Friday, January 18, 2008

A Grand Coalition

I'm no good at election predictions so this post needs to start with the disclaimer: only the most idle of speculation follows.

Speculation which starts with the proposition that the Maori party ends up in the position of government-maker after the election (i.e. neither major party can form a government without their support).

What might this mean? (Click here to read the rest of this post...)

Probably not a National-Maori Party Government. While both parties have made occasional noises suggesting that they could work together, I think that this is very unlikely. For a start, the Maori party will want legislation in exchange for votes, and much of what they ask for (such as the repeal of the Seabed and Foreshore Act) will be anathema to National Party voters. For National, the price paid for such a partnership would be vote loss big time. Also, even with the Maori Party, National may well still need the support of other right of centre parties to form government. Something that may simply be impossible if NZF and ACT have policy bottom lines which clash with those of the Maori Party. Finally, Hone Harawira at least, has distinctly leftwing policies on a whole range of issues, not just those relating to Maori. And while Pita Sharples and some other Maori MPs have shown a willingness to flirt with National's economic policies in the past, if push comes to shove I think they would find it very hard to stomach any real rightward economic lurch. Harawira, I imagine, would be almost impossible to keep on the National side of the floor. As a coalition it would be an unstable one, to put it mildly.

Yet, as Colin James points out, partnering with the Maori party might be little easier for Labour. There's the obvious animosity between Helen Clark and Tariana Turia. And while I imagine that, in their ideological hearts, many Labour MPs would love a coalition that saw more pro-Maori policy, I also think that their vote counting heads would quail at the thought of what it might do to their support in 'middle New Zealand'. Finally, if the coalition is anything other than Labour, the Greens, and the Maori Party, the problems noted for National above about coalition partners might be just as extreme for Labour.

Having said all this, I think a Labour-Maori partnering is more plausible than a National-Maori one. There's an ideological divide there but at least it isn't quite so deep and doesn't cut across as many issues.

So maybe we will see Labour, the Maori Party and the Greens in power after the next election. If it's workable, I'd love it.

There is, however, one other coalition possibility that no one seems to talk about but which, to my mind, could plausibly come about. This is a National-Labour grand coalition - something similar to the current situations in Germany and Israel.

Given the absolute absence of love lost between the two big parties at present, such a partnership might seem like a total non-starter. But I'm not so sure. First, there's the German and Israeli precedents. Second, there's the fact that on some issues the parties aren't really so far apart. There are others, of course, where the divergence is great (and that's why I really hope National doesn't end up in government) but, purely in terms of supporters lost, the two parties might actually sustain less damage hitched together than partnered with the Maori Party. And the votes they lost would tend to scatter towards the parties on their ideological flanks (Act and the Greens). Parties whom they could form future coalitions with.

Anyhow, I'm no beltway insider - I have no idea how likely this outcome is, even assuming that election night produces a situation which makes it possible.

And I am certainly not saying I want it to occur. (Indeed, the only aspect I'd enjoy would be the episode of collective pant wetting engendered in the Right blogosphere).

All I'm saying is that it does seem to be a possibility. If not at the next election at least at some point in our MMP future.

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