Legal Beagle by Graeme Edgeler


Good news, everybody (for everybody)

In which Graeme tempts the fates by engaging in political analysis: Hone has won his by-election. And by a wide enough margin that he can feel safe come November.

This is Good for Mana

The win in this by-election allows Mana the safety, at the general election, of campaigning for the party vote, with voters in the knowledge that there votes will not be wasted.

It was a risk, but it was also necessary. And I'd be saying the same had Hone lost. Mana has its Epsom-esque anchor seat. Had Hone waited until the general election, the possibility that he mightn't win would have scared off voters. Perhaps enough voters to diminish their post-election number to by an MP or even 2. It is, I suspect, what happened to New Zealand First in 2002. Tauranga looked close, and the 5% threshold loomed large, so some voters were scared off. With a substantially lower (or no) threshold NZF could well have breached 5%.

The same thing could have happened to ACT in 2005: voters weren't sure Rodney would win Epsom, and ACT slumped to 1.5% and 2 MPs. ACT might not have made it to 5%, but the knowledge a vote for ACT would not have been wasted could easily have seen it with 1 or 2 additional MPs.

I don't expect Mana to reach 5%, but the confidence voters can now have that a Mana vote won't be wasted, could easily be the difference between the ~1.2% of the party vote needed for a second MP and the ~2.0-2.1% needed for a third or (or even ~the 2.8-3.0% needed for a fourth).

Without this safety, the looming threshold could have frightened the voters, and Hone could have been by himself, or with just one colleague. A base of 3 or 4 MPs is a much better platform to build a parliamentary movement than 1 or 2.

This is Good for Labour

Labour held the Maori seats for decades. And

if they want to get back some of those they lost to the Maori Party - if Labour were playing the long game - then a Mana victory is an immense help. I suspect support for Mana and the Maori Party come from similar types of voter, and if those voters are split between Mana and the Maori, the chances of Labour re-taking the other Maori seats at the general election must increase.

Unless, of course, Mana doesn't stand candidates in Maori Party held seats, and thus far, Hone has shown every inclination that he really doesn't want to.

This is Good for the Maori Party

The Maori seats are the lifeblood of the Maori Party.

If the Maori Party wishes to hold onto its seats - or even take Labour's Maori seats from it - then it doesn't want Mana running against them. Hone has his seat, and has now removed any doubt that it is his seat. In each Maori electorate there is likely to be room for only one candidate seeking the support of voters inclined to the values both Mana and the Maori Party attest. In Te Tai Tokerau, we know that will be Hone. After its loss, the Maori Party is in a better position to learn the lesson.

Hone offered a deal: don't run against me and we won't run against you. Mana seeking the Maori seats held by the Maori Party could be enough for them to lose a number of those seats to Labour.

I really do not think Hone wants that to happen. In spite of the animosity between them, I don't think Hone wants to compete in electorate races with the Maori Party.

At least not yet. In the years to come, who knows? But at the 2011 general election, I'm of the opinion Hone wants Mana to focus on the party vote only. Electorate vote Maori Party, party vote Mana, and get two MPs.

I really do think Mana wants to maximise its party vote, and the lesson provided here to the Maori Party is that they should take the deal. Without a loss here, it may have been difficult for the Maori Party not to run in Te Tai Tokerau in November. They're now in a better position to learn the lesson and take the deal. Which I very much think is still open. And if they take the deal, their election chances in November are much greater.

A few final words about that deal. It is couched in terms that would allow Mana to contest the Labour-held Maori seats, but I suspect they don't even want to do that.

This is simply an end-run around the distortion-causing 5% threshold. Mana wants your party vote, and wants voters in the Maori electorates, and the general electorates, to give it to them: Maori electorate votes outside Te Tai Tokerau won't help them.

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