Chris Trotter has his moments. But this piece, an attempt to explain Labour's loss (rather than National's win) is not one of them.
After nine years of left-wing government, New Zealanders by the narrowest of margins have elected a government of the Right.
I think National won seats 2:1 against Labour. Only the list votes saved Labour from deep embarrassment. Under FPP this would have been a landslide and it is about as close to one as possible under MMP. National also won more seats than the left put together. It's hardly a narrow margin.
Because the 2008 election campaign really began the night the 2005
general election ended; the night when New Zealanders courageously
refused to stick to the Right's carefully crafted and lavishly funded
script and returned Helen Clark's government to office.
Now that was a close thing. If South Auckland had run out of chicken on election day, things might have been very different.
In terms of funding, Kiwiblog's analysis suggests that the left funds far more lavishly. Of course this ignores the free manpower that the unions provide.
In the intervening three years, the angry drumming of the Right's multi- faceted campaign has never ceased to assail our ears.
Talkback radio: hard-right from one end of the dial to the other.
Soft right maybe. But people out there simply aren't as left wing as Mr Trotter wants them to be. The class struggle days are over. People care about issues that affect them. Does Mr Trotter want to ban calls who refuse to expound left talking points?
The daily press: partisanship on a scale not seen by New Zealanders in more than 30 years.
Certainly they have railed against the EFA. Most would argue that is their job. But many supported the smacking bill with obedient stories of child abuse, ran Labour's reaction to a National point rather than the National point, and asked the environmentalists for their point of view on just about every article where they might have an opinion. To me the press seems hopelessly compromised towards environmentalism, and to a lesser extent, the left.
Television: dumb and dumber.
Hard to disagree, although I am not the most conscientious TV watcher. But there has been clear left bias there also - witness TV3's role in the secret tapes despite the enormous loss of credibility it has created.
Strangely this seems to have evaporated during the election as National is getting only positive now. Is this the honeymoon?
Right-wing lobby groups: the Sensible Sentencing Trust, Family
First, the Free Speech Coalition quoted, feted and funded as if their
reactionary gobbets of fear and rage were the products of sage and
Perhaps it is true that the silent majority did start to take an interest in family, sentencing and free speech matters. For this to happen they have to feel highly threatened. There is far too much going on in most peoples' lives to mess around with this sort of thing. Perhaps Labour's sorties in these areas bit a little too deep into the comfortable understanding built up over years of ambivalence.
For example, Brad Shipton, convicted in a pack rape case, was released 3 years into his 8.5 year sentence due to a change in the law that Labour made.
The smacking bill is all I need to say about the family.
The EFA obviously frightened many people enough to get them out on the streets.
Labour's politicians, up on the stage, felt the grinding and the clanking of scene-shifting machinery more acutely than anyone else. It is what led them to make the many strategic and tactical errors that ultimately led to their downfall.
I don't think they ran a bad campaign. Looking at it, it seemed to me that Labour had a very real chance of victory. The fact that the environmentalists and Mr Peters failed on the night was all there was in it.
Mr Key was a formidable opponent, and the actions of government over the last 3 years are not immediately forgotten just because it is election time. A weaker campaigner may have just given up before it started. Miss Clark appeared to work hard and expect victory right up until the final debate, at which point she folded.
The "overspending" in 2005 had to be paid back, essentially requiring the governing party to fund the equivalent of two and a half election campaigns in just three years.
Without the deliberate and dishonest overspending (remember, Labour was advised it was illegal, promised not to spend that money, and then decided that they would anyway) which may have altered the result of the 2005 election, Labour would have had more money. So what?
But it is hard to see that Labour was poor. Billboards everywhere, online ads all over the place (I never saw one for National), a red Labour sticker on the newspapers a day before the election... The signs were of a very well funded campaign.
The Electoral Finance Act, intended to shove a great big spanner in the right-wing works, fell victim to the law of unintended consequences. Denied the opportunity to lobby in the traditional fashion, Labour's enemies were forced to press the one institution which the EFA did not regulate – the news media – into their service.
If that was the EFA's purpose, then Labour deserved to lose for that reason only. You are not supposed to rort the electoral system to screw your opponents.
