Sunday, 21 September 2014

Politically, statistically small changes can have significant consequences

Yesterday, New Zealand held its most recent parliamentary election, which as expected elected National Party leader John Key to another term of office as Prime Minister of New Zealand.

Although each of the parties in the election only gained or lost one or two seats apiece for the most part, these small changes brought large consequences.

First, the National Party increased its seat total from 59 to 61, giving it an overall majority in the New Zealand legislature all by itself. (however, Mr. Key is likely to still ask United Future and the libertarian right ACT party for confidence and supply as he did last time). This partly happened because of the turmoil the New Zealand Labour Party is in right now-its leader, David Cunliffe, is much less popular than John Key, who among leaders of Commonwealth countries is not that controversial or hard right by the standards of the day, compared to Stephen Harper or Tony Abbott. The Labour Party only lost two seats to be fair, but one particularly unfortunate note is that far from gaining any seats, my Green colleagues in New Zealand actually lost one seat overall.

New Zealand First, a populist party led by former National Party member Winston Peters, made the biggest gains in this election, going up from 7 seats to 11, only two behind the Green Party of Aotearoa (the official name of New Zealand's Greens). Interestingly, New Zealand First also opposes the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership), an international trade deal equally as dangerous as TTIP, which New Zealand plans to participate in, although this is  for nationalist reasons rather than environmental and social justice reasons, which are better for stating why the TPP should not be ratified by any country.

In another blow for progressive politics, the Internet-MANA coalition only polled 1.2% of the vote in New Zealand, and failed to win any seats-even left-wing Maori activist Hone Harawira, the leader of the Internet-MANA alliance, lost his own single-seat electorate of Te Te Toikerau to Labour. (In New Zealand, a party can potentially gain list seats if it wins even one single-seat electorate, even if it does not otherwise pass the 5% threshold).

Further on the theme of small changes having significant consequences, let us go back to the 1992 general election of Britain, which before polling day could have produced a hung parliament but in the end the Conservatives, now under John Major, won with a majority of 21 (significantly down from their 102 majority of 1987,though) which they lost through by-elections and defections alone throughout the 1992-1997 period even before the Blair landslide. Research shows, however, that if even as few as 10,000 to 20,000 more Conservative voters had switched to Labour in 1992, the Conservatives would almost certainly have lost their majority completely and the Liberal Democrats would have overall gained seats in the election rather than losing seats overall, which could have resulted in a peacetime coalition government back then. As many as 20 Conservative seats out of the 336 they won in 1992 were held by less than 1,000 votes apiece. (mind you, even some seats which Labour won from the Conservatives were held just as narrowly, in a general election whose turnout of 77.7% was the highest in 18 years, and even the next general election's turnout overall probably will not be as high even though another hung parliament seems a probable outcome at present). Always good to wonder what might have been if just a few thousand votes had swung another way in the end....

Alan.

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