Labour's best chance for returning to government is to form a coalition and campaign jointly with the Greens

Much has been written about where Labour needs to go from here. One issue which doesn’t seem to have generated much interest is what do they do with the Greens?

Many months before the election, the Greens offered to create a coalition with Labour and campaign together. Labour rebuffed them. I think that was a mistake, and it would be an even bigger mistake not to do it before the next election.

To govern, Labour needs coalition partners. For the foreseeable future, that means the Greens and/or New Zealand First. The Maori Party and Mana (if they return) might go with Labour, and could make the difference in a tight race, but it’s hard to see them contributing significant numbers. In any case, they’re all fighting for the same pool of voters. For the left bloc to form a government, they have to take votes from National, not each other.

Perhaps Labour is resisting anything formal with the Greens because they fear that it would scare off some voters. Certainly the right-wing parties love to play up the 'crazy Greens' angle.

But how many people who voted Labour in 2014 would refuse to do so if they had a joint campaign? I suspect not many. It was obvious from the start that if Labour were to lead a government the Greens would be part of it. There were never the votes for Labour to rule with NZ First alone. In refusing to acknowledge the obvious, Labour just looked deceptive and disorganised.

They paid a heavy price for attempting to woo NZ First.

And that’s the major issue in my view. A strategy built around NZ First is not sustainable in even the medium term. If it depended solely on its policies and MPs, the vote for NZ First would not reach even 2%. Most of the supporters are voting for Winston Peters, not the party. He is an exceptional politician, but that is a risk as well as an advantage.

There is no clear successor, mostly because Peters does everything himself. Ron Mark seems viable, and is well regarded, but can he carry the party on his back like Peters does? Probably not. I don’t rate the speculation about Shane Jones either, I don’t think he would accept the role of NZ First leader, or succeed at it if he did.

Winston Peters will be 72 at the next election. It might seem like it sometimes, but he can’t go on forever. He will probably contest the 2017 election but, win or lose, will he still be there in 2020? Another term of opposition might be the last straw. A period in government might make a fitting finale for him. Either way, the odds of him contesting the 2020 election don’t look good. And who would argue for NZ First surviving the first election without him?

It seems to me that in 6 years, 9 at the most, Labour will face an election where it’s the Greens and the also-rans for coalition partners. Why not start now finding the best way to make that work?

A formal agreement makes both sides look more like a potential government. They can find some policies to agree on, and some to say will be negotiated later. Labour can quietly move towards the centre and compete for National’s soft support. If they lose some votes on the left, where are they going to go but the Greens?

The Greens appear to have a bedrock support of around 10%. If National’s support sags from its current remarkable level, 12-15% doesn’t seem unreasonable. With the Greens at 12%, Labour only needs to reach 38% (probably lower under MMP) and they’re in government.

What other strategy offers a better chance than that?

Comments (15)

by Nick Gibbs on October 22, 2014
Nick Gibbs

The Greens appear to have a bedrock support of around 10%. If National’s support sags from its current remarkable level, 12-15% doesn’t seem unreasonable. 

Really? Labour's is at it's weakest and the Greens can't raise their vote past 10%. When/if Labour returns to strength the Greens will drop to 8%. Certainly a weaking of National is not going to raise the Green vote.

On the other hand if the Greens dropped their hard left approach and focused on being a true green party instead, their cross party appeal would increase along with their chances of a place on the treasury benches.

by mikesh on October 22, 2014
mikesh

 

The Greens are not "hard left".

by Nick Gibbs on October 23, 2014
Nick Gibbs

Measured against the beliefs and ideas of Middle New Zealand they are. And it's Middle New Zealand that decides elections.

 

by mikesh on October 23, 2014
mikesh

No. Not even by the beliefs and ideas of middle NZ.

by Chris de Lisle on October 23, 2014
Chris de Lisle

They're to the left and they do benefit from the votes of hard leftists, but they're hardly the Communist League! I don't think that a party like the Greens can shift to the centre and not suffer for it - "the voters have nowhere else to go" is never true because "away" is always an option. And I don't know whether either party needs to be fighting each other for votes in the centre as well as the left.

However, if Labour shifts too far into the centre and leaves the lefter bits of the left to the Greens they risk losing their core in order to become the minor party in an opposition coalition. At the end of the day, what they need to do is actually convince Middle New Zealand to change its minds and pull it (*a bit*) left.

Which is not impossible, because Middle New Zealand is pretty non-ideological at the moment. Hence or as a result National campaigns on a sort of pragmatic competence which Labour mostly answers that with an ineffectual "we'd be competent too!" If they successfully managed an opposition coalition with the Greens, they'd have some evidence of competence to point to and could focus instead on convincing Middle New Zealand that ideology should matter to it. 

by Nick Gibbs on October 23, 2014
Nick Gibbs

@Mike

No. Not even by the beliefs and ideas of middle NZ.

You might need to get out a bit more and try meeting some middle class NZer's


by John McCormick on October 23, 2014
John McCormick

I think a weakening of the National vote will benefit the Greens. If the vote moves leftward, some of it is likely to go to the Greens, particularly if Labour moves a bit towards the centre. The Greens could also pick up some disillusioned “blue-greens”, if they feel that environmental issues have not been well handled.

I suspect that the people advising the Greens to abandon their social policies and become solely an environmental organisation are mostly those who would never vote Green anyway. I don’t see this as either possible or desirable. The Greens have always said that environmental and social issues are intertwined and can’t be separated. Green parties originated in environmental activism but social justice has been a core belief of Green parties worldwide for a long time now. And a political party must have policies on all the significant issues of government. Do you think they should adopt National’s policies?

