As the polls stand, all roads to a change of government lead through New Zealand First. And that makes the Greens little more than by-standers

It's not bad strategy, it's not bad planning. It's not their fault at all. But unless the polls move dramatically in the next few months, the Greens are backed into an uncomfortable political corner. New Zealand First has them by the, er, brussel sprouts.

Labour and the Greens simply aren't a viable two-party government as the polls stand, which makes New Zealand First simply vital to any potential change of government. While New Zealand First has left its options open re coalitions and there's plenty of smart money on Winston Peters' preference for backing National-led - or at least incumbent - government, any path to a change of government currently looks to lead through New Zealand First.

Labour's going to have to do some serious growing to find another path to government. So as it stands, if New Zealand First tells Labour it wants a formal coalition (something history tells us Peters prefers), but it will only consider a coalition if the Greens are excluded, well, Labour will have to exclude them.

What then do the Greens do? The Greens will of course argue back that they have a larger share of the vote than New Zealand First and that their numbers are still needed for a Labour-led government to reach 50 percent. But in fact all a Labour-New Zealand First government would need from the Greens would be confidence and supply; they don't need a full coalition deal.

When this scenario was put to Greens co-leader Metiria Turei on The Nation she said "if they [Labour] need us for confidence and supply, they need us to be government" and if the Greens are needed, "we, the Greens, are in a very strong bargaining position".

Except they're not. At all. If New Zealand First said they would only go with Labour if the Greens were sidelined and Labour bowed to that demand, the Greens would have two choices: Give confidence and supply to that government, or opt out and let a National-led government stay in power. Surely they couldn't let the latter happen, so they would have to allow themselves to be sidelined. Again.

And really, there's nothing they can do about it except hope that they or Labour start winning back voters.

At the same time Turei made it clear she would want to be co-deputy Prime Minister alongside Russel Norman in any Labour-Greens government. There's no rule against it, she said. It's worked well for the party, why not for the country?

Again, the road-block to that scenario is Winston Peters. If Labour and the Greens can't get a majority between them alone, New Zealand First can pretty much make whatever demands it wants, and almost certainly one of those demands would be the deputy Prime Ministership for Peters. And I can't see him sharing it in a three-way with the Greens co-leaders.

Every way the Greens seem to turn at the moment, they seem to come slap, bang up against Peters. Turei says the parties have worked well together, citing the likes of the manufacturing inquiry as evidence. But will that be enough to make New Zealand First want to change the country's direction? And what would New Zealand First voters make of that choice? Those are two more vital questions to ponder.

Comments (24)

by Ken on April 19, 2014

This is why Labour needed to articulate a clear Labour/Green govt as an alternative to National - to give people a reason to seek change that isn't about Winston. Waffle about trucks isn't going to cut it when bold plans could be laid regarding the problems National is ignoring, like climate change, public transport, the housing bubble that will pop again, interest rates, etc. Instead they've chosen to allow Winston to be flooded with attention.

One interesting thing no one seems to have noticed though is that 2014 is not like 2005 in one crucial way. In 2005, the numbers needed to form a govt and pass legislation didn't require the Greens. This surely won't be the case in 2014. No legislation will pass that the Greens don't vote for unless Labour want to reach across to National. Labour will not want the Greens outside the tent given this reality.

by Alex Coleman on April 19, 2014
Alex Coleman

You seem fixated on this Tim. :)


But there are a few factors you haven't considered, and one or two that I think you've not got quite right.

At the same time Turei made it clear she would want to be co-deputy Prime Minister alongside Russel Norman in any Labour-Greens government.

The way I heard it Turei was talking about what would happen if the Greens were given Deputy PM, it wasn't so much a demand, as a clrification that her and Norman would share any such role.

And on the negotiating strength or otherwise of the Greens, it doesn't stop at C&S. If the Greens are shut out of the exceutive, then they are free to vote, campaign and position themselves as they see fit. Shutting them out will give them a veto on any legislation the govt would seek to pass, (as the Greens would not be bound by a coalition agreement to swallow dead rats), they can shape legislation in public via demands for amendements, and get credit for it. 

