A swing from Labour gives New Zealand a new National Party Government

Oct 18, 2023
Chris.luxon.portrait -c Image: Wikimedia Commons / Jakobandrewnz https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en

Six years ago New Zealand’s Sixth Labour Government aimed to make New Zealand a better place in which to live. Its first term of three years was almost a dream run. It didn’t last. Disruption by outside influences including the COVID Pandemic and international inflation, and a disciplined election campaign by the political opposition combined to defeat the government.

On election night on Saturday October 14 a strong swing produced a win for the centre-right National Party, overturning a large majority won by the Labour government in 2020.
Under the New Zealand version of the MMP (Mixed Member Proportional) electoral system, National has enough seats to govern with support from the small right wing ACT Party.
On Election Night National had 38.95 percent of the party vote and ACT 8.98 percent. Between them they held 61 seats, a bare majority of the 120 seat house.

The swing was not so much a swing to National, whose majorities in some seats are very slim, but a swing away from Labour to the minor parties. The electorate appears to be disillusioned with the major parties.

On election night at least six seats were too close to call. Nearly twenty percent of votes, the special votes, are yet to be counted and the final count won’t be announced until November 3.

The outcome will help determine whether the National-ACT coalition will need the support of New Zealand First party led by the experienced campaigner Winston Peters. In common with other minor parties, the NZ First Party’s fortunes improved in this election.

The result is a remarkable achievement for the new Prime Minister elect Christopher Luxon. He has been a Member of Parliament for less than three years.

Luxon is a successful businessman who became CEO of Unilever Canada in 2008 then joined Air New Zealand as group general manager in 2011. He served as the airline’s CEO from 2012 to 2019. In 2020 he stood for and won the Botany electorate for the National Party.

The National Party’s likely coalition partner the ACT party is led by David Seymour. Depending on coalition negotiations, he could be offered the role of deputy Prime Minister.

The ACT party is further to the right of the National Party. Seymour’s controversial statements have drawn allegations of racism against Maoris, despite his own Maori heritage. ACT advocates the abolition of the Maori Health Authority, the Ministry for Pacific People, the Human Rights Commission and Ministry for Women. However as a minor coalition partner ACT won’t get all it wants.

Labour’s leader at the 2017 General Election Jacinda Ardern showed remarkable leadership qualities early on in her prime ministership. “Jacindamania” was coined to explain her appeal. Her government set about making wide ranging changes that it considered necessary after 12 years of centre-right National Party governments.

One of a series of shocks that distracted and all but derailed the government was an attack by a gunman on two mosques in Christchurch, killing 51 people. Within a month the sale of semi-automatic guns, assault rifles and magazines were banned, and the government announced a buy-back scheme for prohibited firearms and components.

Ardern attracted world-wide approval for her leadership during this crisis especially for her concern and empathy towards the mosque members.

In May 2019 The Government introduced its first “wellbeing” budget. It provided for initiatives in education and health. Then at the end of January the Government announced large investments to improve the country’s infrastructure including transport, health and education resources.  

But within days attention turned to China and news of the COVID-19 outbreak.  This was the start of a long period of intense government activity.  The COVID response included lock-downs, travel restrictions, regulations to protect tenants, funding under a variety of schemes to support workers, businesses, health resources, schools, students and parents. 

The quality and clarity of Ardern’s leadership was regarded as exemplary.

In a General Election on October 17 2020 Labour won a landslide victory, the first time under the New Zealand MMP electoral system that any party gained enough seats to govern without a coalition or a confidence and supply agreement.

The New Zealand Government’s management of the pandemic is credited with saving many lives and preserving the economy for eventual recovery. The International Monetary Fund said in a report “By the fourth quarter of 2020, New Zealand’s growth performance ranked near the top among OECD countries.”

”In addition to the successful health response, large-scale economic support enabled this fast recovery. New Zealand’s fiscal support package, among the largest in the world relative to the size of the economy, featured large wage subsidies to retain employment during the lockdown and beyond, allowing businesses to rapidly re-open once conditions permitted.”

However the COVID response required some hard decisions and for many people the memory of lock-downs and travel restrictions reflected badly on the government especially as a period of high inflation overshadowed the positive economic results.

In January of election year Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern resigned. A star performer seemingly more appreciated overseas than in her own country, she stepped down in favour of the competent but not so charismatic Chris Hipkins. He had been a safe pair of hands in a series of portfolios.

In election year 2023 the Opposition concentrated on challenging the Government at every opportunity.

The Government proposed a sweeping reform of the management of water supplies and the nation’s health system was reorganised.

The National Party Opposition said they would reverse these and other measures if elected.

National’s campaign concentrated on two issues they identified as the main concerns of New Zealanders: The economy and law and order. Their highly disciplined campaign avoided distractions. In the words of Party Leader Luxon “We didn’t bark at every passing car.” 

They highlighted law and order issues involving gangs, a spate of shootings in Auckland, corner store robberies and a rash of ram-raids. One of National’s proposals is to introduce military style boot camps for juvenile offenders.

The economy was a major election year issue. In response to the world wide rise in inflation the Reserve Bank increased interest rates and said this policy would likely produce a recession late in 2023.  This could not have been worse for the government facing an election. Economic difficulties were front of mind as mortgage holders and homeowners suffered from high prices and rising interest rates.

In response the National Opposition claimed to be better financial managers and promised to “rebuild the economy”. Tax cuts were offered to help families pay their bills.
Concentration on these carefully targeted issues and a business-like disciplined campaign under Christopher Luxon ensured the National Party’s substantial election-night victory.

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