Given the traditional support the rural sector has provided to National it would feel remiss not to make some comment on the recent events that have afflicted the National Party.
I was brought up in a household and community where it was assumed everybody would vote National, and if at election time it was revealed in the local rag that some-one had voted for another party, then a minor witch hunt would ensue. No harm was ever done, much, but it did colour how some folk viewed their neighbours.
Things got a bit more blurred when the likes of the Values Party emerged and sons and daughters started coming home from universities and the like, and later the Bob Jones Party created even more confusion.
However, through it all National remained head and shoulders ahead of the pack, a situation which largely still exists to this day.
So, with this background there will be a lot of ‘turning in graves’ over the events which are starting to resemble an airport departure lounge within the National Party. The number of MPs that have left (and some returned) must be a matter of concern. My view was that when Todd Muller and Nicky Kaye were selected it looked like National might have a chance of contesting the next election as they appeared more centrist and may regain some of the ‘middle ground’ which both Labour and National rely upon if they wish to govern.
The selection of Judith Collins supported by Gerry Brownlie, while arguably the obvious choice given the short time frames leading up to the election, seems a move back to the right.
This will appease many of the more hard-core National supporters and may prevent any slippage to ACT, however, it is not, in my view, going to win them the election. Both Collins and Brownlie come in with baggage that has resulted in divisions in the past and this will still cloud many would be voters’ views going forward.
One good thing that will come from the new leadership is that the current government will be held to greater account.
This is good no matter from what side of the spectrum you are, as to achieve good government you need good opposition. Judith Collins in particular, love her or not, does command respect as a formidable adversary. The issue going forward to the elections for farming is, assuming you are a rational being, which party do you vote for?
With a little bit of tongue in cheek it has been suggested that the New Zealand First party may become the home for the farming sector (I can feel some shivering from here). But there is a logic of sorts. It can almost be assumed that Labour will get the largest number of votes in the upcoming election. This is where the crystal ball needs to be polished, will they be able to govern alone or with ‘just’ the Greens; or, will they need New Zealand First to make up the numbers. If National are going to make a viable challenge it is likely they will also need the support of New Zealand First.
Those in the farming sector who wish to avoid a Labour-Green coalition then need to decide do they back National and hope or back New Zealand First and (still) hope the Collins and Peters can come to some agreement to work together. Shane Jones has been sharing the love with the regions and may have gained enough kudos to get the support required to get their numbers up, and conversely the Greens have been missing in action among all the noise of COVID-19. It is unlikely in any event (left field events notwithstanding, and the last election when the Labour coalition came in against the run of play leading up to the elections did show these can occur) that National will be in any shape to govern alone and will need New Zealand First.
The concern is with this scenario is that can New Zealand First be relied upon to go with National. I would suggest not. Which then leads me back to unless farmers change colours in mass and decide to back Labour, if they want representation in the Government then New Zealand First is the most likely place to find it and hope enough voters don’t do a wholesale vote for Labour so they don’t need partners.
At the moment there is daylight in the polls between Labour and National but this is bound to closeup as the election draws closer.
Likewise, New Zealand First and the Greens are lagging at the moment, but they also will lift nearer the elections, likely at the expense of Labour. ACT are not really relevant to this discussion except will be hoping that their ‘sweetheart’ deal with National over Epsom remains and in reality are a minor (but important) splinter group of National.
The major reason farmers have been nervous of the Labour/Green coalition is the threat of greater regulations around the environment. While we cannot predict too much forward, most of the regulations likely to be imposed are already in place and from what National has said, even Collins has indicated, they are unlikely to be unwound.
So, the reality is that there may not be as much difference in that area as may have been the case in previous elections.
This fact is also likely to reduce the impact of the Greens on any future government. So, the differences then are more likely to be around the handling of the economy and how the country deals with the COVID-19 induced recession, and debt, and the handling of the borders. Neither major party has been particularly forthcoming to date over these.