The election campaign is over. The constant barrage of social media posts, TV, radio and newspaper party political advertising have now ceased leaving a surreal calm across the body politic.
The voters have given their verdict . Even with help from the Greens the “centre-left” parties ended election night six seats behind National (52 v 58 seats). Effectively the “centre right” bloc ceased to exist – with the removal of both United Future and the Maori Party from Parliament). TOP also could not climb over the 5% threshold – despite backing from one of New Zealand’s wealthiest men. How other small parties are supposed to get into Parliament is anybody’s guess. National now stands alone, apart from the libertarian oddity that is ACT in Epsom where an electoral hand out has enabled it to survive. It seems doubtful that National will want to keep the charade of an independent ACT party alive in 2020 when it couldnt muster 1% of the party vote and has now proved sufficient embarrassment that Bill English has been forced to rule them out of any role in government in order to woo NZ First.
For National, Bill English’s hard-work on the campaign trail paid off big time. He led National to one of its best electoral performances ever. National’s move to the centre since 2008 again reaped electoral dividends. Bill English can take pride in that accomplishment. The Labour Party has now lost four consecutive elections. However, Jacinda Ardern has reinvigorated the party and dragged it upwards towards a vote percentage above 30%. Labour’s “clever” ploy, to delay publishing its intentions on tax, turned out to be too clever by half and backfired badly. Labour was forced to backtrack and ensure that it would not change tax arrangements without first putting its plans to the public via an election. In the process it appeared at best non-transparent and at worst sneaky – the exact opposite of the attractive qualities of brand Ardern.
Both major parties framed the election as a “drag-race” between the two major parties. The pressure meant that all small parties suffered. Only NZ First and the Greens survived what turned into the 2017 bloodbath of MMP parties.
Where to from here? Given the Green Party’s ideological aversion to anything non-socialist it seems unlikely that the party will be able to even contemplate negotiating with the National Party. Ironically the real victim of such intransigence is likely to be the environment. Given the ambitions of the Labour Party caucus for a turn at power in 2020 there is almost no chance of a National-Labour grand coalition. That leaves NZ First as the sole, willing partner in a negotiated settlement for stable government over the next three years. Who will NZ First go with? That is up to NZ First. But either way the kiwi battlers seem likely to gain. A National-NZ First government is likely to constrain any residual hankering in National’s ranks to taking the chainsaw to the welfare state. Similarly, a Labour-NZ First government seems likely to constrain some of the unpopular “identity politics” that Labour’s Left has a propensity to promote from time to time.
Either way the wider economic and social interests of the country will have to be addressed – continuing sustained economic growth, improving productivity and wage growth, taking the pressure off housing, the lack of R&D investment and a plan to achieve, or better, our Paris Climate Change commitments within the timeframe. The clock is ticking.