New Zealand’s big­gest-ever elec­tion turnout de­liv­ered Na­tional’s high­estever vote: 1.2 mil­lion. Last night, re­ports Adam Dud­ding, was a land­slide.

Sunday Star-Times - - FRONT PAGE -

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.

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