Power beckons but to which party?

Winston Peters
Winston Peters
The third- and fourth-ranked parties will hold their pre-election conferences this weekend in Auckland.

One will be confidently contemplating a time in or around the government, with influence. And the other?

New Zealand First averaged 10.7% in the most recent four opinion polls in June - more than twice its June 2014 average.

Any addition to that on September 23 will give Winston Peters his biggest caucus of MPs since 1998 when his party split on the breakup of the coalition with National.

It would also surpass the Greens unless they climb above their 11% of 2011 and 2014. Their latest poll average is 12.4%.

The Greens - oddly early - launched their election campaign on Sunday. Co-leader Metiria Turei deliberately, with party backing, called out NZ First's immigration policy as racist and divisive. Winston Peters called the Greens racist for backing iwi water claims.

Game on? Both did not rule out working together if need be. Hmmm.

The Greens will focus their conference at the Auckland University of Technology heavily on campaign strategy and technique, combining digital analytics, modern messaging to voters and on-the-ground campaigning, backed by much more money and paid staff than in 2014.

Their new young candidates will be showcased, including the women who posed like glamour models on the North and South cover in May and reeled in some converts.

Can this young cohort, plus co-leader James Shaw's youthful good looks and measured intelligence, spark young people's interest and echo the surge for United States Democrat presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders last year and British Labour's Jeremy Corbyn last month?

Metiria Turei
Metiria Turei
The Greens talk of big meetings round the country for ninth-ranked Chloe Swarbrick, 23, good looking, a law degree, startup business experience, a preference for rap music and third in Auckland's mayoral election.

Only 64% of 18-24-year-olds were enrolled for the election by end-June; 97% of over-70s were. In 2014 only 63% of 18-24s who did enrol (76%) bothered to vote.

This generation and those a bit older, while less edgy than in the United States and Britain, don't share parents' and elders' established values and face high house prices, uncertain employment and student debt.

If the Greens can spark political interest among them, the Green vote could rise without worm-eating Labour's - that is, could add to the Labour+Green total.

In polls since 2014 the Greens and Labour have swapped support instead of building their combined vote. When the Greens first got to 11% in 2011, their 4.4% rise from 2008 mirrored Labour's 5.5% fall. (Labour's 3.5% fall in 2014 probably went mostly to Peters.)

With Labour now becalmed, failure by the Greens to build support with votes from elsewhere than Labour points to another term out of power. So the young vote is important.

But can the Greens win them?

The Greens have been around 45 years, initially as Values. Their core environmental message is no longer new or flash. The big old parties have encroached on the Greens' territory as attitudes and imperatives have evolved. Even NZ First had a presentable environment policy in 2014.

Mr Shaw in one sense underlines this. He goes down well with Auckland business, as a senior business figure enthused to me recently. He is sensible in Parliament.

Mr Shaw's Greens are more ``normal''. That enticed over Labour voters.

James Shaw
James Shaw
So Mr Shaw and Ms Turei have a double act to do: to combine that ``normalcy'' with a claim to be the future party, still pushing environmental boundaries (and a more equitable and cohesive society) to appeal to the young.

And they have to do that locked in to Andrew Little who presents Labour as more against than for. That is out of synch with an electorate which by a big majority thinks the country is going in the right direction, a positivity Mr Shaw reads as giving scope to do good environmental and social things.

That asks a question. What if Mr Shaw was leader of the Opposition and his deputy was Jacinda Ardern, this month glamming it like a Hollywood starlet on the cover of Next though agonising about anxiety inside?

Well, the de facto leader of the Opposition will be holding court in Manukau this weekend, getting on a bit but still with pull, as political gadabout Shane Jones has attested by joining him.

Take National down to 45% and, if Tuku Morgan's promiscuous matchmaking doesn't work for the Maori Party, National would need Mr Peters to govern. That will be an unavoidable talking point in Manukau.

Most of what Mr Peters says reflects his party's general lean towards the Labour side of politics on most issues. He has excoriated Bill English over Todd Barclay.

But back in 1996 he said far more scathing things about National and Jim Bolger and they reciprocated in kind - then cuddled up. As he could now.

Still, Mr Peters could go with Labour+Greens if they outpoint National. Another option: qualified support to a National government from outside.

He has options. Mr Shaw and Ms Turei have hopes.

Colin James is a leading social and political commentator. ColinJames@synapsis.co.nz


 

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