Tuesday, April 30, 2024

NZ: Buyer’s remorse?

TVNZ’s 1News released a new opinion poll last night, and the news is not good for New Zealand’s 3-ring circus government. I haven’t talked about how poorly they’re doing, and for a lot of reasons, but there have been so many bizarre actions by this government that it’s been hard to keep up. At the moment, it looks like New Zealanders see it that way, too.

There are several significant things about the poll, including the headline that if the election were held yesterday, the current government would be gone, replaced by a Labour-Greens-Te Pāti Māori left-leaning coalition. Also, this result is unprecedented: Since polling started, no first-term government has polled so badly so early in its term. The story at the link above sums this up well:
The result is not unprecedented for an incumbent Government although it has historically not happened so early in its tenure. It is similar to poll results for the [John] Key and [Helen] Clark governments in their third terms.

The third John Key-led [National Party] Government was elected in October 2014 and by the July 2015 poll their coalition would have been voted out. The third Helen Clark [Labour Party] Government was elected in October 2005 and by May 2006 their coalition would have been voted out, based on poll results from that time.
So, this result is common enough in the third term of a government—and not in a first term. National lost the 2017 election, two years after the 2015 bad poll results. Similarly, Labour lost the 2008 election, some two years (and a bit) after the bad 2006 bad poll. The current coalition of Chaos Government has only around two and a half years until the next election.

All of which gives hopes to opponents of the current government, however, there’s more to this.

Even based on this poll, the centre-right National Party would be the single largest party in Parliament, though without enough friends to form government. However, they have access to more potential donor money than Labour does, and much—but not all—of New Zealand’s media is friendly to them. Being the party in government gives them the opportunity to do and say things to appeal to potential voters, So, if they really do lose the next election, it’ll be because they couldn’t sense that the wind had changed directions.

The poll result show that Winston Peters’ rightwing populist party, NZ First, wouldn’t make it back into Parliament. However, Winston has been in and out of Parliament a lot over the past 30+ years, and there’s no way to know for sure what’s going to happen with him in two and a half years. However, while the current coalition cannot govern without him—or, more specifically, his party’s MPs—Winston has never had a successful coalition government with National. After the first MMP election in 1996, he was in coalition with National, then Jenny Shipley rolled the Prime Minister, Jim Bolger, and sacked Winston. His MPs, however, stayed with the government, and so, continued to govern until National lost the 1999 election to Labour.

Winston’s history shows us that he can never be counted out forever, nor can NZ First MPs’ loyalty to Winston be guaranteed. This means that he could be back in 2026, but it also means that if he becomes a liability and was sacked from this government, his MPs might stay and support the government, keeping it in power.

The hard-right Act Party has never been hugely popular in New Zealand. For years, the only reason they had an MP in Parliament was that the National Party did a deal for them to hold the Epsom Electorate. In 2023, their candidate won the Tāmaki Electorate, too, but that at least partly due to how unpopular the incumbent National Party MP was because of his hardline fundamentalist “christian” ideology, which didn’t mesh well with the more traditional conservatism of the electorate. For all it’s faults, the Act Party isn’t as aggressively socially conservative as NZ First. While there’s no reason to think NZ voters will suddenly turn to Act (they didn’t do that in significant any election in which National performed badly), they’re also not currently losing support bad as either National or NZ First.

Similarly, the picture isn’t rosy for the Centre-Left, either. Since losing the election, Labour and its Leader, former Prime Minister Chris Hipkins, haven’t presented any sort of alternative to the current mess, nor have they articulated any sort of agenda. However, it can be argued that this is wise strategy two and half years out from an election, especially when the current government is making so many mistakes and alienating voters. It’s about keeping their powder dry while the current government keeps scoring own-goals and undermines itself, not the least by doing things that are very unpopular. But that also risks creating opportunities for the Greens, in particular, to present an alternative now, when voters are grumpy with the government, but don’t yet know what they want instead.

The Greens have their own problems and challenges, too. They’ve had several scandals among their MPs, and their Co-Leader recently resigned, being replaced by a second woman. The harsh truth is that while plenty of folks on the Right reflexively—and, frankly, irrationally—despise the Greens, they’re definitely likely to not respond favourably to a party with two female co-leaders: Misogyny and aggressive sexism has been at the centre of much of the harassment that female MPs—especially former Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern—have endured in recent years.

Plenty of Pākehā New Zealanders can’t stand Te Pāti Māori (“The Māori Party” in English, and often abbreviated as “TPM”), and much of that is just as reflexive and irrational as dislike for the Greens is. The party mainly represents Māori interests (though many of their policies would affect low-income people of all ethnicities), and it currently holds six of the seven Māori Electorate seats in Parliament, most of which had previously been held by Labour. It doesn’t hold any General Electorate seats.

This evening, 1News did a bunch of “vox pop” interviews of ordinary people, one of whom said something interesting: The government should show more kindness. I think he’s on to something. Most of the government’s ministers, along with Winston, Act’s Leader David Seymour, and even Prime Minister Chris Luxon sometimes, come across as condescending, arrogant, and irritated that anyone would dare question them. That’s how Winston operates on the daily because it’s part of his brand. David Seymour too often acts like he’s still an opposition MP, making what he thinks are witty barbs, but which now make him sound like kind of a jerk. In fact, the whole lot of them don’t seem to have grasped that governing is different from campaigning. The John Key (and later, Bill English) National government spend nine years blaming the previous Labour Government for National’s own failures and mistakes, and the current government is doing the same thing—but they sound much more condescending and arrogant while doing it

While it’s unlikely the current government’s MPs and Ministers will change and stop acting like jerks so much of the time, if they did it would probably help them sell their unpopular agenda. I guess maybe it’s lucky for those of us who oppose them that it’s highly improbable they can learn and do better.

One thing is absolutely certain: It’s going to be a very long two and half years.

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