Election 2014

Dinner at Donghua’s

Remember when David Cunliffe and Labour were under all sorts of fire for their links to Donghua Liu? There were questions about $100,000 worth of apparent donations from Liu to the Labour Party (an issue which seemed to collapse under the weight of some dubious NZ Herald reporting and Mr Liu’s somewhat impaired ability to recollect specifics); and Mr Cunliffe was being stitched up regarding his failure to recall a letter written on behalf of Liu eleven years previous.

Here was what Bill English had to say last year, as he put the boot into Labour:

“In the next few days the Labour Party has to come clean about every contact with Mr Donghua Liu and every donation from him… The reason the Labour Party has to explain all those contacts and donations is that no one trusts what David Cunliffe says about the donations and the contacts with Mr Donghua Liu.”

Well, all of the time that National was needling Labour about alleged undisclosed donations from Liu, there was a $25,000 undisclosed donation to National.

It’s been revealed that National’s Botany MP, Jami-Lee Ross, received a $25,000 donation from Mr Liu in August 2013. It’s only just being disclosed by Mr Ross, after having been returned to Liu in November 2014.

It’s the cynical nature of the whole affair that gets me; cynical in so many ways.

Firstly, the donation was made less than a month after both John Key and Jami-Lee Ross were present at Mr Liu’s house for a private dinner. Yet, when Key was questioned in May 2014 (approximately eight months after the dinner) about his links to Liu, a National spokesperson said:

“As Prime Minister and the leader of the National Party, Mr Key attends a number of functions up and down the country which are attended by a large number of people. While we don’t have a record of who attends these events, Mr Key recalls seeing Mr Liu at various functions, including a dinner as part of a National Party fundraiser.”

Key could recall “a dinner”, but presumably chose to conceal the fact that the dinner was at Mr Liu’s own home.

Secondly, there’s the way in which the donation was kept hidden. Throughout all of the mock outrage from National about what Liu had donated to Labour and when, the party knew that $25,000 was sitting in a National Party bank account. It’s inconceivable that Jami-Lee Ross wouldn’t tap his party leader on the shoulder and say, “Heads up – remember that dinner with Donghua Liu? Well, he gave me $25,000 that month.”

Ross, Key and whoever else was in the loop would have known that at some point the donation would have to be declared. So Ross waits for a month or two after the general election, sends it back via Liu’s lawyer, and pretends that it was surplus to requirements and therefore returned. The donation gets officially declared in Ross’s post-election return, but by then Cunliffe is a distant memory, National is well and truly re-elected, and there’s now another two and a half years to the next election – plenty of time for the public to forget about Dongua Liu.

But National’s cynicism aside, there are some questions regarding the status of the donation. If it was a donation to the National Party, it should have been disclosed in National’s Party Donations Return that was filed on 30 April 2014. It wasn’t.

Mr Liu has described the donation as being through the “Botany Cabinet Club”. If that’s code for Jami-Lee Ross’s personal campaign, the party wouldn’t need to declare it. Instead, it’s up to Mr Ross to do so in his post-election return (as he’s done).

However, Mr Ross has stated that he didn’t end up needing the $25,000 because a $24,000 donation from the National Party covered his expenses. So why would Ross be seeking donations for his electorate campaign, if the party was going to be covering him? Or, to look at it the other way, why would the party cover Ross’s campaign expenses when he’s already got $25,000 sitting waiting in the bank account?

As with anything involving Donghua Liu and politicians, more questions seem to lurk…

Internet Mana : the divorce

So the Internet Mana Party is no more. As 3News reports, a letter has been sent to the Electoral Commission to confirm that the relationship has been terminated.

It’s hardly surprising. Given Kim Dotcom’s post-election acceptance that he’d poisoned the public mood against Internet Mana, it was only a matter of time before the Mana Movement and the Internet Party parted ways.

Admittedly, just before I headed to Melbourne last weekend, disappearing off the social media grid and ignoring the existence of news from the homeland, there were strange reports of the Internet Mana Party intending to soldier on through in unity to 2017, of Dotcom intending to continue his role as Internet Party puppet master, and of Dotcom preparing to export his failed Internet Party experiment to the United States.

Nonetheless, Dotcom had previously been bewailing his supposed technical insolvency. Given that the lure of the Internet Party for Hone Harawira had essentially been Dotcom’s money and public profile, a Dotcom who is broke and poisonously unpopular is a Dotcom with nothing of value to offer Mana.

