TPPA true & false

February 4, 2016

The National Party has a webpage giving the facts and refuting the myths on the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) which is being signed in Auckland today.

Don’t believe that?

Chapman Tripp says:

The TPP began life modestly as an initiative between New Zealand and Singapore, but the ambition was that it would evolve into a trans-Pacific agreement.  The first recruits were Chile and Brunei and the net has subsequently extended to Australia, the United States, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru and Vietnam.

New Zealand now finds itself in the vanguard of the new wave of economic globalisation.  This is a coincidence of the worldwide focus on FTAs to further integrate economies, the prominence of Asia, and the United States’ and Japan’s renewed interest in the Pacific Rim. 

Some find this uncomfortable.  Many, including the protesters at Seattle, found the birth of the WTO in 1994 similarly uncomfortable.

Difficult as change can be, this is an opportunity which will not come again.  In its final form, the TPP is the biggest free trade deal in a generation and will establish the architecture of Asia Pacific trading relationships for decades to come.  . . 

and concludes

. . . Labour’s frustration is understandable.  The TPP does not appear to include the specific reservation of rights Labour wanted.  New Zealand negotiators could perhaps have sought a more nuanced provision, such as appears in the NZ-Korea FTA, which arguably preserves some scope to expand the OIA screening regime.  It is hard to see that the more absolute language in the relevant TPP annex was a deal breaker for other negotiating parties. 

Negotiating parties tend not to publicly announce their bottom lines in advance to avoid painting themselves into a corner, as Labour has effectively done.  One cannot, of course, sensibly weigh up the overall merits or demerits of a 6000 page 12 party agreement by looking only at one provision.  To attempt this is to miss the wood for the trees. 

None of the signatory countries will be perfectly satisfied with the deal.  Each will have a particular clause or clauses that they would prefer were not there.  The US Republican Senator, Orrin Hatch, for instance is chagrined that the IP chapter grants only five, and not eight, years’ protection to biologics. 

But if support for the deal was premised on perfection, then it would go the way of the Doha Round.  It is no coincidence that TPP opponents play the single issue game.  Conflating whether one gets everything one wants, and whether the deal is acceptable overall, is a classic black hat strategy. 

The art of negotiating involves being able to push hard for one’s positions, then to stand back and work out whether (even if one did not get all one wanted) the deal on the table is better than no deal at all. 

Here, the question is even more stark.  Would New Zealand be better off inside, or outside, the tent?  MFAT’s national interest analysis reaches a firm conclusion, having weighed everything up over 276 pages.  It is respectfully suggested that this conclusion deserves to be afforded more weight than anyone’s position based on a single issue.

Those last two paragraphs nail it.

The deal isn’t perfect but it is better than no deal at all and New Zealand is better inside the tent than outside it.

The usual nonsense at Waitangi purports to be about the TPPA threatening the Treaty but the Federation of Maori Authorities is cautiously supportive:

. . .Chair Traci Houpapa said there were benefits and opportunities for Māori and all New Zealanders.

“We’ve analysed those documents ourselves and while we have a level of comfort we agree with the 12 month consultation process that the signing on the 4th of February triggers.”

Ms Houpapa said the removal of some or most tariffs for exporters would have financial benefits for the federation’s regional members.

“Māori have a predominate footprint in primary sector industries, we are land, water or sea based so our exporters have obvious benefits if the removal of tariffs are in place and TPP provides for that.”

FOMA is happy with the provisions within the agreement that acknowledge the Treaty of Waitangi, which say it must be enshrined, but FOMA recognises further analysis of what that means is required. . . 

“We recognise TPP is a complex trade arrangement which requires time to fully digest and understand. Our members support the trade benefits and want assurance that our national sovereignty and Treaty partnership are maintained. We welcome proper engagement with government and our members on this important matter,” said Ms Houpapa.

Proper engagement will achieve what all the protests prefaced on political agendas won’t.

