Keith Rankin: Labour, But Not Too Much Labour

Published: Thu 13 Jun 2002 09:23 AM
Labour, But Not Too Much Labour
Keith Rankin, 13 June 2002
In the past I have argued that tactical voting was the norm under the former FPP voting system, and is the exception under the present MMP system.
Under the old system, rather than voting for the party they liked the most, people in marginal electorates voted for the candidate most likely to defeat the candidate of the party they disliked the most. (We should note here that probably 95% of votes, while ostensibly for candidates, were really for the party.) In safe seats (the majority of seats), people often voted for minor parties, in large part because voters knew that their vote would play no part in deciding who would be the government.
Under MMP we thought that tactical voting would be largely confined to electorates like Coromandel or Tauranga which had a realistic chance of being won by a candidate of a party other than National or Labour.
The interesting issue that has now emerged is the distinction between voting for a party and voting for a government.
In 1999, the Alliance was perceived as the most left party, Labour as the least left 'left' party and the Greens somewhere in between. I propose the following scores of 'leftness' in 1999: Alliance 3; Green 2; Labour 1; NZ First 0; United; -0.5; National -1.5; Act -3. The result is that the average leftness of the newly elected Parliament was 0.058 and the average leftness of the Government (including the Greens) was 1.409.
Apparently there was an exaggerated late swing to Labour as a number of urban National supporters switched to Labour in order to increase the dominance of Labour in the new centre-left government. If that swing had not taken place, Labour would probably have got 1 seat less and National 1 seat more. That would have meant a Parliament with a leftness rating of 0.038 and a Government with a leftness rating of 1.415. This tactical switch to Labour made the Government less left (1.409 instead of 1.415) despite making the Parliament more left (0.058 instead of 0.038).
National's leader Bill English could counter the tactical drift of his supporters to Labour by promising to move towards a more bipartisan, less adversarial, approach to policymaking.
In 2002 the parties' leftness scores will have changed compared to 1999. The Greens (despite their ultra-conservatism on genetic modification) are perceived as more left than before. Labour would only score about 0.1 on today's leftness scale. National would score about -0.5 (ie more left than the -1.5 I suggested for 1999), despite the Boag-Brash influence.
Whatever leftness scores we allocate, the recent polls which reveal a tactical switch from National to Labour suggest that the new Parliament will be more left than otherwise, while the Government will be less left than if this tactic was not being adopted.
Is there a tactical counter to this manoeuvre on the part of National supporters? And who would be interested? Labour supporters will vote Labour. Green supporters will vote Green.
But what of past Alliance voters? A vote for the Alliance this election will be a wasted vote. Many will be reluctant to vote for either Labour or the Greens. It was reported today that both the CTU and the NZUSA would prefer that Labour did not win an overall majority. How does one vote to achieve that goal? The answer is for floating voters to vote for any party likely to win seats, other than Labour.
For example, ex-Alliance voters (and secondary school teachers) could counter the threat of National voters backing Labour by themselves voting National. Each tactical vote for National (or Act) will increase the leftness of the new government while diminishing the dominance of Labour within that government.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of a left voter voting for (i) the Greens, (ii) National, (iii) Act?
A big increase in the Green vote could prove very divisive, and lead to a situation in which the left are summarily dismissed in 2005 (or sooner). It would however have the advantage of signalling that the New Zealand people favour a more collectivist approach to economic management; eg higher taxes and a higher social wage (ie more collective goods and services).
Each left tactical vote for National would counter each right tactical vote for Labour. It would lessen the chance of Labour getting an overall majority while also making it easier for Opposition Parties to resist the 'control freak' tendencies that Labour Governments tend to exhibit.
Left tactical votes for Act (while negating each right tactical vote for Labour) would cause National to look anxiously over its right shoulder in the next three years. They might mean that National will be less of a force in 2005, which would increase the chance of a leftish government lasting until 2008. Further, I feel more comfortable knowing that Act is there in sufficient numbers to soak up the far-right. The less palatable alternative would be the far-right rejoining National. One disadvantage of voting Act tactically is that a vote for Act will be wasted if Act get less than 5% of the vote in July.
Obviously, such tactical voting only makes sense to a left voter if there is no real risk of Labour not being able to form the next government. Political polling is important in giving us the information we need to elect not only a Parliament but a Government which will govern in a democratic and sympathetic manner. Political polls are generally accurate, although they are not always accurately reported.
I agree with the Council of Trade Unions and the New Zealand University Students Association. It would be better to elect a coalition or minority left government than a majority Labour government, even if that means a tactical lessening of the total vote for the left parties.
© 2002 Keith Rankin
Keith Rankin
Political Economist, Scoop Columnist
Keith Rankin taught economics at Unitec in Mt Albert since 1999. An economic historian by training, his research has included an analysis of labour supply in the Great Depression of the 1930s, and has included estimates of New Zealand's GNP going back to the 1850s.
Keith believes that many of the economic issues that beguile us cannot be understood by relying on the orthodox interpretations of our social science disciplines. Keith favours a critical approach that emphasises new perspectives rather than simply opposing those practices and policies that we don't like.
Keith retired in 2020 and lives with his family in Glen Eden, Auckland.
Contact Keith Rankin

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