In the wash-up, Dotcom was a cancer to everything he touched, politically. His Moment of Truth, rather than finishing John Key, almost resulted in National governing alone.

Laila Harre went from being a principled doyen of the Left to just another hypocritical sellout. And her theft of the Greens’ intellectual copyright as she left to follow the money means that no other party will be touching her for the foreseeable future.

In Waiariki, Mana’s Annette Sykes was supposed to take out Te Ururoa Flavell, finishing the Maori Party for good. She came third. Meanwhile, Flavell romped home, bringing with him Marama Fox.

And of course Hone Harawira lost his seat of Te Tai Tokerau. With no Parliamentary budget, no Dotcom gravy train, and a much-reduced public platform to keep him in the headlines, Harawira will struggle to re-take his old seat. If Kelvin Davis is smart, he’ll be spending the next three years touring every square metre of his electorate (with his travel funded by Parliament, of course), ensuring that Harawira doesn’t get a look-in in 2017.

Harawira staked everything on Dotcom, and the gamble proved disastrous. With the Internet Mana split now confirmed, the two component parties can now fade off into political oblivion.

Rebirth of the Poll of Polls

So, how did my Poll of Polls do? Pretty rubbish really… The rapid rise of NZ First and the Conservatives during the last half of the campaign didn’t come through in my results, and there certainly seems to be something systemic about the Greens’ ability to fall short of their poll results come election day.

So, I’ve been playing around with the numbers, and have messed with my algorithm to produce what should (hopefully) be a more accurate beast. The changes involve further front-loading of the weighting of new polls (so that the Poll of Polls responds more quickly to meteoric rises a la NZ First and the Conservatives), updating the in-house polling bias offsets, and introducing industry bias offsets (to hopefully deal with issues such as the systematic overly high poll results for the Greens or the lower on average results for NZ First, compared to election day results).

The Poll of Polls is therefore reborn, all ready for today’s Roy Morgan poll. If Labour needed any further evidence that the public think the party is in a hopeless state of disarray, this is it. The party hits a new Roy Morgan low of just 22.5%. National also slumps, hitting 43.5%.

The Greens are the big winners, hitting a record high of 17.5% – cold comfort, given their relatively lacklustre election result. Of the remaining minor parties, NZ First is on 7%, the Maori Party is on 2%, ACT is on 0.5%, United Future is on 0.5%, the Conservatives are on a record high of 5%, and Internet Mana is on 1%.

So how does the new (hopefully) improved Poll of Polls look?

National: 46.1% (-0.9% from its election result)

Labour: 24.6% (-0.5%)

Greens: 11.8% (+1.1%)

NZ First: 8.3% (-0.4%)

Maori: 1.2% (-0.1%)

United Future: 0.3% (+0.1%)

ACT: 0.7% (nc)

Internet Mana: 1.6% (+0.2%)

Conservative: 4.2% (+0.2%)

Based on those percentages, the parties are predicted to win the following number of seats:

National: 59 (-1 from its election result)

Labour: 32 (nc)

Greens: 15 (+1)

NZ First: 11 (nc)

Maori: 2 (nc)

United Future: 1 (nc)

ACT: 1 (nc)

Internet Mana: 0 (nc)

Conservative: 0 (nc)

Given National’s drop in the Roy Morgan, and the Greens’ outlier of a result, it’s not surprising to see National lose a seat to the Greens. Whether the Greens can hold anywhere near their Roy Morgan support in other upcoming polls remains to be seen…

The Right bloc sits on a total of 61 seats, compared to 47 for a Labour, Greens and Internet Mana alliance, meaning National could continue to govern with the support of both United Future and ACT.

$1000 well spent for Hone

“Harawira’s recount bid backfires” declared the headline for Tracy Watkins’ article for Stuff, as it was revealed that Hone Harawira’s Te Tai Tokerau seat recount resulted in Harawira losing two votes and Kelvin Davis gaining two votes.

Except that Harawira had explicitly stated that he wasn’t trying to overturn the result. Instead, the recount was about bringing publicity to Harawira’s allegations that Maori roll voters were subject to systematic racism. On National Radio’s Morning Report, he stated:

“Opening polling booths without Maori roll voting papers, I’m talking about people not being offered assistance to vote, Maori people getting sent from Whangarei to Wellsford to vote, Maori people getting turned away because they didn’t have their EasyVote card, Maori people having their identity questioned because of their different name, Maori people being treated like they just don’t deserve to be in the polling booth.”

