Every election that comes about inevitably has some hacks saying it is “interesting”, “historic” etc, which of course they always are. Elections always change governments in some way, even if not the ruling party. Psephologists (an area that I am often tempted to drop into) are keen to dissect some greater meaning from a vast range of individual decisions made at the ballot box or to not go to the ballot box, and political parties are even more keen to use that data to inform their future utterings of rhetoric, promises and contortions of fact.
The 2014 New Zealand General Election is, though, a bit more than all that. For it needs to be seen in the context not only of 20 years of MMP politics, and an vigorous level of campaigning by opposition parties, that saw many pundits thinking the election would be close, either due to wishful thinking on their part, or because governments seeking a third term usually only scrape through (see 2005, 1996, 1981).
In the height of economic recession, a majority of voters chose to change the electoral system, thanks to sustained campaigning by a coalition on the left, poorly focused counter-campaigning by those on the right (remember Janet Shirtcliffe?) and the feeling by a significant number of voters that they had had enough of radical reforms they neither understood nor felt were helping them. Bear in mind in that same election in 1993, National won by one seat, with 33% of the vote. First Past the Post meant that opposition votes were split between Labour, the Alliance and NZ First.
Today, opposition votes are also split between Labour, the Greens (which have succeeded the Alliance as the far-left faction in Parliament) and NZ First, but National has won an election in its own right, with the system many on the left thought would deliver them sustained so-called “progressive” majorities of Labour supported by a leftwing partner, and perhaps a centrist party maintaining a balance. Not now. Despite a campaign whereby the left DID campaign on a lot of policy, and dishing up a fair bit of dirt, a majority of New Zealand voters weren’t swayed. National getting its best ever result since 1951 and Labour its worst since 1922 speaks volumes not of the split on the left (which has not grown, as the Greens are sustaining fairly consistent levels of support), but on a series of factors that should result in some introspection, particularly from the left...