What lies beneath this election campaign

Just under a month out from Election 17, the former deputy Prime Minister looks at the state of the parties and makes some picks

While it has been easy to see the headline goings-on in the lead-up to the election campaign proper - you can barely blink before something else happens - beneath the leadership froth more fundamental things are underway. 

For starters, the standard bases of party support are returning to their long-standing normal positions; and second, at the margin, the Greens are being a bit cannibalised as a result of their leadership fun and games. The standard bases parties can usually count on are National mid 40%’s, Labour mid 30%’s, Greens and NZ First 6% - 8% each.

The Maori Party struggles to make 2%, Act struggles to make 1% and United Future now that Peter Dunne is gone will go from margin of error to nix.

That is the base standard. As far as the campaign is concerned, the final outcome will depend on who moves support a few percentage points one way or the other above base at the margin for National and Labour. A lot now will depend on their party leader’s performance over the campaign.

Jacinda Arden has reawakened the Labour Party and for sure brought them back to their base level of support. Her challenge now is to look credible in the policy sense. Hiding behind working parties will cost her in the end – they need to be direct about what they will do. And while Bill English can fairly claim that he has run the economy well, that will not be enough. After three terms at the helm, he has to create freshness and a sense of vision for the future.

The purpose of having a strong economy is not for its own sake – so we can sit back and look at it - but for what we can do with it. What sort of future do we seek? Not so much “delivering for” but “what I will deliver”.

My pick is that while wounded, the Green Party base, especially amongst younger voters will mean they hold a position in the House post-election – weakened of course – but still there. I fully expect them to beat the 5% threshold and to be relieved they survived.

With Ohariu, National are definitely down one seat now – the already minimal chance of repeating the Ohariu overhang seat in 2017 are now completely out of the picture. Even though he had an active campaign to hold Ohariu underway – billboards already up everywhere - Peter Dunne read the tea leaves and seeing he would surely lose, pulled the pin.

There is one interesting outlier this year – Gareth Morgan and the TOP Party. They seem to be regularly touching around the 2% mark in most polls. It reflects an interest in fresh new ideas. I looked at some of their material – it's blunt but honest and interesting.

The Basic Minimum Income (BMI) idea would need work to fully develop, but at least someone is thinking of new ways to deal with income distribution in a world where automation and new technology will render traditional ways a earning a living for so many of us, and especially the lower skilled, obsolete. But with MMP rendering votes below the five percent threshold wasted (actually proportionally distributed over the succeeding parties), actually voting that way has a big downside.

The reality is that support levels in the electorate are such that there is no prospect of either National or Labour winning on their own. The obvious outcome is that Winton Peters and New Zealand First will be the kingmaker. Which way he will go will depend on how many of those marginal votes either Bill English or Jacinda Arden manage to pull in their respective directions.

I saw Stephen Joyce and Grant Robertson on Q & A both adamantly denying they will give ground on a New Zealand First bottom line. I could picture in my mind Winton Peters sitting on his couch with that huge mischievous grin on his face watching this unequivocal ‘we will hold the line against that’ bottom line proposal.

Things will change when it is a real negotiation for who comes out on top after the election.