Likewise, on Newstalk ZB, it was reported:

Mr Harawira has accused the Electoral Commission of racism, and today says he’s heard of Maori voters being turned away from polling booths because they didn’t have their Easy Vote card, or being told they couldn’t cast a special vote. He claims in some instances, Maori voters were told to wait while Pakeha voters were served first.

Is there any truth to the allegations? Who knows. To my knowledge, Harawira certainly hasn’t rolled out any accusers. It’s entirely possible that throughout the many Te Tai Tokerau voting booths there have been isolated incidents of racial discrimination. I’d be extremely dubious dubious about claims that any discrimination is systemic – Harawira and hyperbole have always gone well together.

Nonetheless, the cost to Harawira and Mana for the recount was just $1,000. And for that $1,000, Harawira received a solid media platform to publicise his concerns regarding racial discrimination in our electoral system. I’d say that’s pretty good value for money.

Harawira’s recount bid backfired? Not really…

 

Is Steve Gibson the new Aaron Gilmore?

When Aaron Gilmore resigned, one would have thought the humiliation would have been more than enough for him to well and truly keep his head down. But no. Come the Christchurch East by-election, there he was lambasting National for the by-election “not being run right” and for the party choosing the wrong candidate. In Aaron Gilmore’s world, the perfect candidate would have been Aaron Gilmore, and he’d had “huge pressure” to stand as an independent candidate.

Presumably, the “huge pressure” had come from those who love a good laugh, but Mr Gilmore evidently lacked the self-awareness to work that out. Gilmore briefly became the media’s go-to guy for strange self-important anti-National lines. He evidently enjoyed the ongoing limelight, but couldn’t seem to understand that this was infamy, as opposed to fame.

One of the funniest pieces of post-election commentary has come from Labour’s Rangitata candidate, Steve Gibson. He hit the headlines for his anti-Semitic ravings regarding John Key and the National Party in general – not once, but twice. Strike two resulted in David Cunliffe stating that Gibson had no future with the Labour Party, and that if Cunliffe could have sacked him as a candidate, he would have.

Following Labour’s heavy loss, which included Gibson’s electorate foe Jo Goodhew increasing her majority by 101% (the largest increase in the country), Gibson turned feral against his own party. Stuff reports Gibson as saying, following happily in Aaron Gilmore’s footsteps:

“Ideally Labour should be looking at someone like me to lead them. They’ve been relying on insiders for too long and maybe they should look to an outsider.”

And it wasn’t his fault he crashed and burned in Rangitata:

“I’ve given my all and I’ve been shafted by a guy who thinks he’s a leader. You didn’t see the All Blacks jumping all over Richie McCaw when he gave away a penalty earlier this year. First and foremost you support your team.”

All of which has resulted in him being utterly broke and considering auctioning his Labour Party t-shirt to help pay his rent:

“I’m thinking of writing Shylock in vivid marker on it and auctioning it on Trademe. I bloody need the dough.”

If the media need a self-important anti-Semite to rage long and hard about the Labour Party’s failings, with many a pithy soundbite, then Steve Gibson’s their man. Move over, The Civilian and surrender your electoral comedy crown – Gibson has landed.

The Labour numbers game

With a caucus of 32 MPs, David Cunliffe needs the support of at least thirteen MPs in order survive a confidence vote. His opponents need twenty votes to force a full leadership ballot. Yesterday, I listed nine MPs who have either publicly refused to express support for him or have – like David Shearer, Stuart Nash and Damien O’Connor – been overtly hostile.

This morning in the NZ Herald, Claire Trevett lists the pro- and anti-Cunliffe factions:

• Camp Cunliffe: David Cunliffe, Iain Lees-Galloway, Nanaia Mahuta, Sue Moroney, Carmel Sepuloni, Su’a William Sio, Louisa Wall.
• Another candidate: Jacinda Ardern, David Clark, Clayton Cosgrove, Clare Curran, Kelvin Davis, Ruth Dyson, Kris Faafoi, Phil Goff, Chris Hipkins, Annette King, Andrew Little, Trevor Mallard, Stuart Nash, Damien O’Connor, David Parker, Grant Robertson, David Shearer, Rino Tirikatene, Phil Twyford, Megan Woods.
• Unknown: Peeni Henare, Adrian Rurawhe, Jenny Salesa, Meka Whaitiri, Poto Williams.

That’s twenty anti-Cunliffe names right there already, without even the need to put pressure on any of the five ‘unknowns’. Cunliffe has just six supporters (not counting himself), five of whom flanked him at his pre-caucus meeting press conference.

