With Auckland Central apparently set to tumble back into Labour’s arms, Chris Trotter asks whether the Greens can reach the 5% MMP threshold

With Auckland Central apparently set to tumble back into Labour’s arms, Chris Trotter asks whether the Greens can reach the 5% MMP threshold
Chloe Swarbrick, Helen White & Emma Mellow.

By Chris Trotter*

The Greens are toast, that’s what it’s beginning to look like. The Newshub-Reid Research poll, broadcast on The Nation, has inflicted a massive blow to Green morale. Far from leading the pack, Chloe Swarbrick is running third – 18 percentage points behind Labour’s Helen White and 2 percentage points short of National’s Emma Mellow. Taking advantage of MMP’s rules, by winning an electorate seat and thereby evading the 5% threshold, would now appear to be off the Greens’ table. It will require an all-out effort, from a party whose ground-game has never been strong, to keep the Green flag flying here.

 The bad news wasn’t made any easier to bear by Swarbrick’s reaction to it. Insisting that the contest remains a close three-way race – when it clearly isn’t – did nothing for her credibility. Now, old political hands will object that no candidate can afford to acknowledge an 18 point deficit with a resigned shrug of the shoulders. There are volunteers out there on the streets busting their guts for you. They have to be reassured that they’re not wasting their time. So, those same old hands would simply say that Swarbrick was doing what she had to do. No biggie.

 Except the Green Party is supposed to be something more than an institution where old hands comfort young pups. That’s Labour.

 One-hundred-and-four years of existence has left Labour with a strong political culture from which young pups can draw counsel and comfort from old hands. Ambitious young Labour candidates are generally blooded in impossible-to-win seats where the National Party vote isn’t so much counted as weighed. They learn the hard facts about New Zealand society on the doorsteps of its citizens. They discover the importance of identifying potential members, activists, donors and (never to be underestimated) sources of political intelligence and gossip. Most importantly, these ambitious young pups absorb – almost by osmosis – the three central questions of electoral politics: 1) Who’s got the votes? 2) Are they vulnerable to being shifted? And, 3) Can they be shifted to me?

 In Auckland Central, Labour’s answers to those questions were always a lot more positive than the Greens’. National had the votes back in 2017 – narrowly. But, in the warm glow of “Jacinda’s” handling of the Covid-19 Pandemic, and following the popular National Party incumbent, Nikki Kaye’s, sudden and unexpected retirement, it was clear that National no longer had the votes it needed to win. Even more encouraging was the indication that not only could those votes be shifted into Labour’s column, but that they were already there. Helen White was knocking on an open door.

 Given Swarbrick’s universally acknowledged smarts, all of the above would have been depressingly clear to her. She would have researched the history of the seat thoroughly and grasped very early the core political truth that Auckland Central voters can only be persuaded to abandon their traditional allegiance to Labour when the party is perceived to be failing, in some important way, to live up to its principles and promises. That’s how the Alliance’s Sandra Lee took the seat from Labour’s most ruthless Rogernome, Richard Prebble, in 1993. That’s how Nikki Kaye finessed the double-impact of John Key’s soaring popularity and Labour’s increasingly disappointing performances, into four straight victories: 2008, 2011, 2014, 2017.

 That Labour’s performance was no longer regarded as disappointing would have been clear to Swarbrick from the moment the nation went into Lockdown. Overnight, the rising level of frustration with the Labour-led coalition government’s indifferent performance was swept aside by the Prime Minister’s pitch-perfect songs of kindness and solidarity.

Not even National’s revolving-door leadership woes could improve Swarbrick’s chances. Had the Greens been positioned in principled isolation on the cross-benches for the past three years, preaching the gospel of climate change and rising inequality with uncompromising fire and brimstone, there might have been a chance. But that is not where they have been. Jacinda has comprehensively outshone her unflinching footstool, and NZ First had delighted in contrasting its own macho intransigence with the Greens’ embarrassing political masochism. No matter how impressive she is as a young, extremely effective and fearsomely well-informed politician, Chloe Swarbrick was never going to beat Helen White. As Saturday’s Newshub poll made clear, Auckland Central is going back to Labour with a vengeance.

