Photo by Marty Melville via Getty images.
Photo by Marty Melville via Getty images.

PoliticsSeptember 25, 2017

The good news and the bad news for Labour

Photo by Marty Melville via Getty images.
Photo by Marty Melville via Getty images.

How hard is Labour trying to form a government? Who made it into the new parliament, and who’s waiting on the edge for those specials?

Let’s do the bad news first. Jacinda Ardern’s speech on election night was a surprise. It sounded like she believed there wasn’t much she could do to form a government. She didn’t sound like a winner; she barely sounded like a player. Bill English and James Shaw both projected confidence and hope. We’ve got a majority of the votes, said Shaw, referring to Labour, NZ First and the Greens, so let’s do this. Ardern didn’t say that at all.

This is the bad news for Labour. Jacinda Ardern, facing the first big hurdle of the post-election contest, didn’t jump the barrier but ran straight into it.

Why? Is it because she and her advisers didn’t know what was required? You don’t give up, you don’t give in. That’s the rule. It’s Politics 101. It unlikely they didn’t know that.

Is it because they don’t want to win? Why would that be?

Merch at the Labour Party party on Saturday night. (Photos Simon Wilson)

You might be surprised to know there are at three reasons:

  1. Perhaps they think they’re not really ready to govern. This is the theory that an Ardern government now would go badly, causing Labour to be thrown out for another nine years in 2020. There are National MPs who would quite like to see it play out that way. On the other hand, if Ardern does three years now as leader of the opposition, she’ll be experienced enough to lead a long-term government in 2020. There are Labour MPs who quite like that idea.
  2. Perhaps they’d rather stay in opposition than have to work with Winston Peters. NZ First has twice been part of a government under MMP (1996 and 2005) and on both occasions it coincided with the end of that government. This is the view that says Peters offers a poisoned chalice.
  3. Perhaps they think the economy is going to collapse. House prices in Auckland have slowed but maybe the bubble will burst, or maybe Donald Trump will wreck the international economy. Something something, basically. This is the view of people who are simply scared to govern.

None of these reasons makes good sense, and the reason is that, in politics, there is no such thing as “better next time”.

If National wins a fourth term there will be no reason it can’t win a fifth term. In fact, as Germany and Japan have both demonstrated, the longer a party stays in power the more likely it may be remain in power. It truly becomes the natural party of government.

“Better next time” is defeatist, which is crushing for morale, and not just for MPs. It undermines the support of party workers, party supporters and potential coalition partners. And its consequence, staying out of power, undermines the party’s financial prospects and the experience of its caucus. Just six members if the new Labour caucus have had any experience of being in government; if they have to wait until 2020, it will probably be just one or two.

In politics there is no “better next time”. You take every chance. I’m not saying they should throw out all their principles and policies and just do whatever Winston Peters wants. Of course not. If he wants the unacceptable, they should say no.

But in politics you fight to win, and then you fight to win again. Day after day, campaign after campaign. That’s all there is to it.

Ardern and her team may not be able to form the next government. But they have to be utterly determined to try.

The National Party listens to Jacinda Ardern making her speech on Saturday night.

Now the good news

The good news for Labour is that it has a revitalised caucus. There are more women (20, up from 12), more ethnic groups, more young people and more sheer talent among the incoming MPs than the party has seen in many years.

There is also a genuine provincial spread. They didn’t win provincial electorates, but most of their new MPs come from outside the big cities. This will be extremely valuable for the long-term health of the party.

Of the 28 returning members of the caucus, 21 live in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch or Dunedin. It does have MPs from Napier and Palmerston North, and the coverage the Māori seats gives it. But now it will also have MPs from Rotorua, Whangarei, Gisborne, Invercargill, Tauranga, Hamilton, Masterton and a country town near Ashburton. This spread connects the party more strongly to the regions, gives it greater authority when it speaks about the regions, helps to grow its organisational strength in the regions and broadens the perspectives available to the caucus. Fully a third of the new caucus will be from a provincial town or city.

The value of this is starkly in view in the weekend’s election result. To put it very simply, the biggest single reason Labour did not become the obvious party of government is that it badly misread the provinces, allowing National to crucify it over water and tax. The new caucus, one assumes, is far less likely to let such a blunder happen again.

I wrote at the start of the year that Labour did not seriously renew its caucus in either of the last two elections, and that had meant it was a bit short of real talent. Every new candidate, I said, should be chosen for their potential to become a front bencher, and therefore a cabinet minister. Preferably, to become leader.

The new crop of MPs includes perhaps a dozen with the potential to become cabinet ministers one day. And among them there are four or five potential future leaders. Early days, of course, because some people turn out better than expected and others let you down. But it’s a far stronger start than they managed in 2014 or 2011.

And, of course, Labour has Jacinda Ardern. Criticisms above notwithstanding, she’s just done an astonishing thing: increase her party’s share of the vote by almost 50%. Labour should definitely not be thinking it’s okay to stay in opposition. But if that is where they end up, they will be well placed to enter the 2020 election with an experienced, inspirational leader and a high-quality, battle-hardened caucus team behind her.

Of course, as explained above, that’s not a reason to give up now and wait.

Who’s going to be a Labour MP?

