In a stroke of strategic positioning, we may be witnessing the birth of a National/NZ First/ACT coalition after 2017 election. NZ politics just got interesting. In a weeks’ time, NZ will have a new PM. And while we puzzle on who that might be, we could also consider how a change in National Party leadership might shake things up (or down) for the micro-parties – ACT, United Future, Māori Party (and Mana Movement). Time to take the gloves off or NZ First might pinch them (the gloves, that is).
National Party and NZ First
The National Party should be a little nervous that NZ First have not slipped below the 5% threshold in any of the polls since the 2014 General Election. They are up and down, but oscillating between the 7-11% range. The beef between Key and Peters is, well, seemingly irreconcilable. Erasing Key from the equation, positions National better to negotiate with Peters should he become kingmaker next year. This is not a suggestion Key was ousted by the party. In fact, I highly doubt that. Rather, next year is going to be rough and if last election is anything to go by, the gloves don’t just come off, the inner hulk busts out. National will not want their star player embroiled in a media maul and having to grovel for Peters hand in government, if it came to it.
A National/NZ First coalition, would give National a clear majority, and the thing any party wants – fewer policy concessions. That is not to say there won’t be trade-offs. Peters is no snowflake. He will use his hand to get (or revoke) as many policies as possible in his play for power. Arguably, that’s where they’ve got him though – he can sit centre right with not everything he wants but a Cabinet position, or sit centre-left at an impasse with the Labour Party who will be torn between Greens and NZ First, likely needing both to govern.
So what then of the current governing coalition?
National would never swallow any kind of merger, alliance, collaboration between the Māori Party and Mana. National have often stated the Māori Party were a ‘stable’ partner and have denounced Hone Harawira. So add him into the mix, and the dynamics change. national will certainly be weighing up all their coalition options for the most palatable outcome. Part of me wonders if the National Party machine are also still reeling at the Māori Party dogging Helen Clarke’s bid for UN Sec Gen.
So what then of the Māori Party in this scenario? If NZ First are in, then the Māori party are out of the coalition. Peters has made it clear he despises the Māori Party. Potentially more so than he despises the Greens. That means the Māori Party may possibly find themselves back to the cross-benches after next election. Unless, they take back the Māori seats and then some. The cross-benches would not necessarily be a bad thing either. It would give the party time to reignite their support base and to rebuild after being branded by opposition parties as the National Māori Party. A brand they are having difficulty shaking.
Peter Dunne might be gone altogether, if Labour and Greens can coordinate the strategic vote to take his seat for the left. (Of course, that is the case with or without a change in National leadership)
ACT could potentially benefit
Interestingly, ACT could potentially benefit from a change in National Party leadership. If David Seymour holds his Epsom seat and is able to draw in right wing voters with a bruised confidence, increasing the ACT vote even marginally to get just one more seat, we might just see the strongest right wing block under MMP with National/ACT/NZ First in the driving seat.
National’s positioning might also signal an early election, the shorter time to showcase the new leader, the less holes to pick in their capability to deliver on promises. It could be another two month post-election cliff hanger, unless the Māori Party can regain the confidence of Māori voters, secure the Māori seats and raise the party vote. The voting scenarios will become clearer in the next few months, but voters will likely need to weigh up more seriously now the most probable scenarios: Labour/Greens/NZ First or National/NZ First/ACT. It’s basically 1996 again.