Charles Finny says the TPPA deserves praise from Maori:

I believe that rather than being inadequate in its protections for Maori, TPP is if anything a taonga in the way it protects the rights of the New Zealand Government to discriminate in favour of Maori. This in turn, I think, adds enormous mana to Maori.

I feel Maori are being poorly advised from some quarters and it is essential that ministers and government officials spend even more time explaining the protections for Maori in the agreement and the trade benefits that will flow to Maori from it. These benefits are substantial.

TPP is an agreement between 12 countries. Pretty much all the 12 jurisdictions are home to indigenous minorities – for example, the First Peoples of the United States, Canada, Mexico, Peru, Chile, the Aboriginal people in Australia, the Malays in Singapore and Malaysia, and the Ainu in Japan.

Yet none of these peoples is mentioned in the main text of the deal and none of their Governments has secured agreement from the other members that they should be allowed to discriminate in favour of them.

In contrast Maori are mentioned, as is the Treaty of Waitangi. Article 29.6 of TPP is actually titled “Treaty of Waitangi”. It says that “provided that such measures are not used as a means of arbitrary or unjustified discrimination against persons of the other parties or as a disguised restriction on trade in goods, trade in services and investment, nothing in this agreement shall preclude the adoption by New Zealand of measures it deems necessary to accord more favourable treatment to Maori in respect of matters covered by this agreement, including in fulfilment of its obligations under the Treaty of Waitangi”.

This is pretty much the same clause that has been included in all free trade agreements (FTAs) New Zealand has negotiated since 2001. It has stood the test of time. It has allowed multiple Treaty settlements to be completed and has not had (as some critics claim will happen under TPP) “a chilling effect” on Government’s ability to adopt policies more favourable to Maori than other New Zealanders or nationals of these FTA partners.

TPP’s protection of the Treaty goes even further than earlier FTAs. It states “the parties agree that the interpretation of the Treaty of Waitangi, including as to the nature of the rights and obligations arising under it, shall not be subject to the dispute settlement provisions of this agreement.” This means it is entirely up to New Zealand to determine if any discrimination has occurred because of the treaty (so long as this is not a disguised restriction on trade).

I am frankly amazed the US and others have agreed to this provision. Our ministers and officials have done a great job achieving this. All Maori should be saying: “Well done!” . . 

He also posts on Facebook:

TPP contains two types of dispute settlement. In the media and political criticism the two are often confused. There is the standard (in WTO and all our FTAs apart from CER – the reason why apples took so long to resolve)provisions which allow parties to the agreement to challenge breaches of the agreement. This is a purely government to government process and applies to the full agreement unless specified (e.g. interpretation of the Treaty of Waitingi the dispute settlement provisions do not apply). Then, in the investment chapter only, there is the investor state dispute settlement mechanism. This allows a company to challenge a government if it believes that government has breached its commitments in the investment chapter only. Many of the critics (who should know better) suggest that governments can be sued for breaches of outside of the investment provisions. This is not possible.

It is important to stress that TPP is worded differently to NAFTA and the Australian investment treaties that were used to challenge plain packaging of cigarettes. The critics often cite these agreements as examples of why we should fear ISDS without noting the fact that TPP has been drafted with the sloppy drafting in earlier agreements in mind.

New Zealand has been agreeing (indeed advocating for ) ISDS provisions in investment treaties and FTAs since the late 1980s (see for example the original China NZ Investment protection agreement). To date the NZ Government has yet to face a challenge.

Put simply I believe these provisions provide useful security for NZ investors offshore. Some of the governments we trade with and have FTAs or investment treaties are far more likely to breach these agreements than we are.

There are multiple exclusions (e.g. our Overseas Investment laws) and multiple acceptances of our right to regulate to protect the environment, to protect human health and safety, to discriminate for Maori under the Treaty of Waitangi etc to ensure that TPP will not have the type of chilling effect on policy making that the critics maintain. And, on top of the above protections, tobacco is completely carved out of the agreement so no worries there.

