I think there’s a place for ‘election bribes’ in politics. If you’re looking at a bunch of policies you might campaign on because you believe in them, the smart thing to do is pick the ones that will swing a bunch of voters your way. It’s different, I think, from pork-barrel politics in which there are no values or ideas and you’re just picking a group of voters and saying, ‘Hey vote for us and we’ll give you free stuff!’ The latent libertarian in me rises up and seethes ‘That is not your wealth to just give away in exchange for votes.’
Which is what Labour’s new policy of free healthcare for Over 65s amounts to. Here’s a chart I made from a DPMC report on poverty in New Zealand:
Labour’s policy is a generous subsidy to the least needy group in the country. It’s also a very large group of people with high health-care needs and giving them ‘free’ access to healthcare is going to cause a huge increase in demand for primary health services. What’s Labour’s plan to increase the supply of GPs?
So why this policy? Because of this chart recently released by the Electoral Commission showing voter enrolment by age, which speaks for itself:
At least the politics behind the policy are interesting. Labour has finally realised that Winston Peters is highly likely to form a government with National after the election, and this is a direct attack on his voter base, pretty much all of whom are elderly former Labour voters. Which is an interesting thing to do: Peters is bobbing up and down around the 5% mark. The loss of a couple thousand voters could be all it takes to drop him below the threshold and see him wiped out.
It’s a variation on National’s ‘three party’ strategy. You don’t need 51% of the votes to win the election, National figured. You just need one more seat than your opponents. So if the Conservatives and New Zealand First wiped each other out National could run the country with 61 seats even though they won less than 50% of the vote.
The arrival of Internet/Mana upset that strategy for National but now I think Labour are trying something similar. It doesn’t matter how much of the overall vote they get. If lots of those votes are wasted and Labour+Greens+Internet/Mana = more seats than National then they’ve won.