What is Labour’s path to victory?

Labour’s path to victory is not good.

Liam Hehir explores:

Labour appears to be bedevilled by the problems that plagued National in 2002. Recent surveys – including one leaked by its internal pollster – show Labour’s already tepid support levels are flagging.

Like National 15 years ago, you get the feeling that nothing can jolt the party back to life this cycle. The question is whether its vote will collapse entirely. National’s did in 2002, with fewer than 21 percent of voters giving it the tick.

It may well do so. The difference between 2002 and now is that National was just 3 years into the cycle of opposition. They learned quickly from that defeat and nearly got there in 2005 and finally in 2008. Labour has been in the wilderness now for nearly nine years and they still haven’t realised what it was that got them chucked out last time.

Information gathered by the New Zealand Election Study suggests that the party haemorrhaged votes to the Right wing, the centre and the centre-left (but not the Left wing). A large proportion of people who had previously intended to vote National also just stayed away from the polls.

If Labour disintegrates, you would expect something similar to happen. The Greens, National, New Zealand First and, probably, the Maori Party would all benefit to greater or lesser degrees. If The Opportunities Party starts to gain traction it might nab some of those voters as well.

I think Labour is already disintegrating. Both Winston and the Greens are squeezing Labour hard. The polls are showing this. The Greens are sucking votes from the hard left, Winston is sucking Centre-left votes…Labour will have the body of a half sucked throatie by the time of the election.

Assuming that National’s share holds at or around 45 percent, this might see the status quo returned. That is, National might retain its near majority and rely on its existing helpers to get it over the line. It wouldn’t be a comfortable margin, but expectations of comfort went out with First Past the Post.

I’m not sure they can hold that high.

But what happens if National’s share falters during the campaign? It could happen. When Labour went to the polls early in 2002, it looked invincible. There were even whispered ambitions of an absolute majority. But errors, mistakes and events all conspired to limit Labour to 41 percent on election day. The party still retained power but had to do a deal with the temporarily relevant United Future.

If this happens then we need to look at the potential coalitions and alliances to determine who has a realistic shot at power.


Labour once refused to deal with New Zealand First over his hostility to immigrants. That attitude softened when its votes were needed to secure the controversial foreshore and seabed legislation in 2004. Labour seems to have accommodated itself to New Zealand First’s philosophy more recently and, indeed, has gone some way to adopting it.

Of course, Labour and New Zealand First will probably not be enough. Such a government would also require support from the Greens. There was controversy over this last fortnight, with the Greens accusing New Zealand First of racism and attempts at posturing over the possibility of being left out of government yet again.

The Greens conceded, however, that their stand against Peter’s divisive rhetoric would not extend to keeping him out of government. And while one of the party’s MPs suggested the party might force a second election if Labour and New Zealand First shut it out of government, co-leader James Shaw ended the week by conceding they would not do this. In other words, the Greens will have to take what they’re given.

The Greens have been ugly bridesmaids for too long. They really, really want power. That is also the signal that Winston Peters will walk from having anything to do with them. It comes down to how willing Labour are to play hardball again with the Greens.

At this stage, it looks like National has two paths to power. Under the best case scenario, it will be able to eke out another working majority with its present partners. In the worst case scenario, it will have to take a deep breath and try to cut a deal with New Zealand First.

Labour has just one path to power. The “only” case scenario involves National’s vote deteriorating, its own vote holding up, the Greens and New Zealand First doing sufficiently well for the three parties to nose ahead of National and, finally, for Winston Peters to choose it over National.

There is plenty of water to go under the bridge yet. But, given the choice, I know in which position I would rather be.

There is a chance Labour can get there, it is a small chance, but a chance nonetheless.



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