But is you want to nationalise huge hunks of the economy without compensation – you do have a problem. As you would if you tried to use human health as a justification for a policy if there was no science to justify the policy. Until recently I did not think that future NZ Governments would act in this way. This is why I think we have nothing to fear and that these provisions can only benefit NZ.

Stephen Jacobi wrote an open letter to Labour leader Andrew Little. It’s worth reading in full, I have chosen the extract with most relevance to farming:

. . . I agree that the dairy aspects of TPP are not as good as they could have been and as we had hoped.  But they are in the view of the negotiators and the dairy industry the best that could have been achieved in the circumstances.  Dairy still benefits more than any other sector from tariff cuts in key markets and the establishment of new tariff quotas.  The meat deal – specifically beef to Japan – is a significant market opening about which the industry has welcomed. Without this we will not be able to compete with Australia which already has an FTA with Japan. To call the rest ‘not much’ is a serious under-estimation – tariff reductions and/or elimination for horticultural products including kiwifruit, wine, wood products and seafood cannot so easily be dismissed. Addressing tariff and non-tariff barriers for manufactured products like health technologies and agricultural equipment is also significant.  This will result in the creation of new markets as you suggest. . . 

Duncan Garner says the political consensus on free trade is over:

After decades of supporting free trade, Labour has chosen to veer left into the bosom of New Zealand First and the Greens and oppose the TPP. It’s short-sighted and totally hypocritical, in my view. It looks like the party has had its strings pulled by anti-TPP academic Jane Kelsey.

This is a serious and controversial departure for Labour, and it may yet hurt the party among middle New Zealand voters.

Do these politicians know that our bottled wine can be sold tariff-free in Canada, Japan and the US on day one of the TPP being implemented? Why would you oppose that after we as a country have fought for this for so long? Most fruit and other produce can be exported tariff-free too, as a result of the TPP.

I travelled the world with Labour and National Party ministers for years, watching them fight bloody hard for market access for our exporters. I have seen a block of New Zealand butter selling for $25 in Japan; the same with cheese. Some of these tariffs are so high our exporters are locked out.

I’ve also seen Phil Goff, Helen Clark, John Key, Mike Moore and Tim Groser invest thousands of hours over the years for this sort of deal. Rather than accuse them of selling out, I’d argue they’ve done a great job. . . 

The truth is Labour has taken a massive risk opposing the TPP. I sense the silent majority understands we have to be part of it, despite the noise from the usual suspects.

Labour is divided and bleeding over the TPP. More Labour MPs want to voice their opinions in support but they’ve been silenced.

Ms Clark, Mr Key, Mr Moore, Mr Groser and David Shearer aren’t idiots. They know New Zealand has no choice but to be on board. Foreign investment is crucial into New Zealand too.

My friend runs a hotel in rural Waikato. The Chinese bought it recently. They have invested thousands into doing it up; they employ 33 locals in and around Tirau and Rotorua. Without the Chinese owners it would have closed and 33 Kiwis would be out of work. We have no option but to be international traders. Without it we die, slowly.

I predict the sky won’t fall in. And exporters stand to make billions more in the years ahead.

We won’t get rich buying and selling to each other; we need barriers broken and global doors open.

That’s why we must continue to fight for international trade deals — knowing there will always be a boisterous but small mob who hate the idea, no matter what the facts. 

Brian Easton who is no apologist for the right, asks can we afford not to adopt the TPPA?

. . . While there has been much focus on the TPP deal, there has been hardly any mention of the WTO (World Trade Organisation) agreement in Nairobi which prohibits agricultural export subsidies. Some 30 years ago a trade negotiator commented to me that getting rid of this dumping might be the best single thing we could do for our exporters. Not only would it stop the undercutting of their markets but it would force domestic agricultural reform because the dumping nations could no longer export the surpluses arising from their subsidies. There is not a lot of this subsidising going on at the moment but without an agreement export subsidies are likely to come back – to New Zealand’s detriment.

