Parliament farewelled one of its legends last night — Rongotai MP and former Labour deputy leader and Minister, Annette King.
King, who came into Parliament in the Lange Labour landslide of 1984, went on to become a Health and Police Minister in the Clark Government and was a key member of the party’s right wing faction.
But last night, in her valedictory speech, she conceded that the Lange/Douglas had not thought enough of the consequences of its free market reforms in the 80s and that some of the consequences of those reforms were still being felt.
However, though King is leaving Parliament, she may now be about to play one of her most important political roles.
She will accompany Labour’s new leader, Jacinda Ardern, on the election campaign.
King has been a mentor to Ardern and said in her speech that she believed she would become one of Labour’s most effective and loved leaders and prime Ministers.
In turn, Ardern, later at a party to honour King said she had been more than a colleague.
“You have a role model, you have been a mentor, you have been my friend,” she said.
“I can’t think of anyone else I would want to be on the road with for this epic, epic journey.”
King’s farewell drew back to Parliament a who’s who of Labour’s past 30 years. The election of Ardern and this week’s polls results meant that there was a buoyant mood among them with veterans of the Lange Government saying it felt like 1984 again.
National, on the other hand, believes it is more like 2005, when the Clark Government held on against a surge by the Don Brash led National Party.
Ultimately Labour held on because of then-President Mike Williams; strategy of organising voters in South Auckland.
National officials argue that they face the same challenge; to get their voters to the polls.
All year Party President, Peter Goodfellow, has been telling party conferences that National’s greatest enemy was complacency.
POLITIK understands that the party began to worry after its loss in the 2016 Mt Roskill by-election when the National vote fell by 14% (compared with the 2014 general election) while Labour’s went up by 19%.
That result was largely brought about by National voters staying at home.
National Party officials are now hoping that the surge in Labour’s popularity will incentivise National supporters to get out and vote.
One official told POLITIK that early voting which opens in four weeks on September 11 could now be crucial.
But both Labour and National also have to deal with the very different electoral landscape caused by the halving of support for both the Greens and NZ First.
Sources in both National and Labour have believed for some time that NZ First’s poll ratings were too high, boosted by people not wanting to vote for National but not being convinced to support Labour.
Jacinda Ardern’s election appears to have removed that blockage and those votes are now going straight to Labour.
The response from NZ First Leader Winston Peters yesterday was to turn his fire off National and instead aim at Labour with a press release attacking their policy to charge for water.
The Greens’ collapse is more complex.
What’s been seen so far is a consequence of Ardern’s election rather than the Turei meltdown; the most damaging actions there — the resignation of Kennedy Graham and David Clendon and the resignation of Turei herself — took place after any substantial polling had taken place.
It is therefore conceivable that the Greens could fall further, possibly below the 5% threshold. Internal National polling is said to indicate this.
That would benefit National because the Green vote would be a so-called “wasted vote” and would mean that National could win half the seats in Parliament with only around 44% of the vote.
Because of that, there is now speculation that if it were to happen Labour might do an electorate deal with the Greens to get James Shaw through in Grant Robertson’s Wellington Central seat.
Ironically, though the last week has some of the most extreme volatility in New Zealand politics since 1990, the result looks like an election campaign which will be dominated by the two main parties.