I don’t find it useful to debate whether the Greens are hard left or not, but I am amused at how often I hear the equivalent of “90% of people would agree with me”. The statement usually means that “90% of my friends agree with me”, in which case it’s probably true. How many of us really have regular contact with people from a range of backgrounds, social, economic, ethnic, etc? Recognising that our own circles are probably not representative is a good step towards trying to understand other people’s views.

by Charlie on October 23, 2014
Charlie

John: Which of National's policies do you believe to be socially unjust and why?

 

by Nick Gibbs on October 23, 2014
Nick Gibbs

@ John

I suspect that the people advising the Greens to abandon their social policies and become solely an environmental organisation are mostly those who would never vote Green anyway. 

You're correct I wouldn't currently vote Green. But I might if they emphasised their green principles and appeared willing to work with business and accept that many significant deveolpment projects must continue (a willingness not appearent in their current press releases). At the last election many voters who couldn't stomach National went to Winston. The Greens remained on 10%. Saying that it'll all change next time no need to change is just what National needs for a fourth term.

Your thesis seems to be that the voters are wrong but will learn from their mistake. That's an arrogant error I think. 





by Alan Johnstone on October 23, 2014
Alan Johnstone

The opinions of those who voted Labour in 2014 don't really matter.

To win Labour needs to move into the vote rich center, they can't do this whilst in a marriage with the Greens. Why do you think John Key constantly used the Greens as a scare tactic? Its because his polling tells him it works.

Labour needs to forget about a broad progressive front with the greens and instead seek to exterminate them or drive them into a position of utter subservience like National have done with ACT.

by BeShakey on October 23, 2014
BeShakey

A few problems.

First, your post is premised on on NZF losing support meaning they are less important for Labour. So why wouldn't Labour wait for that to actually happen before establishing a closer relationship with the Greens?

Second, the Greens are less important for Labour because the Greens are incredibly unlikely to prevent a Labour-led Government being formed. There might be other reasons for Labour to be close to the Greens, but these will almost always be outweighed by the need to be close to parties that could genuinely support either National or Labour.

Lastly:

Why do you think John Key constantly used the Greens as a scare tactic? Its because his polling tells him it works.

And until the Greens aren't a liability in terms of centre votes this will remain a massible obstacle.

by John McCormick on October 23, 2014
John McCormick

Charlie - I used social justice as shorthand for policies like more progressive taxation, stronger unions, stronger welfare provisions. When National first came to power they brought in tax cuts which mostly benefitted the wealthy. There was no shortage of initiatives which could have used that money to help the poorest New Zealanders. I regard that as socially unjust.

Nick - Where do you think I said that the voters are wrong? I think that the National vote will fall because that's very common the longer a government stays in power. I think Labour needs to give voters a better alternative.

Alan - How do you think Labour should go about exterminating the Greens? It seems to me that any attempt to do that would lead to an inter-left battle which would keep National in power for many elections to come.

BeShakey - The scare tactic will work so long as it is likely that the Greens will be part of a Labour-led government. To avoid that, there would have to be a reasonable possibility that Labour and NZ First could govern together. I don't believe that will ever happen. I agree that Labour loses some votes through fear of an association with the Greens, I don't agree that they would lose any more by making it explicit. I think they would gain. If voters have three years of Labour and the Greens fighting each other it's hard for them to envisage them as an alternative government. I still believe an agreement early is the best chance for Labour to lead a government after the next election.

by Charlie on October 24, 2014
Charlie

John:  I used social justice as shorthand for policies like more progressive taxation, stronger unions, stronger welfare provisions

I suppose that's where our ideologies part:

Taxation: By closing the LAQC loophole, National actually made income tax more progressive than i was under the previous Labour government. But regardless of that detail, as far as 'unjust' is concerned, there's a fine balance between looking after the poor and rewarding those who work hard.

Stronger unions: I worked in the UK in the 70's under those "stronger unions" and believe me - it was anything BUT just! Freedom of association is a fundamental right that compulsory union membership and public strike ballots rode roughshod over. I'm glas to see the back of them.

Stronger welfare provisions: I'm sure both sides of the political fence wish to see our poorest elevate themselves out of their situation. However it seems 50 years of welfare entitlement has tended to entrench the problem rather than fix it. Things need to change. We've seen good progress by National in their last term with the DPB reforms but there is a lot more to do.

 

 

 

by mikesh on October 24, 2014
mikesh

@Nick

"You might need to get out a bit more and try meeting some middle class NZer's"

Most middle class NZers I have met are deterred more by the Greens' "green" policies than by any allegedly left wing policies.

 

by BeShakey on October 24, 2014
BeShakey

...there would have to be a reasonable possibility that Labour and NZ First could govern together. I don't believe that will ever happen.

Fair enough, but does it make sense for Labour to base it's electoral strategy on not governing with NZF, or should they leave open that possibility, even if it's unlikely? One basic electoral strategy is to maximise your potential routes to government. Labour can take the support of the Greens for granted, but not NZF. So why should they not leave open the possibility of working with NZF, even if they may not end up needing that support? The strategy was worked very very well for National with ACT/UF/MP.

If voters have three years of Labour and the Greens fighting each other it's hard for them to envisage them as an alternative government.

I think there are alternatives other than an alliance with the Greens and three years of fighting them.

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