The Greens were getting ahead of themselves with their offer to Labour to campaign as a coalition government in waiting, and Labour was right to reject the offer.

Winston’s right. When a party publicly offers to collaborate with another party and there’s no agreement behind the scenes, that’s not a friendly gesture - that’s an attack.

Anyway, with Labour's strategy of attempting to win by coming second, rather than first, it is hard to see a reason why the Greens would be included in a coalition at all.

The alternative would be a relationship agreement, in which the Greens offer support on confidence and supply to a Labour-NZ First government, and some banner policy initiatives in exchange for some headline policy wins and an agreement to consult.

A Labour-Green coalition only really makes sense if between them they can get to 50 per cent. 

With Labour in the low thirties, and the Greens at around 11 and falling, 50 per cent seems a long way off. 

There is a chance that everything will change, that tens of thousands of voters will suddenly realise they have been wrong and rush to the polling booths to vote Labour -  but there is also a chance that things will turn out pretty much in the proportions polls are indicating today.

And on current polling there appears to be no way to government for Labour without New Zealand First. If NZ First doesn't get to 5 per cent, National wins. If NZ First gets over 5 per cent, its marginal votes appear to be coming more from the left, meaning there is even less likelihood of Labour and the Greens getting there without NZ First.

NZ First has options. The Greens don't. Imagine trying to ignore Mr Peters, which would hand him a pistol and the opportunity to bring down the government at a moment of his choosing.

Without Greens in a post-election negotiation, Labour has more to offer NZ First - more portfolios, more senior positions, more policy wiggle room. And what are the Greens going to do about it? Bring down a Labour-led government rather than support it on confidence and supply simply out of pique at being excluded from the Cabinet? They would have to take a support agreement.

All Labour gets from a commitment to form a government with the Greens is less flexibility to get Labour into government.

By leaving open the prospect that Labour might not include the Greens in Cabinet, Labour indicates to left voters that they will have to vote Green if they want the Greens to be able to demand a place; Labour voters moving to the Greens do not reduce the prospects of a centre left government; and it gives Labour more room to appeal to voters who are not Greens supporters - at least some of whom are needed for the left to form a government. 

One example that has been trotted to shoe the benefits of two parties campaigning together, is the experience of Labour and the Alliance in 1999. Having been closely involved in that campaign and worked for both parties I can tell you that memories of them campaigning together are vastly overstated. 

Labour never referred to a Labour-Alliance government; it campaigned only for a Labour-led one. Only the Alliance specifically mentioned a coalition. 

In 1999 there were no joint campaign events. Helen Clark spoke at the Alliance conference in 1998, a  year before the election, indicating that the two parties could work together, but that is not the same as a joint campaign. There was planning for government going on between the two parties but campaign planning was specifically excluded.

Further, the context of the relationship was that Labour and the Alliance were demonstrating they could work together after a decade of bitter civil war. The priority was not to present an alternative government but to demonstrate the days of division and bickering were over. 

On a couple of campaign days Labour deliberately opened fire on the Alliance to reduce its support - It was the Alliance that opted not to publicly slap Labour back. (Ironically, the strategic voice at the time that was advocating for attacks on Labour was Matt McCarten, now the  Labour leader's chief of staff, while those advocating for peace are all now cast into the Labour wilderness.)

The New Zealand First context was very different. New Zealand First had split and Winston Peters pushed out of the Shipley government, so while Labour would have worked with them there was little prospect of NZ First in 1999 having much bargaining power.

And finally, in 1999 the Alliance agreed to allow Labour to conclude negotiations with each party to lead the government - that the Alliance wouldn't attempt its own horizontal negotiation with other parties independently of Labour. To have done so might have strengthened the Alliance's negotiating power, but it would have broken trust and as  NZ First's involvement with National after 1996 had proved, a government in which the leaders can't trust each other is a one which can't succeed.

The context today is quite different.