Which leaves the Greens facing a gruelling uphill slog towards the 5% threshold. The party’s only real hope is that enough left-leaning voters, poised to reward Jacinda’s Labour Party, will now feel obligated to cast a “pity vote” for the luckless Greens. Such generous gestures towards political diversity on the Left were what saved them in 2017, after Metiria Turei’s heroic self-immolation had thrown the Greens’ electoral survival into serious doubt. The 64,000 vote question in 2020 is: Will it happen again?

 Maybe. But it’s a big maybe. For the sort of voter far enough to the left to contemplate making such a gesture, the behaviour of the Greens has not been especially encouraging. On the one hand, there’s James Shaw’s “get real, we’re in the big league now” green capitalist pragmatism. On the other, the uncompromising ultra-leftism of Marama Davidson and Golriz Ghahraman, who buzz-killed the “They Are Us” unity of 15 March 2019 with their divisive attack on the irredeemable white supremacist prejudice of Pakeha New Zealand. Add to that the Green Party’s unrelenting attacks on any feminist who dares to question the trans community’s rejection of fundamental biological classifications, and the Greens have pretty-much guaranteed that they can kiss the votes of the Traditional Left goodbye.

 The other factor militating against a repeat rescue mission from the Traditional Left is the intriguing prospect of Labour being able to govern alone. The last time the party was in a position to do this was 33 years ago. The exigencies of proportional representation, even in the attenuated form adopted by New Zealand in 1993, should render the prospect of one party rule vanishingly remote. In the time of Covid, however, and with Jacinda bobbing above the political fray like an image of the Virgin Mary in a procession of the faithful, who knows? The truly fascinating question, of course, is: What would such a government be like? How far has Labour come since 1987? If there was nobody to stop them, what would they do? Hell! What wouldn’t they do!

 The question Chloe Swarbrick should have asked in response to Newshub’s dispiriting poll was: Do you really trust Labour to do the right (or left) thing? Acknowledging Helen White’s impressive lead, she should simply have invited the voters of Auckland Central to recall the famous dictum of Lord Acton:

 “All power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”


*Chris Trotter has been writing and commenting professionally about New Zealand politics for more than 30 years. He writes a weekly column for interest.co.nz. His work may also be found at http://bowalleyroad.blogspot.com.

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74 Comments

If it matters: not a very diverse bunch of candidates....

There is a good sized element in the electorate that will vote for the Greens willy nilly. That is because they identify the party with the strong international profile of the Green movement, such as the political equivalent in Germany. For example our elderly neighbours vote for the Greens thinking that is more or less the same as Greenpeace. I might vote for them here too, if they were an actual Green Party first and foremost.

Correct. I will be voting for Sustainable NZ, as a vote for the environment.

This article is 90% CS and 10% Greens. Life will go on just fine if she doesn't make it into parliament. Most functioning Kiwi's care about conservation, but I think we are inconsistent. Many once pristine rivers are now unswimable but we can't dredge a small part of Coromandel Harbour to create jobs, tourism and have less cars on the road? We need targeted development, replant as much native as possible, sort the rivers and protect the oceans. Social justice and climate change can come after that.

Well, no, climate change has become extremely urgent, it needs to #1

You would prefer to do what exactly before fixing our rivers and planting native tree's, drive an EV???

This time last year, 97% of NSW was in drought, it was a climate emergency and today only 3% is in drought, there is going to be a bumper harvest and the reservoirs are full.

Its winter.

Two year dataset? Useful...

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Their social and tax policies are so extreme/fringe that there is no way they come close to representing 5% of the population. If they stuck to environmental issues they would do much better.

These days when I think ”Greens” the first thing that comes to mind is woke mafia, not environmentalists.

Agree. NZ is comparatively a very progressive country anyway, so adding social media-driven SJW policy is not really going to add bang for political buck. We don't need more welfare, we need more tax relief to working people on lower incomes. It amazes me that no party seems to get that, other than ACT (who themselves aren't overly focused on that income bracket....) I wouldn't disagree with capital taxes or CGT, if the lower income tax brackets were adjusted accordingly. I'm so irritated by the lack of electoral choices, that I wish that there would be a successor to the McGillicuddy Serious Party out there. NZ Public/Advance and the "Outdoors" parties don't really count.

We also need less welfare for the wealthy and for investment property.

I do not think they are more extreme than the half baked neoliberal policies from the other parties which in reality represents just the 1%, who you see in the other extreme usually depends how far from the centre each of us is.

