Election 2020 - final thoughts

On Saturday night we should know who will form the next government. There is unlikely to be a ‘kingmaker’ party this time around to hold the country to ransom.

The polls are indicating the government is more likely to be Labour and the Greens, and less likely to be National and ACT.

Even if Labour defies the odds and for the first time in our MMP history succeeds in gaining an outright majority of votes, Jacinda Ardern has confirmed that she would bring the Green Party into government.

The Labour leader is clearly looking three years ahead and would not want to shun a party that she may need in 2023.

This also confirms the futility of tactically voting for Labour “to keep the radical Greens out of government”. The only way to ensure the Greens are kept out of government is to elect National and ACT.

Under our MMP electoral system, all of the votes cast for parties that fail to win an electorate seat and do not reach the 5 percent party vote threshold, will be wasted.

According to last week’s Colmar Brunton poll, the combined party votes of the 11 registered parties that scored under the threshold added up to around seven percent.

So, what happens to those hundreds of thousands of wasted votes? In effect, they are discarded, and the votes of the successful parties are scaled up to 100 percent. Or, looking at it another way, the wasted votes are re-allocated proportionately to the parties that successfully reach the MMP threshold, with the highest polling parties gaining the greatest benefit.

The exact way seats are allocated to each party in New Zealand elections is determined by what’s known as the Sainte-Laguë formula.

The Electoral Commission has an on-line calculator HERE, which demonstrates how the system works – anyone can plug in different party vote percentages and calculate an election outcome then track how the parliamentary seats are allocated.

The fact that wasted minor party votes are effectively re-allocated by the Electoral Commission is the main reason why their final results are often lower than expected. At the eleventh-hour, supporters, realising their vote is likely to be wasted, decide to make it count.

Faced with voting for a party that is not their first choice, many voters will opt to support the party that they believe will do the least harm.

This is similar to the advice being offered by this week’s NZCPR Guest Commentator Bruce Sheppard, a chartered accountant and founder of the New Zealand Shareholders Association:

“Look at the political parties and ask yourself which one gives you hope for your children? If the answer is none, likely, then which is the least of the evils?…

“Arden would have you believe this is the Covid election. Collins would agree and say it is the Covid mismanagement election. But like all elections, it’s about the future you want.

“Here’s the rub… neither party is portraying any clear strategy for what future they want to deliver tangibly. Build more schools, roads, turn us into a silicone island, stop cows burping, stop using plastic, euthanise the old, further Covid lockdowns or not… the minutiae of crap. Populist pork barrelling, no vision. What’s new? And why am I still surprised and disappointed by this?”

Bruce believes that more than any other, this election is about philosophy: “Do you want an aspirational society? To have such a society you must acknowledge property rights and protect them. Or, do you want a society that aims to have everyone do or receive average, achieving this through redistribution by means of taxes, printing money and shoving forward the consequences of this to our children and unborn children, who conveniently don’t get to vote on the debt we are pushing onto them?”

The debt Bruce refers to has exploded from 19 percent of GDP in 2019, to an expected peak of over 56 percent of GDP in 2026, creating a massive burden on our children and grandchildren for decades to come.

In fact, one of the most bizarre aspects of this election is that the mountain of debt that we are facing has been created by the very party that is asking us to trust them to manage the economic recovery.

Indeed, it was Labour’s handling of the pandemic that is largely responsible for the economic challenges that now confront us. By imposing lockdowns that were unnecessarily harsh Labour has played a central role in creating the country’s worst economic outlook in nearly a century.

Ironically, some within the World Health Organisation are now calling on countries to stop “using lockdowns as your primary control method” for the coronavirus. Dr David Nabarro from the WHO claims that lockdowns create widespread poverty, and that governments need to use alternative methods to fight the virus.

In a briefing to the incoming government, the New Zealand Initiative has developed a comprehensive plan for growth that does not rely on tax increases: “Raising or introducing new taxes would hurt growth and is not necessary for getting the public debt back under control. Instead, there is ample scope to reduce public spending through greater efficiency and scrutiny and ending wasteful spending on costly programmes which do not deliver on their objectives.”

The Initiative also identified the need to address the decline in New Zealand’s educational performance, saying that a well-educated workforce is critical for economic success.

The current approach to learning was, of course, introduced in 2007 by then Prime Minister Helen Clark. Strongly ideological, it replaced the traditional centralised syllabus-based system with a child centred approach that passed the responsibility of what to teach onto schools and their Boards.

It was an experimental approach. Many countries that adopted it later rejected it and returned to a standards-based system that’s focussed on subject discipline, academic rigour, and more formal teaching methods.

