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Image: Tina Tiller
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PoliticsOctober 3, 2023

How to accept loss (political edition)

Image: Tina Tiller
Image: Tina Tiller

Sure, it’s not over yet, but it’s time for Labour supporters to face facts: October 14 is not looking promising. Haimona Gray has some tips for how to prepare for the very real possibility of a big gut-punch loss at the polls.

The year was 1999. The place was, technically, Twickenham Stadium, but for an 11-year-old me the place to be was on the couch next to my dad in the Wellington suburb of Ngaio. 

We were ready to watch an All Blacks team led by fellow Ngāti Kahungunu tāne Taine Randell, containing arguably the greatest player to play the game in Jonah Lomu, and even including my favourite All Black of all time Tana Umaga, in the semifinal of the World Cup. 

The opposition didn’t seem to matter; France would be no match for this team of destiny, a team that I had invested the entirety of my little heart in. 

When the game was over I felt hollow, like someone had scooped out that heart and smashed it into a pȃté-like paste. No one had died, the country hadn’t been invaded and the government replaced with a violent dictatorship, but it was the first time a competition made me feel that bad. 

I still remember that loss to this day. The bloody French! 

All Black captain Taine Randell following the team’s shock loss to France at the 1999 world cup (Photo: OLIVIER MORIN/AFP via Getty Images)

It hurts when something or someone you have invested so much emotional energy in loses. It’s also part of life. No one wins a fair contest every time, and learning to accept loss and find growth through it is an important part of growing up. 

The Labour Party is facing one of these big, gut-punch losses in two weeks’ time. While commentators may have given Hipkins the win in the latest leaders’ debate, the Herald’s Poll of Polls gives Labour just a 0.2% chance of staying in government. If you have invested yourself emotionally in the success of the Chris Hipkins Labour Party you are facing a tough reality check. 

How does someone overcome a loss like this? A first step is to put the loss into perspective. 

Politics and political actions do affect people in real ways, but we live in one of the most stable and moderate democracies in existence and the “scary” differences between Labour and National are few and far between when compared with what they agree on. 

Chris Hipkins (Photo: Fiona Goodall/Getty Images)

The Chris Hipkins Labour Party has promised to be even more centrist than the Ardern government, and would (hopefully) be unlikely to face the same level of divisive existential threats like Covid lockdowns and terrorist attacks. At the worst, as a Labour supporter you will have to see Chris Luxon and other National politicians you don’t like making small steps away from the political positions you personally connect with. That sucks, for you, but it is the nature of democracy and the alternatives are much worse. 

Now is the time for Labour supporters to think about the bigger picture, the long game. Inevitably Labour will return to government – our governments have swung like an exceptionally slow pendulum between centre-right and centre-left. When they do swing back, what will that Labour look like? 

After a big loss like Labour is facing, this is exactly the time to have these conversations, to bring in new talent, to think about what the next generation of voters need. High-profile Green MP Chlӧe Swarbrick has gone from a complete unknown to a political staple and potential future leader in the space of two terms – maybe Labour could unearth a similar talent among their young supporters. 

The All Blacks built on failures of 1999, 2003, and the disaster that was 2007. They made 2011 even sweeter. 

If perspective and long-term thinking aren’t your thing, how about schadenfreude? 

Recent polls show National would not be able to form a government with Act alone – they will likely need to bend to the wild whims of the most chaotic force in our nation’s modern political history. 

No one wants their team to lose, but Winston has been in a coalition government three times and each time it has ended badly. Having your party of choice not being the ones taking the Faustian pact has to be of some relief. 

After rebuilding the Act Party brand, Seymour has to be fairly upset that his hard work may be undone by the wily Winnie, his immortal charisma, and his love for splashing taxpayer cash. 

If the next government is a National/Act/NZ First coalition, it will be an unstable one. If you’ve ever tried to walk more than one dog and they both start pulling in different directions, you’ll have some idea of what Luxon is in for. 

Helps, doesn’t it? (Image: Archi Banal)

This is all what the internet would call a “cope”, but if that’s all you need then the schadenfreude that will come out of such a pyrrhic victory might get you through a challenging term (or two, or three). 

The reality is Labour may be facing a long stretch in opposition. If you had told young me in 1999 it would be over a decade before I saw an All Blacks captain raise the Webb Ellis Cup I would have been devastated, but it would have been the truth. 

Labour supporters need to accept two key facts: 

First, only through accepting what has caused this loss and learning from it can future success be achieved. 

And second, arguably less a “fact” than a personal plea, the All Blacks are never good when they are in government and if they care about our national pastime at all they should concede immediately before they cost us another World Cup and break the heart of a young me somewhere across the country. 

Think of the children, Chippy! 

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