Hooton on election dates and campaign mode

Matthew Hooton wasn’t a fan of an early election but he has noticed that some parties are campaigning already.

The argument for a pre-Christmas election is that Mr Key’s government isn’t really doing anything anyway, Labour is in utter disarray and a quick win by National, even with Winston Peters’ NZ First, could make 2017 more a year of substantive governance than endless selfies in shopping malls.

On Monday, though, Mr Key ruled out not just a pre-Christmas election but the March one predicted over the weekend by Mr Peters.  The prime minister argued, probably accurately, that New Zealanders don’t want an early election but also, totally inaccurately, that it is not within his power to call one.  Instead, Mr Key indicated the country would not go to the polls until “the back half of next year”.

With him referencing All Black tests and the need not to get too close to the annual Apec leaders’ meeting in mid-November 2017 in Da Nang, a late September election seems most likely, as in 2014.  That’s a whole year away.

My favourite year in the political cycle.

[T]he whole political class is already in what amounts to election mode.

There has been talk of new but certainly hopeless political vehicles and a mini-scandal over a donation to NZ First.

The opposition has used the time-honoured tactic of a parliamentary filibuster to disrupt urgent housing legislation that a government with its eye on governing would have passed months ago.

A broke Labour Party stands accused of getting up to its old 2005 pledge-card tricks by using taxpayer funds for a campaign office in Auckland.

Mr Key has abandoned major and long-promised local government reforms on the grounds they are too controversial but is warm to Mr Peters’ idea of paying for elderly people to go into secondary schools to teach teenagers to drive.

Most excruciating, the year-long questioning of Mr Peters’ post-election intentions has begun, along with his inevitable refusal to answer.   

Labour are testing the rules and credulity with their Auckland Office. The only thing you need to know about Winston Peters is that he knows how to count to 50% plus one.

Before the last two elections, I predicted NZ First would hold the balance of power and been wrong both times, although only just.  However, the polls now clearly show Mr Peters miles ahead of where he was at the comparative time before the 2011 and 2014 elections and National and the Labour-Green axis both materially lower.

Unless either National or Labour-Green leaps ahead at the expense of the other, there is very little doubt that Mr Peters, not voters will decide the prime ministership in 2017.  It will be third time lucky for me and Mr Peters, albeit not for the country.

Interviewers, therefore, have an obligation to try, however futilely, to get some indication of Mr Peters’ coalition leanings and job preferences while, for his part, maximising his post-election power relies on him saying nothing meaningful.

Moreover, to be fair to Mr Peters and as has been well signalled in NBR, his options are not necessarily limited to merely choosing the prime minister.  He could, as he told NBR radio this week, sit on the crossbenches, with all the daily drama of turning thumbs up or thumbs down to each piece of legislation.

Much more likely, as first signalled here in April last year at the encouragement of Mr Peters’ friends, the old warrior will seek the prime ministership for what will almost certainly be his last hurrah in parliament.

Mr Peters is now being increasingly open that this is his intention.  His comments indicate he is hopeful of taking enough votes from Labour, and to a lesser extent National, to get himself into second place.  If he could get NZ First up to 20% and Labour below it, his claim to the prime ministership would be second only to Mr Keys.

Thus, his attacks over the weekend against National’s “neoliberal” agenda, which Labour’s inexperienced, idealistic and rapidly vanishing parliamentary staffers interpreted as the words of a kindred spirit.  Wiser heads understood that it is hardly good news for Labour that Mr Peters has decided to target their vote.

It was with anti-National rhetoric that he targeted Labour’s vote in 1996, which he then used to back Jim Bolger and anti-Labour rhetoric with which he targeted National voters in 2005 before becoming Helen Clark’s foreign minister.  A sub-20% result for Labour looks increasingly possible.

Labour are marginal right now. They traditionally slip between 3-5 points in the last weeks of the campaign. Currently, they are polling well below 30% David Cunliffe’s record low is at serious risk.

Winston Peters is sitting in the box seat. John Key will need to start some detente pretty soon or he will get run down in the rush of cabinet and caucus to retain the baubles of power by signing up to a deal with wily old Winston. If he doesn’t start the process then his tilt at Holyoake’s record will be lost.



  • STAG

    As a New Zealander, I’ll be furious if Winston Peters managers to claim top spot.

    • hookerphil

      Not sure what is higher than furious but that’s what I would be if Little claimed top spot.

      • STAG

        I believe that becomes the realm of Incredulous.

    • Nige.

      Have you tried to like him?

      • STAG

        I’ve met the man, smoke a cig and drunk a glass of red wine with him at SPQR years ago, good fun but but just because it’s his last throw of the dice doesn’t mean he should expect to become prime minister.

      • XCIA

        I can’t find anything to like about this mongrel. Over the years, I have sat beside him at meetings and conferences. I have been and am acquainted with with people who are part of what you would call his “political machine”. Some years ago I supplied him with sensitive information that was meant to be raised in the house, but was instead traded.

  • Sailor Sam

    If I was John Key, I would be doing ” deals” with NZ First now, and scupper the greenlabs at the same time.
    Key is supposed to be a pragmatist, so he should lock in NZFirst now, dump Peter Dunne and get on with governing the country for our benefit.
    Why wait for an election?
    I don’t see the sense.

    • sheppy

      But can he trust Winston to honour his half of the deal? I’d guess Key realises that it’s not a good idea

      • Sailor Sam

        It is thinking outside the box, why not?
        Dunne is a dunce, the maoris want apartheid.
        Bot JKand WP want to get rid of apartheid maori seats
        Win win all round.

  • JC

    All I can see is that the Govt that has him on board stays out of power 9 years every time. Voters hold a loong grudge for any Govt silly enough or unprincipled/weak enough to take him on board.


  • Warren

    Winstone and NZF to 20%, in your dreams. And him being PM, never. My bet is he will not make the election.

  • Keanne Lawrence

    With so much resistance and dumb antics from the opposition as well as coalition partners there for themselves seeming more like a second opposition element it is no wonder the going is tough.
    Winston First is on a bit of a high at present but there is still time for would be supporters to look past his lead to see that there is no depth to effectively support more than the threshold 5% and might do well to get to 6% on the day. It would seem that many sense that a week in politics is a long time but much more so a year for the old Winston.
    Must admit there has always been a slight expectation that he might finally get his act together but the persona he has these days in the house has him looking like a grumpy old codger. Thus the speculators who might or not be among those who actual bother to make their mark on election day are heralding their sense of unease about whether he will make the starters gate. Early election? Their dreaming.
    It is also likely people will be fed up with voting after they get through the local body elections not to mention the flag referendum.
    Added to Winston’s being good with numbers as we know he is there might some voter leeching of the blue rinse brigade from one of the new parties. Aint MMP great. The D&C democratic process. Not the medical version but Divide & Conquer or should that be DTP? Divide The Plonkers.

  • John

    The government are still pushing through local government reforms. They are forcing the merger of utilities as they did in Auckland. They have told councils that if they want to see any govt funding, I assume on the likes of state highways, in their districts, they have to merge even though this can be more costly to the rate payer than bodies that cover smaller areas. If you look at some regions, the time spent by travelling can make a simple trip a days driving. I can not understand the efficiency dirived from that. It is a poorly conceived idea that will lead to more cost and beurocracy, Act would be wise to disown it.

  • St_Hubbins

    I have voted for National every election of my adult life (25 years since I first voted). No more.

    [Mod – redacted]