New Zealand’s biggest-ever election turnout delivered National’s highestever vote: 1.2 million. Last night, reports Adam Dudding, was a landslide.
National’s Bill English has blown away the stardust and stormed to victory with a record 1.2 million votes, defying all expectations. English has told the Sunday StarTimes the biggest-polling party has the ‘‘moral authority’’ to have first go at creating a coalition, and last night he claimed that authority. In a speech to supporters he said he was ready to stitch up a coalition with Winston Peters to form a ‘‘strong and stable’’ government.
English saluted Labour’s ‘‘competitive’’ campaign, saying it had given his party an opportunity to demonstrate that his centre-right party did in fact care about the issues Labour was raising, including ‘‘supporting the most vulnerable, protecting the environment, ensuring the strength of our regions’’.
Labour’s Jacinda Ardern phoned English to concede that he has the most seats – but said the final decision would come down, not to voters, but to other politicians.
Defeated but still buoyant at how far they had come in seven weeks, Ardern fronted up to her supporters with an updated exhortation: ‘‘Let’s keep doing this!’’
Ardern referred to All Black great Colin Meads’ famous line: If you come off the field not feeling you’ve given your all, you’ve let your team down. ‘‘I came off the field knowing we gave it our all,’’ she said.
English must now negotiate with Winston Peters’ New Zealand First to align his party’s nine projected seats with National’s 58, but in the absence of a credible alternative for Peters, this seems all but a formality. (Support from National’s parasitic one-seat Epsom ally ACT is inevitable, yet inessential).
Yesterday evening, archmanipulator Peters was playing his familiar tune and insisting he needed to spend some timeover which head to crown: theoretically he could offer his support to Jacinda Ardern’s Labour party.
But in reality that’s extremely unlikely. Why? Because Peters always said he’d talk to the biggest party first. Because an alliance with Labour would necessarily involve the Greens, of whom he’s not overly fond. And because that three-way alliance would muster just 61 of the 120 seats in the house, an impossibly slender majority for a potentially fractious coalition.
In an upbeat address to supporters that wasn’t quite a concession speech, Ardern left the door ajar for approaches from Peters, saying the final outcome ‘‘will be decided by MMP’’, and ‘‘I simply cannot predict . . . what decisions other leaders will make’’.
Labour hadn’t done as well as she would have liked, but she would continue to be ‘‘relentlessly positive’’.
English’s address was a victory speech in all but name. He said there was no need to ‘‘rush’’ coalition talks, but it was important to move ‘‘reasonably quickly to form a stable government’’, and National’s dominant numbers made it the obvious choice.
The calculus for negotiations could subtly shift, however, if the parties of the left pick up a few more seats when the results of 200,000 special votes are included.
English’s achievement is extraordinary not just because fourthterm governments are rare, but because he was running against a Labour party that seemed to be giving him a serious run for his money.
Five months ago, when his party looked like sleepwalking to victory, English described National’s mood as ‘‘confident but paranoid’’.
That paranoia became justified in spades when just seven weeks out from the election Jacinda Ardern replaced Andrew Little, roused the party from its sickbed and got it dancing in the streets. For a brief, vertiginous moment, polls even showed Labour outgunning National, but that reversed in the closing weeks as National aggressively (and at times dishonestly) attacked Labour’s policies. Ardern’s ‘‘relentless positivity’’ won new fans, but English’s message that he could offer ‘‘solid and stable’’ leadership didn’t waver.
Even in defeat, Jacindamania has served Labour well. Last night it was looking at 45 MPs in the new parliament, a healthy increase from the current 31.
If Labour was looking on the bright side, it’s main ally had less to celebrate. With just 5.9 per cent of the vote the Greens have lost half of their 14 seats in parliament although leader James Shaw was still combative saying the party was in ‘‘the fight of our lives and we are still here.’’
Perhaps the biggest loser of the night, however, is the Maori Party which lost all eight Maori seats to Labour.