Trotter: ‘the phrase ?Labour/Greens government? does not pass the plausibility test’

Chris Trotter explains why David Cunliffe has pushed the toxic Greens out into the cold.

The answer, I believe, is to be found in the voters Labour?s campaign strategists (most particularly the political scientist and polling specialist, Rob Salmond) have identified as the primary target of Labour?s election campaign. These are not the legendary ?missing million? who declined to cast a ballot three years ago, but a much more manageable group of around 300,000 men and women who have voted for Labour in the past (2005, 2008) but who, for a whole host of reasons, sat out the General Election of 2011.

Salmond?s argument is that these voters can be readily ?re-activated? if Labour presents them with a plausible pitch for their support. The key-word there is ?plausible?, and outside Labour-held electorates in the main centres there is every reason to believe that the phrase ?Labour/Greens government? does not pass the plausibility test.

The evidence for this comes, paradoxically, from the National Party. Simon Bridges? ridiculous comments about the 50-odd mining permits issued on Russel Norman?s watch is only the most extreme example of what is obviously an agreed Government strategy to conflate Labour and the Greens into a single, politically extreme, electoral bogeyman. David Farrar?s polls and Crosby-Textor?s focus-groups have clearly thrown up a powerful negative reaction to the idea of Labour joining forces with the Greens. So much so that National is doing everything within its power to imbed the idea deep in the electorate?s psyche.

And, if National?s voter research is picking up this negative anti-Green vibe, how long can it be before Labour?s own pollster, UMR, and its focus-group convenors start detecting similar sentiments in their own samplings? And if they do, is it really credible to suggest that Labour should simply ignore them? If the party?s whole electoral strategy is based on persuading those 300,000 former Labour voters to return to the fold, and the Labour/Greens proposition is going to make that less likely, then what possible motive would Labour have for accepting the Greens? invitation??

Labour’s pollsters and the focus groups they run already know this…hence the reason for David Cunliffe spitting in the face of the Greens co-leadership.

But there is a catch.

Far from forcing Labour to the negotiating table, the Greens are relying upon nothing more than arithmetic to clinch the case for a Red-Green coalition. The Greens? problem is that arithmetic is telling Labour that Red + Green =?not enough.

Even after combining their separate Party Votes, Labour?s and the Greens? support falls well short of the 48-49 percent required to be confident of winning a majority of seats in the House of Representatives. Therefore, in order to become New Zealand?s next prime minister, Cunliffe is going to need the additional support of Winston Peters and NZ First ? and if he spends the next five months campaigning for a ?Labour/Greens government? that support may not be forthcoming.

And the catch is actually a trap.

Winston Peters and his NZ First advisers have been keeping their heads down of late, popping up every now and then only to further reinforce Winston?s claim to be the wise elder statesman of New Zealand ? one who carries himself above the petty squabbles of his more callow and shallow colleagues.

All of which suggests that Winston, basing his analysis more upon gut feeling than expensive polling data, has set his sights on the same group of voters that Rob Salmond is targeting ? Labour?s defectors of 2011. In the course of his below-the-radar campaigning in the small towns and shrinking cities of provincial New Zealand he would appear to have already formed a picture of the next great wave of NZ First supporters.

They?ll be former Labour voters, in work, but not necessarily on a wage or a salary. Many of them will be independent contractors, tradespersons and small business owners ? which is to say highly motivated and strongly aspirational. Most will be 45 years-of-age and up and generationally hostile to the claims of big business, beneficiaries, Maori radicals, feminists, greenies, condescending intellectuals and politically-correct special pleaders. They?ll have a deeply ingrained, largely familial, aversion to the very notion of voting National, regard the Greens as dangerous extremists, and not be at all sure that Cunliffe is the real deal, or that Labour really has escaped the clutches of what one of their heroes, Damian O?Connor, famously identified as trade unionists and a ?gaggle of gays?.

Over and over again Winston will have heard these alienated, former Labour voters tell him that: ?If only Labour could be Labour ? the party my parents voted for all their lives ? the party I gave my first vote to back in the 70s ? the party of Norman Kirk ? the party that used to stand by and for ordinary Kiwis.?That?Labour I could vote for, but not?this?Labour.?

And what Winston will discern as he listens to these voters lamenting the loss of?their?Labour Party is an unstated but increasingly firm intention to vote for NZ First. That?s why the NZ First leader is telling anyone who? will listen that his party?s share of the Party Vote in 2014 will be considerably larger than its 2011 result. He is quietly confident that NZ First will supplant the Greens as the third largest party in Parliament.

Trotter keeps very close tabs on Winston First. I’d go along with this analysis.