John Armstrong's opinion: National's 'amateur-hour, bungle-filled' campaign could hand Ardern a single-party majority

Don’t rule out the possibility of Jacinda Ardern ending the electoral hoodoo which has blocked every prime minister for the past quarter of a century from securing sufficient seats in Parliament to run a single-party majority government, and thus avoid being encumbered with coalition or support partners for a further three years.

Jacinda Ardern. Source: Getty

The findings of the series of 1 NEWS Colmar Brunton polls conducted prior to and during the election campaign have had Labour tracking consistently at around 46 to 48 per cent of the party vote.

Add two or three percentage points to that level of support and Labour would have an albeit narrow majority on its own in the new Parliament.

It would be the icing on Ardern’s victory cake — a victory which has been a foregone conclusion for months and which will be confirmed when the Electoral Commission has posted the provisional result of the general election following the completion of the vote count on Saturday evening.

Labour’s rating in terms of the share of the party vote is already high — especially for a party in government.

Area there grounds for thinking it might go even higher?

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The Labour leader didn’t let up today as campaigning winds down ahead of tomorrow’s vote. Source: 1 NEWS

The thought keeps nagging away at one that something very big has been going on at this election of which we have only witnessed glimpses.

What, for example, should we make of the hordes of well-wishers which have mobbed Ardern during her walkabouts at shopping malls?

What was behind the rush to vote early?

In the midst of the most serious crisis to confront the country since the Second World War, there is clearly a large vote for continuity rather than change.

The one thing which has been a guiding principle in the Prime Minister’s management of the Covid-19 pandemic is that the people’s health comes first. Shutting the virus out of New Zealand has been the priority — and will continue to be so.

That might mean economic pain for some. Well, tough.

The economy comes second. And for one solid reason. Unless you seek to contain and eliminate Covid, then you merely end up having to reinstate lockdown procedures which will strangle the economy anyway.

That the predictions of economic doom have not come to pass. That speaks for itself. Ardern has won the argument hands down.

She has ensured she has kept herself on the right side of public opinion.

She has been the voice of the silent majority. In particular — and this is absolutely crucial — she understands how deep the fears that come as part of the package can cut which comes with virus.

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The Labour leader has refused to reveal how she voted in the referendum. Source: 1 NEWS

They are fears that run the gamut of the human condition— be it fear of losing one’s job to the fear of losing one’s life.

The relative luxury of running a single-party government without having to buy into the agenda of a coalition or support partner or cater to that party’s wishes or whims is something that has yet to happen since New Zealand switched to a proportional electoral system some 24 years and eight general elections ago.

The likelihood of Ardern securing that prize has largely been discounted since Labour’s rating in the opinion polls drifted down from the 60 per cent mark which the party was registering back in May.

It was assumed that Ardern’s hopes of succeeding where other luminaries had failed — such as Helen Clark at the 2002 election and John Key in 2011 and 2014 elections had likewise been dashed.

Ardern’s two predecessors similarly watched in disappointment as their party’s poll ratings which had held steady through long periods when they did not matter had begun to deflate at the very time they did matter.

In Clark’s case, Labour’s rating had come off the boil two weeks prior to election day and failed to recover.

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The country is set to decide on its next Government as New Zealand heads to the polls. Source: 1 NEWS

While people will remember that Key came close to securing a majority, it is forgotten how close he came to achieving that accomplishment.

In both 2011 and 2014, National captured 47 per cent of the vote . That party vote translated into 60 seats.
So close, yet so far.

Where might the votes that Ardern needs to get above the 50 per cent mark come from? Not ACT. That’s for sure. Nor from the empty shell which was once upon a time New Zealand First.

And neither from the Greens. It is somewhat ironic that were that party to fail to clear the 5 per cent threshold in the official vote count and consequently exit from Parliament that Labour would pick up enough seats by means of the revised entitlements they would get in terms of the 120-member House of Representatives.

The Greens registered a satisfactory 8 per cent in the latest 1NEWS poll and are thus more than likely to maintain representation in Parliament. So the matter is now pretty academic.

That leaves National. Hovering just above the 30 per cent mark, voter support for Judith Collins’ outfit appears to have stabilised having fluctuated quite majorly, recording a high of 46 per cent early in the year before tumbling to its current low.

The question is whether the party has hit rock bottom. Or whether the party could find itself plunged even deeper into the mire when the results have been tallied and released.

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From midnight, all the election hoardings come down and politicians can’t campaign anymore. Source: 1 NEWS

No-one in their right mind would put money on National lifting its share of the party vote.

National’s muddled, directionless, amateur-hour, bungle-filled and gaffe-prone apology for an election campaign will have left many of those of a conservative bent pondering the unthinkable.

Many will rationalise their intention to tick Labour on their ballot paper as not being a vote for Labour, but rather “a vote for Jacinda”.

Few will follow through and do what they thought they had convinced themselves they would do.

Some National-aligned voters — if they haven’t yet voted — may argue that given the election is already lost, it might make sense to vote Labour lessen the leverage the Greens would have in any coalition or other governing arrangement hammered out by the two centre-left parties post-election.

Such have been the erratic, bizarre, ludicrous, nonsensical, counterproductive, ill-judged and —to be perfectly frank — infantile antics displayed by National’s new(ish) leader in the latter stage of the election campaign that a visitor from Mars might think Collins’ role is to help Ardern, not to hinder her.

In other words, all the ingredients are present for a party to capture more than half the seats in Parliament — a national emergency, a strong prime minister with crossover appeal , a weak Opposition and a reasonably-robust economy.

It will be a long time before they are in such alignment again.