Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Doing the numbers

With Labour's decision last night to finally move to expel Taito Philip Field (having carefully lured him into giving them an excuse which would allow them to reverse their previous position of natural justice), the media and National are trying to present it as a threat to the government's stability. But is it really? Look at the numbers. Without Field, Labour has 49 votes, plus one from the ever-reliable Jim Anderton. New Zealand First and United Future add a further 10 votes on confidence and supply, giving them 60 - one less than an absolute majority. So surely the government is in trouble?

I don't think so. In case anyone has forgotten, the government also has a co-operation agreement with the Greens, in which they agree not to oppose the government on confidence and supply in exchange for certain policy gains. With the Greens abstaining, the government has 60 votes out of 115 - a comfortable majority by MMP terms. The government is only in danger of falling if one of their confidence and supply partners fails to keep their word - in which case I expect the Greens to step in with a positive vote of confidence in order to salvage the just-announced sustainability platform.

(Meanwhile, the prospects of National cobbling together its own coalition are just as bleak as they were immediately after the election. With only 48 votes of their own, they would need to rely on ACT, United Future, NZ First and the Maori Party (or Field) to gain a bare majority. Good luck with that, guys).

The prospects seem slightly bleaker on the legislative front, where the government cannot rely on either its confidence partner's votes, or the Greens' abstention in order to pass legislation. However, they have in the past shown remarkable skill at building strong majorities behind their legislative agenda, with most bills passing by 70 votes rather than a bare 61. Field's departure won't affect that, however it will likely affect Labour's ability to work around its coalition partners and form an alternative bare-minimum majority with the Maori Party and the Greens (which has proved useful in the past). So we'll be seeing a lot more cooperation across party lines in future, at least until Field is replaced in a by-election. And I don't think that's a Bad Thing at all.


All this coalition stuff has got me thinking about an as un-yet realised MMP possibility. A highly plausible election outcome next election is a Labour government with maybe one seat less than National forming a coalition with Jim Anderton, a rejuvenated Greens and the Maori Party (say 12-13 seats between them). It would be interesting to see the public reaction to that. Given the way the righties carry on now, I would expect three years of screaming about an "illegitimate government."

Posted by Sanctuary : 2/14/2007 10:02:00 AM

I would expect three years of screaming about an "illegitimate government

Almost certainly - after all, they'll scream it even when Labour wins more votes than them. But the true test of a government is whether it commands a majority in the House on confidence and supply, not whether it wins a plurality on election day. And on that front, I think Labour has an advantage, simply because it is capable of making and keeping friends, rather than seeing them as rivals to be eliminated.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 2/14/2007 10:09:00 AM

Did anyone suggest the Muldoon governments formed after the 1978 and 1981 elections, in which they won fewer overall votes than Labour, was illegitimate? Just curious.

Then there's Al Gore winning more votes than Dubya...........

Posted by dc_red : 2/14/2007 12:46:00 PM

Hell yes - it was one of the major drivers towards MMP.

Which tells us that you need a fair electoral system before you can even start to talk about legitimate government.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 2/14/2007 01:23:00 PM

I think that it is a great failing of MMP that it's introduction saw the party vote introduced into Parliament.

A little while back, I/S, you linked to the Hansard of Parliament's vote on the MMP threshold, and it is good evidence of some of first-past-the-post's more esoteric strengths; reasonable people differed and among those who voted in support of a lower threshold were Tony Ryall, Ian Peters, Clem Simich, Richard Prebble, Ross Robertson, Gilbert Myles, Whetu Tirikatane-Sullivan and Jim Anderton. When was the last time MPs split with their parties on a non-conscience vote?

Posted by Graeme Edgeler : 2/14/2007 01:38:00 PM

Tariana Turia on the Foreshore and Seabed Bill. But the debate on electoral reform was effectively a conscience vote for both major parties, despite not being on one of the traditional issues of sex or drugs.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 2/14/2007 01:58:00 PM