The Peters Factor
Sir Robert Jones predicts that National will prove to be a one-term pony, and that the former member for Tauranga will once again stalk the boards of parliament.
Political journalists are given to protesting that the public don’t understand the ghastly MMP system. Probably that was true for its first decade, but I doubt if it holds water now.
What can be said however is that it sometimes seems the political journalists themselves don’t really understand it.
I say that in the context of their current dismissive attitude towards the Opposition. Clearly they believe that a change of government in 2011 is inconceivable; that as all past National governments have won three, and with the Holyoake government, four, successive elections, then Labour must first go through the standard new Opposition pains of leadership changes and endure several losing elections before returning to the Treasury benches.
Well I’ll go out on a limb now and predict, solely thanks to MMP, and in particular Winston Peters, a Labour-led administration after the 2011 election. But with two provisos. They are that Phil Goff is still Labour leader and Winston Peters puts his hand up again, as I believe he will.
Here’s why I say National will be a one-term government.
First, with one exception, the four previous National governments since 1949 were all under the first-past-the-post system. The exception was the Bolger government, which only narrowly scraped back in 1993 and technically lost the first MMP election in 1996. By that I refer to Winston Peters, who that year adamantly pledged not to go into coalition with National. Had he stuck to his election undertaking, then Labour would have been back then and not three years later in 1999.
Second, notwithstanding the extended new government honeymoon currently being enjoyed by National in the polls, both history and common sense says that polling gap will narrow by the next election. The near miss by Bolger in 1993 was not peculiar, as one has to go back nearly half a century to 1963 for a new National government not to just scrape home at their first new government
Third, Labour have a sound leader in Phil Goff, whose pleasant demeanour and general soundness makes him almost a clone of John Key – but with the advantage that he speaks properly. Key’s mangling of the language is bound to become an increasing source of ridicule, which is always unhelpful. Goff’s profile will be much larger in the public’s mind in two years’ time, through familiarity, and he will seem a perfectly creditable leader in the eyes of voters.
Fourth, by 2010 the recession will really be biting, compounded by National’s traditional tight fiscal policies. The government, whether fairly or not, will suffer the electorate’s backlash. As well, in hard times voters always look leftward for salvation. But even if National surpass Labour in votes and seats on election night, that will count for little when it comes to forming a government.
Finally, I come to the all-important Peters factor. Despite a relentless six-month-long media hammering, for the like of which there’s no precedent and which Winston brought entirely on himself, he damn near got up to the all-important five per cent mark in 2008.
Winston will be back. Knowing his modus operandi he will time it to perfection, perhaps commencing late in 2010.
Scathing editorials and cartoons will count for nothing, few potential New Zealand First voters being likely newspaper readers. Remember Churchill’s remark that the case against democracy is best illustrated by five minutes talking to the average voter. Winston’s name on the ballot would still command one per cent if he were dead. Anyway, it’s television which counts and television will love the ‘Resurrection of Winston’ story. And as we all know, when it comes to television Winston excels.