Cunliffe’s opponents presumably therefore have the numbers to force a party-wide leadership ballot any time they like. And as predicted, before they make their move, they’re waiting for the full horror of a campaign review to erode Cunliffe’s support among the members and unions.

The only hope that Cunliffe has of hanging on to his leadership is to resign immediately and force a quick leadership contest. He’d have to hope that the party membership will be sufficiently hacked off about the caucus declaration of war against him that they’ll keep the faith with him. In my view, that’s a slim hope…

Cunliffe supporters are desperately trying to compare the situation to 1996, where Helen Clark lost in New Zealand’s first MMP election, before going on to win power in 1999. There’s no comparison there. Labour may have dropped 6.5% in that election to just 28.2%, but National was just 5.7% ahead, on 33.9% (having dropped 1.2% since 1993). Helen Clark could have formed a government, had Winston Peters jumped in that direction (the direction many had assumed he would go). Labour was well set up to oust National in three years time.

In 2014, however, National is able to govern alone, having received almost 50% of the vote. Labour finds itself 23.4% adrift, and in almost complete internal turmoil.

David Cunliffe is no Helen Clark.

EDIT:

Hmm, I appear to have been led astray by both the One News and 3News political editors, both of whom have been reporting that the anti-Cunliffe campaign requires 60% plus one MP.

However, David Farrar in his post entitled ‘Caucus in Charge‘ says Dann and Gower are wrong, and the ABCs need just 40% to spark a contested ballot. Peter Green confirms this to me on Twitter. That means that Cunliffe needs 21 MPs to survive a confidence vote, which means the ABCs already have the numbers by a huge margin.

Death by a thousand cuts for Cunliffe

When Stuart Nash called for David Cunliffe to immediately face a confidence vote in caucus, he was inadvertently playing into Cunliffe’s hands. Cunliffe knows when a confidence vote is held, he’ll lose. He has no hope of getting 60% plus one MP to side with him. His best chance of remaining leader is to lose the confidence vote early, and square off against his challenger(s) before the members and unions who put him there desert him.

Unfortunately for David Cunliffe, his caucus enemies are well aware of that. MPs such as David Shearer and Phil Goff have made it clear that they’ll be pushing for a delayed confidence vote. They want the results of a full review of the election campaign to be published before any vote. They’re hoping that the build up to the review (involving, presumably, a few anti-Cunliffe leaks), and the review itself, will be enough to destroy Cunliffe’s support base – death by a thousand cuts, if you will.

At the time of publishing this post, the Labour Party MPs had just left their meeting room after a marathon seven hour extravaganza of a post-election caucus meeting. As Cunliffe entered, he told reporters, “We must stop the leaks, we must stop the infighting.” It was a clear message to the caucus to keep their lips sealed. Which didn’t stop David Shearer, Phil Goff, Damien O’Connor and Clayton Cosgrove from talking to reporters on their way in, minutes later, making it obvious where the anti-Cunliffe knives will be coming from. Shearer was openly combative:

“What I don’t feel is that I should be silent when we need to be acknowledging our defeat. I’ve got skin in the game here. For two of the last three years I was the leader and all I am doing is speaking very candidly about the way we should go forward which is to own our defeat and move forward on that basis.”

And here’s Damien O’Connor on Labour’s primary-style method of choosing its leader:

“I think the last one we had didn’t necessarily deliver the best outcome.”

Not exactly a subtle attack on Cunliffe.

In terms of death by a thousand cuts scenario, the NZ Herald is reporting that Labour MPs will be demanding that Cunliffe release to them the internal polling results on Cunliffe’s popularity. Apparently the results won’t look good for him. And if Cunliffe expects that the results will remain secret once released to the full caucus, well, he’s dreaming.

With a caucus of just 32, when the confidence vote arrives Cunliffe needs the support of at least thirteen MPs in order to triumph at the first hurdle. His opponents need twenty votes to trigger a contested ballot. With Shearer, Goff, Robertson, Parker, O’Connor, Cosgrove, Nash and Davis already having lined up in opposition, the anti-Cunliffe camp is well over a third of the way there. It’s hard to believe that Labour’s terrible result, followed by Cunliffe’s astonishingly badly timed “concession” speech and election night letter to supporters seeking a new mandate to continue as leader, hasn’t already got at least twelve more MPs sharpening their knives.