It was the news media that dubbed Sue Bradford's attempt to confer upon children the same protections against assault and battery that adults enjoy "the anti-smacking bill", faithfully reproducing Family First's public relations talking-points.
And the talking points of about 80% of the population. What a silly, silly bill! How people raise their children is no concern of the state, anyway. This is the same government that argues that what people get up to in their own bedrooms in their own affair. Next the government will be regulating permissible acts there.
More than any other factor, it was this misrepresentation of Ms Bradford's bill as an attack on parents' rights that soured so many of Labour's traditional supporters, especially in its crucial working-class heartland. The drop of eight percentage points in Labour's share of the party vote in Auckland represents a huge victory for a resurgent Christian Right.
Describing this as a misrepresentation states very clearly that Mr Trotter still doesn't get it. It may take years for Labour to understand this issue. Until they do, they will not be back in power. Lots of people have families, not just Christians.
It was the news media, too, which characterised the EFA, Labour's attempt to drive a wedge between wealth and influence, as an attack upon democracy. Poorly drafted, and introduced without bipartisan support, the act proved to be a sitting duck for the shotguns of the Right.
And fair enough too. Although I would point out that it had a lot of criticism from the left also. It was a shoddy and cynical piece of work. For one thing it tried to allow the unions to do what they wanted.
The dark side of the Right's campaign was, of course, the unprecedented political assault upon Winston Peters and NZ First. Brilliantly conceived and ruthlessly executed, the attacks upon Mr Peters removed from the stage the one individual, and the one party, which could have prevented the Right from assuming power. The NZ First leader has paid a heavy price for spurning the advances of Don Brash in 2005.
In Trotter-world, this is no doubt gospel truth. In the real world, Mr Peters was the architect of his own downfall, with lies, misleading statements, dodgy accounts and unwarranted and dishonest attacks on journalists and opponents. Few mourn Mr Peters' passing. If he is honest, neither does Mr Trotter, except for the fact that he might have supported Labour for another term.
The only good thing to come out of it was Mr Peter's concession speech, which was the highlight of the evening, and one that I will remember for a long time. I don't know if he wrote it, or the angels did, but it was brilliant.
Encouraged to see their government as arrogant, high-handed and fatally out of sync with their most cherished moral values, the hundreds of thousands of Labour supporters who simply stayed home on Saturday have also paid a heavy price.
We will see. Whether it will top the $250 a week price of Labour's increased government spending remains to be seen. I think it is unlikely. National will probably be a much cheaper government.
In Helen Clark they have lost the most accomplished political player of her generation. Returned in an election in which just 77 per cent of enrolled voters cast a ballot, National takes the stage on the second-lowest turnout in a century.
At last a point I can agree with. This election was not particularly inspiring. Labour had 'trained' its opponents to agree with everything it said, or face nasty press headlines. Mr Key did exactly that, swallowing all the dead rats, and then, confounding the left, producing a few dead rats of his own and swallowing them also. Labour purchased a dud railway for way over valuation - National promised to keep it. Labour brought in middle class welfare - National expands it with unemployment insurance.
It started to look like Mr Key would swallow any rat. Labour had to stop producing rats and think of another idea. This is quite different from last election, where Don Brash choked on the rats and ended the meal.
Looking at the show from the electorate, it is not surprising that people were not impressed. While many voted for National in the end, it was really 'change' they were voting for, just sick of the same face on the TV each night. Without the EFA and smacking, perhaps Labour could have survived that for another term, particularly with Mr Peters in tow. But with the EFA and smacking, people wondered whatever next - crappy showers maybe - and bailed.
Mr Trotter shows a remarkable lack of understanding about the reasons for National's victory. National's billboards weren't great, their messages were simple but not particularly polished, and frankly boring. They did little or no online ads. It could simply be that National won because the voters wanted a National government. Stranger things have happened.
Being out of the country for the 90s I haven't seen a National government since i was a kid. I still remember old Muldoon. I hope this next few years is going to be interesting.
Mr Trotter needs o cheer up and join a yoga class.
UPDATE: Well he has quit. Read the comments here.