Should such a govt refuse to co-operate with the Greens on policy, (which is what counts), they will have to go the Ntional aprty to get things doen, and every time they do that the Greens can say to labour and NZF's left wing voters "See, if you want a centre left govt, you have to vote green".

But for all the pontificating about what might happen on the left, I wish we could see some for the right. What would any potential National led government look like?

Can you see Winston sitting in Cabinet with the latest ACT sock-puppet? Will national sideline ACT? Would they give Colin Craig his bottom line of binding referenda? That would be a massive constitutional change, and no one has said a word about it as far as I've seen. No one has even asked the PM what he thinks, as apparently his opinion on what we voters think about Cunliffe is more important to get on the record.

by Andrew Geddis on April 19, 2014
Andrew Geddis

So as it stands, if New Zealand First tells Labour it wants a formal coalition (something history tells us Peters prefers)...

What's that based on? Sure, in 1999 Peters wanted (and got) a formal coalition. But what evidence is there that this was his preferred arrangement when negotiating with Labour in 2005? Remember also that Jim Anderton went into a formal coalition with Labour, yet NZ First settled for the weaker "enhanced supply and confidence agreement".

If New Zealand First said they would only go with Labour if the Greens were sidelined and Labour bowed to that demand, the Greens would have two choices: Give confidence and supply to that government, or opt out and let a National-led government stay in power.

Not necessarily. It is possible that National + NZ First + UF + ACT (assuming Colin Craig is out of the picture, and remembering that Peters has said he won't sit with the Maori Party) won't get 50+% of MPs. In which case, if the Greens tell both Labour and National "no" on confidence, then it is new election time.

by Alan Johnstone on April 19, 2014
Alan Johnstone

I tend to agree with Tim, the Greens will have to take what scraps they are given.

All they have is a nuclear option of a fresh election, being portrayed as wreckers and a National led administration soon afterwards. It's split the party in half, probably fatal.

Götterdämmerung isn't in their best interest.

by Christopher Nimmo on April 20, 2014
Christopher Nimmo

I am really not convinced that Labour will have the talent and experience within their ranks to form a cabinet without the Greens.

by George Hendry on April 20, 2014
George Hendry

When John Key was being interviewed on Hardtalk and taxed with Mike Joy's scientific evidence on the real state of NZ's waterways, the PM said he didn't share that view and added that you can always find a scientist with an opposing view of anything.

Much later I realised that 'the PM's Science Advisor' would therefore have been chosen partly due to his scientific credentials but primarily because his views would allow him to say what the PM wanted said.

Similarly, Tim's opinion piece, while it might also represent his own opinion, seems to be there because it's what somebody else wants said.

What evidence of this can we find?

# 'As the polls stand...'

Last year I asked Pundit for any evidence, any reason we have to assume polls are authentic, trustworthy, not being 'bought' or manipulated. I received no reply addressing what seems an obvious possibilty.

# '... the Greens are backed into an uncomfortable political corner.'

I would welcome being guided by any Pundit contributor, to any reference in public print  to how important it is that any party apart from the Greens 'never gets to govern ever' - so far I have only seen this applied to the 'fascist' Greens. Of course Tim has not said this, but his opinion piece, apparently unsolicited, apropos of and in response to nothing, contributes, I suspect not by accident, to the same pattern.

# Except for the 2005 election, when National reclaimed much lost ground, the Greens have increased their party vote at every election, the only party to which this applies. Admittedly they have a 'problem' (perceived ethical stance) which makes their entering a government or confidence and supply agreement with National 'unlikely'. This 'problem' would seem to reduce their chances of getting into government as compared with a party which is equally open to an agreement with 'left or 'right.'

# However, the same ethical 'problem' seems to be growing them steadily as a party in their own right. Just why they have made their way to a point where they always 'poll' higher than NZFirst and all other minor parties is open to discussion, but it appears necessary for Tim and others to consistently employ the strange logic whereby a party that steadily increases its vote margin over another is somehow 'in the grip' of the party it is outdistancing.

