Bryce Edwards ' Opinion

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards: Political roundup: The year of the micro party

Kim Dotcom. Photo / NZ Herald
Kim Dotcom. Photo / NZ Herald

Many political commentators are acknowledging that minor political parties will play a central role in this year's election campaign.

For the best recent minor party-focused commentaries see Matt McCarten's Facts to arm voters at the polls and Gordon Campbell's Spotlight falls on support parties.

However, it's possible that the 2014 election year will be the year of the 'micro party'.

While 'minor parties' might be classified as those parties normally receiving 5% to 15% support, 'micro parties' can be defined as those regularly inhabiting the space below the 5% MMP threshold. In this category we are seeing an array of new parties emerging, fighting for relevance alongside existing micro parties, and possibly having a considerable impact on the campaign and the final result.

For the best coverage of the new micro parties, see Simon Day and Steve Kilgallon's Dotcom sets sights on politics.

Their focus is on two particularly interesting parties about to officially launch: Kim Dotcom's Mega Party and Ben Uffindell's comedic Civilian Party. These parties will join others in competing for the non-Labour/National party vote. At the moment, the iPredict politics trading website suggests what percentage of the vote minor and micro parties are likely to achieve in the election: Greens, 10%, Conservatives, 4.6%, NZ First, 4.6%, Maori, 1.5%, Act, 1%, Mana, 0.7%, United Future, 0.6%, and ALCP, 0.3%.

A focus on micro parties could be a refreshing change because public support for minor parties has been eroding in recent elections. At the last election, for instance, the two major parties received 74% of the party vote - considerably higher than in the first MMP election when Labour and National won only 61%. Since then, the health of minor parties - with the exception of the Greens - has been in serious decline. For those who thought MMP would bring a dynamic new party system, the reality has been disappointing. Most minor parties have been struggling to survive, and few new parties have emerged outside of Parliament (Act has been the only new party to break into Parliament, without already having an existing MP). A shakeup of the party system - even if only at the margins - might therefore be good for democracy.

Dotcom's mysterious Mega Party

The most significant new micro party - which is aiming to be minor party winning over 5% of the party vote later this year - is Kim Dotcom's promised Mega Party (or whatever it is eventually named). For the latest on this venture, see Simon Day and Steve Kilgallon's Dotcom sets sights on politics. Also see my own blogpost, The Dotcom Party could be a spanner in the works. Both of these items report my belief that Dotcom's micro/mega party could disrupt the assumptions about how this year's election campaign will play out, and could even impact significantly on who governs after the election.

Recently Vernon Small wrote perceptively about the ramifications of the Mega Party being established - see: The wrecking ball of change. Small argues 'Dotcom's play-thing may be a more potent force than Colin Craig's Conservatives'.

So what sort of policies and ideology will the Dotcom party push? No Right Turn says that 'Kim Dotcom's natural issues are state surveillance, civil rights and intellectual property reform' - see: Missing the obvious. The model for this is the internationally successful Pirate Party, but as No Right Turn says, 'Pretty obviously, Dotcom wants to avoid that word - its poor branding when you're fighting extradition for enabling piracy, plus he has his own "Mega" brand he can leverage off as well'.

Dotcom (@KimDotcom) continues to communicate about the new party only via Twitter to his 333,000+ Twitter followers. Previously he's said: 'After the 2014 election I will get New Zealanders a new submarine cable, fair internet pricing & no more data caps. #Gimme5Percent'. Yesterday he said on Twitter: 'My political party will activate non-voters, the youth, the Internet electorate. We are going to make politics exciting. More on January 20', and: 'Get ready for low blows and smear against me and my political party. My attackers are worried. They should be. We will get more than 5%'.

Act Party's attempt at survival and renewal

The search is on within Act for a replacement for party leader and Epsom MP John Banks. This is best covered in Jonathan Milne's National sounds out Hide - an article that reports on some of the options being considered as well as the fact that National's Steven Joyce has taken an active interest in helping to sort out the issue. Joyce reportedly sought out ex-leader Rodney Hide to see if he would return to the leadership, but Hide has completely ruled out the possibility, explaining why in his column The glory days are in the past. Interestingly, Hide reflects on the career of Winston Peters as part of his reasoning for declining a return to politics.

