A narcissistic, third-rate, Bond-villain code-named “Trump” takes control of the United States; a global pandemic brings human civilisation to a near stand-still; Whakaari/White Island erupts creating a hellish tragedy; Level 4 and 3 Lockdowns result in deserted streets straight out of The Quiet Earth; a new “Fortress New Zealand” is erected in a valiant struggle to keep a deadly virus from our shores, and an election result no one could ever have predicted… No “reality TV” could possibly hope to match 2020 (or the last twelve months).
This will be one for the history books.
And folks, we had front row seats…
A series of political polls on both major TV networks had Labour consistently ahead of National. Despite three leaders in as many years, the “natural party of governance” was failing to govern itself. More critically, it was failing to connect with most New Zealanders.
A series of “mis-steps” – too numerous to mention – cemented public impressions that National was in dis-array; rudderless; riven with leaks, in-fighting, and intrigue. Worse still, their Finance Spokesperson – Paul Goldsmith – demonstrated his own incredible incompetence with a series of arithmetical blunders in the party’s economic plan.
The errors quickly mounted, passing eight billion dollars, mocking National’s so-called reputation for being “sound managers of the economy”.
Judith Collin’s antagonistic leadership – a stark contrast to Prime Minister Ardern’s more inclusive, up-beat style – appealed to the National base but failed to gain traction with the rest of Aotearoa New Zealand.
Her carping criticism often made little sense when one looked deeper into her utterances. Child poverty was a classic example of Ms Collins’ contradictory position.
On the one hand, she criticised the Labour-led coalition for not addressing child poverty in the last three years;
“It is correct, and if you look at kids living in material hardship, which means they can’t get to a doctor and things like that, are 4100 more than when she took office.
If you talk to the food banks they will tell you things have got worse, they haven’t got better. So when you’re talking about transformational change, it has just got worse.”
But then, Ms Collins also inadvertently confirmed that child poverty simply could not be solved in a single three year term,
“We would love to do that too, actually.”
She was agreeing Labour’s goal of halving child poverty rates by 2030 – a decade away. In effect confirming the magnitude of the problem.
It was this kind of kneejerk “I-can-do-better-than-you” that added to uncertainties around Judith Collins’ credibility
Added to that was National’s promise of a tax cut. The ill-considered policy has been well-traversed, but the most salient points were;
- The proposed tax cuts would be funded through the $14 billion Covid recovery fund set aside to pay for another outbreak and possible lockdown
- The tax cuts would cost $4.7 billion
- The Covid Recovery fund is borrowed money
- The tax cuts would benefit high income earners the most; someone on $70,000 would gain $3226 – $45.50 per week; someone on minimum wage would gain $560 – or $8.10 per week.
The tax cuts were “temporary”, according to National’s Finance spokesperson, Paul Goldsmith – from 1 December this year and expiring 31 March 2022. Though it is difficult to see Mr Goldsmith (or his successor) raising taxes back to pre-election levels after the expiry date.
National’s tax-cut would be nothing less than a bribe to high-income Middle Class. Those on low incomes would receive very little – less than the cost of a 1KG block of cheese.
When challenged by Jack Tame on TVNZ’s Q+A why the proposed tax cuts were not directed more at lower-income earners who would spend it, thereby stimulating the economy, Mr Goldsmith showed how out-of-touch he really was with the “Ordinary Kiwi Battler”;
“It’s their [high income earners] own money that we’re going to be returning to them.
Yeah, they’ll get some extra money, and we want to put some extra money into the hands of people who are working hard.”
Firstly, it’s not “their money”. It is borrowed money. Borrowed money which Judith Collins has been at pains to remind us will have to be re-paid by our children (and grand-children!). This was the same rationale used by National to demand that borrowed money not be re-invested in Aotearoa’s superannuation fund;
“An obvious place to start is suspending new payments to the New Zealand Super Fund for the next four years. That alone would reduce core crown debt by $9 billion over four years.
The actions we will take today could leave a legacy of debt for future generations. We are making choices that will impact them tomorrow.
Such levels of debt would leave our children and grandchildren – and also ourselves – profoundly vulnerable to the inevitable next shock.”
In effect, Mr Goldsmith was willing to use borrowed money to spray around well paid, upper middle class for a tax-cut bribe – but not to invest in the super fund which actually creates wealth. This is not what one would expect from a supposedly “responsible manager of the economy”.
Secondly; Mr Goldsmith’s suggestion that cutting taxes for higher income earners rather than those on minimum wage because they are “people who are working hard” was an insult to those supermarket workers; truck drivers; warehouse staff, pharmacy staff, et al, who carried on working during the covid lockdown so we could be fed and our medication regimes maintained.