What was not always mentioned was that the chair of the WTO agricultural committee which negotiated the deal was a New Zealand ambassador, who is the fifth New Zealand chair in succession. This not only reflects the excellence of our Geneva ambassadors and the priority we give to agriculture in the WTO, but that the powerful – most notably the US – trust New Zealand to do a good job. That trust arises from the way we behave in other trade negotiations, including the TPP. The implication is that if we defaulted on the TPPA we would damage that trust and our ability to function effectively in a wide range of other international negotiations we care about, including on climate change.

That puts us in an extremely invidious position over the TPPA. Sure, we could turn it down, losing both its benefits and its downsides. Were we to do so, however, we would compromise the trust our international activity depends upon, especially the possibility of other trade deals which would open up markets currently restricting our exports. . . 

. . . Japan and the US (indeed the whole of the North American bloc) are members of the TPP. We have been struggling for ages to get deals with these two but have been too low on their pecking order to be noticed. So you might think of the TPPA as a means of getting the deals.

That is a positive, but of course the deals have to be favourable to us. Many argue they are not although their vehemence is offset by those who argue the opposite. The truth is that there are positives and negatives and different people balance them differently. In my opinion it is not much use focussing on a subset of the outcomes and ignoring everything else. Deals are about giving and taking.

The logic in this column is that we now do not have much choice about the TPPA. The government is trapped into agreeing to it because rejecting it has implications for other trade deals and our wider international relations. That is probably what our MFAT officials are advising, although no doubt there are many diverse views in there, just as there were with Vietnam. Here is my best guess about what is likely to happen.

There is a signing of the agreement in Auckland this Thursday. The exercise is primarily ceremonial – agreeing to a common text and exhibiting solidarity. I suppose the protests outside are ceremonial and for solidarity too.

The twelve partners then go away and prepare for the implementation of the text. Some things can be done by regulation, some require a change in law. The degree to which each partner has to do this differs according to their constitutional arrangements. . . 


By now there are so many imponderables that there is insufficient room in a column to pursue them all in a balanced way. My guess is that, given the way we are trapped by the wider international issues, the cautious advice is to proceed on the path of implementing the legislation for the TPPA, making as much international progress elsewhere. We can then review whether we really want to go ahead with the implementation. Legislation can always be reversed, agreements abrogated, although if the government changes its mind it is better that some other partner pulls the plug. Much of what is due to happen will be less ceremonial than this Thursday.  

And Prime Minister John Key says:

. . . “Opponents claim we’re giving away our sovereignty and that’s completely wrong – the TPP has almost identical provisions to the China free-trade agreement.”

Mr Key said other countries would not be able to write New Zealand laws and the TPP didn’t increase the cost of pharmaceuticals.

“The TPP is our biggest free-trade deal, successive governments have worked to get free trade with countries like the United States, Japan and Canada for 25 years,” he said.

“It will create significant new trade and economic opportunities for New Zealand… it gives our exporters access to 800 million customers in 11 countries across Asia and the Pacific.”

And those new opportunities will create jobs here, increase our GDP and earn us the money we need to pay our way.

The deal isn’t perfect but it’s better than what we’ve got and a long way better than what we’d have if our competitors were in the warmth of the tent and we were left out in the cold.

Three Labour leaders for TPP

January 28, 2016

Two of Labour’s former leaders, Phil Goff and David Shearer, who are still senior members of its caucus are quite clear that they support the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP).

A third former leader, Helen Clark, also supports the agreement.

Mr Goff, a former leader and former Trade Minister and now an Auckland mayoral candidate, and David Shearer, also a former Labour leader, last night told the Herald they both still supported the TPP.

Mr Goff said the deal should be signed.

Former Labour Prime Minister Helen Clark also backed the TPP among 12 countries and it was begun under her leadership. Mr Goff was Trade Minister.

Labour has decided to oppose the TPP on the grounds that it undermines New Zealand’s sovereignty.

Mr Goff did not blatantly criticise Labour’s position. But he effectively dismissed that view and the suggestion that Labour would not be able to prevent foreign investors buying New Zealand residential property.

