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Frank Newman

Labour Crushed

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Labour has been crushed by an angry electorate. Many are saying it got what it deserved.  

The 2020 Labour Government must rate as New Zealand’s worst-ever government; not only for its litany of failures but for its arrogance and disrespect towards democracy. Fortunately, democracy prevailed and has yet again sent a message that power is in the hands of the electors not the elected.

It was Chris Hipkins who fronted with an emotional declaration of defeat, but the defeat falls on the lap of Jacinda Ardern and the entourage that inhaled her fairy dust. In the end ordinary everyday Kiwis saw through the façade of compassion and empathy and saw or felt the destructive effects of her extreme and divisive form of socialist “kindness”.

The irony is that Ardern has distanced herself from the carnage she created and is now enjoying the accolades and rewards of a celebrity politician on the world stage. It is particularly galling that she cultivated the image as the world leader of compassion at the expense of New Zealanders.

There are two key observations from election 2023: Declining support for the two main parties and who benefited, and the inroads the Maori Party made in the seven Maori seats.

Let’s look at the election night figures.

Party Party Votes % Votes Electorate Seats List Seats Total Seats
National Party 878,288 38.95 45 5 50
Labour Party 606,663 26.90 17 17 34
Green Party 242,845 10.77 3 11 14
ACT 202,664 8.98 2 9 11
NZ First 145,649 6.46 8 8
Te Pāti Māori 58,949 2.61 4   4
TOP 46,677 2.07      
NZ Loyal 26,141 1.15      
New Zeal 12,701 0.56      
Freedoms NZ 7,031 0.31      
DemocracyNZ 5,544 0.24      
All others 21,289 0.96      
Total 2,254,441   71 50 121
Voter turnout is estimated to be 78.4% (82% 2020 and 79% in 2017). 

The winners were National, ACT and NZ First. National and ACT gained 61 seats combined, a majority of 1 in a Parliament of 121 (120 plus 1 overhang seat care of the Maori Party). The Port Waikato by-election to be held next month will almost certainly deliver one more seat to National to give a National/ACT coalition a 62 to 60 majority. That’s tight, and those figures are likely to tighten up even further.

The official results will be declared on 3 November after the special votes are counted. Special votes are estimated at 567,000 (20.2% of total votes). In 2020 there were 504,621 special votes.

Specials typically favour Labour and the Greens (including students voting away from their permanent place of residence) and it is quite conceivable the “right” bloc will lose 1, maybe, 2 seats.  Conceivably the overhang may extend should the Maori Party gain a further seat(s) after the specials, although that is unlikely.

The issue for National is whether it needs to – or chooses to – include NZ First within the coalition arrangement. If the special votes go the wrong way it may have no choice, but it may also be imprudent to wait until the special votes are declared. A three-way coalition is now the most likely scenario.

Main Party Votes

Without a doubt the election result is not as decisive as National and ACT would have hoped for. Their early attempts to shut out NZ First failed (and quite possibly backfired). The fact that ACT, and later NZ First, have done so well is due to National’s relatively poor polling. At 39%, their party vote is the lowest since 1999, apart from the 2020 covid election which was an aberration. Polling under 40% should not be considered a resounding success.

The collective vote of the two main parties was 66%, the lowest level since 2002. Typically, support for the two main parties is between 75% and 80%. In this election, there was a sizable chunk of voters looking for an alternative but were not prepared to cross the left/right divide.

On the left, the alternative was the Green Party, which ran a low-profile campaign. It seems their strategy was to have a welcoming presence to receive the disaffected Labour voters while focusing on a few key electorates to provide a beachhead in 2026 or 2029. In this regard, they succeeded. The alternative for disaffected Labour voters was to not vote at all, and it seems some took that option. 