In rank order from the list: Jacinda Ardern (Mt Albert), Kelvin Davis (Te Tai Tokerau), Andrew Little (list, Wellington), Grant Robertson (Wellington Central), Phil Twyford (Te Atatu), Megan Woods (Wigram), Chris Hipkins (Rimutaka), Carmel Sepuloni (Kelston), David Clark (Dunedin North), David Parker (list, Auckland), Nanaia Mahuta (Hauraki-Waikato), Stuart Nash (Napier), Priyanca Radhakrishnan (list, Auckland), Raymond Huo (list, Auckland), Meka Whaitiri (Ikaroa-Rawhiti), Iain Lees-Galloway (Palmerston North), Jan Tinetti (list, Tauranga), Aupito Su’a William Sio (Mangere), Willow-Jean Prime (list, Northland), Damien O’Connor (West Coast-Tasman), Jenny Salesa (Manukau East), Kris Faafoi (Mana), Peeni Henare (Tāmaki Makaurau), Kiri Allan (list, East Coast), Willie Jackson (list, Auckland), Clare Curran (Dunedin South), Ruth Dyson (Port Hills), Adrian Rurawhe (Te Tai Hauāuru), Rino Tirikatene (Te Tai Tonga), Poto Williams (Christchurch East), Louisa Wall (Manurewa), Michael Wood (Mt Roskill), Ginny Andersen (list, Wellington), Jo Luxton (list, South Canterbury), Deborah Russell (New Lynn), Liz Craig (list, Invercargill), Marja Lubeck (list, Auckland), Trevor Mallard (list, Wellington), Paul Eagle (Rongotai), Tamati Coffey (Waiariki), Jamie Strange (list, Hamilton), Anahila Kanongata’a Suisuiki (list, Auckland), Kieran McAnulty (list, Wairarapa), Greg O’Connor (Ōhāriu), Duncan Webb (Christchurch Central). Total: 45 MPs.

The next three spots on the Labour list are held by Angie Warren-Clark (Bay of Plenty), Helen White (Auckland) and Steph Lewis (Whanganui). They’re next in line if the specials increase the proportion of the Labour vote. It’s likely Angie Warren-Clark will get in, and possibly Helen White.

If any Labour list MPs retire soon (Trevor Mallard?) the next person on the list takes their place.

If Labour loses a seat in the special votes count, Kieran McAnulty will drop out.

On the edge: Golriz Ghaharaman (left) will enter parliament if the Greens increase their majority by just a few thousand special votes. Chlöe Swarbrick will lose her spot if the Greens drop votes in the specials.

Who’s going to be a Green MP?

James Shaw (Wellington), Marama Davidson (Auckland), Julie-Anne Genter (Auckland), Eugenie Sage (Christchurch), Gareth Hughes (Wellington), Jan Logie (Wellington), Chlöe Swarbrick (Auckland).

The Greens have to increase their relative size by only a few thousand votes to pick up an extra seat, which is likely to happen. This would bring Golriz Ghahraman (Auckland) into parliament.

To get a second extra seat, they would need to increase their position by the equivalent of about a quarter of the 384,000 special votes. Having won just 5.8% of the ordinary votes, that doesn’t seem likely. The next in line is Mojo Mathers (Canterbury). If they lose a spot in the specials, Chlöe Swarbrick will drop out.

Be like a winner even when you don’t know if you are: Bill English, on stage with his family and deputy Paula Bennett, about to make his big speech on Saturday night.

Who’s going to be a National MP?

Bill English (list, Wellington), Paula Bennett (Upper Harbour), David Carter (list), Steven Joyce (list), Gerry Brownlee (Ilam), Simon Bridges (Tauranga), Amy Adams (Selwyn), Jonathan Coleman (Northcote), Christopher Finlayson (list), Michael Woodhouse (list), Anne Tolley (East Coast), Nathan Guy (Otaki), Nikki Kaye (Auckland Central), Todd McClay (Rotorua), Nick Smith (Nelson), Judith Collins (Papakura), Maggie Barry (North Shore), Paul Goldsmith (list), Louise Upston (Taupō), Alfred Ngaro (list), Mark Mitchell (Rodney), Nicky Wagner (list), Jacqui Dean (Waitaki), David Bennett (Hamilton East), Tim Macindoe (Hamilton West), Scott Simpson (Coromandel), Jami-Lee Ross (Botany), Barbara Kuriger (Taranaki-King Country), Matt Doocey (Waimakariri), Brett Hudson (list), Melissa Lee (list), Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi (list), Jian Yang (list), Parmjeet Parmar (list), Jonathan Young (New Plymouth), Jo Hayes (list), Ian McKelvie (Rangitikei), Simon O’Connor (Tāmaki), Andrew Bayly (Hunua), Chris Bishop (Hutt South), Sarah Dowie (Invercargill), Nuk Korako (list), Todd Muller (Bay of Plenty), Maureen Pugh (list), Shane Reti (Whangarei), Alistair Scott (Wairarapa), Stuart Smith (Kaikoura), Nicola Willis (list), Matt King (Northland), Simeon Brown (Pakuranga), Andrew Falloon (Rangitata), Harete Hipango (Whanganui), Denise Lee (Maungakiekie), Chris Penk (Helensville), Erica Stanford (East Coast Bays), Tim Van de Molen (Waikato), Lawrence Yule (Tukituki), Hamish Walker (Clutha-Southland). Total 58 MPs.

If National picks up another place from the specials, it will go to Agnes Loheni of Mangere. If they get two, Paulo Garcia of New Lynn will enter parliament.

If they lose one, it will be Nicola Willis of Wellington, and if they lose another it will be Maureen Pugh (a sitting MP). @simonbwilson

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