Just like the resurrected Maori party. It marked a night-time election upheaval, reclaiming the Maori seat of Waiariki from the incumbent Labor candidate, and potentially propelling a Maori MP into the House. The Maori party will nervously wait for the special votes (which are expected to be over half a million nationwide) to be counted before they can celebrate. But again, a strong and independent Maori voice is likely to be heard in parliament to advance the interests of the Maori, by the Maori, for the Maori.
For the main opposition party, National, last night’s 26.8% vote was its worst result since 2002. With the latest public opinion polls predicting it to reach 31%, the drop to 27% would have been an instinctive blow to Leader Judith Collins, the party and her supporters.
It’s hard to remember New Zealand’s pre-pandemic policy, but eight months ago National actually led Labor in the polls. In February of this year, National was sitting on 46% support, with Labor at 41%. The May 2019 Labor budget did not go well. His broken election promises on KiwiBuild houses were a constant embarrassment to the party. Even Ardern’s handling of the Christchurch Mosque terrorist shootings 11 months earlier had not resulted in a lasting improvement in the polls.
National will enter this election year rejoicing at the little drop in people’s ratings since the 2017 general election, despite the fact that its former popular leadership triumvirate of John Key, Bill English and Steven Joyce has taken over. retired, and (at the time) new chef Simon Bridges still mastering his training wheels. The last thing he would have planned was for his vote to be almost halved eight months later.
And then came the pandemic, and the world as we knew it changed. It was Ardern’s creation as Prime Minister.
The Christchurch Mosque shooting, the volcanic eruption of the White Island of Whakaari. It turns out it was a dress rehearsal for the job of leading New Zealand through Covid-19. Close borders, adopt an elimination strategy, shut down parts of the economy at different alert levels. New Zealanders literally trusted Ardern with their lives and, for the most part, her government handed her over, leading the country to have one of the highest rates of Covid-related infection and death down to the world. Today, most of us can go about our daily business without worrying about spreading or catching the virus.
If Ardern has taken up the challenge presented by Covid-19, the national party has floundered. With no manual for leading an opposition in a pandemic, national leaders Bridges, then Todd Muller, then Collins simply couldn’t figure out how to counter Ardern’s popularity or give voters real reason to change. National’s main election offers – job creation, spending on infrastructure and supporting small businesses – were not much different from Labor’s.
In the past, National has relied on the prospect of a tax hike to scare off Labor voters. He attempted to execute that line again in 2020. Ardern quickly stopped him at the pass and ruled out passing the Green Party’s proposed wealth tax. Labor is still proposing an income tax hike for those earning more than $ 180,000 a year, but that hasn’t deterred voters who know something needs to be done to reduce the growing inequality of income and who see a tax on the rich as part of the solution.
National will now have to take the time to regroup. Because National has not technically “lost” the 2017 election (when it won 44.4% of the party’s vote against 36.9% of the Labor Party), it has yet to go through the bleeding phase. and renewal needed before voters decide to return their support to it. Expect plenty of leadership and leadership changes over the next 18 months.
The euphoria of Labor election night will not last long. Never before had there been such a heavy expectation on him to answer, in Ardern’s words in his victory speech, “all New Zealanders”. All eyes will also be on Ardern as she decides to strike a deal with the Greens. Labor don’t need them to form a government, but may find it better to keep them inside the tent than outside, so they can take over the management of the takeover economic without having to be harassed by the disgruntled rumors coming from a former “enemy” on the left.
Claire Robinson is Professor of Communication Design at Massey University in Wellington.