If Labour gets into a position where it can lead a government, the Greens will have no option but to offer support; there is no reason for Labour to go further and campaign for a coalition that turns off some of the voters Labour needs.

And the remote possibility exists that Labour might not quite make it to government this year, in which case it will want to ensure it is as strong as possibly even in Opposition. That may well require the flexibility in election season to compete openly with the Greens.

Comments (16)

by Alan Johnstone on April 11, 2014
Alan Johnstone

Fully agree, as long as the Labour MP number are around triple the Greens, then the Greens have no cards to play.

All they have is the nucear option of bringing down any Labour governemnt, which would split their party assunder which some MPS refusing to leave and lead to right wing goverenment.  

Labour has called their bluff this week, it's great politics. 

 

by Fentex on April 11, 2014
Fentex

as long as the Labour MP number are around triple the Greens, then the Greens have no cards to play.

I think that's entirely the wrong way to think. The important point isn't how many seats compared to the Greens Labour expects, but how many seats short of a majority Labour will get compared to the number the Greens will.

Labour will need the Greens if they are to govern. The country knows this, the country will vote with it in mind.

I personally tihnk Labour is foolish to act as if people don't know this, as if dissing the Greens is going to change anyones mind. I don't think it's going to fool anyone, and ultimately will only lend strength to the impression that Labour is dishonest, untrustworthy, intersted in power without principle and unsuitable to govern in general and Cunliffe in particular.

If Labour wants to eat into Key's media image they could start acting like grown ups, acknowledge what the country knows and even if they don't want to campaign together at least say so in the same breath as acknowledging they look forward to working with the Greens.

As others have put it - they need to own their own image and stop letting others control it. The more they don't the more they reinforce the impression they have no principles on the grounds they display none.

 

by Ross on April 11, 2014
Ross

If Labour gets into a position where it can lead a government, the Greens will have no option but to offer support; there is no reason for Labour to go further and campaign for a coalition that turns off some of the voters Labour needs.

There's a disconnect in that statement. Why would a coalition turn off some of the voters Labour needs, bearing in mind that Labour needs the Greens and vice-versa? If I vote Labour, I know Labour needs the Greens if the Left is to form a government. If that thought doesn't appeal to me, I won't vote Labour or Green.

by Alan Johnstone on April 11, 2014
Alan Johnstone

Labour looks likely to need both NZF and the Greens to govern.

NZF has other options, thus leverage in negotiations, they can extract policy concessions and cabinet posts in exchange for support. Winston can say, "give me what I want or I put national into office"

The Greens have no options, no cards to play, no threats to issue. Hence, no rewards to reap.

I think it's clear that Labour is going to screw them post election and just give them some crumbs from the table and dare them to do something about it.

 

 

by Andrew R on April 11, 2014
Andrew R

Another example of FPP thinking in a MPP environment.  

by Alan Johnstone on April 11, 2014
Alan Johnstone

by whom?

by Fentex on April 11, 2014
Fentex

I think it's clear that Labour is going to screw them post election and just give them some crumbs from the table and dare them to do something about it.

A stupid dare, I think.

If the Greens have the good sense to see that with ~10% of the vote they should get a commensurate policy benefit (as Jim Anderson did with Kiwi bank for example) they should stand up for their voters and make National or Labour deliver for their votes.

Obviously they would prefer Labour, but if Labour doesn't deliver I gaurantee National will do a deal to get back in. And if Labour doesn't think the Greens are allies the Greens certainly shouldn't treat them like it if it doesn't suit.

I think Labour knows this and wouldn't shaft the Greens, that they are angling for NZF and betting the Greens won't hold it against them. Personally I think it's a weak and losing strategy, but possibly all they can expect given they can't seem to convince people to vote them in quantites to sideline Winston.

by Richard on April 11, 2014
Richard

If Labour gets into a position where it can lead a government, the Greens will have no option but to offer support; there is no reason for Labour to go further and campaign for a coalition that turns off some of the voters Labour needs.

