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.



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