Now they just need to poison the members and unions against him and the job is done. Cunliffe certainly isn’t helped by people like former party president Mike Williams appearing on National Radio’s Nine to Noon show yesterday to say that he wouldn’t go with Cunliffe again:

“I’ve always thought that there were three elements to a campaign – there’s organisation, there’s policy and there’s leadership. I think the organisation was certainly better than last time – I saw a lot more activity on the ground. I think that the policy was relatively bulletproof and I don’t think the National party scored any particular points off that. That really only leaves leadership.

“Personally at the moment I don’t think I’d go with David Cunliffe again – this is a historic defeat, it’s the worst Labour vote since 1922 – I think there are people in the wings who could potentially do a better job.”

I’d have to say, I think Cunliffe is toast, no matter when the confidence vote is held. I find it difficult to believe that he’ll pull nearly as many membership votes as he did last time, and his percentage of caucus support will be further reduced. Nonetheless, leaving the vote till after the campaign review will make doubly sure of Cunliffe’s demise.

And National rubs its hands with glee…

UPDATE (with edit as to numbers needed to force a ballot):

And there’s no immediate confidence vote, as expected.

Plus 3News reporting that Jacinda Ardern isn’t ruling out a leadership bid, albeit “reluctantly”. That’s nine public declarations of no confidence…

The minor parties – some thoughts & questions

The Greens

They ran a blinder of a campaign. Their polling numbers were looking great, as they closed on 15% in some polls. Then they got just 10.02% on the night (although their vote share is likely to rise by at least a small amount once the special votes are counted – Graeme Edgeler estimates to 10.5% if they got the same proportion of specials as they did in 2011).

What happened? Is it a voter turnout issue? Did the Greens actually slump abruptly in the final days of the campaign? Or do the polls have a bias towards the Greens?

Going forward, the Greens have some big decisions to make. They’ve loudly declared on many an occasion that they want to supplant Labour as the major party of the Left. So do they try for a more centrist approach to grow their vote? There were elements of such an approach in their policy of personal tax cuts to offset the effects of their planned carbon tax. If they want to supplant Labour, that’s what they’ve got to do, but will their membership allow it?

For much of the last term, the Greens were the de facto opposition in Parliament, with Labour failing to fire. Yet in the build-up to the campaign, the Greens offered to campaign together with Labour. The offer had a dual purpose: to show a Government-in-waiting, and to try to reduce the relevance of Winston Peters. Do the Greens go hammer and tongs for Labour’s vote share, or do the two parties attempt to work together to present a united front of opposition?

NZ First

Winston Peters is getting old. For most of last term, he was an embarrassment, lurching from one badly contrived attack to another, each one failing to fire; a collection of not-so-smoking guns. The campaign itself seemed to have rejuvenated him. He certainly saw off the young pretender, Colin Craig, and raised the NZ First vote in the process.

Is he good for another election campaign or will this have been his swan-song? If this is his final term, he’ll be leaving after a comeback of six years without baubles. Winston likes baubles, no matter what he might publicly say, so does he try again in 2017 in the hope of one final Ministerial stint?

The other thing Winston wants is for NZ First to continue on after he’s gone. It’s always been Winston First – no succession plan, no contrary views allowed. He’d like nothing better than to prove wrong all of those critics who for twenty-one years have said that once Winston goes, so too will NZ First.

Ron Mark is back and is being touted as a possible successor. However, if Andrew Williams’ allegations about deputy-leader Tracey Martin are correct, then woe betide anyone who sees themselves as competition to her right of succession! Life in NZ First could get interesting…

The Conservatives

Colin Craig got played by John Key, strung along for just long enough, before being thrown under the bus. Nonetheless, right up until the final few days, Craig and his party ran a remarkably focussed, relatively gaffe-free campaign. Despite being out-manouevered on occasion by Winston Peters, the Conservatives grew their vote share to just over 4%.

It wasn’t enough to get them in to Parliament, but it wasn’t a bad result on a night when National made over 48%. If Craig can keep his core team together, then they’ll have a good shot at breaking 5% in 2017.

The Maori Party

The critics said they were finished in 2014. With Turia and Sharples retiring, Mana were going to wipe out Te Ururoa Flavell, and the Maori Party would perish. Well, Flavell’s still there, with a relatively comfortable majority, and Mana is no more. And, assuming the special votes don’t do something odd, Flavell’s brought in Marama Fox with him, so it won’t be an entirely lonely three years.