“Every time you sign any international agreement you give away a degree of your sovereignty.” He cited the China free trade deal negotiated when he was Trade Minister.

“We gave up the sovereign right to impose tariffs against China when we signed up to the China free trade agreement. But it came with quid pro quos. China gave up its right to impose huge tariffs on us.

“That’s what an international agreement is; it’s an agreement to follow a particular course of action and a limitation on your ability to take action against the other country.

“You have the ultimate right of sovereignty that you can back out of an agreement – with all the cost that that incurs.”

The costs of not being part of such a wide trade agreement would be significant.

The TPP obliges member Governments to treat investors from member countries as though they were domestic unless exceptions are written into the agreement. Labour wanted an exception written in for investors in residential housing but National did not seek it.

Mr Goff is critical of National for choosing not to do that.

“But there is more than one way to skin that particular cat,” he said. “We retained the right to make it financially undesirable or unattractive to buy up residential property in New Zealand.

“You can still impose, as Singapore and Hong Kong do, stamp duty on foreign investors.” . . 

Labour’s biggest achievement last year was the appearance of caucus unity.

This breaking of ranks shows that the veneer of unity was thin.

That some in Labour disagree with the caucus position might entertain political tragics.

But the bigger significance is that for the first time in decades it’s walking away from the consensus it’s had with National on free trade.

Caucus disunity might hamper its chances of returning to government. But it will get there sooner or later and any failure to foster free trade progress as successive governments have, won’t be in the country’s best interests.

Better than not very good

February 2, 2015

A 3news Reid-Research Poll shows  55% of voters think Andrew Little is potentially a better match for John Key than his predecessors.

How hard is that?

Helen Clark resigned on election night and anointed Phil Goff.

He never made any traction and had to work with a divided caucus.

He was followed by David Shearer who had to work with a divided caucus and who struggled to string sentences together in interviews.

A change in party rules resulted in the election of David Cunliffe who had to deal with a divided caucus and who could string sentences together but strung different ones for different audiences and tripped himself up with several of them.

Now we have Andrew Little who was elected on the strength of union votes not the majority of members or his caucus. But he can string sentences together, has yet to trip himself up with them and the caucus has managed to hold itself together over the Christmas break while it was largely out of the news.

Being better than three previous leaders who weren’t very good at all isn’t much of an achievement especially when measured against the popularity of the man whose job he wants:

Mr Key is on the up too though, and as for Labour’s bump in the polls, he’s got that covered.

“I’m not surprised,” says Mr Key. “I think Labour is cannibalising the vote on the left of politics as Andrew Little goes through his honeymoon period.”

Voters do like what they see, especially when compared to Mr Little’s predecessors. Asked if Mr Little looks like a better match for Mr Key, 55 percent, a clear majority, say yes, up against 12 percent who say just the same and 18 percent that reckon he will be worse.

But this is crucial. Out of National voters, exactly whom Mr Little needs to win over, almost one in every two, 48 percent, rate him as a better match for Mr Key.

“It’s nice to get all that feedback,” says Mr Little.

“If you think of the election result in 2014, Labour was led to their worst result,” says Mr Key. “A lot of people might think that given how bad that was you can probably only improve from there.”

3 News polls on the same questions regularly, and Mr Little has got some of the highest ratings since Helen Clark. For instance, 54 percent say he is a capable leader; only Ms Clark got higher.

But here’s the problem for Mr Little – 81 percent of voters rate Mr Key as capable. . .

As he is and that’s reflected in party support too:

  • National – 49.8 percent, up 2.8 percent on election night result
  • Labour – 29.1 percent, up 4 percent
  • Green – 9.3 percent, down 1.4 percent
  • New Zealand First – 6.9 percent, down 1.9 percent
  • Conservative – 2.7 percent, down 1.3 percent
  • Maori – 1.3 percent, N/C
  • Internet Mana – 0.6 percent, down 0.8 percent
  • ACT – 0.4 percent, down 0.3 percent
  • United Future – 0 percent, down 0.2 percent

As usually happens between elections the support for the wee parties drops.


