Hard News by Russell Brown


The sole party of government

It turned out to be a great night for the National Party and its leader. For everyone else, the 2014 election result ran from disappointment to disaster.

Even New Zealand First, which doubled the support it was showing in polls only a few months ago, will spend the next three years bereft of any meaningful influence. Internet Mana turned out to be a terribly failed experiment, Act and United Future exist as parliamentary parties solely through the dispensation of National, the Conservative Party was stranded, the Maori Party was deserted by its core support and the Greens' problem turning polling growth into actual votes seems worse than ever.

And, above all, the Labour Party failed to convince enough voters that it could be the core of a viable alternative government. That, I think, is the problem beyond any of the unusual and controversial elements of this campaign. For a majority of voters, only one party seemed a prudent choice as the leader of a government. They did not welcome or trust the change Labour was offering.

A swing towards National in Christchurch, where the government has failed and people know it, says that. The "swing" towards National in Mt Roskill was actually a matter of Labour's voters staying home. The "missing million" voters stayed MIA: almost the same number of registered voters gave their vote to National as failed to vote at all.

It's not as if the result is a huge surprise. National's vote was not greatly higher than where the poll-of-polls left it and Labour's was virtually bang-on. The last Herald DigiPoll poll almost called it. I thought it was likely that National would form the next government, but expected it would need New Zealand First for a Parliamentary majority.

As it turns out, National needs only Peter Dunne and David Seymour (although it will embrace Te Uururoa Flavell), and I think that accountability gap is a problem. I have been fairly confident that the tangle of Dirty Politics and the more recent, alarming evidence that the official information process is being corrupted would have to be examined in public over the next year. Now, I'm not so sure.

Similarly, there will be few checks on National in areas where its policy is lacking, and even, the polls have said, out of step with the wishes of a sizeable chunk of its own voters. Think education, housing and foreign investment.

The establishment of National as the sole party of government also means that the path to Parliament has become more and more a matter of patronage within the party. The fact that Mark Mitchell was heading for the country's bigest electorate majority in Rodney last night will not be lost on anyone who has read Dirty Politics and knows how he won what has become the real contest in Rodney and a couple of dozen electorates like it -- the contest for the National Party nomination.

There will inevitably, be an unedifying tussle within Labour and much contemplation elsewhere and none of that will have much impact on the actual practice of goverment. For that, we will be relying on National to be the prudent, mainstream party of government it projected in its campaigning. To, in short, be decent.

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