The Next Election Will Be a Nailbiter

I used to be a fan of Peter Dunne. I even voted for him in 2002. But when he was in coalition with the last government, his preening and posturing (not to mention his hypocritical privacy claims over emails with a female journalist), left me wanting to vomit. I was glad to see the back of him and I never intended to have anything to do with him again.

But this article is fascinating, as it shows insight into the political system that he understands well. So I will forgive him just this once, and go back to disparaging him after comments on this article have closed.

At most, the next General Election is less than 60 weeks away. By law, the latest date the next election can take place is 21 November 2020.
In reality, it is likely to be earlier than that. Practical reasons – like completing the government formation process before the Christmas break – mean that the most likely timing is somewhere in the six week period from mid-September to early November.

Indeed, if the Prime Minister opts for a mid to late September date, it is already less than a year until the election hoardings go up, and the campaign gets under way.

So if we want to get rid of this hopeless government, then we need to get on with it.

Did you hear that, National?

But whatever the date and the circumstances, the 2020 election will be like no other for a number of reasons. The result and aftermath of the last election has ensured that all the main parties will be fighting history next year.

No small party that has supported either Labour or National in government since 1996 has crossed the 5 per cent party vote threshold at the next election.

Some (the Progressives, ACT, UnitedFuture, the Maori Party and New Zealand First in earlier times) have survived because they held an electorate seat at the time, and thereby crossed the threshold, but this is not a luxury New Zealand First or the Greens currently enjoy.

Which is why Shane Jones will stand in one of the Northland seats next time. The future of NZ First may depend on it.

For both of them, as things presently stand, failure to reach 5 per cent means they would be out of Parliament altogether.

For the Labour-led Government, that would be disastrous. Between them, New Zealand First and the Greens hold 17 of the Government’s 63 seats in Parliament. Their removal by failing to cross the threshold would make Labour’s re-election task nigh impossible.

While it would pick up some seats as a consequence, it would be most unlikely to pick up the minimum of 15 it would need to remain in government, assuming of course it was to hold all of its current 46 seats.

Even the failure of just one of the parties (New Zealand First most likely) to gain 5 per cent would make Labour’s task very difficult – it would need to pick up most of the previously allocated New Zealand First seats and then hope the Greens scored at least their number in the present Parliament to have a chance of carrying on in government. 

Unfortunately, the Greens will probably make it back. NZ First? That is by no means certain, unless Shane Jones wins an electoral seat.

Those stark realities alone raise the possibility of Labour having to cede electorate seats to its partners (Wellington Central, which it holds, perhaps for the Greens and Whangarei, which it does not hold but has a strong vote in, to New Zealand First) but that would be extremely politically risky for all three parties given that they have piously railed against such arrangements in the past.

Wellington Central has been a Labour seat for some time, and I’m not sure how happy Grant Robertson would be about this. I’m not absolutely sure a Green candidate would win anyway.

For National, on the other hand, that scenario is far more attractive. Again, assuming it were to hold all its current seats, regain Botany, and see ACT over the line again in Epsom, it would need to win just four of the nine current New Zealand First/Greens seats to be able to form a government.

Even if the Greens survived, and just New Zealand First fell out, National would be in the stronger position of the two main parties to lead the next government. It would need to win just four of the nine seats currently allocated to New Zealand First. All of which makes Simon Bridges’ continuing failure to deliver the potentially killing blow of ruling New Zealand First out of his electoral calculations altogether even more puzzling, especially since New Zealand First is so integral to Labour’s re-election prospects.

Remember, this is quite possible. NZ First did not make it back into parliament in 2008, after being part of the Clark government appointed in 2005.

While, ultimately, electoral mathematics will be the biggest determinant of the shape and colour of the next government, the performance of the parties will also be a significant factor.

As this is a government that is failing miserably on all fronts, except for photo opportunities, hopefully the electorate will punish them for that. Never forget the Jacinda factor though. There is no one in National at the moment who comes close to her general appeal.

Where the Prime Minister’s and the Government’s vulnerability is greatest is in the area of performance.

Now, what was supposed to be the current Government’s “Year of Delivery” has become its “Year of Excuses”, with the failure of KiwiBuild, rising unemployment, rising housing waiting lists, rising child poverty and more people on benefits.

The Prime Minister’s now plaintive explanations that it will take “several more Budgets” to turn these statistics around may or not be true, but they have the chilling air of failed expectation around them, which is unlikely to play well with voters lulled to believe these were all matters that would be easy to resolve if the Government was prepared to just show some kindness, and reverse the hard-hearted inaction of its National and even Labour predecessors. Previous experience suggests those voters so lulled in 2017 may not be anywhere near as tolerant in 2020.


This all sounds very hopeful for turning this government out next year… but the Jacinda factor is still significant. National needs a leader with either similar charisma and popular appeal or a leader that can expose the government’s vulnerabilities without too much effort.

With this government, that shouldn’t be too hard. So get on with it, National.