Labour pains, National delivers

October 17, 2014

Trans Tasman on Labour’s pains:

Members of the party of co-operation, collectivism, and fraternal brotherhood and sisterhood were all over the media this week publicly knifing each other. This is to say nothing of the usual susurration of behind the scenes snarkiness from the various sides of the Labour Party factions. We can expect to hear much, between now and the leadership ballot next month, about “Labour values.”
One can’t help but get the feeling this does not mean what Labour’s activists think it means.
Certainly the last leader but one, David Shearer, did not seem to be full of the milk of human kindness for his fellow party members. Shearer called on his successor, David Cunliffe, to withdraw from politics completely now Cunliffe has ruled out another leadership bid. This looked like a brief outburst – and certainly the party’s organisational wing would be horrified at the prospect of a by-election in New Lynn or anywhere, given the current state of Labour’s funds.
But Shearer did not just say this once. He went on radio and also spoke to journalists outside the party’s caucus room. Revenge is a dish best eaten cold, they say, and Shearer was tucking in to a very large ice-cream tub of the stuff. Mostly, Shearer says, he is concerned Cunliffe’s supporters will undermine whoever gets the leadership in the same way they undermined him. It is not a bad assumption to make. The Labour Left still – somewhat bizarrely – see Cunliffe as a champion of red blooded socialism and if their second choice, acting leader David Parker, doesn’t get the job they will turn feral.
But Cunliffe isn’t going anywhere, it seems. . .

While Labour is engrossed in its own pains, National has negotiated coalition agreements, its ministers have been sworn in and are already working for New Zealand.

It’s still the trend that matters

July 20, 2014

Labour has lost four points in the latest Herald DigiPoll, slumping to 26.5%,  its worst level of support in 15 years.

 . . . On this poll of decided voters National would be able to govern alone comfortably and gain another 10 MPs.

National has jumped 4.5 points to 54.9 per cent. A Stuff/Ipsos poll earlier this week also put support for National at 54.8 per cent.

Prime Minister John Key is more popular than he has ever been, scoring preferred prime minister on 73.3 per cent, compared with Cunliffe on 10.5 per cent and New Zealand First’s Winston Peters on 5.5 per cent.

The second-most-preferred PM out of Labour MPs is David Shearer, with 2.2 per cent, followed by Jacinda Ardern on 1.4 per cent. . .

Labour’s total support is down from 30.5 per cent in June, but it is disproportionately down among male voters, with only 23.9 per cent of men backing Labour, compared with 29.1 per cent of women.

Political commentator Chris Trotter said the poll indicated Labour was “more or less bereft of hope”.

“Labour is in an extremely parlous position, and the situation is deteriorating.” 

And the news gets worse for the left:

Contrary to other polls, the DigiPoll had the Green Party losing popularity, which was also bad news for Labour and the left’s prospects. . .

A single poll could be a rogue one but a trend has to be taken more seriously and the left will even though this support reflects the views of those who have decided:

. . . Undecided voters were 11.5 per cent. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.6 per cent. . . .

It’s still the trend that counts and the trend is very good for National but it’s still a couple of months to the election and the result of that, trend not withstanding, is still not certain.

The left might be panicking but there is absolutely no room for complacency on the centre-right.

However, there is

Who cares about the regions?

July 14, 2014

The regions are a foreign country to most opposition MPs.

They visit occasionally, grab a headline about how bad things are and pop back to the safety of a city.

While there they try to show they care, but their policies give the lie to that:

There would be a bleak future for New Zealand’s regions if a Labour/Greens/Internet/Mana Party coalition became Government after the next election, Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce says.

“A number of election policies released in the last couple of days show that the regions would be in for a dramatic and long term slowdown if there was to be a change in Government after September 20,” Mr Joyce says.