Any low-paid worker listening to Mr Goldsmith would have understood the signal they had just been sent: two raised fingers.
Three televised debates on TV1 and TV3 were lauded by National apparatchiks as “victories” for Ms Collins. But the rest of the country seemed not to share that conclusion. National continued to languish in low 30s in one political poll after another.
The more rabid Ms Collins became, the less appealing to voters.
Just how unappealing her leadership was to the great majority quickly became apparent on Election Night.
Almost immediately, Labour’s Party vote rocketed to 51%, and National plumetted to between 26 and 27%.
Something preternatural was taking place before our eyes.
An hour after polls had closed, my sense that something unimaginable was taking place led me to post this prediction on Twitter;
The second and third predictions are yet to become reality – more on that shortly.
Today (20 October), National will hold it’s Party Caucus of what remains of it’s Parliamentary team. There will be many empty seats in the room. But all eyes will be on Judith Collins, who once stated that 35% was the tipping point for failure for a Party Leader.
On election night, National sank like a stone to 26.8% – 8.2 percentage points below her own standard for failure;
Judith Collins has steadfastly rejected calls to honour her commitment to resign despite Saturday’s election results being the worst since 2002. In that year National’s vote collapsed to a disastrous 20.93%.
When pointedly asked if she took any responsibility for National’s loss, she replied;
“I take absolute responsibility for working every single day and night for the campaign and also making sure that wherever we were asked to we were always there, but that’s what I’ve done, I’ve actually worked my little socks off.”
Which was hilariously ironic. Only five days earlier, she had demanded others take responsibility for their “personal choices”;
By contrast, former Prime Minister Helen Clark resigned as Leader of the Labour on election night in 2008.
For the public, this was another un-subtle sign that Judith Collins was not fit to be Prime Minister. Her lack of empathy; questionable judgement; and “Muldoonish” malice was in polar opposite to the empathetic and positive Jacinda Ardern who had led us through terrorist attack, natural disaster, and an ongoing pandemic.
National MP – and one-time contender for Party leadership – Mark Mitchell, was having none of Ms Collins’ judgementalistic rubbish, and called her out on it;
“Some obesity is related to medical conditions, even psychological conditions that need treating, so it’s a more complex issue.”
This was yet another public spat between National figures.
Furthermore, Mr Mitchell’s appearance on TVNZ’s Q+A on 18 October – the day after the election – was a stand-out performance. His measured, calm demeanour was pretty much what New Zealanders expect from their political leaders.
If Judith Collins is “Muldoonish”, then Mark Mitchell was more “Jim Bolger”.
But more curiously, why was Mark Mitchell appearing on Q+A, to represent the National Party? Where was Party Leader, Judith Collins? Why was she not fronting to answer Jack “James” Tame’s questions?
I was reminded of Q+A on 12 July, when National’s then-Deputy Leader, Nikki Kaye, fronted for an interview instead of then-Leader, Todd Muller. Two days later, we understood why: Mr Muller had stepped down as Party Leader as he faced a personal health crisis.
The next Leader of the National Party will most likely be Mark Mitchell and it will happen sometime next year.
The public must have looked aghast at National lack of self-discipline and its apparent determination to self-destruct at every opportunity.
Destabilising leadership changes; on-going shambles within National; an incoherent economic message; were but a few reasons why voters deserted that Party.
More simply, New Zealanders did not trust National to keep them safe from covid.
National is a Party that has consistently branded itself as the Party for private enterprise; pro-business; and Economic Managers. It has been the political DNA of that party since it’s inception.
And business interests – led by vociferous agitators such as Universities; tourist industry; and especially Auckland Chamber of Commerce CEO Michael Barnett – have been demanding that the economy be kept open so their capitalist enterprises can continue to make a profit.
New Zealanders have eyes and we have seen what happens overseas when “wealth takes priority over health”: people get sick and people die.
How long before National caved to business calls to further open up the economy, despite the risks of reintroducing covid19? I would give it less than six months.
New Zealanders trusted Prime Minister Ardern to stand up to the business community. They had no such trust in Judith Collins.
In final analysis, National had nothing of substance to offer voters. It had “answers” – but not answers to the questions now confronting us as a nation. They were answers that may have been valid for the Global Financial Crisis (and even that is highly questionable) – but not for a virus.
Labour was fighting a 2020 election.
National was still in 2017.
Unlike several political pundits and media commentators, I had little doubt the Greens would be back in Parliament. In fact, once Special Votes are counted, they may pick up one or two extra MPs. After “Specials” were counted in 2017, Labour and the Greens each gained an extra MP, with National losing two (Nicola Willis and Maureen Pugh).
National’s hurt may yet get worse.
