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Labour’s fight for a third term…

August 25th, 2005

…in New Zealand
Helen Clark (Labour) and Don Brash (National)
In Saturday’s article we mentioned Centrebet’s market on the 17th September general election in New Zealand. Paradoxically inspired by Matthew Parris’s downgrading of the globetrotting political columnist…

It’s about the Game. It’s about jousting. It’s about personality, performance, plots, ploys and counter-ploys. With sinking heart I realise that I and my ilk are really no more than sports commentators of a rarefied sport. Adjust your settings and you can play it anywhere.

…let’s try to handicap the race.

The Labour party, led by Prime Minister Helen Clark, has led in the polls for the last few months, apart from one recent blip when Don Brash‘s National party took a brief lead. Brash probably didn’t help himself after a recent debate between the leaders when he claimed to have “restrained himself” because his opponent is a woman.

But even if Labour is comfortably the largest party, piecing together a coalition government might not be straightforward. Currently, Labour and the Progressive party make up a formal coalition, with the Greens and the social conservative United Future party declining to bring the government down in key votes. The Greens are currently very close in the polls to the 5% threshold below which they would not be entitled to any seats in the list part of the election. (The electoral system uses a mixture of constituency seats and party lists; but the Greens are not in serious contention in any one constituency.)

Clark has been campaigning alongside the Green leader, Jeanette Fitzsimons, and must be hoping a few Labour supporters will vote tactically to keep the Greens in parliament. This hasn’t please United Future, however, which has promised to “slay the Green monster”. If the arithmetic works out, the Maori party might be able to prop up a Labour/Progressive/Green government even without United Future support; the polls see UF losing seats, though they are likely to remain with some representation through winning constituency seats.

Meanwhile, National would face its own problems in governing even if Labour failed to create a stable government. The ACT party, seen as its natural coalition partner on the right, is polling less than 2% and looking at being wiped out of Parliament – like the Greens with Labour, it wants to see National tacitly backing tactical voting.

Seen as the wildcard is the third-largest party, New Zealand First. Its leader, Winston Peters, is seen as a maverick with whom neither of the major parties really wants a deal. If NZ First is ruled out, getting to a parliamentary majority doesn’t look easy for either side.

The odds from Centrebet on which party will supply the next Prime Minister are 0.33/1 Labour, 2/1 National; a solid move to Labour since we last covered this market, during which time a NZ$20,000 (£7,800) bet went on Labour. Betfair’s market has picked up liquidity and has 0.41/1 Labour, 2.15/1 National.

With this level of uncertainty about the result, the shift in the odds towards Labour may have been an overshoot. But it’s a tough call. Maybe our settings need a bit more adjustment.

Philip Grant
Guest editor

Mike Smithson is on holiday until 5th September.






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