The sheer enormity of Labour’s landslide on Saturday offers the party the opportunity to reshape the political landscape for possibly the next six years.
They will find this easier over the next few months as it appears the National Party will be pre-occupied with a bloody post mortem on why it failed so dramatically on Saturday losing 21 of the 56 seats it won in 2017.
“We’ve got a very strong mandate as it is,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said yesterday.
“You’ll know that also, whilst I will continue to seek to be a consensus builder, I also want straightforward arrangements for this next term of office.”
And that means she wants an end to support parties applying handbrakes and wants to start governing in her own right.
That seems to mean that she is not looking to have the Greens in coalition but rather a looser arrangement with them.
She doesn’t need their ten seats.
Labour will have 64 seats; enough to govern alone and become the first party to do so since MMP was introduced in 1999.
“I think it’s fair to say that over a period of MMP governments there have been a range of agreements,” she said.
“There have been confidence and supply agreements. There have been consultation agreements. I don’t want to draw any conclusion at this point.”
Ardern appears to be referring to the 2005 “co-operation agreement” between the Clark Labour Government and the Greens which allowed the Greens to participate in the development of some policies and also made a promise (rather than a commitment) to introduce a number of Green policies related to the minimum wage, genetically modified organisms and peacekeeping.
But she was emphatic that this will now be a Labour Government rather than a Labour-led Government.
“What is clear is that we do have that mandate to press ahead and form a government,” she said.
“But at the same time, I have worked to build consensus over the past.
“I do want to take the time next week to work a few things through.”
What is driving Labour’s thinking is an understanding that they owe their huge surge in voter support to National voters crossing over and voting for them.
There was a swing of nearly 15 per cent from National to Labour. That is a landslide.
Labour staff and MPs involved in the campaign believe it was Covid that did it.
The party’s focus groups early on picked up that the Prime Minister’s daily Covid briefings were having an impact.
They were building trust in her and an understanding of the issues that confronted the Government.
At its most fundamental level, that was expressed by the chair of the Ngati Hine Trust, Wasi Shortland, to the Prime Minister when she was campaigning in Northland a week ago.
“Thank you for keeping us safe,” he said.
Labour coupled that surge of voters coming to them with a formidable organisation.
They out campaigned National.
They had substantial data resources and were using focus groups right from the start of the year.
Their polling people had experience in the most recent Australian election and brought that with them to Wellington.
On the road with Ardern, they had a much more experienced and substantial team. They had two press secretaries with the Prime Minister; National had one. Labour had a professional video crew for social media; National had a staffer with an I-phone.
Labour had its former party president and Minister, Ruth Dyson, as its advance person carefully setting up events that Ardern was going to and checking them out avoid pitfalls.
National got into trouble when its leader, Judith Collins, was sprung on a Ponsonby Road walkabout chatting with planted National Party workers pretending to be casual passers-by; there was little evidence of any advance work on that campaign stop.
Surprisingly National did not use the Crosby-Textor company which master-minded the John Key and Bill English election victories nor did the party employ the Topham-Guerin company which is made up of former Young Nationals and which does social media work for Boris Johnson.
But the question will now be how Labour manages to hold on to its new ex-National supporters as it keeps faith with its own base.
“I think we do need to look at what was the message that New Zealanders, particularly those New Zealanders who may have voted for Labour, who haven’t done so before; what were they were both endorsing and asking for?” Ardern said.
“I think they were endorsing the work we’ve done on Covid already.
“And I do think they were endorsing the plan.
“We have to go forward, and there are some areas we do want to crack on with.
“We want to make sure that we’re working on things like that flexi wage, small business loan schemes, those things that really aid our economic recovery quickly.
“There is a list of Covid priorities that I do want to make sure that we fulfil them before the end of the year.
“And it is likely that we’ll have a short space of house time in order to progress there.
“But there will be other areas where I do want to strongly signal the extra work that we want to continue on as a government.
“None of it will be new, though, because we thought we laid the foundations for these next three years in the previous three years.”
Ardern’s constant emphasis through the campaign, repeated yesterday, on the need to find consensus over policy and to make that policy sustainable beyond a change of Government points not only to her natural conservatism but also pure political pragmatism.
She wants Labour to straddle the centre and become the natural party of Government in the way National was in the 1960s and 70s.
National meanwhile is showing every sign of tearing itself apart.
The scars from having had three leaders this year have not healed. But the party’s problems go deeper than that and were adroitly hinted at by leader, Judith Collins, yesterday when she talked about what she wanted a review of the campaign to achieve.
She did so against a background of the former leader, Simon Bridges, telling TVOne on election night that MPs did not know what message the party was trying to get across in the campaign.
“It was a national party that was struggling with its own issues, and it didn’t have a plan and didn’t have a strategy,” he said.
“So the candidates out in the field and a bunch of seats weren’t really sure what it was they should be saying on issues.
“Obviously, we’ll we’ll dig into that, and there will have to be some real soul searching from National.
“Certainly I saw it towards the end there.
“There wasn’t really any sense of a key message of what it was we were about.
“And I think, look, we’re seeing that in the results tonight.”
Though Collins said the review would look at this, her response was barbed.
“I understand that every MP and candidate got a message every single day and it’s all in their inbox,” she said.
The tensions between her and Bridges were also obvious when she responded to comments made on Newshub on election night from former National Minister, Chris Finlayson.
He said it would be interesting to trace the party’s internal polling from when Jami Lee Ross leaked his phone conversations with Simon Bridges in 2018.
“We’ve had a litany of cockups, and this is the result of what happens when you talk about yourself, and you don’t talk about the issues,” he said.
“Christ Finlayson is a very wise person,” she said.
“And in my opinion, an outstanding MP and minister.
“And he’s someone who will call it exactly as he sees it.”
(He could be a candidate to conduct the review.)
But Collins also implied she agreed with widespread criticism of the quality of many of the candidates the party put up.
That was obvious in seats like Auckland Central, where the candidate, Emma Mellow, was typical of a new wave of young candidates who have little life experience beyond working for politicians or in public relations.
Mellow came third in what had been a National seat.
In Upper Harbour, the party rejected a well known local Council board member Lisa Whyte in favour of a young businessman who had returned from the United States with questions being asked about his credentials.
National’s candidate vote plunged from 56.1 per cent to 39.8 per cent.
“I’m sure you all know that I had to deal with some very difficult things during the campaign; issues around selections, and all sorts of things,” she said.
“I think that would be something you would expect in a review.”
And she would also like to look at claims made by NZ Herald columnist and former party staffer, Matthew Hooton, that the caucus was complacent between 2017 and 2020.
“I think that’s something that will come out in the review,” she said.
“But I also think you have a reasonable point there, which is that having come in with a very large caucus into opposition with 44 per cent of the party vote against the Labour Party in 2017 but not being in government, you can actually start to think that there was some complacency.”
Given that Collins wants the review to address these sorts of controversial issues which are bound to step on some caucus members’ toes, there would seem little chance of peace breaking out within the National caucus immediately.
But if National is to get back into power, it is readily apparent they now face a much more formidable Labour Party than they even did last Parliamentary term.
Jacinda Ardern is not about to give away power easily or quickly.
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