October 29, 2008

Being Different Is The Name of the Game in MMP

The news this week featured United Future's decision to go with National. This alignment with one major party pre-election is risky but it helps clarify the position for voters.

During the six years it has worked with Labour United Future can chalk up at least six key policy gains:

a government Discussion Paper on Income Splitting;

central government funding for Transmission Gully;

an extension of daylight saving;

tax cuts for companies;

removing the cap on tax rebates for donations to charities; and

ensuring that people in Kiwisaver can divert 50% of their contributions to their mortgage.

These are significant policy wins for a small centre party which won only 3 seats in Parliament at the 2005 election. In 2008 United Future could be expected to highlight those aspects of its policy programme which distinguish it from the other parties. Otherwise liberal/centrist National-leaning voters will have no reason to vote United when they could vote directly for National (or Labour).

Policies such as support for parents of children with disabilities, extending ECE funding to Playcentres, Income Splitting, respect for the Treaty of Waitangi partnership, ensuring that National sticks to its policies on issues such as a nuclear-free NZ and blocking any backtracks on asset sales, in the first term of any new centre-right government, could all form part of a core policy offering that demonstrates extra value not available from other parties.

In 2008, at a time when small parties have a declining share of the political market, voters are unlikely to vote for a minor party unless they think it adds value to what their preferred major party would otherwise do. In opting to align with National United Future must figure out what distinct policy positions it will highlight to draw centrist voters that might otherwise sit on the Right of Labour or on the Left of National. It's called differentiation and in MMP it's the name of the game.

Disclaimer: In a personal capacity the writer was a former Board member of United Future from late 2003 until early 2006.

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