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Winston’s return, cannabis back on the agenda, wiping student debt… and everything else we predicted (Image: Tina Tiller)
Winston’s return, cannabis back on the agenda, wiping student debt… and everything else we predicted (Image: Tina Tiller)

PoliticsDecember 14, 2023

Our bold political predictions for 2023, revisited

Winston’s return, cannabis back on the agenda, wiping student debt… and everything else we predicted (Image: Tina Tiller)
Winston’s return, cannabis back on the agenda, wiping student debt… and everything else we predicted (Image: Tina Tiller)

One year ago, a team of pundits made their wildest political predictions for this election year. Some were pretty accurate, others… less so.

We’ve come to the close of yet another rollercoaster year in domestic politics, one which saw the tenures of two prime ministers come to an end and a third begin. While none of our political prophets predicted Jacinda Ardern would resign ahead of the election, they weren’t too far off the mark with some of their other forecasts.

As our panel prepares to stare into the crystal ball once again, let’s first take a walk back through our political predictions for the year that was 2023.

Shane Te Pou: A high-profile politician’s career will end in scandal.

Not one, not two, but three. A trio of senior politicians had their careers ended by scandal in 2023, though each in very different circumstances. Stuart Nash was sacked from cabinet by former prime minister Chris Hipkins after a series of incidents that culminated in revelations he had emailed two of his donors politically sensitive information. He decided not to stand for re-election.

Not long after, Michael Wood lost his ministerial roles after it emerged he had financial interests in conflict with his ministerial responsibilities. He lost his Mt Roskill seat on election night and did not return to parliament on the list.

Finally, Kiri Allan’s political career ended after a late night collision and arrest for alleged dangerous driving. She resigned from cabinet the following morning and did not stand for re-election in her East Coast seat.  

There was also Meka Whaitiri’s defection from Labour to Te Pāti Māori, which was a different variety of scandal (but one that still ultimately saw her political career come to an end after failing to win Ikaroa-Rāwhiti).

Danyl Mclauchlan: I think we’ll start to see commercial and enterprise AI tools start to roll out next year, and the impacts of that are very hard to predict. But it could, for example, be the last year in which humans write year-end predictions.

We’re back again with another year-end predictions list and I can confirm it has not been written by artificial intelligence, though perhaps that’s exactly what ChatGPT would say. However, AI has made huge advances over the past year, hitting the headlines in New Zealand when it emerged that National had been generating imagery for use during its campaign. The images depicted failing students, healthcare workers and crime victims, none of which were real people. 

Beyond politics, AI has become far more accessible in 2023, with the aforementioned ChatGPT perhaps the best known tool. In the commercial space, outlets like Google, Bing and Facebook have also rolled out their own forms of artificial intelligence for consumers. Who knows, maybe Danyl’s prediction really will come true this time next year?

Prompt: ‘Scared woman clutching purse at night’, from a batch of unused images generated for the NZ National Party. Image: midjourney

Lara Greaves: 2023 election polling will be sufficiently wrong that we all freak out and need a national inquiry, UK Brexit polling and Australia 2019-style.

No sign of a national inquiry yet, and in fact polling turned out to be fairly accurate come election night. While the early results on October 14 pointed to a National-Act two header, by the time the special votes had rolled in, the overall election outcome was pretty much in line with expectations. Most polls, however, underestimated just how well National as a party would perform, though the fact it would need both Act and New Zealand First didn’t come as much of a surprise.

Brooke Stanley Pao: Everyone who doesn’t vote does – and ends up changing the parliamentary political landscape.

Very wrong, sadly. Voter turnout slumped when compared to the highs of the 2020 Covid election. By the time the final votes had been tallied, 78.4% of eligible voters had turned out for Election 2023. By comparison, 2020’s record turnout was 82.2% and 2017 saw 79.01% of eligible voters head to the polls.

Andrew Geddis: A week before polling day, Brian Tamaki, Voices For Freedom, Counterspin and Groundswell call for protests to be held outside the Electoral Commission offices to “Stop The Steal” after rumours circulate that the ink in the pens used to mark ballot papers can be made to disappear via a special signal transmitted over 5G radio waves. Or something. Doesn’t really matter what it is, does it? 

Not as such, but this year’s election did see a number of fringe parties on the ballot, though none of them made it anywhere near parliament. Perhaps closest to this prediction was the saga of NZ Loyal, the Liz Gunn-led conspiracy party that only registered two electorate candidates after missing an Electoral Commission deadline

The party suspected possible interference. “We intend to investigate what happened. Competent legal advisers have stepped forward to assist so that it can be determined whether this was incompetence or deliberate sabotage. We may then seek appropriate recompense,’’ an email to supporters read.

Brian Tamaki in Wellington (Photo by Lynn Grieveson/Getty Images)

Madeleine Chapman: Now that it’s not on the table, there’ll be cross-party consensus in favour of legalising cannabis.

Not in the slightest. Instead, we’ve decided to keep letting people smoke ciggies.

Liam Hehir: Labour will turn very negative on Christopher Luxon. For the most part, the negativity will be seeded through the party’s surrogates and lobbyist pundits. Eventually, however, even Jacinda Ardern will be dragged into the strategy.

Bang on, except it wasn’t Jacinda Ardern pulled in but her replacement Chris Hipkins. Election 2023 will be remembered for its widespread negativity on both sides, though Labour’s decision to ditch its Ardern-era “kindness” perhaps stands out more starkly. Early on in the campaign, the Labour-aligned Council of Trade Unions released a series of anti-National attack ads featuring a decade-old picture of Christopher Luxon looking rather grumpy. Meanwhile, rightwing lobby groups like the Taxpayers’ Union fired back with their own anti-Labour marketing.

It wasn’t just via surrogates, though. The campaign’s negativity most prominently displayed itself during the third leaders’ debate, when Hipkins delivered a show-stopping low blow to Luxon: “None of my MPs beat people up with a bed leg.” 

The reference to backbench MP Sam Uffindell’s past was criticised by many across the political spectrum as going too far, though Hipkins and Labour MPs defended it.

Stewart Sowman-Lund: Labour’s big election policy will be to wipe all student debt.

Absolutely not. Instead, Labour put all its manifesto eggs in the fruit and vege and dental baskets.

Anna Rawhiti-Connell: Nicola Willis will lead the National Party into the election. Absolutely no logic to this looking at National’s polling, although Luxon is a bit stuck in the same gear in the preferred PM rating. 

In fact it wasn’t National that switched leaders ahead of the election campaign, but Labour – and look where we are now. Up until the election campaign proper, there remained suggestions by some (largely on Twitter) that National might replace Luxon with Willis. It turned out to be completely off the mark, but who knows, it could still happen before Election 2026.

Ben Thomas: New Zealand First will regret turning towards the conspiracy constituency and not make it back into parliament.

Whoops. Still, as Toby Manhire wrote recently on The Spinoff, it’s possible Winston Peters is now regretting aligning with the conspiracy community, though only after he very much did make it back into parliament.

Toby Manhire: Not one but two unexpected high-profile political resignations before the election.

The Spinoff’s political oracle was pretty bang on with this one. Both Jacinda Ardern and Kiri Allan formally resigned from parliament before the 2023 election. The year’s other high-profile departures, such as Nash, Wood and Nanaia Mahuta, were either at the election or after losing their seat.

Stay tuned to The Spinoff next week for our political predictions for 2024.

Keep going!