Ever since MMP was introduced, New Zealand has been in want of a party that stands for something and sits in the centre, able to coalesce with National to its right or Labour to its left.
The Maori Party could have been that party, but in spite of being the last cab off the rank when Helen Clark led Labour, and in government at National’s invitation its natural home was towards the left.
The many iterations of United Future rarely stood for anything more than keeping its leader, Peter Dunne, in parliament and government.
New Zealand First, similarly stands for keeping Winston Peters in power and his strong antipathy towards National now makes it a natural ally for Labour rather than a true centre party.
The Green Party could have been that centre party if it wasn’t so red. But its hardline social and economic agenda put it to the left of Labour.
Now a new player the Sustainable New Zealand Party has enterer centre stage:
. . .Sustainable New Zealand is neither left nor right wing but is focused on sustainability. We are able to work with parties of the left or right to get the best deal for the environment. Sustainable New Zealand’s approach is to work with business to innovate and to correctly price ‘externalities’. We will be led by the science when finding solutions and developing policy. Our future will only be sustainable with technological and scientific innovation.
Sustainable New Zealand’s focus is on being ‘practical environmentalists.’ We will work with rather than against our farmers. We favour a regulatory light-touch where possible but with a willingness to act decisively on core issues. We will foster innovation to transition our economy from one that relies on chopping down, digging up, burning or milking something for economic growth to one that is environmentally-benign and makes us all richer. We know that nothing is free. We need to be prosperous to ensure that we can afford to look after our people and our environment. . .
There’s a lot to like in that and an environmental party that sits in the middle is a good idea in theory, but will it be strong enough to get at least some MPs in to parliament?
One avenue would be to reach an agreement with either Labour or National to allow it to win a seat, the way Act does in Epsom.
But doing that would compromise its ability to work with left or right.
Besides Labour is very unlikely to sour its relationship with the Greens by throwing a seat to a rival and it would be a big risk for National.
Peter Dunne already held the seat when National voters were asked to back him. They did and had to endure three long terms of him supporting Labour governments before National got back into power. He stayed in cabinet and thwarted National’s agenda several times, most notably its attempts to improve the RMA.
Rodney Hide won Epsom by his own efforts, taking it from a sitting National MP who was trying to hold it. Voters have continued to back an Act candidate in the seat but a majority of them give their party vote to National.
Asking a sitting National MP to throw the seat for a Sustainable NZ candidate, or expecting a new National candidate to campaign only for the party vote is a very different and much riskier strategy.
So could Sustainable NZ make it to 5%?
History would say no.
The Progressive Green Party broke away from the red Greens and fielded 15 candidates in the 1996 election but could muster only .26% of the vote.
No new party has made it into parliament without a sitting MP.
However, small parties generally get punished for their performance in government and the Greens will have lost support from both those who think it’s been too left and those who think it hasn’t been left enough.
If enough of the former were joined by those disenchanted by Labour and NZ First and perhaps some of the blue-greens who’ve supported National it might, but the chances of it doing so are slight.
Sustainable NZ has had reasonable publicity since its weekend launch but that will be hard to sustain and it will need a lot of people power and the money they bring to have any hope of turning a good theory into practical electoral success.