Chlöe Swarbrick’s election may yet be a sign of things to come as younger generations of New Zealanders learn to flex their electoral “muscle” and finally take on the Baby Boomers and their housing empire. Ms Swarbrick is one to watch. She is not just charismatic a-la Jacinda Ardern, but has the Leadership “X” Factor.
Contrast Ms Swarbrick to Labour’s Helen White. Ms White did herself no favours on TVNZ’s Q+A on 4 October, when she patronisingly demanded Ms Swarbrick to stand aside in Auckland so she wouldn’t split the Left vote (thereby allowing National’s Emma Mellow to win the electorate).
Bad form, Ms White. Entitlement is best left to National – they excel at the practice.
As to whether or not the Greens should (or could) become part of this government is largely academic. Labour’s majority means just that – it’s a majority.
But does Labour really want a Leftwing Opposition as well as two Rightwing oppositions?
If Ms Ardern is smart, she’ll pull the Greens into the Parliamentary “tent”. It’ll be much cosier. And the Greens can be valuable allies, especially when it comes to National’s appalling track record on the environment.
If there is one single masterful move National made during this election, it was to box L:abour into a corner by making Jacinda Ardern promise, with hand-on-heart: no new taxes. This will stymie the incoming government unless (a) the economy suddenly revives and the tax-take increases or (b) the government borrows more money.
Either way, this may prove to be the only “handbrake” to the incoming government – but a major one at that.
Otherwise, Labour has no other excuses anymore. It has the majority and it has the mandate.
Get on with it.
Because if the next three years are squandered by “playing it safe”, then the inevitable question will be asked by Team Five Million: what use are you?
The four top priorities for this government must be (in purely alphabetical order);
- Child poverty
- Climate change
You kept Aotearoa safe these last eight months, Prime Minister Ardern. Now do those four.
New Conservatives and Advance NZ
Conspiracy fantasists have usually been little more than mildly amusing discussion topics at dinner parties. But with the advent of a global pandemic, their jaw-droppingly childish ideas about covid19 could affect all of us. Suddenly, they were not so amusing and we were not smiling.
Their ignorance was a potential threat to our well-being. Luckily, Prime Minister Ardern’s actions to contain and eradicate the virus in Aotearoa meant that the mass gatherings of New Conservatives and Advance NZ supporters would not turn into a super-spreader event – like this one;
We were lucky indeed.
Otherwise they would be the death of us.
Good riddance to bad rubbish.
New Zealand voters finally “got it”.
By voting for a political party that refused to disclose who they would coalesce with, in essence they were taking people’s votes and turning them into a “blank cheque”.
When NZ First coalesced with Labour in 2017, it annoyed those NZF supporters who leaned toward National.
When NZ First acted as a “handbrake” to Labour and Green initiatives, it annoyed those NZF supporters who leaned to the left.
Result? 2.7% on election night – down from 7.2% in 2017. That’s a lot of people who were annoyed for one reason or another.
The biggest loss with the demise of New Zealand First was Tracey Martin – one of NZ First’s best and most capable ministers. A suggestion to Prime Minister-elect Ardern – pull Ms Martin into the Labour Party fold. This woman has too much political talent to allow to go to waste.
As for Winston Peters – despite evidence obtained by RNZ’s Guyon Espiner that Winston Peters was “neck deep” in the secretive “NZ First Foundation” – Aotearoa owes much to this veteran politician.
Had he chosen a different path; had Mr Peters opted for a National-NZ First coalition (as many of his supporters expected), history would have been vastly different.
As pointed out above, National would have acquiesced to business calls to keep the economy open. It is doubtful if Simon Bridges would have closed our borders to tourism; or locked down for over a month; or re-locked Auckland in August.
It may not be to overly dramatic to suggest that, by choosing Labour, Winston Peters gave this country the right Leader at the right time, and saved lives.
As former NZ Listener editor, Finlay Macdonald said on Twitter;
Former member of Parliament for NZ First and then National, Tau Henare, told this blogger he fully agreed with Mr Macdonald’s observation.
Winston Peters’ legacy? He gave us Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
NZ Film Commission: The Quiet Earth
Te Ara – The Encyclopedia of New Zealand: The National Party – Leaders
Otago Daily Times: Watch – National promises ‘massive’ tax cuts
Stuff media: Election 2020 Results
Wikipedia: 2002 New Zealand general election
The Atlantic: The Virus Is Coming From Inside the White House
Wikipedia: 2017 General Election
Gordon Campbell: On Why The Greens Shouldn’t Join The Government
Previous related blogposts
Acknowledgement: Rod Emmerson
This blogpost will be re-published in five days on “Frankly Speaking“. Reader’s comments may be left here (The Daily Blog) or there (Frankly Speaking).
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