Minor parties and employment relations policy change: the New Zealand experience
Skilling, PD; Molineaux, J
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Employment relations is shaping up as an important point of differentiation between the two major parties (National and Labour) at New Zealand’s 2014 general election. Since the country adopted a proportional electoral system in 1996, however, no major party has had a majority in Parliament. Consequently, in order to effect its preferred policy programme, the dominant party has had to rely on the votes of other, smaller parties. Both Labour-led (1999-2008) and National-led governments (2008-current) have, with the aid of minor parties, changed the employment relations landscape when in power. In this paper we consider the important role of minor parties in determining likely changes to ER policy settings after the election. We argue that merely identifying the minor parties’ policies is not sufficient to predict policy change or influence. It is necessary also to understand both (a) how minor parties are situated within a broader institutional setting and (b) how their policies fit within a broader political (and electoral) environment. Muller and Strom (1999) draw a distinction between three distinct motivations of minor political parties: their desire for official office; for policy wins, and for electoral votes. For minor parties, entering into a relationship with a larger party offers their best chance of achieving political voice. This does not guarantee, however, the advancement of its policy agenda, and it may come at the cost of its long-term electoral popularity. In this paper we draw on recent New Zealand experience to develop a model for understanding the likely influence of minor parties on ER policy change in New Zealand after the 2014 election. To be viable, such a model must take into account - at a minimum - relative party size, the centrality of ER policy to the parties’ identities, the degree of similarity between the parties involved, and the personalities of party leaders.