Agree. What is going to happen to those poor private schools if the Greens don't get in again.

For now not much difference between left and right parties.

Voters do not have much choice.

Yeah, the Greens' wealth tax and huge spend up on benefits looks very similar to Act's policy of cutting the 30% tax rate to 17.5% and slashing government spending.

Maybe you need to get your eyes checked. I guess they do both agree on cannabis so maybe that's the explanation for your confusion?

I believe Stuart was referring to the two largest political parties being increasingly centrist with relatively homogenous policy positions. Tax cuts from national is a tack away to the right in my opinion.

I know for myself and many other voters there is interest in moving from placing ones political views on a spectrum (left vs right) and being policy led with parties such as TOP. That approach frees one from the died-in-the wool tribal politics and instead voting on evidence based policy with less emphasis on the people who (try to) run the show.

He didn't say Labour and National, he said left and right parties. If he meant something else he should have said something else.

Was talking about two major political parties in NZ.

Both National and Labour belong to the right side of the spectrum and in reality their policies are pretty similar when it comes to what they actually do when they are in power.

I wouldn't say Labour are to the right of centre - I think they are the centre of the centre

So, contrary to the earlier opinions, the Greens and the Nationals will be the big losers in this election ?

If Greens get knocked out at the election it shows that young people don't really care about Global Warming and that will hopefully mean there's no need for the endless stream of "the world is going to end this year" clickbait articles in the media!

I agree. This election could be mildly different in terms of voter turnout because 18-24 aged might care to register and vote because of the Cannabis referendum. Already can see university campuses littered with 'cast your vote on the referendum' fliers.

A fall below 5% could spell doom for the Green party, at least in its current form.

As an anecdote, my relation has registered to vote in order to vote yes on cannabis referendum - doesn't usually vote. Haven't asked if they're voting Green. Haven't seen much commentary or statistics on this?

No it doesn't. It shows that young people don't like the rest of the pill that they're being forced to swallow with it.

The environment and climate change is important. This I agree on with the Greens.

But the answer isn't necessarily heavy handed state intervention. Capitalism isn't necessarily evil and isn't necessarily incapable of dealing with this problem as witnessed by the huge divestment away from fossil fuels over the past few years by insurance and pension funds.

The above two statements are treason to the ultra-left faction of the Greens that has taken the reins because facing facts and updating your expectations, perspective and proposals in the face of new evidence is not something that ideologues tend to be very good at doing.

Or Labour have stolen their vote by effectively co-opting many of the ecological policies.

The Greens don't care about global warming either, at least that is what is implied by their population and immigration policy.

I don't see much that's problematic with their immigration policy. It's mainly focused on refugees and focusing on bringing people in with environmental/ climate change specialisation. It rightly takes a skeptical view of the business investment category.

Greens, as far as I have seen, are the only party to even mention that there is a limit to population growth. A start, at least

It's a good point. Time for youth to really vote for climate action if they really care

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The Greens had a chance in Government and failed. Their ministers presided over the Light Rail fiasco without a word, yet supposedly threatened to collapse the government over the second Wellington tunnel. They've approved water bottling and mining and their 2020 election manifesto is all the policy that didn't matter enough for them to see through in this term- i.e. most of it.

It will be a shame to lose Swarbrick, but the Green Party is not a values movement, it's a license to occupy seats without being expected to deliver on your megaphone saber-rattling. They had their chance, and they were found wanting.

They were always playing second fiddle behind NZFirst. Really difficult to judge what they would have achieved without them.

This isn't much of an excuse, they were always going to have to work with NZ First if they wanted to be part of a Labour arrangement.

That is clearly only hindsight talking because you're looking at the actual results, not the potential they had going in to election day. Labour could have gotten 40-42% and Greens could have gotten 6-7%, in which case NZFirst would have been the minor player or perhaps not in government at all.

And for this election, it is more likely to be Labour + Greens than it is Labour + Greens + NZFirst.

It's more likely to be Labour alone than the Greens - which is a shame, as the Green's supposed preferred option for Light Rail in Auckland makes more sense than Labour's. However, I also know it actually doesn't matter to the Greens because they sat back and let it blow out into a massively over-specc'd PPP nightmare, despite having an Associate Transport Minister portfolio. So I ask again: what's the point of having them there?