New Zealand’s continued slide in performance in international tests indicates change is needed in this country too if education is to adequately support our economic recovery.

While the Prime Minister is urging voters to trust her party to lead us out of the economic crisis, it is important not to lose sight of Labour’s record of delivery over the last three years, as a measure of whether they are up to the job.

In reality, until Covid came along, theirs was a record of failure. Kiwibuild had proven to be a disaster, State house waiting lists had gone through the roof, poverty had increased, welfare dependency was on the rise, hospital waiting lists had blown out, light rail had been abandoned – almost every promise of substance had not been delivered. As a result, National was consistently ahead in the polls.

Although Labour is now claiming they have the capability to pull the country back from the economic crisis they created, their track record indicates these new promises will also fail.

Surprisingly, however, these critical concerns do not appear to matter to many voters.  

No doubt to the delight of the Labour Party’s campaign strategists, the election has largely focussed on Covid and Jacinda.

The effect has been to obliterate New Zealand First, and starve the Green Party of oxygen.

National has not helped itself by flip-flopping on the leadership before finally finding stability in Judith Collins – albeit too late in the day to significantly change their election strategy and policy suite to better suit their new leader.

Unfortunately, National’s party machinery appears mired in an institutional culture that falls well short of the dynamic and aspirational approach needed to take to take the leadership mantle away from Jacinda Ardern.

Not only that, but National’s lacklustre performance has opened the door for ACT to gain a number of new MPs who would otherwise be sitting in the National Party caucus.

The “rise” of a plethora of smaller conservative parties is also costing National votes that might otherwise have gone their way.

The reality is that Labour has outflanked its opponents at every turn, including by engineering the election for October 17 – in spite of the Electoral Commission recommending November 21.

As a result, not only has the regulated period for election campaigning been truncated – by over a third from 91 days to 60 days – but the Alert Level restrictions that were imposed on the country have hampered the ability of parties to campaign.

In fact, by polling day, there will have only been a total of 9 days out of the whole campaign period where Aucklanders could gather without restrictions. Thanks to the PM, for almost a quarter of the campaign period, no meetings were allowed at all, and for a further 40 percent of the time, gatherings were restricted to ten people.

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister has been able to capitalise on the situation by fronting Covid-19 announcements and using the opportunity to criticise other parties.

In what also appears to be a highly questionable development, government parties have been using the regulated period to dispense millions of dollars in taxpayer funded handouts.

With election rules in place to ensure that candidates do not engage in ‘treating’ voters in an attempt to win their support, politicians are usually extremely careful to refrain from any activities that give the appearance of trying to buy votes.

But not so in 2020, with the Prime Minister as one of the worst offenders. There was even an announcement just a week out from polling day that $100 million will be given to Maori around the country to upgrade their marae.

For other parties, it’s not just the rushed election, the restrictions on campaigning, and the lavish vote buying that they have had to contend with, but many have also had to battle what is perceived to be bias in the media.

Whether this has anything to do with the fact that most media companies became dependent on the Government’s goodwill in April – when they received $50 million in funding to help them through the coronavirus crisis – is anyone’s guess. But the reality is that Jacinda Ardern receives fawning coverage from most media outlets, while Judith Collins receives criticism.

Freelance journalist and former newspaper editor Karl du Fresne believes there has been huge media bias against the National Party – especially by Newshub and TV3:

“In recent weeks I’ve watched with mounting disbelief as the network formerly known as TV3 has conducted what appears to be a sustained offensive against the National Party.

“Initially I gave Newshub and its political reporters the benefit of the doubt, thinking perhaps the run of events was against National and over time the playing field would be levelled. But that hasn’t happened, leaving me convinced that Newshub is functioning as Labour’s unofficial propaganda arm.

“No one who believes in the importance of fair and impartial news media can accept this is right. Fair, accurate and impartial journalism is never more important than during an election campaign.”

On election night, the fate of the Green Party will be of particular interest. If their vote dips below the MMP threshold, they could well be out of Parliament altogether. Otherwise, they are likely to  become part of a new government.

While most electorate races will not influence the final shape of Parliament, there are some where  minor parties have an outside chance of winning an electorate seat, that may. The ones to watch include Auckland Central where the Greens are likely to poll strongly, Northland which is critical to New Zealand First’s survival, and the Maori seats which are the only lifelines available to the Maori Party.

Finally, no matter what the outcome, this election has been a wakeup call for National. If they are to regain the confidence of New Zealanders who believe in free markets, personal responsibility, and the right of individuals to pursue a better life, they need to promote an aspirational vision for the future and a clear path for getting there.

 

 

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