So, in the end it wasn’t even close. Unless the special votes are dramatically out of kilter with the votes counted on election night, National has the numbers to govern alone.
The worse-case scenario now for National is that they lose a seat to the Greens, meaning that National would need one of either ACT or United Future to pass legislation. It’s not such a terrible worst-case for the Nats – both ACT and United Future are entirely dependent on National for their continued survival; they wouldn’t be giving National too much stick. Besides, as Graeme Edgeler writes at Public Address, if the special votes are distributed in the same proportions as in 2011, there’ll be no change to the makeup of Parliament.
So how has National managed to defy the laws of electoral gravity, while Labour plumbs new depths, and the minor parties are all left licking their wounds? For me, there are five main issues.
Firstly, the public were happy with our current economic stability. On The Nation, just before National released its tax “policy”, Bill English couldn’t highlight a single new idea that National would bring to the table to spur economic growth. It turns out the public weren’t too unhappy about that. People presumably looked at the economic mess that exists in the US, the EU and across the ditch in Australia, and thought that things were actually pretty good here. Labour’s ideas might have sounded interesting, but would they work? Do I trust Labour to mess around with Kiwisaver rates, and what will the effect be on my weekly take-home pay?
Secondly, for almost three years (and another three before that, if you include the Goff years), Labour has presented itself as a chaotic pack of self-absorbed in-fighters, too busy playing identity politics and sticking the knife into opposing factions to give a damn about Middle New Zealand. Labour may have stayed on message with grim determination during the actual campaign, but by then it’s a bit late. Staying on message for six weeks cannot outweigh more than two and a half years of self-mutiliation. The public had already made up its collective mind that Labour were a pack of muppets.
Thirdly, the public were happy with our current political stability. Put simply, Internet Mana scared the hell out of people. I’ve lost track of the number of people I’ve talked to who weren’t necessarily National Party fans, but who wanted Kim Dotcom’s hands nowhere near the levers of power. Those people likely voted National. The Left may point to ACT or Colin Craig, and ask what’s the difference? Well, part of the reason Colin Craig didn’t get the endorsement he wanted was that National’s polling indicated National would take a 2-3% hit if they gave Craig a seat, so there’s not necessarily much of a difference there. And ACT simply isn’t seen as a threat these days; it’s been dependent on National for so long that it’s been politically neutered. Internet Mana, on the other hand, was a frightening unknown; a Frankenstein mix of hard-left activism and big money.
Fourthly, Dirty Politics largely wiped out any emphasis on policy. Yes, the policy was out there, and Dirty Politics almost didn’t feature during the leaders’ debates, but a huge chunk of the election campaign was lost to it. The minutiae of the allegations were largely lost on the public. Judith Collins made an easy villain, and she resigned – case largely closed. Dirty Politics wasn’t seen as a reason to change a Government.
Finally, the Moment of Truth. It was the moment where Kim Dotcom took his credibility out behind the bike sheds and hit it with both barrels, making himself (and the Left, by association) look like idiots. But it also inspired a large dose of parochialism in the dying week of the campaign. “I’m not going to be lectured to by a bunch of foreigners” – it was a phrase I heard rather a lot of, in various permutations. On The Nation yesterday, David Farrar told Lisa Owen that his polling for National showed a jump in National’s support following the Moment of Truth.
Kim Dotcom and his Moment of Truth may have handed John Key those final few seats he needed to attain the ability to govern alone.