These are a few of the things we learned last night.
Covid trumps everything. That’s no great revelation, but to see it in black and white — or red and blue — is quite something. It might explain why National lost seats like New Plymouth. The biggest issue in Taranaki used to be Labour shutting down the region’s oil and gas industry. The biggest issue now seems to be keeping a Labour government in place to lead the Covid response.
And Jacinda Ardern has nailed that response as far as voters are concerned. Business might be sweating bricks over the economic ramifications, but nearly half the country wants her to keep doing what she’s doing. Some are calling it a gratitude vote. It’s hard to believe such a thing exists. If it did, New Zealand First would still be in parliament today, having hoovered up the votes of regional New Zealand voters grateful for the $3 billion pumped into their economies. More likely it’s a trust vote. Voters trust Ardern and Labour to keep on keeping them safe.
Middle New Zealand is still a bit spooked by the Greens. That’s at least part of the reason Labour has a majority. That majority – the first we’ve had in 24 years of MMP – is partly due to a big strategic move by Labour to keep the Greens away from power. This is a wrinkle for Jacinda Ardern when she decides the shape of her government. Should she include the Greens given the public have given her – deliberately – the ability to keep the Greens away from power?
Judith Collins is not the National party leader for 2023. She did admirably all things considered, but she can’t expect her caucus to give her another go after a 27 per cent result on the night. The party needs a total refresh from the top down if they want voters to forget last night. They need to pick over the bones of what went wrong. It was a big mistake to install Todd Muller. It was a big mistake to leak Denise Lee’s email. It was a big mistake to raise the wealth tax in the last week of the campaign when they had no real path to victory any more. It only further drove that strategic support to the Labour party.
And boy oh boy can Kiwis vote strategically! The Greens romped in way higher than expected with voters coming to the rescue. Chloe Swarbrick defied all polls by claiming Auckland Central. Plenty of Māori roll voters split their votes between Labour for the party vote and the Māori Party for the electorate vote, bringing in at least one Māori Party candidate as at last night.
We have just witnessed an election we will talk about for decades. That’s in part because of the evening’s surprises, but it’s mostly because we all know what a hinge-point last night was for the future of this country.
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