If Flavell wants it, National would probably give him the Maori Affairs portfolio. Key doesn’t need to in order to govern, but he’ll be looking to keep Flavell on-side through to 2017. It’ll give the Maori Party some policy gains and keep Flavell’s profile up, and the party will look to remain competitive in seats like Tamaki Makaurau and Te Tai Hauauru.

Internet Mana

And that took care of that then…

The Internet Party was nothing more than a vehicle for Kim Dotcom’s ego and vengeance, and with Dotcom admitting that his personal brand poisoned the combined Internet Mana vehicle, the Internet Party will soon be no more. Dotcom certainly won’t be pouring his money into it, and there’s no real reason for anyone to stick around. Laila Harre’s pay cheque disappears, along with what’s left of her credibility.

Likewise, with no party leader funding for Hone Harawira, and precious few alternate sources of income, the Mana Movement is dead. Harawira took a gamble, sick of being a one man band in Parliament, and it all turned to custard. Annette Sykes did her best in Waiariki, but still came up well short, despite having a full three year campaign and Dotcom’s cash. It’s over.

ACT

Duncan Garner summed it up best when he described David Seymour as being like a five year old about to start High School. Despite winning Epsom (and by all accounts, Seymour put in the hard yards door-knocking to do so), it’s going to be an awkward and ineffectual three years for ACT. Jamie Whyte remains the leader outside of Parliament (for how long though remains to be seen), with Seymour the fresh-faced novice being the voice inside Parliament. Who do the media go to for comment? No one knows…

How do they rebuild? Lord only knows. Their natural constituency is minuscule, and they hold a seat on National’s whim. It’s not a great basis for growth.

United Future

The writing’s on the wall for Peter Dunne. Despite running against new candidates from both Labour and National, and despite having John Key’s personal blessing, Dunne’s majority is just 930. The only MPs with smaller majorities are Nikki Kaye in Auckland Central (648) and Trevor Mallard in Hutt South (378).

The glory days of United Future are long gone. Once upon a time, the worm turned at Captain Sensible’s whim. Now, the Dunne brand is that of a strange political vampire living out some political half-life.

Rebuilding United Future is a laughable proposition. The only question is whether Dunne goes out on his own terms or waits for the inevitable stake through the heart from the good people of Ohariu.

On a wave of mutilation : where to now for Labour?

2014 was a disaster. Unfortunately for Labour, the disaster has now been surpassed. The party will be beginning (another) process of determining what went wrong, and what can be done to fix things.

I hope they don’t throw all of their policy out with the bathwater. Some parts, like their intended nationalisation of the electricity market, were a dog and should be dispensed of, but in areas such monetary policy, the retirement age and a Capital Gains Tax, they should be looking to refine their policy rather than engage in wholesale change. In the provinces, their regional fund to partner with councils on the building of important infrastructure was a good idea.

What Labour most need to do now is work on its stability. As I’ve already written:

[F]or 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.

Labour needs three years of the discipline they showed during the campaign. They need the public to view them once again as competent. And that means they need to sort out their leadership situation. Cunliffe was busy white-anting Shearer while Shearer was leader, then damn near half of the Labour caucus spent the last year white-anting Cunliffe. Whoever ends up leading Labour needs the support of caucus. Otherwise the Left can look forward to a fourth straight loss in a row.

So, on the leadership question, can Cunliffe stay on as leader? He didn’t perform badly, but (debates aside) he didn’t perform well either. He’s a seasoned campaigner, but given the chance to do it as leader, he blew it. He was hazy on policy detail. The media were scathing of the disorganisation of his day-to-day campaign, whereas Key’s by contrast ticked along like clockwork, ruthlessly efficient.

For the good of the party, Cunliffe should put aside his personal ambition to be Prime Minister, and resign. He was hated by half of his colleagues even before he became leader. He lost the caucus vote in the leadership primary, and was installed by the members and unions against the wishes of the Parliamentary wing of the party. Now it’ll be even worse. He’s lost allies amongst those MPs who failed to make it back in off the list, and in their place he now has to put up with Kelvin Davis and Stuart Nash, who certainly aren’t Cunliffe supporters.

Cunliffe has already said he’ll put his leadership up for a vote before Christmas. He will be challenged and he won’t win the caucus vote. If the members and unions put him back in again, Labour can look forward to another three years of disfunction, as Cunliffe’s colleagues stab him in the back with monotonous regularity.

The party needs someone that the whole party can unite behind. The question then becomes who? But it sure as hell isn’t Cunliffe.

The deconstruction – what went down

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.