The call has gone out for the minor parties to unite. It’s a great idea, until it comes to putting it into practice. Let’s put hope and wishful thinking aside for a moment and deal with realities.
The minor parties that contested the election in 2020 are: The Opportunities Party (TOP), New Conservative, Advance NZ, Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party, ONE Party, Vision New Zealand, NZ Outdoors Party, TEA Party, Sustainable New Zealand Party, Social Credit, and HeartlandNZ. Collectively these 10 parties gained 5.2% of the vote. That vote was wasted – that percentage was allocated to the parties that did win seats (so Labour was the main beneficiary).
Polling would suggest support for the minor parties is likely to be higher in 2023. We now also have the Freedom & Rights Coalition, the New Nation Party and DemocracyNZ. (NZ First can be ignored because there is zero chance of them joining with minor parties.)
The chances of a minor party getting into Parliament on their own account in 2023 is virtually zero. They face huge obstacles - including the fact that anyone who votes for them knows their vote is likely to be wasted.
Uniting is their very best hope. The issue is how best to do that.
The Alliance Party was successful. It was formed in the early 90s out of New Labour, Greens, Democrats, and Mana Motuhake. They gained 10% of the vote in 1996. However, they did have the huge advantage of having a presence in Parliament care of the two electorate seats they won in 1993 and high-profile personalities in Jim Anderton and Sandra Lee. The minor parties today do not have that advantage and are unlikely to come anywhere near winning an electorate.
The essential problem is how to convince the minor parties that they should unite. Not only will egos and self-interest get in the way, but some will harbour the delusional expectation that by some miracle they alone can achieve the 5% threshold. There is also the not-so-minor issue of policy differences.
A solution is to sidestep all of those issues. The minor parties could campaign as separate identities but under an “umbrella” called the Umbrella Party to hoover up the votes into a single receptacle.
For example, a party would not stand candidates in its own right, but stand candidates via the Umbrella Party (e.g. “Support New Nation Party – Vote Umbrella Party”, “Support TOP – Vote Umbrella Party”).
The Umbrella “Party” would not have any policies. It would have a very simple constitution with two primary clauses:
- The list rankings will be allocated to member groups according to a prescribed formula based on independent polling carried out immediately prior to the list being announced, and
- The “Party” would dissolve immediately after the election, thereby rendering the MPs “independent” and free to represent their supporters as they wish.
Would there be an accusation that this is gaming the system? Yes - that’s how the established parties would present it.
Would that harm the chances of the strategy succeeding? No – it would actually help it.
History would suggest expecting any form of association between the minor parties is likely to lead to disappointment, but in these gloomy political times, a little bit of optimism may not be a bad thing.
Frank Newman, a writer and investment analyst, is a former local body councillor.