Minor Leader's debate: the deal matrix
TV One's minor leaders debate was a revelation. The news walrus managed to keep better order in this than in the rolling maul that was the Clark-Key showdown the other week. Which wasn't the revelation. It was Tariana Turia's positioning of the Maori Party that left me gasping.
Her ballsy reply to Shane Taurima's question on the entrenchment of the Maori seats was a classic moment. But it was Rodney Hide's breezy concession that he would have no problem at all with having the Maori seats entrenched - he even said it was consistent and fair since the general seats were also entrenched - that had me wondering if the Sky decoder had been receiving a signal from a parallel universe or future time where people suddenly stopped being arseholes. Astounding. It was only a week or so ago he was saying it was a racist anomaly that would be opposed vigorously by Act, and now he thinks it would be reasonable to have that racist anomaly entrenched! Amazing. Why the turn - I'll get to that later.
Hide's airy bubble of unreality was quickly popped by the increasingly caustic verbiage of the bouffanted Wellingtron 2000, Peter Dunne. A Dunne freshly massaged and preened by his marriage acceptance from John Key.
Here's how I read the state of play after the debate tonight:
Party - will not be ministers with:
Green - NZ First? (dependent on Police outcome)
NZ First - Act! Green?
Act - NZ First! Labour!
National - Labour!!, NZ First.
Labour - National!!, Act!
UF - Greens. Labour?
Maori - -
NB: Labour includes Anderton
!! = Will never go into any arrangement with them of any description.
! = They would bite half-way through their lip to do it, and only if it was the absolute last option on the table to get the Crown limo. It would be against their official stance but it could still happen if the circumstances demanded it.
. = Unlikely, but certainly not out of the question. I put Key's commitment over NZ First in this camp rather than in the "!" category because the Tories would find it very easy to say yes to Winston continuing as Foreign Minister - the Nats haven't attacked him on his work in that portfolio. Winston is right - Key will cut a deal with him to get in if he has to, ie. to cut out the Maori Party.
? = A half-hearted refusal to deal with them, and then only implicitly, but will instantly fold. Dunne would go with Labour to keep his limo in a heartbeat, Dunne would probably go with Hitler if he got a Benz out of it.
The Maori Party have not been ruled out by anyone and they have not ruled out anyone either. This leaves the Maori Party in a unique position. It gives the Maori Party potentially the most leverage and (depending entirely on whether Winston scuttles in or not) they will be the "king-makers". This much we have known for some time, but the way the dust is settling now gives a clear landscape to survey exactly where everyone lies.
The other revelation was a consensus - all six agreed - that a referendum on MMP or proportionality in the electoral system under the right rules around advertising and given time for an information campaign would be acceptable. I can't believe the Greens gave them that, but Fitzsimons said they would "happily" campaign to retain MMP and expected it would win. Problem is if the Tories time it right they could force the Greens to burn all their campaign resources to retain the system that enables them to be there (ie. at the refendum), but that may weaken them and divert attention away from fighting Tory policies. But Jeanette said they're up for that fight - so be it. She might regret those words.
As for Turia's body language when she carefully gave the Maori party position of supporting a referendum about proportionality rather than MMP per se, that was a total give-away. She knew what she was doing was crafty, political maneuvering that usually does not fit to well with their stated kaupapa, and it was so obvious - there was a pause, a deep breath, a few sideways glances and she broke eye contact and looked down - it was awkward for her but she pushed it out there. Why the uncomfortableness? They want the Maori seats and therefore the Maori roll entrenched, and that does not depend on the existence of MMP - indeed it would suit the Maori party to have the list abolished and go back to FPP given their constituency strength at the moment. I don't think they do want that actually, but the Nats and Act sure do and as I've posted before it is the Tories that need the Maori seats under FPP or else many marginals would fall to Labour if all the Maori roll voters go onto the general roll. There is a deadly logic to it all and the greens are probably privately upset, or at least alarmed that if they put the Nats in they will cook something up between them that would disadvantage the smaller issues parties such as the Greens, ie. the replacement of MMP with a partially proportionate system resembling FPP more than the current MMP system. And when I think of how the Greens are gunning to have Maori roll voters split their votes to deliberately cause a parliamentary overhang I have to say I have lost pity for them. It's a cynical gaming of their own system and one that could be turned into contempt for them over this tactic.
The question left firmly in my mind after hearing Turia and Hide is have they stitched up an agreement in principle - perhaps with National, maybe just between themselves, to entrench the Maori seats and have some sort of a referendum on MMP? That's what an outside observer not aware of all the previous positions might conclude had happened. If so this is huge. Labour - who have refused the Maori party request to get entrenchment legislation into the House - will rue the day if this concession works out - that they dismissed that demand out of hand. This Maori Party bottom line, as she said to Taurima, may actually be a bottom line for National, not for Labour. Labour is the default choice after all, it has less barriers to coalition, and so the Maori Party may demand little and accept even less from Labour... but with National... ?
Listen to the rhetoric this morning from Turia on Labour's Maori policy:
"On the critical issue of retaining the Maori seats, you need to read Labour's words carefully.
"Helen Clark says Labour supports the Maori Option, which gives Maori the say over the seats.
"But in reality, until the seats are entrenched, a simple majority in Parliament can abolish them and Maori have very little say."
Can Key cut this deal!?
Constitutionally it will mean something - but not as much as the Maori-Pakeha symbolism of a Tory and Maori party pact to recognise the constitutional equality of Maori and Pakeha. That has the ability to transcend the technical alteration of a statute. It could herald so much more. As a marker of maturity it could start a flow of governmental decisions that could lead to the formal and appropriate recognition by the Crown of Maori autonomy.
Key won't see it this way.
I'm sure he doesn't operate on that level. He will look to the bottom line of that bottom line, ie. dollars. A change to entrench the seats will not cost a penny. That must be a tempting "trade" (to use his dealer's terminology that occasionally creeps into the campaign banter), but what else do they want. What else? But let's not get ahead of ourselves.
- What the very astute Graeme Edgeler seems to be inferring is that Labour could veto an attempt to entrench the Maori seats. If you believe the extremist line that Chris Trotter takes that is what they would do to poison the Maori-National union. Then again Labour would lose the Maori seats forever for that betrayal, so I don't rate it as a viable option for Labour despite the red neck votes it could pull - most likely these would be effectively vacuumed up by a more credible articulator of race politics: Winston Peters.
The other revelation that may be crucial: Turia said (or rather confirmed, because it was always this way) that anyone on the Maori roll can attend the meetings organised by the Maori Party to decide which way they will jump. Turia said the MPs will go out with the sets of offers on the table and take their lead from the hui. All Labour have to do is stack the hui with their supporters on the Maori roll to swing it for Labour - this creates an even higher hurdle for National. But not an insurmountable one should Labour make the error of being miserly toward the Maori people.]