Sunday, 17 October 2010

Can Labour win in 2011?

On Saturday I spoke at the Labour Party's conference fringe sessions on republicanism. It was a lot less hostile than last year, when I was told on registering they could "smell a Tory coming". I shot back I'd rather be called a Whig, and I take my smell seriously. Fortunately at lot of my old debating and politics colleagues were around so there was plenty of people to catch up with.

I've put my thoughts on Andrew Little's realpolitik at the Republican Movement blog. It certainly created a buzz for our sessions. However, Little also raised the spectre of a Labour victory in 2011 during his speech to the main conference, which I snuck in to. I don't think it'll happen - and there were hints in Little's speech that it wouldn't. Little spent a lot of time emphasising that in order to win, Labour needed to be better organised and target specific seats. The list he read out won't be surprising to politicos:
  • Otaki
  • Hamilton West
  • Waitakere
  • Auckland Central
  • Maungakiekie
  • Ohariu
  • New Plymouth (Little joked "We quite like that guy's chances")
Apart from Ohariu, all of these seats are held by National MPs who scored "upset" victories, particularly in Auckland and particularly Nikki Kaye in Auckland Central (a seat that had never been held by National until 2008). Labour's chances are best in Otaki, Hamilton and New Plymouth and perhaps Ohariu and Auckland Central if the Greens don't run strong candidates as they did in 2008.

That said, even if they can win in those seats, they won't win Labour the election. National learnt this the hard way in 2002, from then on party president Judy Kirk regularly intoned that "it's the party vote that counts". In 2008, it certainly was. Little is a smart guy and I have no doubt he knows this. I'm sure his strategy is to win those "target" electorate seats back, including New Plymouth, to give himself momentum coming into Parliament (the only potential deflator, apart from not winning New Plymouth, is that Labour could lose Te Atatu). If Labour only marginally increases its share of the party vote, which seems like the way it will go given John Key's popularity, then they will be in with a fighting chance for the 2014 election.

On this basis it seems unlikely that Little genuinely thinks Labour can win the 2011 election. He knows that two of National's support parties - UnitedFuture and Act - are likely to disappear after the next election, along with the Progressives. This will leave National dependent on the Maori Party, who could take a beating given their base support gave their party votes to Labour.

What Key and National need to win and stay in power is another support party. It's likely that New Zealand First will make a comeback, albeit they probably won't make it back into parliament.