And would you then have James Shaw join Labour as Ardern's speech writer, so she can keep him close.

This was Trotter on one of his bad days. (he does have good ones.) Labour "nurtures pups" - sigh.
As for the Greens - they might do better if they were actually green. But they have bastardised that idea entirely.
I have fingers crossed they won't make 5%.
Hopefully a real environmental party will arise afterwards.

I guess everyone's forgotten about Vernon Tava's Sustainable New Zealand Party.

Name doesn't exactly roll of the tongue.

Good point Lanthanide.

I quite like this party, they have some good policies.

I predict that if Labour gets to govern alone they will go radical - not many people expected Roger Douglas's extreme measures.
We'll get hate speech legislation that will in reality mean censoring free speech, plus anything else that is more ideological without costing taxpayers much.

Why do you think they'll suddenly be concerned with what things cost taxpayers? They effectively raised taxes in the last term. I think you're right in that we'll see them go alone, but I'm expecting a post-election BNZ-style "oh shit" moment and an interim budget in short order.

I didn't mean that- the main argument they've been using for not doing things is because they need the money for Covid measures. If they can't be accused of that then they'll go hard. All except for a CGT that is.
Any government that doesn't index income tax brackets to the CPI or the average wage is effectively raising taxes. It took National 9 years to get around to talking about doing something about it.

Pretty poor prediction IMO.

Hate speech legislation confirmed. I thought they'd at least wait until after the election for that doozy.

So where do we end up if Labour don’t get enough to win the required number of seats to govern alone, the greens and NZF don’t make 5% and national and act combined
don’t surpass Labour? Hung parliament? Is this a possible outcome?

Wasted vote is redistributed proportionality to the other parties in Parliament.

Say the wasted vote is very large, at about 12% amongst NZFirst, Greens and other minors. Say Labour get 46%, National get 36% and Act get 6%. Act + National are still at 42%, Labour are at 46%. On the simple face of it, Labour wins.

In terms of effective electoral maths, how it works in practice is that Labour would get (46/88)% of the wasted vote, National would get (36/88)% of the wasted vote, and Act would get (6/88)% of the wasted vote. So the adjusted seat results would behave as if:
1. Labour got 46% + 52.27% of 12% = 46 + 6.27 = 52.27%
2. National got 36% + 40.91% of 12% = 36 + 4.91 = 40.91%
3. Act got 6% + 6.82% of 12% = 6 + 0.82 = 6.82%

Note that the final results would still be Labour 46%, National 36%, Act 6%, it's just the extra seats in the house are divvied up as per above, as if each party had gotten that large of a primary vote.

So as you can see, Labour would have ~52.27% of the seats in the house (62.7 seats) and therefore a slim majority government in this scenario.

Edit: 12:23pm, realised the maths was slightly wrong before and didn't add up to 100%, figures updated, showing Labour with a clearer majority.

cheers, makes sense

I kind of hope such a large proportion of the vote is 'wasted'. Hopefully this would cause outrage and the polis would demand the threshold be lowered for entry to parliament.. wishful thinking of a more representative democracy..

Yes, I'm hoping so too. If we go from 5 parties in Parliament to 3, with no-one else getting back in (Maori Party have a chance, the rest don't really) then it'll be difficult to deny that we need electoral reform. 3% threshold and canning the coat-tailing rule, or allowing as many coat-tailers as electorates won, are my prescription.

"She would have researched the history of the seat thoroughly ....."
Really? Either a sarcastic comment from CT or the party apparatchiks would have done that for her.

And they cant see it for themselves?

Add it up
Genter blocked Victoria tunnel
Genter blocked release of memos regarding same
Genter pushed cycleways for Wellington's winters
Ghahramin championed Bouchani's entry and residency
Ghahramin championed refugee increase to 1500
Davidson front and centre on Ihumatao
James Shaw shot himself in the foot
Wealth Tax on everyone
They keep shooting themselves in the feet

They also didn't ditch Shaw for Swarbrick as a co-Leader, which was really their last chance to seize the initiative in Auckland Central. It would have been difficult, but it could have been done.

Their constitution requires male and female co-leaders, so I think it's a bit more 'difficult' than you imagined when you wrote that comment.

I'm aware of what their constitution says.