“Cartoon-like policies from the Greens and the Internet Mana Party against fresh water usage and oil and gas exploration and in favour of big new carbon taxes show how little they understand what drives most jobs and incomes in regional New Zealand. Thirteen of our 16 regions have a big stake in industries based on our natural resources and there would be thousands and thousands of job losses if their policies came to pass.

“The Greens and Internet Mana want the regions to sacrifice most of their livelihoods for holier-than-thou policies that would achieve little except making New Zealanders a lot poorer. The worrying part is that these sort of attitudes would drive any post-election Labour coalition.

“On top of that, the Labour Party mounted a very lukewarm and half-hearted defence of the oil and gas industry on Saturday. Either David Shearer is being controlled by the left wing of the Labour Caucus or he knows it’s all a bit pointless because any left wing coalition energy policy would be run by the Greens with help from Laila Harre and Hone Harawira.”

Mr Joyce says regional New Zealand knows how to balance the environment and the economy to ensure sustainable economic growth.

“This government is working with the regions to lift economic growth and job opportunities while improving environmental outcomes,” Mr Joyce says. “The left talks about the regions but promotes policies that would do real damage to them.

“The stark reminder we have received this weekend is that regional New Zealand would be completely nailed by a Labour/Greens/Internet/Mana coalition.”

 Labour and the GIMPs would take New Zealand backwards.

All primary industries would face more regulation, more restrictions, higher costs and more and higher taxes.

That would result in less production, fewer jobs, lower profits and as a result of that the tax take from them would be lower even though the tax rates would be higher.

One of the reasons New Zealand has survived the global financial crisis and is beginning to prosper is the strength of primary industries.

Any progress would be reversed if Labour and the GIMPs were in government.

They only care about the regions for show.

National by contrast has MPs in all but a couple of provincial seats, knows the regions, understand their issues and governs for all New Zealand – not just the urban liberals to whom Labour and the GIMPs are targeting their policies.

What they’ll need to do

July 12, 2014

Vernon Small muses on one of MMP’s downsides – the need for coalition partners:

. . . In Cunliffe’s case, he can be relatively certain Internet-Mana will be there.

His bigger concern is the political Centre’s negative views of Harawira, his Left-wing allies and Internet founder Kim Dotcom – and more generally about the increasingly fractured Centre-Left vote.

Labour’s vote softened measurably after the Internet-Mana deal became known. It believes that was not because the new party took Labour votes but more because it was a bridge too far for floating voters to contemplate a four or five-way alternative government.

And Labour knows – because it has already started – that National will use that against it.

It is a difficult line for Cunliffe to walk. He needs to emphasise the stability of a three-way deal with the Greens and NZ First – both of which have the advantage of being parties that win in their own right and will, if in Parliament, have achieved more than 5 per cent support. He can contrast that with National’s vassal parties, there only at Key’s favour.

Voters could choose a weak Labour Party propped up by the Green and NZ First parties with the added frightener of Internet Mana or a strong National Party with two or three very small coalition partners.

That’s a choice between instability, uncertainty and backwards policies from the left or stability, certainty and forward momentum from the centre right.

But strategising at the party’s weekend Congress pointed up the problem. Labour was stacking up its potential pluses just to get over the line.

It could push up to about 30, with a good ground game and organisation, the Greens bring about 12 per cent, NZ First would add another 5-6 per cent and Internet-Mana would add the final cherry on top. Presto, 51 per cent.

Over at the National conference the previous week, the mirror-image argument was being played out by its strategists.

Achieve close to 50 per cent and we govern alone. Fall to the mid 40s, and Labour with its allies could get the numbers. Subtext? Deals with our minor allies may be crucial, so brace yourself for Key’s announcement of deals with the minnows.

Memo to Cunliffe and Key: if you are counting them into your thinking, so will the voters.

Memo to voters: look less at what they say they will do and more at what they may need to do to win power.

A weak Labour Party would have to do, and concede, a lot more than a strong National party would.

We're for stable government.

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