The alternative for those on the right of the divide was initially ACT, but then also NZ First in the latter stages of the campaign when it was clear that NZ First would reach the 5% threshold. A talking point of the campaign was the contest between ACT and NZ First for the disaffected vote on the right. It seems that the disaffected National vote was largely motivated by race issues such as co-governance that National appeared weak on (perhaps reasoning that they had more to gain in the centre than the right by taking a softly softly approach.) On racial issues, Peters is more credible than Seymour.

The Maori Seats

The biggest talking point of the election is the battle for control of the Maori seats.

The Maori Party has won four of the seven Maori seats and came a close second in the three retained by Labour.

That fight was vividly expressed in the seat of Hauraki-Waikato. Nanaia Mahuta has been defeated and without a list seat as a lifeline, is out of Parliament. Mahuta held the seat for 27 years. She has been defeated by Hana-Rawhiti Maipi-Clarke who will be the youngest MP at 21. She represents the new generation of radical Maori that are now aggressively challenging their more conservative elders. The departure of Mahuta would be a cause for celebration if it were not for the fact that she is being replaced with a member of a party that is even more radical and anti-democratic.

The loss of Te Tai Tonga also ends the reign of the Tirikatene family in that seat dating back to 1967.

These losses are a massive blow for Labour. None of Labour’s Maori seats are safe from the Maori Party offensive. No doubt they will be looking for a clean sweep in 2026.

Ironically, Labour has massively advanced the Maori agenda since 2020. The He Puapua blueprint for co-governance that Labour had concealed from the public prior to the 2020 election had been put into effect throughout the government service. That radical initiative was clearly not radical enough for the extremist Maori Party.

Kiwiblog has some interesting statistics about Maori representation in the new 54th Parliament.

Thirty (25%) of the 121 MPs have Maori ancestry. By party, the proportion is: Maori Party 100%, NZ First 50%, Greens 36%, ACT 27%, Labour 26% and National 10%.

The obvious question is why we need the Maori seats at all when Maori are overrepresented in Parliament via the general seats. The argument for the abolition of the Maori seats in Parliament (and on local councils) is even more compelling if one accepts these seats have become vehicles for radical factions intent on undermining our democracy. The Maori Party only gained 2.6% of the vote, despite Maori representing 17% of the general population so it cannot be said that they represent Maori or have a mandate to speak for or on behalf of Maori.

Wasted Vote

The wasted vote totalled 119,000 or 5.2% spread among 11 minnow parties. This is lower than the 8% wasted in 2020 when NZ First failed to reach the 5% threshold.  None came close to the 5% threshold. TOP was the highest polling at around 2%.

As in previous years, sincerity and lofty promises counted for nothing. If the minnows are to make gains in 2026, they need to become much smarter about their strategy.  History would suggest this is unlikely. 

The Pollsters

There were five polls published in the last two weeks of the campaign. A surprising number of commentators had dismissed the polls as inaccurate. However, all correctly predicted a two or three-party coalition of the right. The polling inaccuracy occurred around how the block of votes was divided but this is not surprising given the margin of error, the confidence level limitations inherent in sampling, and the timing of the polls from election day. All five polling companies underreported the National Party vote.

The Future

Although National will be basking in the warmth of its success, it should not underestimate the challenges ahead.

The anger that saw Labour ousted from office has not disappeared – it is simply in a state of rest while watching attentively to see if National will reverse Labour’s wrongs.

Repairing the economy will be easier than repairing the racial divisions that now divide our country. The question is whether Chris Luxon and his caucus have the intestinal fortitude to address that issue, given the hostility that they will encounter from the media and the radical elements that now reside in Parliament.

National’s poor polling relative to the John Key years shows people are not convinced our new Prime Minister has the courage to tackle the tough issues, like racial division. Many people have doubts and harbour concerns that Chris Luxon is too weak and woke to even address that problem.

If that proves to be the case then National can expect the anger that has crushed Labour, to turn on it.

Should that happen, then the “This is not my first rodeo” man will be well-placed to become even stronger in 2026.