I really want a green party/voice in parliament, but I'm not sure I can put a tick to this lot as I had intended, they really aren't very green at all.
TOP will be my next choice.

I quite like a lot of TOP's policy, however I think realistically it's a wasted vote. However, I respect people who vote for them on policy grounds.

My plans for this year is to hold my nose and vote Greens if it looks like NZFirst will be getting back into Parliament - so far they aren't. Otherwise vote TOP.

Nice. I might consider the same.

Not very green ???
-Zero carbon bill
-banned single use plastic bags
-biggest doc funding increase ever
-$1.3 billion for nature based jobs
- warm dry houses
-doubled protection for dolphins
the list goes on . https://www.greens.org.nz/our_achievements
They have simply been overshadowed by NZ First's grandstanding , and media attention to their more socialist/ liberal policies. Plus , Labour has relied on them to push the more leftish policies. Seems the Maori Party have moved to the left for Maori, But who stands up for the rest of the disadvntaged if the Greens aren't there. I suspect the Greens would concentrate on the enviroment if there was a socialist party to cover the leftish stuff. i would argue they achieved more than NZ First did , if you don't count the "handbrake" that winston seems to think of as an achievement.

I would love to see the Greens back in to truly take it to the self indulgent boomers but Jacinda needs to be given a clear mandate that NZ backs her positive engaging style.

Given how dismally her and her team perform in every aspect of government other than crisis management. I strongly hope that she doesn't get given any sort of mandate

There are plenty of voters would love a shot of wheatgrass to throw in with their raspberry smoothie labour party government.
But the concentrated goodness they seek is about the environment. Anyone who craves maxiumum wokeness or wealth tax has already decided to vote green. Otherwise , the raspberry smoothie has been shown to be palatable but pretty lacking in substance. Voters want to believe they are doing something to preserve the planet for the future generations, so they do seek that green tinge.

If greens sound the alarm bells - we need 5% or else - they might yet get in.

Another good article.
I guess a key question for us on the left is whether Labour will be more effective without the NZ First hand brake? Noting sometimes that hand brake has been a good thing...
I just don't have enough confidence in Labour to switch my vote to them from Greens. Putting the NZ First hand brake to one side, I think they have been underwhelming, failing to deliver on much of their policy, and a lot of the time incompetent. A vote for the Greens doesn't address the incompetence issue, but it does address the policy issue.

Yes, Fritz, in some ways the NZ First handbrake has been a political lifesaver for Labour, as any traditional left wing policy that could be done (but wasn’t) is easily blamed on NZF - in fact they don’t even have to be explicit as the electorate just knows the situation now.
If Labour rules alone next term then they will need to keep their base happier and have no moderating excuse.

Which is why I think they'll go into coalition with the Greens even if they could govern alone, just to keep them onside for 2023 and it lets them get in more progressive policy while pinning it on the Greens.

Greens NZ seem to be more focussed on socialist policy than environmental causes.
They got 6.3% last election with 8 seats (no electoral) - that’s a big gap for a new Labour coalition.

I have a teenager at home, him and is mates will only vote for the Greens. So the tide is turning!

They have to vote first

I think the 'Sustainability Party' would be a more accurate name, but it doesn't role off the tongue....
They are clearly focused on sustainability across it's 4 dimensions- environmental, social, cultural and economic

Actually Chris, Lord Acton wrote “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Not all exercise of power is inherently corrupt, otherwise wise government may never be possible. MMP has provided a structural check against Muldoonist/Douglas absolutism but the current setting of our version of proportional representation may not provide sufficient check on a potentially abusive future Labour government with an outright majority. On the other hand, a zealous media and natural kiwi scepticism about politicians just might.

Their envy tax policies IMO were their death nail, as it would affect many people who own a house in Auckland. IMO they would have been better to come out with a proper solution for the NZ housing crisis which just keeps getting worse with the cheap money we can buy. I do like their environmental policies, and I think they are a good party to have in, but they shouldn't have released their extreme envy tax policies IMO.

We need to reduce the envy tax on workers by those who lack the skills to make such incomes. It's a bit weird we exempt unearned income while allowing envy to target earned income.

Greens don't have any street cred. I think they are seen to be a bunch of hypocrites.
Don't think they will be missed in the Parliament. Or the Government, for that matter.