#'... and that makes the Greens little more than bystanders.'

No, not the only 'bystanders', but the ones Tim finds it most important to belittle. Are we starting to see a pattern here? It might explain Alex's point about the absence of pontificating on what a National-led government might look like - the 'left' must be seen as 'the side in trouble', the side with difficulties. And the steadily improving party of the 'left' must be singled out for attack.

# Alan@ '...being portrayed as wreckers...split the party in half, probably fatal.'


by Alan Johnstone on April 20, 2014
Alan Johnstone

"Last year I asked Pundit for any evidence, any reason we have to assume polls are authentic, trustworthy, not being 'bought' or manipulated. I received no reply addressing what seems an obvious possibilty."


Seriously ? Aside form the obvious point that such a conspiracy would involve dozens or hundreds of people and the chance of it being kept secret are basically zero, polling companies are commerical organisations, the vast bulk of their business is non political. It's for retail and other business organisations. Mostly market research. 

Credibility is everything, why would they risk throwing that away.

by Andrew Geddis on April 20, 2014
Andrew Geddis

Last year I asked Pundit for any evidence, any reason we have to assume polls are authentic, trustworthy, not being 'bought' or manipulated.

Well, there is the fact that prior to both the 2008 and 2011 election, the polling average showed the Greens getting more votes than they actually got on election day. So if there is some sort of conspiracy to do down the Greens by manipulating the polls, that seems an awfully stange way to go about it ... .

by Ross on April 21, 2014
Tim I don't altogether agree with your analysis. You place a lot of emphasis on the Greens and what they will or won't do. You don't offer any analysis of the other parties. Confidence and supply is one thing but what is to stop individual MPs voting against legislation a la Marilyn Waring? Surely Labour wouldn't say no to government because it might lose the odd vote in the House?
by Ross on April 21, 2014
I note that Waring didn't vote against the government re nuclear free legislation but she threatened to. Ironically all parties support that legislation.
by Richard Aston on April 22, 2014
Richard Aston

Picking up on Andrew's point " if the Greens tell both Labour and National "no" on confidence, then it is new election time"

That seems to be a very powerful position. Do you think the Greens would do it? If they did whjat would be the response of the voting public or in other words could they spin that to their advantage in a new election or would they be crucified for doing it?


by Fentex on April 22, 2014

But for all the pontificating about what might happen on the left, I wish we could see some for the right. What would any potential National led government look like?

Exactly what it looks like now, so why bother elaborating on that? Discussing a possible change of government isn't discussing much change in the current way of things if Nationla is returned.

National would love to be more 'right' wing, they know however there are lmits to what is acceptable. Their sell off of power companies pushed up against that boundary and I'm personally a bit surprised the giveaway of wealth that was the sale of Genesis in particular was not more rancerous. I suspect that improving economic indicators were responsbile for that.

The business cycle is in their favour (though I personally remain convinced there remains a shoe to drop - as long as financial services represent more than a tirvial part of GDP I believe troiuble brews) and if they win the next election it will be their partners duty, again, to 'demand' some right wing concessions of National for their loyalty (such as Charter Schools, some asset sale, some harsher laws on something or other) that must be, sadly of course (if controversial enough), conceded for steady government to continue.

My biggest sadness in the whole thing is that while I despise National I have no faith in Labour as it is currently constituted. I can't see much of a win in the next election for New Zealand at all, and just hope that whatever else happens the economic news remains good for us so we caqn be happy for that, for a while.

Bloody rain, how can a person be cheerful in this weather?

by Nick Gibbs on April 22, 2014
Nick Gibbs

The polls are accurate and are clear. On Sept 21st John Key will only need one coalition partner and will swallow the dead rat that is Winston Peter's, in return for confidence and supply. Winnie will accept the baubles of Treasurer or Minister of Foreign Affairs. And go on to ruin John's third term.

