Tell you what (as Judith Collins likes to say): there’s at least one thing I welcome about the election result. It’s that there can be no doubt about its legitimacy, and hence about Labour’s right to govern.
It was a clean win, an emphatic win. Even if it wasn’t the result
many of us wanted, we were left in no doubt about who were the winners and who
were the losers.
More specifically, I welcome the result because we’re likely
to be spared the grubby, opaque post-election manoeuvring that has tarnished so
many elections since New Zealand adopted the MMP system in 1996.
I’ve always maintained that we replaced one imperfect
electoral system with another that was even more deeply flawed. The most
egregious of MMP’s many defects is that once the citizens have cast their
votes, they relinquish all control over what happens. The politicians disappear
behind closed doors and indulge in horse-trading that we can neither see nor
All bets are off. Never
mind what the parties campaigned on or what promises were made; pretty much
everything is on the table in these coalition talks, and what emerges is rarely what people voted for.
The great irony is that we were sold MMP on the basis that
it made politicians more accountable, when the exact reverse is the case. It’s
the very antithesis of transparency.
We saw it at its worst in 2017, when Winston Peters leveraged
his party’s puny 7 percent share of the vote into the assumed right to dictate
the arrangements under which we were to be governed for the following three years – the apparent starting point being Peters’ insistence on his own
appointment as deputy prime minister, for which there was no skerrick of a
All of which was bad enough. But what made things even worse
– infinitely worse – in that instance was the realisation, after the event,
that the coalition talks were an elaborate charade. Those participating assumed
National and Labour were negotiating for Peters’ favour in good faith from
positions of equal strength (as did the hapless voters trying to peer through
the impenetrable smokescreen). It was only later that we learned Peters had
quietly instigated legal action against senior National cabinet ministers over
the supposed leaking of his superannuation over-payments, and was thus no more
likely to enter a coalition with National than to announce that he was
renouncing politics and entering a Trappist monastery.
Peters’ deception meant he was able to extract commitments
from Labour that they might not have made had they realised he was bound
to do a deal with them anyway. So we ended up with a Labour-led government that
was established in shonky circumstances and whose legitimacy remained tainted throughout
No one can say the same about the Ardern government Mk II.
It commences its triennium free of any doubt about its right to govern.
That leads me to the other thing I welcome about the
election result. Mr Seven Percent became Mr 2.7 Percent on Saturday night, and
so was consigned to richly deserved political oblivion. Thus a man who has been
a mostly malignant, vindictive presence in New Zealand politics for more than
four decades has been banished at long last. I couldn’t help but think of
Oliver Cromwell’s ringing words to England’s so-called Rump Parliament in 1653:
“You have sat too long for any good you have been doing lately. Depart, I say,
and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!”
It remains to be seen whether Labour will enter some sort of
governing arrangement with the Greens, but it’s hard to see why they should. As
things stand, Labour will have 64 seats in the new Parliament, which is more
than enough to govern alone.
Labour doesn’t need the Greens, and from a pragmatic
standpoint would be better off without them. As both Helen Clark and Michael
Cullen have reminded Labour in the past 24 hours, New Zealand elections are won
in the political centre. Labour triumphed in this election by persuading voters
they had nothing to fear from a second Ardern government. It’s clear that a
large number of National voters switched their allegiance to Labour for one
reason: to keep the Greens out of power. Labour will already be looking ahead
to 2023 and will want to lock in those centrist votes, knowing it’s likely to
face a far better-organised National opposition than it did this time. So it must
weigh up the appeal of buddying up with the Greens, and thereby keeping faith with the hard-core left, against the risk of scaring off all those new converts to
Bear in mind too that Ardern pledged in her victory speech to govern for every New Zealander, and will be held to that. It’s hard to see how she can fulfil that promise while aligning herself with a radical left party that commanded only 7.6 percent of the vote. She will have to make a choice, and history suggests she will tack pragmatically just as previous Labour leaders have done (remember Clark and the Foreshore and Seabed?), and as she did herself when she ruled out a capital gains tax.
All that aside, from a purely democratic standpoint there’s
another compelling reason why the Greens should not be in government, and it
comes back to that 7.6 per cent. It’s a measure of how our thinking has been distorted
by MMP that a party with so little popular support assumes it’s entitled to exercise
power. Since 1996, New Zealand has
experienced tail-wagging-the-dog politics because the system gave it little
choice; no party won enough votes to govern on its own. Now that a party is emphatically
in a position to do so, it should act on the mandate voters have given it.
A few other thoughts about the result:
will be a huge burden on David Seymour and his nine novice ACT MPs, who will probably
have to do the heavy lifting in opposition to proposed hate speech laws – the crucial
political and ideological battle of the next three years – and other woke initiatives. ACT shouldn’t count on receiving much support from National, which
will be busy either settling scores or licking its wounds, and in any case has rarely
shown much commitment to the fight against neo-Marxism.
Congratulations to the new “real” MPs: i.e. those former list MPs who now represent actual
electorates and are therefore accountable to real people rather than to party
apparatchiks. Chloe Swarbrick in Auckland Central is one; Kieran McAnulty in
Wairarapa and Jo Luxton in Rangitata are others. The question for all of them is
this: which comes first – loyalty to the party or duty to the electorate? It
becomes especially pertinent in predominantly rural electorates where
government policies could be inimical to farmers, especially if the Greens get
into positions of power.
Davis has rightly been excoriated for his oafish, churlish speech on election night
– the one grating note during a generally good-hearted night when losing
National Party candidates (Nick Smith, for one) were applauded for turning up
at Labour celebrations to concede personally to their opponents, which was an
example of New Zealand politics at its benign best. Any thought of the tone-deaf Davis
remaining Labour’s deputy leader – or heaven forbid, becoming deputy prime minister
– should have been extinguished right there and then.
■ Chris Luxon – really? If he’s the answer, then people aren’t asking the right