In parliamentary politics it’s the numbers that count

Numbers count in politics. Seven months from the election, how do they stack?

John Key’s National had supermajorities after the 2008 and 2011 elections. In 2008, to National’s 45% and 58 seats, either ACT or the Maori party alone could add five for 63 votes in a Parliament of 122.

National’s 47% and 59 seats in 2011 gave it a majority of the then 121 seats with the Maori party’s three or both ACT and Peter Dunne’s United Future (one each).

A bigger “wasted” vote in 2014 boosted National’s 47% to 60 seats and a majority with any of its tiny helpers — until it lost the Northland by-election to Winston Peters in March 2015, after which it was back to the 2011 state. The rewrite of the Resource Management Act’s purpose clauses was a casualty.

This time, 47% is a stretch, even though household finances — which are what “the economy” is in electoral terms — are not too bad.

Hence National’s applause for the Maori party-Mana deal. Any additional seats for the Maori party to its current one electorate and one list seat would allow National to drop 1% and still have a majority if National voters keep ACT’s David Seymour and Dunne in their seats.

On the other side Labour hopes Greg O’Connor might eliminate Dunne in Ohariu and Andrew Little got excited about urban-Maori populist Willie Jackson’s potential appeal to Maori voters.

To help O’Connor, the Greens won’t stand a candidate in Ohariu. Had a third of the Greens’ 2764 electorate votes in 2014 gone to Labour’s Virginia Andersen, she would have won and National would now need both the Maori party and ACT for a majority.

That adds edge to Maori list co-leader Marama Fox’s threat last week to pull out of the support arrangement with National if a whanau-first provision is not put into the vulnerable kids bill.

Critics called the Greens’ move a “dirty deal”.

Dunne spat tacks in his weekly blog on Thursday. He pointed to National’s 6120 electorate votes in 2014. Any threat of a Labour win would, he said, bring enough of these “very intelligent” people behind Dunne — as they do in Epsom to keep ACT on life support.

Seymour and Dunne are, in effect, proxy National MPs because they would both lose if National supporters backed National candidates. United Future got 0.2% of the party vote in 2014 and ACT 0.7%.

It is also probable that National slightly inflates the Maori party electorate vote by not standing candidates in Maori seats.

Is the Maori-Mana deal cause for National excitement?

In only three of Labour’s six Maori electorates was the combined Maori-Mana vote in 2014 bigger than Labour’s and one was anti-National Mana leader Hone Harawira’s Te Tai Tokerau.

So any gain for National would be at the margin. The margin does count in a tight race. But if National drops below 45%, Peters’ New Zealand First comes into coalition calculations.

That brings into focus the “regions” — the places outside the four or five big or rich cities.

Peters billed his Northland win as a “regional” vote against alleged cabinet pampering of those cities. If Peters can build on his party’s current 10% poll average, it could go comfortably into double figures.

Labour and National take this regional dimension seriously.

Steven Joyce as Economic Development Minister got officials to write regional development plans, building on actual or promising activities — for example, backing a port upgrade study at Opotiki where strong marine farming prospects could generate processing jobs.

Labour’s Little and economic development spokesperson David Clark are touring provinces promising similar supportive action, focused on what Clark calls “deep specialisation”, including in clusters.

For Cadbury-free Dunedin two weeks back it was computer gaming. For Gisborne on Friday it was a prefabricated housing factory using local logs to feed Phil Twyford’s “Kiwibuild” house-building programme.

Curiously, in the Gisborne press release and one-page policy there was no mention of the research-backed 23-page 2014 forestry and wood products policy, which covered tax, power-supply, high-technology, government procurement, support for security of supply of wood, an environmental standard and infrastructure, including education.

Still, Little was pitching not at policy wonks but at middling people. Whom he sorely needs. Labour is averaging 28% in polls. This time three years ago it was 32%, from which it slid 7 points to 25% in the election.

If Labour were to slide just 4 points this year, hold all its current electorate seats (including Napier, where Conservative Garth McVicar split the anti-Labour vote in 2014) and add Ohariu, there would be little space for list-only candidates beyond Little and deputy leader Annette King.

Labour is 2 points up from its end-2016 trough, which might presage better things. But it needs 4 points more, and fast, for real credibility with voters (and with Greens), without which policy will be for the shelf — and the leader with it.

In politics numbers count.