Cunliffe will be tossed out and Grant Robertson will take over.

Greens will go back to the back benches, but Turei and Russell will survive as there is no one competent to replace them.

by George Hendry on April 22, 2014
George Hendry

Thanks Alan and Andrew. Your responses inspired me to spend my happy Easter researching. Hours of research later I can say :

# Polls are probably not falsified, as there is no need to when you can buy (commission) one, manipulate the result via push polling (see Nicky Hager on Crosby and Textor for how it's done) and use your public platform (Guyon Espiner, TVNZ, October 2008) to disinform the public. Poll company just needs if challenged, to say it was only doing what the customer wanted.

# The above advantages are more available the wealthier you are.

# Manipulation/falsification, if not built into the poll itself is done by the 'analysis', a process which often reveals the motivation of the 'analyst' once you learn how to spot it.

Example : latest Roy Morgan poll (probably the one Tim was 'analysing')

Gary Morgan says:

“Today’s New Zealand Roy Morgan Poll shows National (48.5%) gaining its strongest lead over a potential Labour/ Greens alliance (40%, down 5%) since July 2013 as Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge toured New Zealand. Support for Labour (28.5%, down 3.5%) has slumped to its lowest for nearly two years – since April 2012.

“The slump in support for the main Opposition parties suggests Prime Minister John Key is set to win a third term in office as Prime Minister at September’s election. The strong rise in support for National shows electors have moved past the scandal involving Justice Minister Judith Collins – despite Labour MPs continuing to press the issue. Today’s results show it is time Labour focused more on articulating its policies..."

# 'The strong rise in support for National' was just as likely due to the royal tour, which dominated the news with 100% positive soundbites.

#' Today's results show...'

Telling us what something shows when it is at least equally likely to be showing something different is showing us what the commentator wants us to believe.

Tim's earlier post, 'Underlying Perceptions And The Cunliffe Crisis', is riddled with pro-National spin and in its present form could be lifted unaltered into National's propaganda machine. When Tim writes things like 'there is a perception...', which cannot be verified and marginalises those who do not share the 'perception', and rounds this 'perception' off with 'Tricky Davey', a short, easy summary for us to take away and hopefully regurgitate uncritically later, he does a fine job of emulating the media which after all my research are becoming increasingly easy to identify as partisan.

While trying to keep this post slightly brief, I'd welcome the challenge to share more of the results I've found.

Finally for now, Mr Cunliffe came across to me in Q and A not as someone who is inarticulate and lacks a grasp of policy, but as having succeeded in stating it in spite of Corin Dann's frequent interruptions, not seeking information but attempting to derail him into making a slip re the Labour-Green relationship by saying something that might be (in)conveniently quoted out of context later. Mr Cunliffe is down in the preferred PM polls probably not due to his incompetence or any secret falsification but due to media harassment/distortion about which there is no secret.

Tim's abovementioned items are largely just more of this sort of disinformative stuff. He can and does write perceptively and informatively, and I'm all in favour of that, while requesting that he use the title 'This Is A Political Broadcast For The National Party' if/when it next applies.


by Tim Watkin on April 22, 2014
Tim Watkin

First up, sorry for the disappearance of Pundit these past two days. It seems ownership of our domain name expored – yet no-one had told us that was upcoming and it's OK to do that to websites in the middle of Easter weekend. Idiots. Aaanyway... Lots of interesting comments:

Alex, good points... I may be a little over-fascinated by this scenario! And yes there are questions around who NZF could accept in a National-led government. I might answer those in a quick wee separate post.

Yes, the Greens if left out of government could sit in Bowen House and demand audiences for the majority. As could National to some extent. It'd be interesting to see a L+NZG government balance those two interests. But the Greens have made it pretty clear they're sick of sitting outside of government and want to be in cabinet.

On that front, I didn't say Turei was demanding anything including the deputy Prime Ministership, simply noting it as news and something that again could be hopes dashed on the rocks of NZF.

