Simon Wilson went round the party election parties last night, and lived and breathed the campaign. These are the 10 things he learned.
1. Time is not of the essence.
Bill English said in his speech last night that it was important to move as quickly as possible to form a new “strong and stable government”. That’s not true. He said that because it is in his interests to form a government with NZ First before the specials are counted.
There will be 120 seats in the new parliament: majority 61. Right now National has 58 seats and Act has 1: total 59. Labour has 45 and the Greens 7: total 52.
If NZ First added its 9 seats to National, they’d have 68. A very comfortable majority. Even if NZ First insisted that Act not be part of the mix, they’d still have 67. But if NZ First went with Labour and the Greens, the total would be 61. You can govern with that, for sure, but in a three-way coalition the tensions would never go away. So National has a good argument right now that it is best placed to offer NZ First a key role in a stable government.
However, if the special votes conform to the pattern of previous years, National could lose one or even two seats, with Labour and the Greens picking up one each. If that happened, a National/NZ First coalition would have 65, while a Labour/NZ First/Greens coalition would have 63. That’s a much more even proposition.
That’s why Bill English wants the deal done now.
2. Bill English did an amazing job.
You have to go back almost 50 years for the last time a PM led their party to a fourth term in power. John Key is right: Bill English is the real deal. And Matthew Hooton is right too: English is a reformer who wants to remake the way the state works. If he does remain PM, his social investment programme will become so embedded, it will define the way the welfare state works.
3. Jacinda Ardern did an amazing job.
Labour was tracking down from the mid-20s. If the campaign had continued in August the way it had in July, Labour was in danger of falling beneath 20% and NZ First could have become the major party of opposition. What Jacinda Ardern did to turn that around is phenomenal. Just phenomenal.
She may soon become prime minister. But if she doesn’t, she will lead an inspired and rejuvenated caucus, studded with bright shining talent, and they will become a formidable force in opposition, and in the election in 2020.
4. James Shaw did an amazing job.
Thanks partly to Metiria Turei but actually far more to Jacinda Ardern, the Greens faced obliteration this election. James Shaw saved them. He was clever enough inside the party to ensure that the new talent of Chlöe Swarbrick and Golriz Ghahraman was placed high on the party list. And he was clever enough in the campaign to get the Greens’ vote to the level where Swarbrick will become an MP and Ghahraman very likely will too.
5. Winston Peters did an amazing job.
Winston Peters lost the plot in the last weeks of the election. He rambled, dissembled and seemed barely to know what he was trying to do. Commentators started to believe he could be history. But he won 7.5% of the vote. Lost Northland, but won enough party votes to make him the most important politician in New Zealand right now. Don’t underestimate that, it’s a staggering achievement.
6. Gareth Morgan did not do an amazing job.
What Gareth Morgan had to say to us was so important. We have to reform our tax system, for the sake of basic equity. Education, health, climate change, drugs, across all the policy areas Gareth Morgan called us out. He said, here’s the evidence for why we’re doing it wrong and here’s the evidence for how we could do it better.
But he appeared such a fuckwit for so much of the campaign that his message died.
Most of what he said, we need to do. Most of our politicians would probably agree. But politics is the art of connecting the personal with the true. Morgan doesn’t understand anything about that, and because of that, he stood in the way of the very things he felt so passionately needed to be done.
7. Labour has to work out how to win Auckland.
On the party vote, Labour tipped a couple of Auckland electorates red. But only a couple. To become the majority party in parliament, Labour needs to work out how to win Auckland. They’re not even close.
8. Now we know what it takes to win.
The National campaign essentially consisted of three components. The first was: steal their shit. National listened and learned from the opposition campaigns. Whatever resonated – poverty, most of all – they produced their own commitments.
Social progress in New Zealand, in the current era, happens because progressive forces agitate for change, the National Party recognises that the agitation has popular support and adopts the changes as its own policy, and some of the desired change happens.
The second was: just lie. But what’s more important than the lie is the confidence with which you refuse to accept you are wrong. National’s claim that Labour had an $11 billion hole in its budget was preposterous nonsense, but its steely resolve in never backing off, even a single inch, gave it enormous authority. Toughing it out is a political virtue.
In his speech last night, English said the attacks on the government had been hard, but “the more of it there was, the better we responded”. He was talking about the way they just stared down all the accusations of lies and scaremongering and he was right.
The third component to National’s success was Honest Bill. Strange but profoundly true: we thought it would be Jacinda, but it is Bill English who has become the new John Key.
9. Duncan Garner talks too much.
I loved Newshub most of all last night. Smart, snappy, very sharp with the results. But fuck me Duncan Garner, you are not the only person in the room with something to say. Watching Lisa Owen not pulling out a knife and stabbing you for your bullheaded determination to just keep talking was, weirdly, one of the most arresting narratives of the whole evening.
10. I want my Bob Dylan back.
Call me callow all you like but frankly when it comes down to it I can’t forgive National for this: their campaign song is a ripoff of one of my favourite Bob Dylan songs. Which is called ‘You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere’. Ironically.
Bonus point. The Greens had the best food (platters of Greek food) and the Nats had complete rubbish: 1980s catering with little pasties and shit like that, and a cash bar. A cash bar! No wonder they’re the government.