Jeremy Vargo –
The joint announcement of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Labour and the Greens last month took many by surprise.
To be clear, the announcement was a surprise, the contents of the Memorandum, not so much. Several commenters have pointed out that three of the six points announced in the MOU have been common practice between Labour and the Greens for a good long while already, and the remaining points don’t really bind either party to do anything new either.
Labour Leader Andrew Little and Green Party Co-Leader Metiria Turei appeared to agree when doing the morning show rounds the next day, acknowledging that the MOU was confirming a lot of the work that had already been done to bring the two parties together over the last year.
The clear message from both Little and Turei? The MOU demonstrates that both parties are totally committed to getting National out of power, or “changing the Government” in 2017.
Of course one could argue that changing the Government is the core business of any opposition party, and indeed some coalition partners in New Zealand’s political history, but I think there is a chance this MOU could bode well for the New Zealand voter next year.
Many are wondering why the Greens and Labour want to formalise their relationship, especially when it does not extend past election night into actual coalition promises. But this move makes complete sense when you think about the needs of a serious ‘Government-in-waiting.’
The current Government has an advantage going into any election, they have a track record of governing they can be judged on, and crucially, they have to produce a Budget each year.
The voting public has seen them translate their election promises into policy that has to be costed and paid for, three years running.
Opposition parties do not have that track record by which they can be judged. And the election promises that parties use to get the public’s attention can get expensive, particularly when there are two parties on the same side making different promises.
In 2014, the National Party announced that the combined Labour and Green election promises added up to $28 billion of extra spending. Now this combined number is unfair: simply adding the costs of two sets of policies together does not show how a Labour-Green coalition would have actually compromised to create their Budget.
But if Labour and the Greens want to be seen as a credible ‘Government-in-waiting, it would behove them to present voters with a dynamic combined vision, along with robust financials backing it up.
In making their relationship and intentions official, Labour and the Greens may actually be giving themselves room and time to create a Shadow Government Policy and budget framework they can take into the 2017 campaign.
This would make a welcome change from the unchecked election promises from all parties in previous elections, and be a positive move towards giving voters the kind of reliable data we need in order to make well-informed choices at the polling booth.
Jeremy Vargo is Media & Communications Officer at Maxim Institute based in Auckland.
Andrew Little and Metiria Turei announcing the Labour-Green MoU at a press conference in Wellington on May 31, 2016.