PoliticsSeptember 23, 2017

11.18pm: Party Watch – The look in the eyes of the Nats


Election Night 2017: Simon Wilson is at the National Party’s party at Sky City in Auckland.

It’s business as usual at Sky City. A bustling Saturday night in the casino, diners coming and going all over Federal St, and in the National Party party, it’s calm confident assurance. This is what they have earned. But no celebrating. No hijinks.

James Shaw got up on the TV screens and said, “Current indications are that the three opposition parties command a majority. New Zealanders have voted for change!” The Nats booed. Well of course they did.

Then, although there was a babble of noise from the food and drink side of the room, mostly they were silent.

Not silent stunned. Not even silent worried. Just silent meh, really.

All round the room, I asked people how they thought it was going, and there was a beat. They were the leading party, easily, but they weren’t forming a government, not yet at least, and they knew it. You could see it in their eyes. They wore their confidence well – they always do – but they didn’t assert it. They were not brash, and they often are.

Then Jacinda Ardern arrived at the Labour Party party and everyone watched on screen as she edged her way to the stage. “Million dollar smile,” said Duncan Garner. In the National Party party they were silent. Real silence, this time. Attentive.

When she said Bill English and National have taken the largest number of votes, she got a rare thing for a Labour leader: a very big cheer.

They listened quietly some more, but the more she spoke the less she said. James Shaw had talked about having the will to form a new government. Ardern seemed to think it was all in the lap of the gods.

Even before she had finished, Paula Bennett turned up on stage, waving, and they turned the TVs off so Bennett was on all the screens and that really got a roar.  The crowd was on its feet, “Paula! Paula!”

“Hi sweeties, it’s me Paula Bennett,” she declared, channelling Tom Sainsbury.

“Are we feeling good out there?” More whoops. “We should be feeling good.”

She praised Nikki Kaye, who had looked in danger of losing her seat. “No one takes a seat off my warrior woman,” said Bennett. “No one!”

The message was: we’ve done so well. And you could tell that when Bill English arrived they would whoop and holler and throw those streamers. But they’re not forming a government, not yet at least, and you could still see it in their eyes, all round the room.

Maybe Bill would set it right. They stood there, waiting for Bill.

Keep going!