The leftward and other blatherings of Span (now with Snaps!)

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

playing electoral catch 22

The Alliance was in Parliament, in one form or another, from Jim Anderton's by-election win in 1989. It left Parliament at the last election, involuntarily, and now it is trying to get back in. Regular readers will know that I am a card-carrying member of the Alliance, and quite keen to see it back in the hallowed halls some time soon. I am realistic enough to know that a resurgence at this election is unlikely, but I would like us to rebuild seriously for 2008.

But here comes the Catch 22 in all of this - it seems if you aren't already in Parliament you cannot get (back) in.

You can't get invites to debates. If you hear about a debate and ask for an invite you are generally told, in varying degrees of politeness, "not today thanks, we're Parliamentary Only round here."

You can't get coverage in the media, except when they choose to poke the Borax at those outside Parliament. The Alliance usually gets slightly more complimentary coverage, as do other parties who once were in the House, like Social Credit and the Democrats. But no matter how many media statements you put out very few are picked up, in fact in the Herald next to none have been picked up (I understand there has been a bit more coverage in The Press and The ODT).

You certainly can't get onto the TV debates. No way, no how. You could promise to do all sorts of pleasurable things to the hosts, their producers, even their dogs, and there is no way - the Parliamentary Only sign goes up every time.

Incidentally it doesn't seem to matter how Parliamentary you are - for example, the Alliance consistently polls around the same, or above, the Progressives, but while the door is thrown wide for Mr Anderton (sometimes with some courtly assistance), Ms Ovens and Mr Piesse (our co-leaders) must stand outside in the cold.

Not only is this anti-democratic, it also favours the Right. It seems to me that the only way for a party not already in Parliament to break in is to have a lot of dosh. If you have enough money to buy yourself coverage (paid billboards, as opposed to just hoardings; full time media officers working on the campaign, as opposed to people trying to fit it into their spare time; copious print ads, you get the idea) you could stand a chance of thus creating some free media coverage too. But otherwise you are stuffed.

The Alliance is actually doing pretty well, all things considered. We have billboards up in a lot of areas, we are churning out a few media statements a week on our policies (of which we have a full range, as opposed to some parties I have previously raved on and on about), we have selected all our candidates and our list (cf NZ First who I hear do not have a Welly Central candidate selected yet), we have a strong history of involvement in the political processes of NZ, not just nationally but also in local government in several cities.

If we can't break through what chance do any of the other parties outside Parliament have?


Commie Mutant Traitor said...

NZ First are leaving it a bit late! Noon Monday is the absolute deadline for submitting candidate nominations.

Bren said...

Victor Billot has been making some good progress in Dunedin. He's appeared at the OUSA debates (and come out the best) , though oddly he's not down for the nuclear-free debate on Friday.

I have no idea how to actually get picked up by the media radar. The only other non-parliment party getting any coverage is destiny, and most of that is negative.

While I wish the media would put more focus on small parties, remember that on-air time is limited and expensive.

Joe Hendren said...

Press have been ignoring our releases in Christchurch - even when we are the only party talking about things the Press are running stories on, like the legionaires disease at the hospital. Letters to the editor have been more successful.

In essence the only real difference between the Progs (Jim won Wigram last election) and the Alliance is a few thousand votes in Waitakere in 2002.

The coverage Destiny gets annoys me - I have often wondered if their looney right economic policy has anything to do with it.

stef said...

I don't know if it's a right wing conspiracy thing. If act doesn't win the next election and doesn't disband it may find itself in the same position

Bren said...

The thing with ACT though is that they are much more attractive to rich people/companies than the Alliance are. They can attract some serious funds to have another go.

The entire system is against small parties, from the high threshold to the broadcasting funds. The system needs to be revised, but the big parties would never do it.

andrewfalloon said...

Span, Social Credit and the Democrats are the same party :)
One of Alliance's big problems is that (no offence to Jill Ovens and Paul Piesse) there is not really anybody in the party anyone has ever heard of, McCarten, Harre, Jackson etc.
This is one of the big reasons ACT (and to a lesser extent Christian Heritage) were able to get on televised debates in 1996, they had the "personalities", Prebble, Shirley, Quigley (and Graham Capill in CHP).

Nigel Kearney said...

With the 5% threshold, I agree the system is loaded against small parties. ACT is the only party that has been elected without already having an MP - but we did have high profile former MPs.

Over time, if the rules don't change, it will probably crystallize into a two or three party system again.

It is possible that a long-standing MP with strong electorate support could break away and form a new party, as Peter Dunne did.

The expiry of the electoral integrity act will make this easier.

The alliance really needs to find a popular left-leaning Labour MP with a big electorate majority and try to persuade them to defect.

Idiot/Savant said...

The Alliance's opening statement got some coverage in a story on National's "taxathon" ads yesterday - but only in print, not on TV. And other than that, I haven't seen anything.

Anonymous said...

