The gerrymanders and National's 2017 constraints

Parliament is back in business with National in charge to a degree not seen since first-past-the-post “parliamentary dictatorship” days — thanks to three successful gerrymanders and one failed one.

Two of the successful gerrymanders were National’s contrivances to get its loyalists to vote David Seymour and Peter Dunne in in electorate seats. ACT and Dunne could once get there without help but not on September 20.

The third successful gerrymander is the Maori party’s coattail second MP. The Electoral Commission recommended an end to coattailing. Judith Collins did not put a bill into the House encoding the commission’s recommendations, as democratic propriety suggests.

The failed gerrymander was the faustian pact between Kim Dotcom and Hone Harawira to trade an electorate seat for stash of campaign funds and, from that trade, the hope of a stack of list seats.

This pact more than doubled Mana’s 7345 party vote in general seats in 2011 to 18,833 for Internet Mana.

But if Harawira had not done the deal, which upset some supporters, he would likely still be an MP. Losing his seat tossed his and Dotcom’s votes into the wasted-vote bin so National’s 47.0 per cent got 60 seats when in 2011 47.3 per cent gave it only 59.

Thus, John Key was the beneficiary of the failed faustian pact. Had it worked, Laila Harre would have coattailed Harawira. National would have finished with 59.

That is, Key would now need either Dunne or the Maori party for a majority for legislation in addition to reliable ACT.

Dunne has already distanced himself on the Resource Management Act and questioned the proposed added spying powers.

The Maori party, reduced to a shadow of its former self, in part because of the Key connection, has a looser arrangement than in the first two terms.

So Key owes Dotcom. That is not just for the sixtieth seat. There was collateral damage to Labour and the Greens as probably needing Internet Mana for a majority. Then Dotcom put on a spy spectacular on September 15 which, anecdotal evidence suggests, prodded some National-leaning people out of complacency.

Nevertheless, Key’s position is not so commanding when set in the context of a bid for a fourth term in 2017.

Dunne is unlikely to survive another election, especially if Labour picks up. His electorate margin was down to 710 and his party got a microscopic 0.22 per cent of the party vote.

The Maori party will at some point need to cut the tie with National if it is not to be cut to just Te Ururoa Flavell’s seat.

That points Key toward Winston Peters. Key has muttered about trying to find things to do with New Zealand First. There are some possibilities but these days New Zealand First’s manifesto and members are much closer to Labour on most issues.

Next stop: Colin Craig’s Conservative party.

Many in the National party don’t want a bar of Craig. But his brand of populist conservatism is an extension of a minor tendency within National.

If National were to work with and coach Craig and get him Parliament-ready, he might conceivably be developed into gerrymander material for a seat in 2017 or even clear 5 per cent. (Alternatively, Amy Adams could in theory put the Electoral Commission’s recommendation of 4 per cent into a bill.)

In short Key’s personality is unlikely to be enough on its own in 2017.

That requires of Key better handling of delicate issues than his mixed and misleading messages on extra spy powers, the Middle East military (or something) role and the high-octane Washington military summit last week which he tried to spin as a regular meeting. Imported paranoia has limits.

Contrast former National leader Jim Mclay’s consummate diplomacy in securing the Security Council seat.

In third terms delicate issues proliferate. Key personally has less leeway now, not least with some of his conservative supporters.

Labour could add to his complications.

The leadership contenders’ various qualities can be woven into a unit because MPs entering a third powerless term are keener for actual unity.

Andrew Little is from a National family, a former party president, a proven union boss (though with detractors) and known to business. David Parker has done the most coherent first-principles rethinking (but is not a compelling presenter). Grant Robertson is slimmer, campaign-savvy and has a saleable “new-generation” running mate (though insider white-anters are already stirring homophobia). Nanaia Mahuta’s best prospect is deputy.

Who wins will need to remodel the leader’s office, shake up the party council and spread Labour into the suburbs and provinces. Policy tweaking won’t be enough.

It is general direction, not specific policies, that count. Proof? National’s promise in 2011 of deeply unpopular asset sales, when carried out, did not count against it in 2014.

But 2017 is not 2014. By then it is highly likely National’s policies will need to carry a different mix of support parties, gerrymanders or not. And Dotcom won’t be on hand to help.