Andrew: Peters has said in a couple of interviews this year that he thinks formal coalitions are the best and most stable form of government and that he's always had that view. Certainly in 1996 (not '99) he got the most comprehensive coalition thus far.

As for going to another election – well technically, but phew! I think that would be a huge vote loser for the Greens and, in answer to Richard, something they'd be very reluctant to do.


by Tim Watkin on April 22, 2014
Tim Watkin

George, where do I start? No, the polls are not rigged and have a degree of consistency that makes them (the ones we use for our poll of polls anyway) very reliable.

I'm not entirely certain I understand your point, but the emphasis on the Greens governing is that they are the third largest party and the only party/MPs in parliament never to have been in government (Mana hasn't but Harawira has been). They've made it clear they want to be in government now and are tired of waiting. They're in a corner for reasons of simple political maths and positioning (ie ruling out National).

If you don't get how a party with fewer votes can still have sway over a larger party, then you don't get MMP. One of the points of this post is to explain what you seem to be missing – that the smaller NZF has more power (on the polls as they stand) than the more popular Greens. I'm not taking sides on that or belittling anyone, just pointing out the political reality as I see it.


by Tim Watkin on April 22, 2014
Tim Watkin

Ross, I place a lot of emphasis on the Greens, because this post was about... the Greens. No, this post isn't about every party! I don't know about you, but I don't see any potential Marilyn Warings around. Who? Are you saying someone in Labour or the Greens would cross the floor? Sorry, I don't think it's a very likely scenario.

@ George again, it sounds like you did some pretty selective research. The major polls – by TVNZ, TV3, Fairfax, NZ Herald and Roy Morgan – do not use push polling. Fact. Crosby & Textor have nothing to do with those polls, which are the ones we use in our poll of polls and that I base my posts on. Fact.

Do those errors of fact mean you're using your platform to disinform the public? Or just that you made a mistake? Or just that you didn't quite say what you meant? Or that you wanted to provoke? And if you got that wrong in a simple blog thread, are you really in a position to judge, say, that TVNZ poll from 2008 when you know nothing of the context? You can dig out what I've written about that in the past (on Pundit), but as regulars to Pundit know, Guyon is a friend and one of the best journalists I've ever worked with. I don't appreciate people challenging the integrity of good people with no evidence to back it up. He's tripped up more National ministers than you've had hot dinners. (I love much of Nicky's work but we disagree on this one, from memory).

Further, you are complaining about misleading and selective analysis, yet you seem to have read a couple of my hundreds of posts on this site and condemned me on that very thin sample. Which is my opinion not fact, but pretty ironic don't you think? I'm sure National supporters who dislike my analysis will point you to other posts which have been in line with Labour or Greens spin. But when I happen to agree with one party or a other, no I won't label those posts as propaganda: This is my personal analysis on my blog site, and you'll find me coming at things from all sort of angles. Please don't pretend to know my biases from two or three posts.

Finally, as for Cunliffe, I can't think of a single commentator who attributes Labour's woes under his leadership to a lack of policy grasp or being inarticulate (although the baby bonus stuff was embarrassing and he has had to 'clarify' points after a few policy releases, the most recent being the 'no trucks in the right hand lane' effort from last week. That's not clever). I think it's widely acknowledged how articulate he can be, he's just not delivering in other ways at the moment.

by George Hendry on April 23, 2014
George Hendry

Hi Tim

Thanks for your reply and the extra information.

My research included reading, and frequently rereading, dozens of your posts along with hundreds of others. I know my 'research' looks selective but that was the risk I took when deciding to confine my post to a few salient examples. Yes, it would look ironic were I to go off half-cocked on an ignorant and unrepresentative basis, and I find it telling that you were prepared to assume that I had, and to make that incorrect assumption the basis of several of the sentences in your reply, without checking your facts first.

