National: the Opposition from Hell

There has been a lot of attention on the fact that the party with the largest proportion of the votes has always formed the Government under MMP. What hasn’t been considered is what happens if the party with the largest proportion of the votes ends up leading the Opposition.

The special votes conferred an extra two seats to the Labour-Green bloc and took two from National. This means the prospect of a Labour-Green-NZ First coalition could be more likely than it was before that final tally.

Or not.

We've already concluded that second-guessing Winston Peters is a mug's game. We will just have to wait for his self-appointed deadline of October 12th when he *might* tell us what he plans to do.So let's use our imaginations and project forward to the next three years. Let's imagine Peters decides to hitch his wagon to the movement for change and Bill English becomes Leader of the Opposition.

Resourcing for research units, parliamentary funding and select committees are all allocated on a proportional basis. This gives National the opportunity to coalesce around the Opposition benches with a level of power and influence we’ve not seen before – if they can remain unified.

We've seen Labour claw its own eyes out with each successive loss over the preceeding three elections. We've come to expect a period of destabilisation within the unlucky major party who doesn't get to form the Government. Should we expect more of the same from National if they get booted off the front benches?

No.

Not because National are intrinsically more stable or less prone to backstabbing and eye gouging than Labour - on that front you just need to ask Bill English what the aftermath of 2002 was like - but because, united, they could make things so difficult for a 'progressive' alliance in Government and they will relish the opportunity to make life hell for the NZ First/Labour/Green coalition. It must privately (or not so privately) rankle some National MPs when people genuinely believe they set out to enter politics specifically to make life harder for our poorest, brownest and least rural folks. There must be a temptation to chuck things like the housing (not) crisis, child poverty and Pike River at someone else and say “Fine. You have a go, I’ve had a guts full.”

There are some political analysts who are picking this election to be the one to lose.

If this transpires and National goes into Opposition, we will see a Monster Opposition – 56 seats – think what that will look like and even sound like – the debating chamber is small, your opponents close, and 56 roaring MPs facing new Labour and Green Ministers will be genuinely testing.

Of course that will be heightened by the power of numbers in Question Time. Questions are allocated on a proportional basis too – increasing the number of genuine opposition questions and recucing the number of patsies from Government-friendly MPs.

Same goes for select committees – proportionality rules so National’s numbers will be very strong, allowing them to change and stall legislation, perhaps on crucial bills. 

Sure the ‘coalition of second, third and fourth place’ will have more numbers overall. That allows them to govern and pass laws if they are always united – but their resources will be divided and often their idea of success will be different too.

There are some political analysts who are picking this election to be the one to lose. My advice for Jacinda Ardern and James Shaw, if Winston Peters decides to side with National is – don’t be too disappointed, it could be a lot worse.

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