The big surprise on election night wasn’t the end result – Jacinda Ardern was never in any danger – but the scale and severity of National’s implosion.
There is no way to spin this: National has been dealt a withering body blow – and if they refuse to acknowledge the extent of the injury, they face a steep and perilous path back to relevance.
From small rural towns in Southland to posh Auckland suburbs, what we’ve long considered their heartland was wiped out on Saturday night. It will be tempting for the Nats to take the path of least resistance and put it all down to Covid-19, a once-in-a-century pandemic.
It’s certainly true, as Nikki Kaye tried to argue, that the crisis gave Ardern almost unlimited airtime. But Kaye’s belief that it was media coverage, and not the substantive Covid policy response, that propelled Labour’s victory indicates an unwillingness to front up to the scale of National’s defeat, or the breadth of Ardern’s appeal.
National’s infighting barely paused during the campaign, and things will get much uglier still. Meanwhile, the growing influence of the Christian Right within the party risks consigning it to permanent opposition status. If you think they’re out of touch now, just wait until the Holy Rollers take charge.
On the Labour side, there’s not much to quibble about in these election results. But the lesson from Waiariki, where the Māori Party’s Rawiri Waititi looks likely to defeat Tamati Coffey, should not be lost amid the celebrations.
By and large, Māori joined their fellow Kiwis in strongly backing Ardern and Labour, delivering huge party vote margins and holding off challengers in the other Māori seats.
But in Waiariki, where Waititi ran a dynamic and high-energy campaign, we were reminded again that Māori voters can be unpredictable and independently minded, and that we will not be taken for granted.
Labour’s Māori caucus won’t fail to hear this message from the Waiariki result. They know their big majorities could evaporate in three years’ time if they can’t take to the next election a story of real and durable progress for Māori communities.
That means shifting the dial on housing and poverty. It means creating new economic opportunities for rundown communities, and lifting educational and employment outcomes by investing in schools, apprenticeships and training. It also means getting on with Treaty settlements like for Ngā Puhi, which we know unleashes the potential of mana whenua more than anything else.
Ardern’s remarks on Saturday were less a victory speech than a call to action. She conveyed a renewed urgency, repeatedly stressing the need to “crack on”.
That tells me she grasps the moment. If Labour want to retain the backing of Māori at anywhere near the levels they enjoyed on Saturday, we’d better hope she does.
• I write this with a heart that is broken – our Mother, the soul of our whānau, died yesterday. Her last outing was an early vote for Labour. We love and thank you for all you gave. Haere Rā taku Mama.
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