A second term with twists

Colin James’s post-election extra for the Otago Daily Times for 28 November 2011

John Key has impressively won a second term, with a version of his first-term supermajority and a lift in his party’s vote — the fifth time in 75 years a first-term government has done that.

The supermajority allows him to turn to John Banks and Peter Dunne on issues the Maori party opposes and vice-versa. That mirrors what he had in 2008-11 but both ACT and the Maori party are smaller, one seat and three, down from five each in 2008.

And those smaller margins highlight a longer-term issue: the lack of a durable partner on National’s side, which the Greens are on Labour’s side. Peter Dunne can hardly be propped up yet again in 2014, Banks is effectively an adjunct-National MP so ACT’s survival is tenuous and the Maori party is under assault from Labour and Mana and its two co-leaders are going.

Also, in three years brand-Key will need to be fleshed out with convincing results on the policy front if National is to hold its vote. Winston Peters’ resurrection illustrates the potential slippage to a populist force if voters turn sceptical or angry.

Key has a big work programme well under way which is likely to yield policy results for the next campaign. And he has leeway. Labour’s dismal party vote will slow and likely stall for a time the reconstruction it began last term. Reconstruction is harder off a smaller parliamentary base. The bloodbath has taken three able Labour MPs and limited its intake of new MPs to electorate seat winners.

The good news for Labour is that its share of the electorate vote was much higher than of the party vote — just as National’s was in 2002 when its party vote plunged to 21 per cent. So it has a voter base to work from. And in its core Labour seats in South Auckland it won a swing from National, against the strong blue tide, indicating it did get its core vote out.

But Labour is not just Labour any more. The Greens’ rise underpins the fact that any government Labour forms will be Labour-Green: the two parties are joined at the ankle. Adjusting to this will challenge the new Labour leadership.

That highlights that the Greens were one of the three big winners on Saturday, along with Peters and Key’s 3 per cent lift. The big question now is whether all three can hold their winnings.