One of National’s political managers has just returned from both the Republican and Democrat Conventions in the United States with what may seem some surprising conclusions.
Jamie Lee Ross is a Junior Whip and responsible for organising National’s political tactics in the debating Chamber.
He is also a sometime abrasive member of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, never afraid to push his own party’s partisan line.
He has been a friend of “Whaleoil”, Cameron Slater, and is what the might be called a “tribal” Nat.
But for all that he’s come back from his two weeks in America convinced that MMP had given us stable politics because it forces politicians to look for votes in the centre.
As a consequence, he believes the National Party would actually fit more easily into the Democratic party then the Republicans, the centre-right American Party with which it has been traditionally aligned.
What he saw was an America where politics was being driven to extremes; the Trump supporters on the right and the Sanders supporters on the left.
“The extremes that we have in this country, a New Zealand extreme left and a New Zealand extreme right are so much closer together than the left-right extremes you see in the United States,” he told POLITIK.
“Our whole politics, I believe, could fit within the Democratic party and moderate National MPs and moderate Labour MPs would be quite centrist Democrats if we were exists within the political spectrum in the United States.”
And he sees huge structural differences between New Zealand and the United States — particularly MMP but also candidate selection which in the United States, because of the primaries, pushes candidates out to the extremes.
He also believes that big money and lobbyists push politicians in directions away from the centre.
Nevertheless, there is an increasing frequency of thinking aloud in Wellington as to whether a Trump phenomenon could happen in New Zealand.
Clearly, Winston Peters, who has spoken enthusiastically of Trump, seeks to tap into the same angry anti-establishment, anti-free trade electorate that Trump pitches too.
So could Peters become New Zealand’s, Trump?
“There is a risk Winston could come through in the same way Donald Trump has, but MMP has really changed the way politics works in New Zealand.
It is just so different from the United States sit would be harder here.
“MMP does mean that Winston can get some MPs, but it is also harder for him to absolutely dominate the way in which Donald Trump has been able to in the Republican Party.”
Even so, Ross believes that National must take Peters seriously and not give away too much ground to him.
And on one of Peters’ favourite campaigns, the Trans pacific Partnership, Ross believes after talking to some elected politicians at both conventions that there is still a chance it could be ratified during the lame-duck Congress session between the election in November and the swearing-in of the new President at the end of January.
“Unfortunately, the likelihood of it going through has not been helped by the two party platforms that the Democrats and the Republicans have put forward.
“The Clintons have a track record of supporting trade in the past, but Hillary has been boxed into a corner by the Bernie Sanders supporters so where she goes on trade after the election, nobody is really quite sure.
“John Kasic pointed out at a forum I went to that he’d never met a Presidential nominee that’s actually read the party platform passed at the convention and that would suggest the way in which they would govern would be different form the way in which they are campaigning.”
Though Ross plainly found Trump’s extremism and his erratic policy positions distasteful, he warns that he could still win the election.
“I think in New Zealand w just assume Hillary Clinton is going to win because she is a known entity to us and was good to New Zealand when she was Secretary of State, and she offers the most stability to America and the world.
“But what I really picked up is that there is actually a lot of support there for Donald Trump’s point of view.
“Those disaffected people, those people unhappy with the way the world and their country is going — they are giving him a degree of support.
“We can’t just take it for granted that Hillary Clinton is going to win; we can’t just assume that is going to happen.
“We find Donald trump’s brand of politics distasteful.
“We find his politics so much further to the right than we could ever accept in New Zealand, but there is an electorate out there in the US that is happy and likes what he projects and is putting forward.”
Ross’s analysis of the American election is not only an insightful look into that event but also tells us a lot about John Key’s National Party and how much it has adap[ted to MMP to become a centrist party.
There has always been a tendency for New Zealand politics to be played out in the centre. The political scientists, the late Bob Chapman, talked about our two main political parties offering “alternative conservatisms”.
But Ross had identified the inevitable centrism that MMP induces. That was precisely why it was supported by the British as an electoral system for post-war Germany; it would limit the power of extremist parties.
Though that has frustrated the right in New Zealand , many of whom supported the “Vote for Change” group which argued during the 2011 referendum campaign for a return to first past the post, the current political situation sees the left struggling reconcile itself to centrism.
Ultimately the Key Government’s careful use of polling data and its attention to “middle of the road” issues are what not only keeps it in power but keeps our politics on a relatively stable platform.