Labour’s red tide pushes National out to sea

Sam Sachdeva

Sam Sachdeva

Wellington, October 18, 2020


Jacinda Ardern addressing Labour Party Rally at Town Hall, Auckland after victory on October 17, 2020 (Newsroom (Photo by Lynn Grieveson)


The Gist: Jacinda Ardern has delivered Labour a historic result and National one of its worst thrashings ever, while the Greens and ACT ride high and New Zealand First says goodbye.

The Labour Party has steamrolled its way to an historic victory, sweeping National out to sea on a red tide and condemning the Opposition Party to the second-worst result in its 84 years of existence.

Labour’s performance gives it the opportunity to form the first Single-Party majority government since the first MMP election in 1996, with the Party projected to have 64 MPs in the 120-seat Parliament.

No surprises for Greens

However, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has left the door open to a deal with the Greens, its Coalition Partner of the last three years which managed to win 7.6% of the vote and – just possibly – the Auckland Central electorate, with Chloe Swarbrick waiting to see whether special votes will grow or erode her 492-vote lead over Labour’s Helen White.

Labour’s other governing partner, New Zealand First, is out of Parliament altogether after securing just 2.7% of the vote, a result that might just put an end to Winston Peters’ five-decade political career.

But the story of the night was the dominance of Ardern’s Party, exemplified not just by its Party vote but the number of electorates it managed to tip red after decades of National control.

Major losers

Ilam, held by National Deputy Leader Gerry Brownlee for the last 24 years, appears to have fallen to Labour; so too New Plymouth and Ōtaki, each in National’s hands for over a decade.

Rangitata, labelled the most conservative seat in the country by TVNZ’s Vote Compass, went into the hands of Labour MP Jo Luxton, while Tukituki has turned red after 15 years.

Speaking to a jubilant crowd at the Auckland Town Hall after the extent of Labour’s rout became clear, Ardern thanked the Party’s candidates, volunteers, and those who had supported the Party for the first time – “and the results tell me there were a few of you. The Party would not take its support for granted as it looked to the next three years and beyond,” she said.

Governing for all New Zealanders

“Governing for every New Zealander has never been so important more than it has been now. We are living in an increasingly polarised world, a place where more and more people have lost the ability to see one another’s point of view. “I hope that this election, New Zealand has shown that this is not who we are as a nation, we can listen, and we can debate. “After all, we are too small to lose sight of other people’s perspective … elections are not always great at bringing people together, but they also don’t need to tear one another apart, Ardern said.”

Ardern said that the government would build back better from Covid-19, with a mandate from the public to accelerate its response to the pandemic.

People more important than policies

“Policies, ideas, and having a plan matters, but it will only be as good as the people that it works to support, and I cannot imagine a people I would feel more privileged to work on behalf of to work alongside, and to be Prime Minister for.”

National now faces the task of rebuilding a caucus riven with division and uncertain about its identity after two Leadership changes in the last six months – and potentially a third yet to come.

The Party is set to lose 19 MPs, dropping down to a caucus of just 35, with no obvious successor to Judith Collins after the retirement of many senior colleagues and the failures of the Leaders who came before her.

Judith Collins reflects

Collins had repeatedly insisted she would remain Leader even if National lost and appeared to strike a defiant tone when addressing supporters at the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron as she spoke about tough times on the horizon for the economy.

“We will reflect and we will take time and we will change. We will be a stronger, disciplined and more connected Party and I promise you the National Party will be a robust opposition. Tonight has been a very tough night … but three years will be gone in the blink of an eye and I say to everybody: ‘We will be back.’ To avoid any doubt – tonight is the start of the next campaign,” she said.

National’s collapse was not just to Labour’s benefit: ACT Leader David Seymour is on track to be joined by nine colleagues, the best result in the Party’s 24-year history.

He told supporters this was just the beginning of the Party’s rise, with words that may send a chill down the spine of National MPs trying to win back supporters from their right-wing rival.

“For ACT, this is just a steppingstone for building a platform and an agenda of real reform to make New Zealand a better place. This is not our 2020 campaign election night Party. This is our 2023 election campaign launch,” he said.

Winston Peters inscrutable

Despite what appeared to be a devastating result for New Zealand First, Peters was inscrutable as ever in a short speech which did not concede defeat and arguably suggested he was willing to continue his long crusade from the political wilderness.

“For 27 years, there has been one Party that has been willing to question authority, and tonight that force is still needed,” he said.

As one-Party leaves Parliament, another appears set to return, with the Māori Party’s Rawiri Waititi leading Labour incumbent Tamati Coffey by around 400 votes in the Waiariki electorate.

But it was Ardern’s night, as she has the ability to fast-track her agenda in a way no Prime Minister ever has been able to under MMP.

On her agenda for Sunday? Some time with friends and family – then knuckling down for calls and meetings with her senior colleagues.

“I did say that the work would start tomorrow, and it will.”

Sam Sachdeva is Political Editor at Newsroom. He covers Foreign Affairs, Trade, Defence and Security Issues. The above article and picture have been reproduced under a Special Arrangement.

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