So, your analysis is that a significant proportion of Labour voters are dupes who must be fooled into voting for an effective Labour/Green coalition, because they won't vote for that option if it is clearly presented to them pre-election. So, Labour's best election strategy comes down to an attempt to screw over its own voters' wishes in post-election negotiations?

by Alan Johnstone on April 11, 2014
Alan Johnstone

Obviously they would prefer Labour, but if Labour doesn't deliver I gaurantee National will do a deal to get back in. And if Labour doesn't think the Greens are allies the Greens certainly shouldn't treat them like it if it doesn't suit.

You write that as if the Green party is a structured group that could be persuaded to deliver confidence votes to a Key led administration. Surely it's obvious that they aren't.

Any attempt by the Greens leadership to install a right wing administration would destroy the party that day. It'd be political suicide, the Maori party barely got away with it. 

It's not a remotely credible threat and everyone knows it. 

by Fentex on April 12, 2014
Fentex

Any attempt by the Greens leadership to install a right wing administration would destroy the party that day.

Possibly true, though it's something people used to think about the Maori party as well until reality disabused them.

If the Greens managed it, and received a solid policy success, it would do nothing but strengthern them by solidifying their credibility as able to deliver. I don't know if as a group they are really capable of that, but if I were one of them I'd be trying hard to make it so.

I'd certainly tell Labour it was the way of the world.

by mikesh on April 12, 2014
mikesh

I have been a frequent Values/Green Party  voter since 1972, when the Values Party was first formed. Nevertheless, I have always felt that if 'green' thinking ever became mainstream their policies would be adopted by National and Labour and the Green Party shunted into oblivion.

It would be good for the Green Party to be part of government of course, but the most important thing for them is to ensure that policies of sustainability, etc remain in front of the public. The most important thing for the country though is for the Labour Party to get itself into a postion where it can form a government, and if that means sidelining the Greens in favour of NZ First, then so be it.

by stuart munro on April 14, 2014
stuart munro

We have heard these arguments before, and the government that made them were ... insufficiently strenuous in pursuit of our interests. This decision smacks of the unprincipled, poll-driven New Labour world view, the view of a declining political elite who cannot scare up a solid support base in the aftermath of their betrayals.

Labour may yet redeem itself - I hope so, but it will have to do so without my vote.

by william blake on April 14, 2014
william blake

Unfortunately Labour seems determined to make itself irrelevant, policies please not politics. I am beginning to feel disenfanchised.

by mikesh on April 14, 2014
mikesh

Since a coalition with National is not an option for the Greens, they are in a weak bargaining position, and will remain so until they are polling more than Labour and NZ First combined. Hopefully that day is not too far off.

by Fentex on April 14, 2014
Fentex

Since a coalition with National is not an option for the Greens,

If they want to be effective in representing their politices they need to make it a possibility. The Greens should want people to understand they are not ideologically committed to Labour or National but to acheiving policy successes for those concerned about Environmental issues.

I'm sure many believe such aligns with issues of social justice and direction of state investment, but as a poltiical party the Greens need to be disciplined about what they are focused on - let Labour or Mana have the social justice vote, stick to making the Green vote count.

And that requires being willing to deal with whoever can deliver policy success. If the Greens can never be disciplined enough to make people believe they can do that their lack of influence on policy will forever limit their vote gathering.

by stuart munro on April 14, 2014
stuart munro

It's all very well Fentex but human population and aspiration is tightly bound with environmental issues. The Greens are prompted to be left as much by their ecological values as by their human ones. The sustainability of any human socioeconomic praxis has significant impacts on the environment - there are few surviving unique species on Rapa Nui/Easter Island.

The Gnats are incompetent - thus they can only form coalitions with parties that are corrupt or crazier than they are: the ACT 'Shades of Whyte' club, Colin Craig, or moral vacuums like Dunne.

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