Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Tracy Watkins gets it

For a while I've been talking about how MMP means the rules have changed, and pointing out that once you consider possible coalitions, National may be a lot further from government than they look, despite fairly large leads in the polls. Now, it seems that the Dominion-Post's Tracy Watkins has noticed as well. In her column on Monday, she pointed out that MMP throws a spanner in National's works, and that Labour, rather than National, would be celebratingthe latest poll:

On the surface of course the poll is hardly bad news for National. But – once the vagaries of MMP are thrown into the mix – that is not the same as good news.

Sure, National's support has dropped – but at 50-odd per cent, which is where National was polling in September, there was always likely to be some slippage. And a result of 45 per cent on election night would put the Treasury benches within National's reach. But – and this is where the worry beads get pulled out – not close enough to be assured of crossing the line. Based on Saturday's poll results, National would hold 57 seats and could muster another two with the help of its natural allies, ACT and UnitedFuture. Close – but not close enough to break out the cigars.

Labour, in the other camp, would hold just 51 seats, but can call on its natural allies the Greens and the Progressives, taking it to 58 seats.

Under this scenario, the Maori Party is kingmaker. And if events of the past few weeks have proved anything, it is that they remainan uncomfortable fit with either of the major parties. Its response to the police terror raids put it beyond the outer fringes of where most of Labour and National's mainstream supporters stand.

This is basically the same result we've seen for a while: the Maori Party will choose our next government. And they'll be even more likely to if they win six rather than four of the Maori seats. Unfortunately this point is usually left out of what passes for poll analysis, which tends to have a shallow focus on the two-party horse race, despite the fact that FPP has been dead for 12 years.

The other refreshing thing about Watkins' column is that she addresses the other aspect of MMP: it can bring together strange bedfellows. While I think the Maori Party is more likely to go left than right, it's not a given. So what happens if they end up supporting National? According to Watkins, it means the latter's agenda would be scuppered from the beginning. While they would have a majority on confidence and supply, they would have a difficult time getting one on legislation in a Parliament which was predominantly left-leaning. As a result, they'd either have to pursue a far more centrist path, or rely on using confidence votes to push things through. And the latter would likely swiftly upset the Maori party, resulting in a midterm change of government. And the same would go for the Greens.

The result is that it's basically all-or-nothing for National. Unlike Labour, they can't govern or deliver on their promises if forced into a coalition which crosses the political centreline. Which makes you understand why so many of them long for the days of FPP...