Would Act benefit from separating out its Epsom candidate/MP and its party leader? One of the nominees for the Epsom candidacy thinks so - David Seymour is proposing that he stands as the Epsom candidate while Act rival Jamie Whyte take on the party leadership - see Adam Bennett's Former Banks staffer seeks Epsom nod. A decision on both positions will be made by Act's board on February 1 and 2 - see Adam Bennett's Tussle for Act's Epsom replacement heats up. See also Stacey Kirk's Seymour eyes Epsom for ACT.

On iPredict, the trading suggests the following for who will be the Act candidate for Epsom: David Seymour, 62%; Matthew Hooton, 11%, and Jamie Whyte, 8%.

For my own views on the Act's current situation, see my blog post, How can the Act Party survive in 2014?. And Gordon Campbell has blogged disparagingly about the latest twists and turns in the Act Party, suggesting the party has lost its soul, and acts merely as an ideological and electoral proxy for National - see: On the latest round of leadership ructions in the Act Party.

Ben Uffindell's Civilian Party

The Civilian Party will launch its new website this week. The satirical political party will offer a whimsical option for voters at the election. Uffindell says that 'the best way to satirise political parties is to be one'. So it's seriously non-serious. In Steve Kilgallon's portion of the article, Dotcom sets sights on politics, he quotes Uffindell on his plans and expectations: '"65 seats would be the best outcome really, please New Zealand," he says, deadpan. "Realistically - maybe 52?" Uffindell also plans to run as a candidate in three electorates, possibly including Epsom.

Kilgallon rightly points out that 'Uffindell will occupy a patch left wide open by the dissolution in 2010 of the Bill and Ben Party, and for those with longer memories, the long-departed McGillicuddy Serious Party'. But there are plenty of other micro parties on offer, and Kilgallon notes the fledgling fortunes of parties such as Thrive New Zealand, the Pakeha Party, the 1Law4All party, and perhaps a new party to be launched by adman John Ansell.

For a recent taste of Civilian humour, including some rather odd political analysis from various political scientists, see Ben Uffindell's Upcoming election to overshadow important social, economic issues.

Colin Craig's Conservatives

Will Colin Craig make the repeal of the so-called anti-smacking law a bottom line for forming a coalition with National after the election? It's unlikely, and although Craig is doing his best to make smacking an election issue, he's carefully avoided saying that it would be a deal-breaker - see Marika Hill's Smacking debate back in the limelight.

The Conservative Party leader has also come out today as personally breaking the anti-smacking law - see: Colin Craig: I smack my kids and Stacey Kirk's Smacking law is stupid: Colin Craig.

The Greens getting ready for coalition

There's a general assumption that Labour and the Greens are now tied together electorally and that voters face a choice this year of a Labour-Green government or a National-led government bolstered by an uncertain number of micro parties. Yet, Labour is still uncertain about how closely to tie its fortunes and campaigning to the Greens. This is expressed best in Stuart Nash's blogpost It's not what you say, but what they hear. He argues for Labour to keep its distance from the Greens, at least in terms of campaigning. He also reiterates that a Labour-led government might, once again, leave the Greens out of its administration in favour of Winston Peters and NZ First.

For a different opinion, see Greg Presland's It's not easy being Green and Danyl Mclauchlan's New Zealand politics and the English language. Expect to read much more on this debate, as it remains a key - but largely non-discussed - facet of the debate around a future Labour government.

Finally, the Greens are campaigning strongly for higher wages for those at the bottom of the market, so is it hypocritical of them to create positions for unpaid workers in their parliamentary offices? See Ele Ludemann's Living wage doesn't apply.

- NZ Herald

Bryce Edwards

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago. He teaches and researches on New Zealand politics, public policy, political parties, elections, and political communication. His PhD, completed in 2003, was on 'Political Parties in New Zealand: A Study of Ideological and Organisational Transformation'. He is currently working on a book entitled 'Who Runs New Zealand? An Anatomy of Power'. He is also on the board of directors for Transparency International New Zealand.

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