This might be re-hashing something that you've already done to death, but didn't the alliance have parliamentary representation, and choose to shoot itself in the foot and get rid of that representation (anderton).

The way for a small party to get into parliament is really simple, and in fact, the answer is right under yor noses. Win an electorate seat. Progressive Coalition did it. The Maori Party is going to do it.

You should do it.

span said...

we certainly gave it a good shot in 2002 anon - Laila Harre in Waitakere.

Anderton has certain advantages in Wigram that any new candidate is not going to have, and Turia shares most of them - well entrenched, well resourced (by Parliamentary services, eg staff), well known (both in the seat and nationally), able to be a full time candidate at crucial times, and frankly basically endorsed by Labour (obviously this is where Turia differs).

While I do think winning a seat is one of the strongest strategies for the Alliance to get back in, it has to be a long term strategy. And again it is one that would benefit greatly from a dosh injection - a candidate who could afford to take considerable time off from any work commitments they have to campaign in the seat and get their profile up, the money to regularly leaflet every household in the electorate, resources to have a website, a phone line, business cards, etc.

It's not impossible, but it is hard, harder when you can't attract big money (or even medium money) from corporates. I tend to think that the Alliance had it's best chance to win an electorate in 2002, with Laila - high profile candidate, the under dog advantage, relatively large amount of money, national and local media coverage easy to get, some parliamentary resources, etc.

The other problem with hanging your hat on a candidate is ego. To varying extents all of the third parties the Greens have had problems because of this.

span said...

that last sentence should say "To varying extents all of the third parties EXCEPT the Greens..."

millsy said...

Perhaps you guys need to focus on one particular electroate seat that looks like it could be won and pour all your resources into that, and campaign for the party vote in other electorates. I personally think that small partys spread their resources too thinly, when they should pick one electorate and focus on that.

Michael said...

I agree with the sentiment - it looks certain that another party is going to slip out of Parliament this election (although I doubt you will miss them, much.)

Parliament's diversity since 1999 has meant more issues go from the fringe to mainstream. E.g. ACTs time limits on Treaty Claims is now Labour policy and the Alliance's reducing Student Debt has even been picked up by National. While much watered down, the 'radical' parties paved the way for these policies to be picked up by mainstream parties.

Commie Mutant Traitor said...

Focusing on a winnable electorate would make sense, if there was one. Anyone care to suggest a specific electorate that could conceivably elect an Alliance MP? And there's no point in having representation in parliament if, like Anderton, it doesn't actually represent the party, but votes against the party's principles.

STC said...

Bascially, to win an electorate seat, you need to convince the major party (Nats or Lab) to allow you to have it.

Unless you represent a threat to them, they aren't going to do it.

However, I'm more inclined now to believe ACT will make it back in, and Winston First could go out. The ever-increasing hostility of National and Labour to Winston, (and National's xenophobic immigration policy taking wind out of his sail) and ACT's campaign against Winston, coupled with extremely negative press speculation about who he's going to pick, all seems to have collpased their party vote. Certainly their intention of being a clear third party has been blown away.

The Greens will be the third party in NZ politics - I think they will get higher than 8%.

T said...

I'm in support of making it pretty touch for new/small parties to get in.

It makes life, once Parliament is in session, far more stable. Sure, life is hard - but that makes new party leaders/members hardened representatives once they get in.

Rich said...

Wasn't Matt McCarten trying to engineer some sort of alliance (small A) with the Maori party?

Apart from the Alliance, most of the other minor parties range from mildly deluded to dangerously insane. In my meaner moods I think that if we sifted the ballots and locked up all the NF voters the country would be a nicer place.

span said...

isn't it interesting CMT how everyone says "go for an electorate seat" but then no one can suggest one? reminds me of last time i had a conversation of this ilk on here:

I've had many a conversation with well-meaning Labourites who really want the Alliance back in Parliament, but actually don't want us to win any of their electorates or take any of their vote. Can't have it both ways folks - if the Alliance gets back in it will be partly due to votes from Labour - be they electorate or list.

T - i wonder if lowering the threshold would actually mean that in the medium term people would be more careful about their votes?

Rich - yes McCarten was supposed to be working on something of that ilk. He tried to get the Alliance to basically merge with the Maori Party about a year ago, I did blog about it a bit last year if you care to trawl the archives :-) As to what he is doing now - I think he has an idea for a new party, built around a Workers' Charter that SWO are involved with, but they are waiting until after the election.

Commie Mutant Traitor said...

If by engineering an alliance, you mean effectively winding up the Alliance Party and gettting its members to campaign for the Maori Party instead, yes. Most of the membership were reluctant to take such a radical step before knowing whether the Maori Party was likely to, say, oppose civil unions, defend Mugabe, propose tax cuts for the rich, and consider a coalition with National.

Making it tough for new parties to get in is fine, but it shouldn't be impossible. Building a party and gaining mass support is quite hard enough without being written off by the media and an electoral system that punishes voters for supporting small parties.