Week in Politics: Tactical voting could have helped Labour’s landslide win

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Analysis – There’s only crumbs for the Greens from Labour’s table, National’s caucus backs Judith Collins but there’s anger in the ranks over what went wrong, and the huge swing to Labour indicates there could have been tactical voting on an unprecedented scale.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks to the media a day after her landslide election win, in Auckland on October 18, 2020.

Jacinda Ardern is in no mood for any “handbrakes” after putting up with New Zealand First during her first term, Peter Wilson writes. Photo: AFP

Talks between Labour and the Greens about forming a government began this week and will go into next week, but it’s already clear there won’t be much in it for the minor party.

After the landslide victory, the mood within Jacinda Ardern’s party is for a Labour government, not a Labour/Greens government or a Labour-led government, the Herald reported.

A coalition agreement with seats at the Cabinet table is off the agenda, Newshub reported on Tuesday, and that hasn’t been challenged.

What’s left is a confidence and supply agreement along the lines of the one the Greens had with Labour in the previous Parliament, or an even looser co-operation agreement.

Ardern said during the campaign she wanted any arrangement to be “straightforward”, which has been taken to mean nothing getting in the way of what Labour wants to do over the next three years.

She’s clearly in no mood for any “handbrakes” after putting up with New Zealand First during her first term.

Under any arrangement, Ardern could offer ministerial posts outside cabinet and the most likely would be Greens co-leader James Shaw continuing to hold the climate change portfolio.

The Herald’s Fran O’Sullivan saw a good reason for that, reporting that her paper’s Mood of the Boardroom survey ranked Shaw fifth within the overall ministry.

“The Mood of the Boardroom report said his centrist style was representative of the modern climate change activist and it was well-received in the business community,” she said.

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James Shaw’s centrist approach to climate change is well regarded by the business community, a political commentator says. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

When Ardern tells the Greens precisely what they are or aren’t getting, the party will have to decide whether to accept or sit on the cross benches on their own.

One former Green MP, Catherine Delahunty, told RNZ it should stay on the outside. “The messages we’re hearing from Jacinda Ardern indicate a very centrist government,” she said. “So I think the Greens should go hard for independence right now and not be subsumed into any form of deal with Labour that actually mutes their ability to speak out.”

While Ardern holds all the cards and Labour doesn’t need the Greens to form a government or pass legislation, she will also be aware that 2023 could be a different story and she won’t want to alienate them completely – another landslide isn’t likely.

Strong criticism in National’s ranks

While Ardern was welcoming her huge 64-member caucus, National was saying a sad goodbye to the casualties of its drubbing at the polls.

Leader Judith Collins pushed the “we’re moving on” line but during the week there was intense criticism of the way the party ran its campaign.

Former Labour Party president Mike Williams told the Herald: “I have never seen a worse campaign by a political party and I’ve been involved in 40 election campaigns in Australia and New Zealand.”

He said rolling Simon Bridges was the result of “poll-driven panic” after adulation was heaped on Ardern for the way she was leading the country through Covid-19.

“National should have kept their nerve but instead they chose the wrong leader (Todd Muller) who quickly stood down because of mental health,” Williams said.” Instability in political parties is the smell of death to a lot of voters.”

Mike Williams at the public discussion where he made comments about Te Reo in prisons.

Mike Williams on National: “I have never seen a worse campaign by a political party.” Photo: Kim Baker Wilson

He also had a crack at Collins for her comments about obesity being a matter of personal choice, saying it caused outrage. “I’ve never seen anything like that. You’ve got to be just loopy.”

Speaking to media before the caucus meeting MPs pledged their loyalty to Collins. They were angry but it wasn’t directed at her, it was the MP who leaked Denise Lee’s email criticising Collins’ style which had upset them the most.

Collins said the leak had cost the party five points, or about 100,000 votes.

One of the surviving MPs, Melissa Lee, said the result had been devastating and she was “really angry” about the leak. “We just look like politicians who can’t actually keep it together,” she said.

Barbara Kuriger, who held her Taranaki-King Country seat, agreed it was ironic National ran under a “strong team” banner.

“We weren’t the best team. If you’ve got people dropping the ball, or not being able to do the right thing, then you don’t win and that’s what happened,” she said.

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Tim Macindoe Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

Tim Macindoe, who lost Hamilton West, had some wise advice for his surviving colleagues: “To be fit to govern you must be absolutely united, you must demonstrate a very clear vision for what is important, and also demonstrate fundamental decency.”

Collins, who has said she intends holding on to the job through to the next election, isn’t in immediate danger despite the election rout. But she has to stop the leaks and that could be difficult.

As MPs gathered for the caucus meeting Newshub reported: “They have only been at Parliament for a day after their disastrous defeat but already National MPs are leaking.”

One was quoted as saying it was “highly, highly unlikely she (Collins) will lead us into 2023”.

National supporters may have switched to Labour

The unprecedented swing to Labour across the country indicated tactical voting by National supporters who didn’t want the Greens to be part of the government, but there’s no hard evidence of that.

Some callers to talkback radio said they voted tactically for that reason but the extent of it isn’t known.

Collins suggested it had happened. “We’ve certainly heard from some media who have asked, and some parts of the farming communities, that they voted Labour because they wanted to stop the Greens,” she said.

A Stuff analysis showed Labour won the party vote in every South Island electorate, including National’s Southland fortress.

The irony is that if there was extensive tactical voting, Collins could have intensified it by trying to scare voters into believing Labour would “buckle to the Greens” and implement a wealth tax after the election.

RNZ’s Tim Watkin wrote: “With the wisdom of the crowd, centre-right voters have seen National’s internal problems, looked around for a handbrake on a Labour-Greens transformative government, and landed on a fascinating champion – Labour itself.”

 Peter Wilson

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