Shaw and McCarten manoeuvre against Robertson

It’s revealing that James Shaw has looked weak and sidelined in this Labour-Greens MOU. Shaw believes defeat is inevitable in 2017 and then the Greens will have to change strategy on the grounds of never having been part of government despite being in parliament since 1996. They will need to become more middling, and able to work with either side of politics.

But obviously the Greens have to believe something is on the table for them from yesterday’s deal. They have given up the ability to chase disaffected Labour votes at a time when Labour’s support looks like it is falling again, and they have given up finance. What do they gain in exchange?

Metiria Turei says the MOU helps to build a bloc that will get rid of National. One can debate whether it really will make a change of government more likely but even if you accept this MOU somehow makes the whole bigger than the parts, that still leaves out what the Greens specifically get out of it.

The other point Metiria has made publicly is that the Greens have been under pressure from their own members over their coalition positions. At the last election they claimed it was ‘highly unlikely’ they would work with National, as if they were in some way leaving the door open a smidgeon. In 2011 they said Labour was a ‘preferred but not exclusive’ partner, which was confusing because it implied National was a possibility but then everyone assumed the Greens had ruled National out. And after 2008 they went ahead and signed a (post-election) cooperation deal with National that delivered the cycleway and home insulation, before they withdrew from cooperation. Green activists believe those positions cost Labour votes (though maybe not the Greens), because it made an alternative government look less stable.  But still – responding to pressure from activists doesn’t really win the Greens anything in exchange for giving up finance and affirming Little’s status as Opposition leader to whom they will need to defer.    

What do they think they could get? The talk in Wellington is that they will put Wellington Central on the table. And that Matt McCarten has told someone that a deal could be done.

Robertson came third in the party vote in Wellington Central, despite winning the seat. If Labour pulled out, the Greens would take the seat easily. Robertson would be guaranteed to return on the list. The quid pro quo would be to get the Greens to stand aside in Auckland Central, giving Jacinda Ardern a shot at toppling Nikki Kaye. Ironically Robertson holds one of the only seats in the country where Labour finished third in the party vote, yet he is the loudest voice inside Labour saying the party should not campaign to win electorate seats. He is opposed to putting effort and scarce dollars into winning Mt Roskill in a by-election early next year. He uses the fact that rivals like David Shearer and Stuart Nash strongly outperformed their party votes as sticks to beat them with, as ‘not real team players’. If he were now asked to stand aside in the interests of Shaw taking the seat and building a greater partnership with the Greens, he would be in no position to decline.

Why would Labour want that? Little knows he is likely to lose in 2017. His strategy is to take out rivals now and select a caucus and party machinery of loyalists so that he can hang on after defeat believing Key’s popularity will finally wane by 2020 when whoever is Labour leader will become prime minister. This is the musical chairs theory of elections – the leader makes the difference at the margin but sooner or later it’s your turn and you want to be in the chair when the music stops for the party in power.

No really, that’s what they think is likely to happen if they can’t somehow cobble together something next year.

Once you see the world in this way, you realize they need to take out Robertson. Pushing him out of his seat and onto the list will help, along with the way they are lining up his performance in finance as the reason Labour is not performing better.

It’s even more cunning because they don’t believe Ardern would beat Kaye, even with the Greens stepping aside, so they get to take her out as well. The Auckland Central seat is changing fast as rising rents and house prices push students out and an increasingly multi-cultural electorate despises the Little-Twyford-Salmond race baiting and Chinese-bashing. So look what happens: Little gets the Greens to submit by giving Shaw a safe Labour seat, which the Greens desperately want. It makes no difference to Labour or Little because they get one extra list seat. It diminishes Robertson and rolls the dice that it takes out Ardern as well.

Little and McCarten are union bosses. Their one real talent is their ability to plot complicated ways to get and keep control of their organisation. They never look at the wider context – their game is always only understood by analyzing the internal play.

If you want to understand the MOU, ask what the Greens get and follow the logic.

Anyway, that is what Labour people in Wellington are hearing.


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As much at home writing editorials as being the subject of them, Cam has won awards, including the Canon Media Award for his work on the Len Brown/Bevan Chuang story. When he’s not creating the news, he tends to be in it, with protagonists using the courts, media and social media to deliver financial as well as death threats.

They say that news is something that someone, somewhere, wants kept quiet. Cam Slater doesn’t do quiet and, as a result, he is a polarising, controversial but highly effective journalist who takes no prisoners.

He is fearless in his pursuit of a story.

Love him or loathe him, you can’t ignore him.

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