alone, setting a historic precedent since the introduction of the MMP voting system in 1996.

In his victory speech Prime Minister John Key said, “So tonight whoever you voted for, I can pledge this to you: that I will lead a government that governs for all New Zealanders.”

Imbedded in his statement was the silent assurance that National will lead a centrist government and not one that could lurch further to the right. John Key began his third term with a warning to Nationals ministers saying that: “I won’t want to see any hint of arrogance creeping in. One of the big messages I want to give incoming ministers and the caucus is that it is incredibly important that National stays connected with our supporters and connected with the New Zealand public.”

Key signalled that he believes that there is always a risk with third-term governments becoming arrogant and veering off in unexpected ways. Prime Ministers such as Sir Robert Muldoon and Helen Clark provide a glimpse as to what third term Prime Ministers can be like.

In Muldoon’s third term he defiantly refused to deregulate a stagnant economy and introduced a disastrous wage-price freeze that greatly damaged the New Zealand economy. Although initially respected as a strong and decisive prime minister, Helen Clark’s third term led to an all-pervasive style of leadership where political correctness ran amok – epitomised by Clark’s backing of legislation banning parents from smacking their children. Key is looking to avoid such similar trends with third-term governments by staying in touch with the New Zealand public.

In terms of policy, by 2017 National wants to see 220,000 people on welfare, which would be a 25 percent drop down from the current number of 295,000. Key also wants to get down to business with the $359 million reform package for teacher professional development, which has been slow to roll out due to lack of support (mainly by the primary teacher’s union – the NZEI).

The Prime Minister added that major tax cuts are a possibility from April 2017 if the economy continued to improve. At the end of his third-term Mr Key will presumably be hoping to boast more of a ‘rock star economy’ with economic expectations now running high around the country.

Labour: a serious cleanout, reshuffle and reform needed

Labour was arguably the biggest loser in last Saturday’s election. They managed to worsen their party vote after their historic failure of 2011. Admittedly, they did well in electorates but they tanked in the party vote.

The fact is that Labour used to be a party of real values, hard work and tradition – which working class New Zealanders could easily latch on to. They now represent the status quo and the rigid forces of unionism, welfare dependency, political correctness, and touchy-feely committees that have little connection to the heart and soul of New Zealand. Labour are in serious need of reform. However, in terms of leadership it’s tough to see where the ‘game-changing’ leader will come from.

Goff, Shearer and Cunliffe have all dramatically failed in the leadership position over recent years and Grant Robertson, Jacinda Ardern and Andrew Little are unlikely to become the 21st century version of David Lange – which would probably be the only way that Key could truly be challenged come 2017.

In terms of policy they need to get real. The New Zealand public doesn’t have an appetite for higher taxes – even if only on the so-called ‘rich’. This is a form of class warfare that might have been popular directly after the Global Financial Crisis of 2008 but is now internationally losing ground both morally and economically.

Education is a striking example of Labour’s status quo alliance with unions despite overwhelming evidence, both locally and internationally, of the importance of teacher quality versus class size.

Labours housing policy is unrealistic. The minimum wage increase is not thought through particularly well either. And their opposition to foreign ownership incorporates an undercurrent of isolationism. All these examples are clear cases of why Labour needs to reform their policy ideas.

They can still be the party of the working class by embracing and incorporating free-market ideas – as Lange did in the 1980’s. As the influential economist Sir Maynard Keynes famously said: “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?”

Labour’s caucus may seriously need to heed these words.

Greens: environmentalism is not always a left of centre issue

Despite optimistic talk of winning 15 percent of the vote, the Greens only managed to sneak above ten. They remain a niche environmental party which can, for now, forget the idea of becoming the next major opposition party to National.

It’s tough to quantify how much their success in 2011 was due to the Rena incident but it’s clear that the Rena event played a considerable part. But in 2014 there was no galvanising environmental incident that mobilised support. Let’s hope the Greens aren’t reliant on such an incident to win support.

Although they are slowly moving to the right on economic policy they still have, inter-connected to their environmental ideology, heavy socialist preferences on the whole. But the Greens would probably do much better at the polls if they embraced at least a centrist approach on economic policy. At the end of the day, it’s not only people on the left who care about the environment.

New Zealand First and the minority parties

With New Zealand First improving their party vote by 2.3 percent to 8.9 percent they will be more than happy to continue as normal.

Although the Conservative party improved their party vote by 1.4 percent to 4.1 percent they missed out on the 5 per cent threshold. Come 2017 the Conservative party have a realistic chance of achieving that 5 percent mark.

The biggest fall from grace, however, was Internet Mana. Mana clearly made a catastrophic error in hooking up with Kim Dotcom and his reviled Internet party. All that can be said to Hone Harawira is that politics is riddled with opportunists – try and avoid them at all costs. Mana Internet won a measly 1.3 percent.

The road ahead for New Zealand’s political parties is going to be one of serious self-reflection after an eventful and enthralling election campaign. It will be business as usual for National, New Zealand First and the Conservatives; but for the rest its back to the drawing board.

 
 

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About the author

Cameron is a Freelance Columnist who works for a non-profit surgical company in the heart of London. A recent political science graduate, Cameron has a strong writing background in all things political, economic and foreign affairs. His writing style is a blend of the cold hard facts with a dash of opinion and personality. Cameron writes weekly political columns for the New Zealand Times and is intending to broaden his writing repertoire to include topics such as travel, sport and food & drink.

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