We are exactly a week from election day, but given NZ’s somewhat outdated election broadcasting laws, this time next week, I won’t be able to say much. So I thought I’d kick off this morning with my takeaways from this year’s election.
1) If you were just judging this government on its policy record as you might in normal elections, Labour would be in for a much, much tougher race. They’ve made progress in some areas – true – but if you directly compare the promises of 2017 with what this government has actually achieved, they’ve clearly fallen well-short in multiple areas. Some problems like New Zealand’s mental health won’t be turned around instantly and probably deserve a little more time until Labour and the government can be judged to have succeeded or failed. Some, like child poverty, also deserve a little more time, although the policies that have been implemented and the early results are a long way off the lofty promises that were made. The government spent much of its first year in power outsourcing policy to various working groups... only to reject the central recommendations in some of the biggest reports they commissions. In some areas such as residential housing, tax reform, and climate change, I think Labour and this government have been really poor.
But that being said, it would be crazy to suggest the government and Labour should only be judged on their rhetoric and promises of three years ago. This term has been quite extraordinary, and even her staunchest political opponents would have to accept that Jacinda Ardern’s leadership in the heat of a crisis has for the most part been very, very good. There aren’t many places on Earth where thousands of people can safely gather this weekend to watch a game of sport. That didn’t come about through a leadership vaccuum.
2) For two years, National did pretty well in opposition. But as the pandemic coincided with the election, National has struggled to convince voters it’s actually ready to be back in government. We’ve had leadership changes and MPs resigning in disgrace. Some of the party’s most-experienced MPs are standing down. Big policy announcements have been made at really weird times. The finance spokesman for the economic management party stuffed up his sums. The campaign perhaps enjoyed an early bump from Judith Collins’ energy, but In the last few weeks, at times they’ve looked increasingly desperate: Judith Collins praying, Alfred Ngaro’s wild Facebook ads, Denise Lee’s email blasting her leader’s captain’s call, and someone from within the party’s decision to leak that email, the Ponsonby Road fiasco. The tax cuts have been viewed as deeply cynical and as Labour gobbles up centrist voters, National has struggled to really differentiate itself on a policy front. A lot of voters on the right think another term in opposition is more or less inevitable and have switched from National to ACT.
3) From a policy perspective, there is remarkably little that really separates Labour and National. A tax cut here, a border agency there, sure. But nothing really seriously big. Nothing that you could call 'brave'. There are still multiple sacred cows that neither major party is willing to meaningfully tackle: house prices, tax, and superannuation. The big parties are motivated by short-term incentives. They want more than anything to be in power and they’re willing to kick the can down the street and leave it to future governments and generations to clean up the mess. The longer we leave these issues without doing something quite drastic, the bigger our problems in ten or fifteen years will be.
4) Finally, everyone pussy-foots when it comes to making big calls on NZ First. I could be wrong – I certainly have been before - but I think on the balance of likelihoods, Winston Peters is probably done. What’s more, I think Winston Peters thinks Winston Peters is done. The fact he agreed to do the multi-party debate that he usually boycotts, the fact he’s asking voters not to early vote. The fact the Serious Fraud Office has charged people from his party’s foundation. It may well all prove to be the end of New Zealand First.
5) We’re over it.