Labour has the policies and it’s closer now to having the numbers – but close enough? What will Winston do, and what will National do?
The addition of two more seat to the centre-left bloc of Labour and the Greens – at the expense of National – definitely changes the dynamic of the talks to form a new government. Labour and NZ First already have a much closer alignment on policy, which suggests more stability, and now the numbers suggest they will be able to form a stable government too.
With the special votes counted, Labour, with support from NZ First and the Greens, would command a majority of 63-57 in parliament. That’s comfortable enough to govern with assurance, even if a couple of MPs from one or other of the coalition parties go rogue.
But National, with support from NZ First, would have a majority of 66-54 (assuming Act also supported it on confidence and supply). That’s a big enough majority to clearly establish the makings of a strong and stable government.
The final result is significant change from the provisional results on election day. It’s good for Golriz Gharhaman, the new Greens MP, and Labour’s Angie Warren-Clark; and bad for Nicola Willis, the gone-before-she-started National MP (although the party thinks she’s a star and someone on the National list will surely resign soon to make room for her).
National now has 56 seats (formerly 58), Labour 46 (45), the Greens 8 (7), NZ First 9 (9) and Act 1 (1).
With the final result now known, the question of policy comes to the fore. NZ First and Labour policies align pretty well, and the Greens can be accommodated in much of that alignment too. But NZ First and National do not enjoy this luxury: from fiscal settings to immigration, regional development to welfare, their policy settings do not align with NZ First’s.
That means Labour is the natural partner for NZ First. But the deal is far from done – Jacinda Ardern and Winston Peters still have a lot to talk about.
Five things that could change everything
1. What does NZ First think?
It’s not just about Winston, no matter what he might want us to think. Two-thirds of NZ First voters (65%), polled by Colmar Brunton for ONE News before the election said they were in favour of Labour rather than National leading the next government. That will count for something, especially if it translates into party members and supporters getting in the ear of NZ First MPs.
Those MPs, mindful of their own future once Winston has gone, will be keen to make their views known to Peters. And the party itself has to ratify whatever deal is struck.
If there is a very clear steer from caucus, it will inform the position taken by Winston Peters himself.
2. They may not be trying to win at all costs.
Both parties are clearly trying to win in the negotiations. But at all costs? Both also know that spending the next term in opposition might not be the worst thing in the world. For National, knowing that you can’t govern forever, it would be a time to regroup, turn over the leadership and concentrate on smashing the “unstable” Labour/NZ First/Greens government. The aim would be to set themselves up for another nine years in power.
For Labour, a similar thing would be true: Jacinda Ardern and her team would become an experienced fighting force, determined to destroy the “ridiculous” National/NZ First government and set themselves up for nine years in power.
Many commentators have said Peters has 7% of the vote and 100% of the power, but that’s not true. The majority party in our MMP governments has always had most of the power. That won’t change this time. If they both refuse to indulge Winston Peters in promises that make no sense to them, he could find he has rather less power than he had hoped.
Wouldn’t that be something? The major parties acting responsibly with their promises?
3. What can National offer to knock Labour out of the ring?
If NZ First does perceive Labour to be its natural partner in government, the job of National’s negotiators is to come up with something to knock the Labour option out cold.
It’s hard to see what they can offer that Labour doesn’t already have on the table. But National could go about it the other way. Steven Joyce used a blatant lie about the supposed $11.7 billion hole in Labour’s budget to help swing the electoral mood back to National, and Bill English backed him all the way. What version of that will National use behind closed doors?
4. What can Labour respond with?
Labour already has many of the policies NZ First wants, and where they differ it may not find it too hard to shift. That water tax, for example, would be easy to drop. Labour originally meant it to apply only to exported bottled water, which is a policy Peters supports.
So what else could they offer? The top job? According to some people close to the National Party, Jacinda Ardern will allow Winston Peters to become prime minister. Is that the joker card or are National’s chatterers playing Fantasy Politics?
5. Are the Greens a done deal?
The number of people who party voted Green and thought that might mean they were voting for a National-led government would have to be zero.
But it doesn’t mean it can’t happen. If National offered a radically new approach to climate change, would the Greens still say no? It would have to involve, for starters, adopting the 2050 target for a carbon-neutral economy. That means reducing greenhouse gas emissions by rethinking urban transport, calling a halt to industrial irrigation schemes, a big new commitment to forestry, leaving fossil fuels in the ground and more.
It also has to mean an end to the punitive approach to welfare and a lead role for the Greens in making that happen.
National could do these things and they wouldn’t cost the party much at all. But the deal would need to be truly transformative for the Greens to accept it. The ball is not in the Greens court on this. It’s in National’s.
You can read lots more reckons about what NZ First will do here.