Wow. What a night that turned out to be huh? It’s been obvious for months that the government would be re-elected but I am stunned by the scale of it. For a single party to be handed a majority in our MMP electoral system is unprecedented.
Before I analyse how it happened I first want to say how proud I am of our country. When you look around the world at the rise of populism and the abject horror story that is engulfing the US political system, New Zealand had a safe and secure election without fake news, voter suppression or voter fraud. Our electoral system is free from political interference and gerrymandering and this year the franchise was restored to people in prison serving sentences less than three years duration.
Sure there were exaggerations and inaccuracies in many politician’s statements, but our system works, and had the government lost the election we would have had a clean and efficient transfer of power with no bluster or pathetic accusations of the vote being rigged.
We were able to vote early and almost 2 million of us chose to do so without fear of catching Covid-19. Quite the achievement isn’t it?
Am I crowing over all this? You’d better F’ing believe it I am.
New Zealand is not perfect, but in this crazy year, we are showing the world how politics ought to work.
Essentially last night’s election result was due to one person – Jacinda Ardern.
Over the past three years she has had to deal with huge challenges and she has faced them all with strength, determination, calmness, and compassion. When a cold-blooded killer slaughtered 51 people in that Christchurch mosque her leadership was exemplary. When people were killed on White Island, again, she rose to the occasion. This year, as Covid-19 swept the globe, Ardern and her government acted decisively and saved this country from the horrors that still exist in many countries overseas.
I do not believe she is omnipotent nor perfect, but she is great in a crisis and last night the nation expressed its thanks for that.
Supposedly safe rural and urban National seats fell and even those the party managed to hang on to, Labour won the most party votes. Over the entire country, people gave the centre-left block a huge endorsement and that swing completely ousted New Zealand First.
Despite the bluster, during her speech last night, National Party leader Judith Collins looked crushed. As is her way, she refused to take responsibility for a humiliating defeat or resign.
In some ways, it wouldn’t have mattered who National’s leader was this year, no one could have stopped Ardern’s momentum but Collins was a terrible choice.
First up, she has never been popular with the public and has always been a divisive politician whose personal ambition outweighed any loyalty to her own party or the country. She will forever be associated with attack dog Cameron Slater and the ‘dirty politics’ scandal. Collins has shown herself to be a petty and mean bully and cannot be trusted with sensitive and personal information.
She is also a terrible campaigner – pathetically blaming the government for the small outbreak of Covid post lockdown. Her comments on obesity were mean-spirited and out of touch. She released policy on the fly and kept her own MPs in the dark about what she was up to and what internal polls were saying. All she really offered policy wise was the tired and failed ideology that austerity and temporary tax cuts will solve any economic problems and a baseless claim that her ‘Team’ were the right ones to lead the country into the future.
But as that leaked email of Denise Lee indicated her caucus didn’t like or trust her and the ‘Team’ was completely dysfunctional.
Of course, the previous six months of turmoil in her own party didn’t help. Three leaders in just a few short weeks, Paul Goldsmith’s errors in their fiscal plan, sex scandals involving Andrew Falloon and Hamish Walker, and of course Michelle Boag, Gerry Brownlee and Michael Woodhouse spreading misinformation about Covid.
What’s more a large swathe of long term National MPs were not seeking re-election. There were too many new faces, too many unknowns and the party under Collins looked inept and damaged.
In a year where the entire world is facing an existential crisis Collins and National represented an old way of looking at the world and the New Zealand public resoundingly decided that style of politics was not going to cut it.
Collins was also up against the most popular Prime Minister in a generation. It is never good to hero worship any politician, but Jacinda Ardern has some amazing qualities and she understands the needs of the country.
Being a politician, Ardern is ambitious and she can spin like the best of them. But she is at heart a decent person who really does want to do the right thing. She is clear and articulate and her biggest asset this year has been her honest and no-nonsense approach to delivering information about the Covid pandemic. She speaks te reo Maori with ease and pride, she gave birth while in office and is a working mum. She is also capable of having a laugh when people poke fun at her.
Except for a small number of people who think the virus is transmitted by 5G communication signals, the rest of us had all the relevant information about Covid-19 and the Prime Minister and other officials gave detailed, accurate and timely information about how to keep safe. They also made the right decisions about border controls and putting us into lockdown and it worked. Our Finance Minister Grant Robertson also chose the right path fiscally to see us through the worst financial crisis we have faced.
The country was grateful and the result speaks for itself.
And so what about the future?
In the case of the National Party, it is time for a generational change in thinking. I’m not referring to the age of candidates here, rather a realisation that their policies and ideology are tired. They can be a party that believes in fiscal responsibility but they need to embrace social and environmental issues and face up to the fact that New Zealand’s population is predominantly urban. They need to get rid of populism and ditch the ‘dirty politics.’ They also need to ditch Judith.
For Labour the task is daunting. They have managed the Covid pandemic well, but the cost of doing so is huge. Thankfully they are no longer hampered by New Zealand First, but they need to address the failures in their first term such as poverty reduction, housing and public transport.
The government has been given a massive mandate due in part to a large number of conservative New Zealanders voting for Labour. If Jacinda Ardern is to retain that support and please traditional Labour voters, she and her government had better deliver on her promise to work for all New Zealanders. If she doesn’t, I doubt we’ll be looking at a repeat of last night’s result in 2023.
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