The Key to a 4th term

An emphatic win for National raises a whole series of questions, especially for a left-wing struggling to understand middle New Zealand... and then there's Dotcom

The coming days will see a welter of words on the reasons for the spectacular success of National and the failure of the broad left. As a 'pundit', I might as well add my views.

National's advertising was subliminally a triumph. An integrated team resolutely heading in the same direction contrasted to an old tub going around in circles. As soon as I saw the ad I knew that it captured the mood, and that the message would be absorbed in a flash.

The distractions of “Dirty Politics” and “The Moment of the Big Fail” only reinforced the message.

The left was also too desperate, in part because of their hatred of John Key. This is something I do not understand. Why do so many activists on the left hate Key to the point they have no understanding why he appeals to so many New Zealanders?

But one thing we do know about elections is that the ground work for a win is laid down many months earlier. Voters make a continuous judgment about governments, and also of opposition parties. They may not read the detail of policy, but through the vast array of media they form a view. And it is a simple proposition, does the government work for me and my country and do the opposition understand my situation?

So for most New Zealanders the government has done an OK (actually a very good) job of piloting New Zealand through stormy seas, and they are inclined to trust John Key when he says that New Zealand is on the cusp of an exciting future, even if that cannot yet be articulated. They have seen enough of the emerging new economy to know it might be true. And I would also note (to John Campbell) that the great majority of people in Christchurch can see real progress, both for themselves and for their city.

So an opposition message, that everything is a disaster and -- to quote David Cunliffe -- that the government is a “bunch of clowns” did not resonate. In the campaign he pulled back from that, but it was too late, he had already done the damage to himself. But I would note his concession speech showed real insight that Labour has to change direction if it wants to win. It's something National did after 2005. Now Labour has to do the same.

I have made many comments on this site and elsewhere that Labour has failed to take on board why voters support National, and that Labour’s commitment to repeal everything National has done was wrong headed. Will Labour go into 2017, promising yet again to repeal the 90 day probation period, and to kill the major road projects? As the original author of the 90 day bill, I deliberately chose the most moderate period in the OECD. It was intended to be a signal to Labour that it would work out OK. But it is not a message yet listened to.

I was wrong on the Greens; I thought they would do better. But perhaps spending three years saying “No” to everything was all too effectively absorbed by the public. You cannot look like you hate the New Zealand economy and then get entrusted with it. The change to a more moderate position during the election campaign was too late. I also think that too many of the Green MP’s sound like crusading social workers for them to really win a lot more votes. They have to start sounding like they actually understand the country they live in. So the next three years is quite a test for them if they want to break though to 15 or more percent.

Winston was so close to holding the balance of power. Where to from here? Can he effectively sit on the cross benches and do enough with the government to look like he will be responsible in that role in the future?

This is also a test for National. They have just got away with not needing him, but what about 2017? It will be a real test for NZF to go beyond 2017 to be able to fulfill this role. Or is that now the prospect for the Conservatives? Because it looks like 2017 might be their year.

And finally Hone. He must surely rue the day he got into bed with Kim Dotcom. I am certain he would have won Te Tai Tokerau without Kim Dotcom’s baleful influence. I know a large number of conservative Maori in Te Tai Tokerau (family connections) who voted for Kelvin to get rid of Dotcom. Normally they would have voted Maori Party, but they were deeply offended by KDC’s influence. They also thought that Labour needs Kelvin. It was a demonstration that even opponents of Labour nevertheless have a regard for where Labour could be heading, since they know that Labour will eventually sit on the Treasury benches.

But ultimately the night belonged to John Key. He has shown why we get regular reports that people in other countries wish he could be the Prime Minister of a bigger country. It is why he is the golf buddy of President Obama.

A large number of New Zealanders intuitively know that he gets what is needed and that is why he has the trust of so many New Zealanders.

And that is why he is the Prime Minister with the potential to emulate Keith Holyoake’s fourth term; the Holy Grail in National Party circles.