A new beast of a government, whichever way Winston goes

The vote this election was quite predictable, but the journey of the campaign was not and whichever new government we get, it will be very different from the John Key years

I've just reviewed my Pundit post from August 28. It then seemed obvious to me that neither National nor Labour would be able to command a single party majority and New Zealand First and Winston Peters would end up being the king- or queen-maker.

Many factors seemed to be pointing in that direction. 

While there definitely were some issues troubling the public – water quality/environment, housing, welfare, mental health - there was not the watershed feeling out there we felt in the landslide change years – 1972, 1975, 1984, 1990, and 1999.

The various campaigns opposing National tried very hard to raise the alarm level – everything was a “crisis“. There was a housing crisis, an education crisis, a healthcare crisis, the list goes on. There are serious problems there t be addressed – no-one questions that – but it’s as over-pushed. Just before the election there were descriptions of the breakdown of the Marsden Point/Auckland Airport fuel supply pipeline as a crisis. There were immediate promises to build a second line to address this “crisis”. It was a serious inconvenience for those caught by the problem for sure but not a crisis. After all, we sometimes lose a couple of days with fog.

To win office there needs to be a widespread feeling that the government has run its course, and equally as important, a coherent consistent policy vision as to where the new government wants to go. What we saw this time were parties scratching every political itch, promising to spend money – heaps of it - and completely solve everything that ails us.

Here, Labour not just over-reached – they showed a distinct lack of experience. The tax working group idea was fine, but reserving the right to move on its recommendations when no-one could specify what the policies would be was asking for a blank cheque. They eventually backed down and in the event pricked the pin on the Jacinta-effect halo. Voters moved back to the more assured, confident and experienced Bill English.  

Polls too have demonstrated their weakness. I have only a very modest faith in polling in any event, but felt the long-term polls taken throughout the year would give a better indication of party support levels than the polls taken the heat of the campaign. And that is about where it has ended up.

National at 46% did slightly better than expected and Labour slightly worse. NZ First held their long term ground. The Greens were understandably down – their leadership woes undoubtedly impacted.

One comment I heard parroted several times by the so-called “expert” commentators was that the big parties did not understand MMP. Unbelieveably, even Peter Dunne said it. That’s pretty rich coming from Ohariu – his career depended on National voters voting strategically for him in the electorate and National on the list (the MMP tail).

Those voters got it no issue. The election night commentators were saying that if the major parties understood MMP they would have prior to the election worked up groupings of parties that would make up a majority.

My take on this is as follows: Last term we had that – National/Act/Maori Party/United Future – it actually gave those minor parties power beyond their support and enabled them to demand a ministerial role and a policy or two. But essentially it kept a National administration in place. I think the voters in their collective decision have tired of that arrangement, and especially would have if it had continued into another term.

There was a risk that National was going to be too comfortable if they glided back in on the previous formula. The election result puts paid to that. 

Now it is coalition forming time.

I was surprised how quickly James Shaw came out of the blocks — his speech on Saturday night sounded like a victory speech. Jacinda Ardern was sensibly much more restrained. It is all very well to say “the opposition won” – but the opposition is not a monolithic bloc. There are some wide policy differences, and I am sure Winston Peters would never agree to a government being as radical as James Shaw would want it to be.

The hope now is the special votes will solve their problem – who knows? But with only a single vote margin a Labour/NZ First/Green Government will struggle to make a lot of changes – the buffer is just too narrow.

If a National/NZ First coalition should emerge it will be a new beast. National will have to reach across the political divide in a way that have not had to until now. Already Bill English is recognising that the issues he heard so stridently on the campaign trail will have to be addressed. This, if it comes to pass, willl be the first term of an English Government – not the fourth term of a Key Government.

The collective decision of us all has been good for Aotearoa New Zealand and our democracy.