By the end of this week, a quantity of ink fit to fill Lake Rotoiti – and sufficient electrons to power Tiwai Point for about the space of half an hour – will no doubt have been marshalled in service of commentating upon what Jacinda Ardern’s ‘shock’ elevation to the leadership of Labour means for that party. And, for that matter, the prospects of actually securing ‘progressive’ governance in 2017.
The key questions are whether Ardern will be able to grow Labour’s vote – and, just as importantly, whether that growth will come from voters who’ve recently chosen to switch over to The Greens … or from parties beyond the MoU that’s somehow apparently at the heart of the politics of ‘hope’ these days.
Those aforementioned analyses by other luminaries of the Beltway people-watching bird-blind will focus upon the above questions.
My attention is on something different.
Namely, what the promotion of Ardern and Davis to the Leadership might mean for two parties which look set to cause an ‘upset’ later this year – New Zealand First, and MANA.
We shall start with the simpler query – what effect Davis as Deputy Leader of the Labour Party will likely have in Te Tai Tokerau.
There is an argument, to be sure, that the additional prominence and mana afforded to Labour’s Deputy Leader will provide a potential boost for Davis in what’s set to be quite a hard-fought campaign against the previous representative of the seat, Hone Harawira.
But along with a position that is perhaps more commensurate with his abilities than those he has previously enjoyed in Labour, comes an interesting elevation in list position. In specia, according to rule 8.45.1 of the Labour Party’s Constitution, Davis is now set to be the party’s number two candidate.
This is potentially problematic for the previously arranged trajectory of Davis’ campaign. As the reason he’d previously chosen to not be on the List in the first place was in order to attempt to counter the ‘strategic vote-splitting’ to get ‘two for the price of one’ which has come to characterize the thought-process of quite a number of voters in the Maori Seats. The thinking prior to this year’s Election was that you could quite happily improve the representation of your electorate through giving your candidate vote to the local non-Labour hopeful [either Maori Party or MANA] to help them get in – whilst giving your party vote to Labour to attempt to ensure that the electorate’s Labour candidate would also get in via the Party List. Labour sought to put a stop to that by having its entire slate of Maori Seat incumbents [i.e. not Tamati Coffey – who’s in a potentially rather ambitious position of number 34 at present] stand as electorate-only candidates; in order to ‘force’ Maori Roll voters to vote for them if they wanted them, rather than vote-splitting in a way that would advantage Labour’s opponents in Maori politics.
Harawira therefore had something of an uphill fight on his hands – going up against, as he was, a positively regarded and competent-appearing incumbent who’d quite literally be out of Parliament if the local electors did not back him. The notion that Davis is now ‘safe’ [insofar as anybody on Labour’s list is actually ‘safe’ at this point – there are somewhat reputable projections based on present polling which has them struggling to get even a single List MP …] regardless of what happens in Te Tai Tokerau may instead convince TTT voters that their interests are better served by maximizing their Parliamentary ‘firepower’ – through backing Hone to get him back into Parliament.
And certainly, particularly given Harawira’s firebrand record, and strong advocacy work [when he was absent in Parliament – he appears to have almost invariably been performing constituency work up North in one form or another], there’s a pretty strong argument that his being back in Parliament *alongside* Davis would represent an unvarnished positive for the people of one of New Zealand’s most marginalized constituencies.
So all up … have yesterday’s events helped MANA’s chances of re-entering Parliament? Potentially.
Political events in 2017 are now well beyond a phase wherein seemingly anyone sane would actually place money on their outcome … but I’d say the odds are now better than even of Harawira returning to Parliament in September thanks to this result.
An interesting question going forward will be whether Labour seeks to persist with their un-listed number strategy for Davis despite the wording of their own constitution. I have not engaged in an in-depth reading of the Labour Party’s constitution to see if their national decision-making body has the power to override their constitution seemingly at-will in the same way the NZ First Party’s constitution does.
Meanwhile, where things get unutterably more complex is attempting to augur just how Ardern/Davis will likely impact New Zealand First over the course of this campaign.
It would be tempting to conclude that due to the severely different constituencies and style between Ardern and Winston, that there would be ‘no change’ in NZ First’s fortunes as a result of what’s happened. However, I do not necessarily believe that this is accurate.
For a start, Davis has a strong appeal on both ‘law and order’ and ‘regional development’ issues – areas that NZ First has attempted to stake out as cornerstone territory over the course of the last Parliamentary Term, and the last few weeks in particular.
However, on the other hand, given Ardern’s overall appearance as something of a ‘Grey Lynn Liberal’, it is perhaps possible that voters out there in Regional/Rural New Zealand who might otherwise have been considering Labour [I’m sure there are more than a few], may instead decide that – particularly in concert with The Greens – that Labour is potentially a ‘bridge too far’ for their support this time around.
The natural beneficiary of this trend, should it eventuate, will of course be New Zealand First. As out in those electoral ‘hill country’ seats, where ELSE are people angry about the Government but leery about Urban Liberalism going to go?
One specific seat wherein this might very much play out is the Wairarapa – which, as I covered last week, is presently in the midst of a three-way struggle between Ron Mark, National’s Alaistar Scott, and the assembled might of whatever Labour can throw there in pursuit of third place. If Labour finds itself having greater difficulty reaching out to rural-regional voters as a result of their transition [and honestly, in the Wairarapa, the consistent downwards tracking of their vote suggests they were finding it hard enough as-is], then the logical beneficiary of this will be Ron Mark – who needs to keep pulling votes from both National and Labour in order to win the seat off Scott.
On the other hand, it is possible that any ‘revitalization’ of Labour’s fortunes and image which occurs as a result of the changing of the guard and/or deckchairs atop a certain large ocean-going vessel may in fact wind up leading folk who want ‘strong opposition’ away from supporting the party actually presently LEADING the Opposition [i.e. New Zealand First], and back towards the organization which holds somewhat nominal claim to the Parliamentary position associated with same.
There are also an array of projections about what Ardern/Davis taking over from Little[/Ardern] may mean in terms of Coalition prospects in the event that Labour and the Greens are actually in a position to form a Government with New Zealand First in seven weeks‘ time. Some suspect that Ardern’s relative youth and alleged ‘inexperience’ may make it easier for NZ First to secure concessions from the Labour-Greens bloc [potentially up to and including what’s rapidly become a meme at this point – in the form of asking for, and receiving, the Prime Minister-ship]. Although to that I can only note that I’m not entirely sure what’s changed from the start of the week – Ardern has actually been in Parliament three years LONGER than Andrew Little, for a start.
In any case, one of the dominant questions on my newsfeed this morning basically ran “What on EARTH is Labour Thinking?!”
With the above thoughts outlined, perhaps the better question ought be what Hone and Winston are saying privately as of right now.