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.


  1. If Labour needs those seven seats, then they are in serious trouble.

    Labour seems likely to win Maungakiekie back.

    If Peter Dunne stands again, then Chauvel has a 50-50 shot at Ohariu. If not, then that seat is solid blue.

    Waitakere and Auckland Central will be two holds.

    Otaki is in even less doubt. (There was even a rumour going around these parts earlier in the year that Darren Hughes wanted to go carpetbagging in Rongotai -- scuppered by the non-retirement of Annette King.)

    I don't know enough about Hamilton West to comment.

    I imagine National would be quite keen to strangle Little's prime-ministerial ambitions in the cradle, and there'd be no better way to do that than beat him in New Plymouth. I anticipate that the fight there will be tougher than most people seem to expect.

    You're right that National's main problem is lack of a support party. Something is needed to replace Act, and urgently.

  2. What would be ideal would be a "Country Party" ala the Nationals in Australia. If they won electorate seats with their supporters giving their party vote to National, that would create an overhang in Nationals favour (much like the Maori Party currently has). I doubt that will happen, and it shall remain in my own fantasyland...

    Hamilton West will be interesting. Martin Gallagher, the deposed MP, is a member of the wealthy Gallagher family (the guys who invented electric fences) and probably in with a shot. That said the diary industry boom in that area will dampen the electorate's enthusiasm for the opposition.

  3. I'd prefer a liberal party to a country party. But the Parliamentary picture you paint looks pretty good.

    As it stands, Act's anti-ETS posturing seems like a poor-man's attempt at getting rural traction. (Being from Taranaki, I remember when Act had actual rural suuport -- enough to get second in a by-election, even. That Act Party is now in the distant past.)

    Do you think Gallagher (aka "Labour's answer to Clem Simich") will stand again?

  4. Not sure. Apparently he has a vendetta against Macindoe.

    Act could still re-invent itself as a liberal party, but its time to do that is fast disappearing.

  5. Ah: I've tracked it down.

    Sue Moroney is switching from Hamilton East to Hamilton West. Sehai Orgad will replace her as Labour candidate for Hamilton East.

  6. Interesting. I guess that's the lowest risk strategy, or Gallagher has disappeared.


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