Magazine article New Zealand Management

POLITICS : Labour, Peters and Maori Activists

Magazine article New Zealand Management

POLITICS : Labour, Peters and Maori Activists

Article excerpt

Byline: Colin James

Helen Clark completes eight years as Prime Minister on December 10. Will she still be Prime Minister a year from now?

To do that, of course, she has to be able to form a government after the election, which must be held by November 15.

The polls in 2007 have not been encouraging. In late spring the average gap between National and Labour was around 11 percent.

But look more closely. If that was the election result and New Zealand First was out of Parliament, National plus ACT plus United Future would be only two percent higher than Labour plus Greens plus the Maori Party.

You can see why Labour grandees have kept insisting they are still competitive. In that scenario only a three percent narrowing of National's lead would put Labour back in office.

And Labour grandees reckon they see chinks in John Key's popular image: mistakes on policy, some "third rail" issues such as selling state assets and higher doctors fees and other risks to social services. These chinks were more perceived than real but they kept spirits up.

Certainly, there was no shortage of rank-and-file enthusiasm and optimism at the conference in November.

But take a closer look. There are two huge 'ifs' in the journey from 11 percent to two percent.

One is that New Zealand First is out of Parliament. That presumes Winston Peters doesn't stand in Tauranga or, if he does, he loses. That is a reasonable assumption but not a certainty. In any case, it is by no means a foregone conclusion that New Zealand First can't get five percent on the party vote.

Though the cushion is only 0.7 percent, Peters has had a passable press as Foreign Affairs Minister, has scored bankable wins in policy, notably with old folk, and has got 'Maori separatism' as an issue to run with monocultural oldies, grumpies and worriers.

But even if New Zealand First is out, there is another big 'if' in the 11-percent-to-two-percent scenario: a presumption that the Maori Party would not do some sort of deal with National rather than with Labour.

Logic suggests that if the Maori Party is the fulcrum after the next election, it cannot be responsible for National taking office. A large portion of its electorate voters in 2005 voted Labour on the party vote, reflecting a decades-long preference for Labour among most Maori, consonant with the fact that most are in the lower socioeconomic strata. …

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