By Alex Tarrant
National appears to be loving the speculation over the ‘teal deal’ idea of a tie-up between them and the Greens.
Not because it represents a viable alternative to going with NZ First – it doesn’t at the moment – but because it provides Winston Peters with yet another excuse to claim that he’s entering coalition with National for ‘the good of the country’ by keeping Bill English’s lot honest and protecting the provinces.
Past performances mean Peters and New Zealand First need to enter coalition (or the cross-benches) already with a set game plan for the 2020 election campaign. In both 1999 and 2008, NZ First’s party vote dropped below 5% after being in coalition (National, then Labour) – 2008 being disastrous because Peters failed to win back Tauranga.
My hunch is NZ First will primarily aim in 2020 to win off National some of the provincial vote it was targeting this time around, which Bill English (and to some extent Labour) managed to grasp back in the final weeks of the campaign. Recall Peters’ winter ‘Campaign for the Regions’ bus tour – after which he was claiming 15-20% support in the polls, before the real campaign began.
Going with Labour and the Greens, and in doing so stopping the water tax and the Greens’ nitrogen fertiliser tax, represents key headline potential for New Zealand First if it turns Left. Outside of this, it could be that the policy fit between the three could starve Peters and NZ First of clear-cut policy wins (ie. headlines) despite the greater work load available.
On the other side, there is potential for Peters being seen to have forced National to change direction on a few of his bugbear policies, including provincial rail, skills (and hence – he’ll be able to argue – immigration), and perhaps a scoping study for moving Ports of Auckland.
Now, with all this speculation and comment – admittedly from outside the Green Party – you can add to that the ‘win’ of stopping National from going with the Greens. For National, talk of the teal deal could be drawing Peters in to their net. Labour, by all accounts, is a tad annoyed by all the speculation, which it doesn't think is a story.
Several former Green MPs have said recently that it would be political suicide for the party to consider going with National – this time around at least. Any coalition deal requires a 75% vote at a Green Party general meeting. It is assumed that the voting grass-roots just won’t allow a deal with National, no matter what is offered up on climate, rivers and poverty reduction.
Let’s take them at that, and acknowledge National accepts the argument. Bill English reckons time is required before the Greens can respond favourably to the public discourse around a Blue-Greens tie up. Basically, it might take a while before the Greens are in position to consider supporting National on some policies in exchange for getting a platform of some of their own ideas through. Alternatively, they might never agree to this. Either way, it doesn’t look like a near-term option.
The prospect of the Greens perhaps warming to the idea over a year or two – if everyone just keeps talking about it – might keep Peters from sitting on the cross benches. If he does sit in the middle, and National announces a work programme in year two of poverty reduction, river clean-up and climate change, then that might only serve to bring the Greens around to supporting certain policies. This will then take up Parliamentary time Peters had his eye on to support supply of Treasury funds for Nationals’ work stream in exchange for a bunch of regional infrastructure projects.
Meanwhile, for all the talk of changes required on the Greens’ side, there would have to be a massive shift at the top of National for the party to entertain a formal coalition with the Greens – particularly from the pre-John Key generation which includes heavyweights English and Gerry Brownlee (and Joyce – he got involved after the 2002 loss). Teal deal supporters who would rather a National-Greens government than a National-NZ First one are watching out for a shift in sentiment from these names more than anything else. Having English just say ‘oh it’s possible’ hasn’t got them excited yet.
National’s grass-roots, too, would take a lot of persuading. Imagine seeing the Greens support National policies and vice versa. There would have to be a real campaign to convince them there was no hidden agenda. That would be just as tough a job for English as the one Shaw faces with his grass-roots.
The Greens, for their part, should know that it is much more likely National will enter coalition with New Zealand First, than themselves, in the next week or two. If this is the case, then I think James Shaw at some point needs to come out and say very strongly that he won’t be negotiating with Bill English, rather than allowing for ongoing speculation. (I admit he’s trying, but he needs to be firmer.)
(Update: Shaw spoke to media Tuesday morning. Video above.)
This would mean Peters doesn’t have the extra ammunition of arguing that, by going with National, he stopped National going with the Greens. This would effectively serve to improve the prospects of him taking the Labour-Greens option – going with the alternative headline potential of stopping the water and nitrogen taxes and bringing the Left around on 'appropriate' climate change policy.
If not, then National will be handed another ‘win’ that it can be seen being forced to grant to Peters (“we won’t work with the Greens if in coalition with NZ First”). For Peters, it could be a case of, better being seen to have done some work on a small number of policies than not being seen doing a lot of work helping somebody else’s policy platform through.
Particularly in the land of the three-year electoral cycle where coalition deals based on agreed policy platforms have not gone too well the next election.