Friday, November 26, 2010

Jim Anderton doesn't understand MMP

Progressive party leader Jim Anderton has a bold piece in the New Zealand Herald today, declaring that History shows a change of government is on the cards. Despite polls showing National and its allies consistently polling above 50%, Anderton thinks Labour can do it. How?

Marginal seats are often pivotal to election victory and that's where New Zealand's election next year will be won or lost. Currently, the National-led coalition Government of four parties has 16 more seats in Parliament than the Labour-led opposition of three parties. How many more seats does Labour have to win to be in a position to form the next government by having more seats than National?

The answer is only nine seats - if the nine seats are won by Labour off National and Labour wins all its current seats.

In Labour's favour, National has nine "marginal" seats which would be lost to Labour with a swing of less than 3 per cent.

Which may very well be true, but at the same time it is totally irrelevant to the question of who forms the next government. Under MMP, electorates don't matter, except around the margins of low-polling parties and overhangs. What decides governments is the party vote and coalition formation. Rather than showing how Labour can win the next election, all Anderton has shown is that he doesn't understand MMP.

So how can Labour win? Firstly, by boosting their party vote, something which requires them to campaign nationwide rather than just in a few marginal seats. That sounds hard, but they'll have inertia on their side; incumbent governments rarely get more popular, especially in a recession. National is unlikely to improve on its result from last election, and those votes will have to go somewhere. Labour needs to make sure they go to them.

Secondly, there's the coalition process. If National's vote drops by only a few percent, they face the prospect of being reliant on the Māori Party, either in an ungainly three-way coalition with ACT (assuming they stay in Parliament), or alone. In either case, that opens the way for Labour to form an alternative government by wooing the Māori Party away from National and into coalition with them and the Greens. And that's their real challenge. As for whether they can do it, given their legacy of bad blood and the current way they're treating them, I'm doubtful.