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The BulletinOctober 16, 2023

National sits tight as Labour postmortems begin

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With votes still being counted, NZ is in ‘limbo-land’ for now – giving commentators plenty of time to discuss what went so wrong with Labour, writes Catherine McGregor in this excerpt from The Bulletin, The Spinoff’s morning news round-up. To receive The Bulletin in full each weekday, sign up here.

Time to get out your calculators

I know it’s early on a Monday morning, but unfortunately we’re going to have to start with some maths. As the dust settles on election night (be sure to read Anna’s special morning-after edition of The Bulletin if you haven’t already), the question on everyone’s mind is exactly how many seats National will end up with. Right now it has 50, and with Act’s 11 it has a governing majority – just. Due to the overhang caused by Te Pati Māori’s strong showing in the electorates we already have a 121 seat parliament. Assuming National’s Andrew Bayly wins the Port Waikato byelection, National/Act will hold 62 seats in a 122-seat Parliament – different numbers, but still a one-seat majority. Right now we don’t know whether Te Pāti Māori will pick up another seat, thus increasing the overhang further, nor how the special vote will change things. Here I’d recommend Henry Cooke’s Museum Street newsletter for a) an easy-to-follow explanation of the overhang rules and b) why National will be on tenterhooks while the special votes are counted and why the special vote tends to favour the left – it’s a bit more complicated than just overseas voters plumping for Labour and the Greens.

All eyes on National’s NZ First strategy

So what does National do between now and November 3, when the vote is finalised? Does it move forward on the presumption that it will govern with Act alone, or start making overtures to NZ First – just in case? On the new episode of Gone by Lunchtime, recorded yesterday, the panel agree that 62 MPs is a dangerously thin margin, and National has good reason to bring Winston Peters into the fold in some way. As for Peters himself, he might say he’s in no hurry, but an early overture will be exactly what he wants, says Jo Moir on Newsroom. “The underlying strategy and hope would be that Luxon and Seymour, in their desperation to get cracking, decide to approach Peters with a raft of policy concessions,” she says. “In that scenario New Zealand First could end up with a much better deal than if everyone sits tight until November 3.”

It’s never too early for a political postmortem

With the political commentariat forced into wait-and-see mode regarding the form of the next government, variations on a theme of “where did Labour go wrong?” will fill many, many column inches this week. Among the first off the block was Simon Wilson in the Herald (paywalled), who says Hipkins had the opportunity to offer big, inspirational change but threw away the opportunity. “One of the great fallacies in politics is that there is a big middle ground of voters who like quiet moderation,” Wilson writes. “Actually, voters want things to be better.” On The Spinoff, Hayden Donnell delivers his now-traditional “winners, losers and gigantic losers” round-up, and his verdict on Hipkins’ electoral strategy is predictably withering. You’ll want to read the whole thing, if only to find out what it is Donnell describes as “the political equivalent of breaking a juice fast by downing an entire barrel of lard”. Coming up on the site at 9am, Duncan Greive writes about the collapse of Labour’s Auckland vote, tying it to the long shadow of the October 2021 lockdown when many Aucklanders felt they’d been forgotten by the Labour government.

Will Hipkins stay or will he go?

As for Hipkins’ future as party leader, we may know as soon as Tuesday, when the Labour caucus meets. It’s almost certain that he’ll resign sooner rather than later, writes Claire Trevett in the Herald (paywalled) – “it is just unclear when”. Names doing the rounds as replacements for Hipkins include Carmel Sepuloni and Peeni Henare, she says. The problem for Labour is how few feasible candidates remain. Michael Wood has lost his seat, Kieran McAnulty has firmly ruled himself out, and neither Andrew Little nor Grant Robertson will likely be around for long, writes Julie Jacobsen in The Post (paywalled). Whether or not they plan to throw their hat in the ring, a lot of senior Labour MPs have a big adjustment ahead, according to former minister Chris Finlayson. “There is nothing worse than the day you walk out of your ministerial suite for the last time,” he says. “It is that transition from being a minister to being a nobody … but that’s life.”

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