My 'selective 'approach was to click on hyperlinks, not knowing where they would lead me. Your comment 'Here I was more than two years ago' led me to Chris Trotter addressing Graham Edgeler thus:

'It’s why I was so angered by Mr Espiner’s item back in 2008. By failing to use the resources of the public broadcaster to educate the electorate, and refusing to criticise the Opposition’s attempt to delegitimize in advance any coalition which did not include the party which had won more votes than any other single party, he allowed the National Party’s constitutional misrepresentations to pass unchallenged.
By commissioning this poll, and then raising the possibility of a "backlash", Mr Espiner had effectively added his own – and TVNZ’s – support to the National Party Opposition’s campaign to delegitimize in advance any coalition government that did not include the party which commanded a simple plurality of the Party Votes cast. Outraged by this extraordinary display of overt partisanship, I penned "An Open Letter to TVNZ" which was published in The Dominion Post on Friday, 31 October.'

Not having had TV for years I had no idea this had occurred. That Guyon had done what he did then angered Chris, that Graham had argued it could be grounded in democracy (I'd say it can't) annoyed him more.

Not knowing anything but the above about Guyon, I'm pleased he has you as a friend to stick up for him as everyone needs that no matter what they do. As you will know, his very public position at the time must mean he had much greater opportunity to influence the public than I do on my 'platform' - I note the swiftness with which you attacked on the basis of your presumption of my error(s), but hey, I also looked at some examples of the late Sir Muldoon in action and realise it comes with the territory - he was supposed to have said that if we can't stand the heat we shouldn't be in the kitchen.

If I have my facts right and your position on TV3's 'Nation' programme allows you to accelerate the realisation that a government does not have to include the party with the single largest vote total, I'll be pleased to hear people talking about having realised this.

Some final points.I owe Nicky Hager for the gen on push polling by Crosby and Textor but didn't claim it to be being used by our local poll companies - sorry that got misinterpreted. Please feel free to tell me the special name if there is one, for the kind of poll Chris complained of which has a question designed to elicit a particular answer rather than collect information.

And I understand MMP quite well I think, which is why I so heartily approve of some of the posts by Andrew and yourself about who would want to get rid of it and why.


Thanks for your time Tim - now I'm off to read your next post.

by Richard Aston on April 23, 2014
Richard Aston

Great piece by Chris Trotter on the Greens here.

He devides the political spectrum into " two great remaining "meta- narratives" - neo-liberalism and ecologism. The fundamental logic of the former repudiates the inter- relatedness of all living things in the name of the sovereign individual. Ecologism's fundamental insight rejects entirely the logic of individualism in the name of the interdependent whole. In short: "I" gives way to "We". " 

He includes the Labour party in the neo-liberalism camp , abett with some social add ons.
His challenge to the Greens is to stop being so nice , if they get dumped by Labour for NZ First they should force a new election just to make the point that the future of our planet is way more important than political power games.

by Ross on April 24, 2014
Tim, I think you missed my point - would Labour say no to government if it were to lose the odd vote on legislation? I don't think so. Moreover it would not be a good look for the party especially as the Greens would argue that they were prepared to work with Labour...
by Flat Eric on April 24, 2014
Flat Eric

So MMP will work: to ensure that a government that few people want (one that includes the Greens) does not happen.

by Tim Watkin on April 24, 2014
Tim Watkin

SPM, MMP will work whatever the result. Whichever parties cobble together a majority they can take to the Governor-General, it'll be what the majority of people made happen.

Ross, I still don't know what you're saying.

by Ross on April 25, 2014
Tim I thought I was making myself fairly clear but apparently not. The Greens could agree to work with Labour on most issues. But it could reserve the right to go its own way on specific issues (which could or would be identified prior to any coalition agreement was signed). The upshot would be that there would be stable government. However, on the specific issues mentioned in any coalition agreement, Labour could not be guaranteed of Green support to pass legislation. Why would Labour say no to that?
by Ross on April 25, 2014
Last year, Labour's Mondayisation of public holidays bill passed into law. Both National and ACT voted against the bill. The sky didn't fall in for the government despite this defeat. Again, why would Labour be concerned if it lost the odd vote in the house if it were in government?

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