Whatever we thought the result would be on Saturday night, we did not expect that. I thought that Labour would be hitting about 28%, and the Greens about 14%. Combined with New Zealand First, that would have put Labour in with a shot at Government. The reality was shocking. Labour dropping to 25% was only just outdone in shock value by the Green Party also dropping 2% to 10%. That result would have hit the Green Party, who were expecting to gain several seats, hard.
So what went wrong? On the surface it’s quite easy to see the gaps in Labour’s Party Vote that contributed to this defeat. The safe Auckland Labour seats of Mt. Roskill, Mt. Albert, New Lynn and Te Atatu all re-elected their Labour Party MPs, but the party vote overwhelmingly went to National. Labour also came third to National and the Green Party in a few electorates, including Wellington Central. While the Labour heartland electorates came out for the Party on the day, with Manurewa, Mangere and Manukau East all Party voting Labour, along with Christchurch East, both Dunedin seats and Kelston, the turnout in these seats were relatively low, with under 30,000 votes in the South Auckland fortress seats that have delivered government to Labour in the past. In contrast, National Party seats saw turnout of well over 30,000.
Evidently, this is why Labour lost. People in most of their safe seats returned Labour candidates but chose to give their other vote to National. In the seats that Labour did win, turnout was too low.
We need to work out why this happened. The answer doesn’t lie with the campaign, or the policies. I honestly believe that Labour’s campaign was well organised and run with a sleekness and professionalism that the Party should have been employing for the last three years. Labour’s policy was tight and as more came out there was less protest. The policy was targeted at a wide range of New Zealanders and was well received – it didn’t undermine Labour.
Nor do I believe that David Cunliffe was responsible for Labour’s loss. In the months before the election Cunliffe came out as a solid and strong leader. In a large majority of the debates Cunliffe was resoundingly declared the winner. He outshone Key on economics, he didn’t let the Prime Minister get away with any of his familiar dancing around questions, and he proved that he is the only person to lead Labour into 2017.
For some reason, people just did not want Labour be in government. The reason lies in something far more fundamental. Labour missed out on something integral in their campaign that they needed to have in order to persuade people to vote for them. Maybe it did just come down to the fact that people bought the spin about David Cunliffe. Maybe ‘Vote Positive’ didn’t connect with people. Maybe the 3 term trend is just too strong in New Zealand.
The party needs to find out what this missing element is. Labour won’t win elections unless they can turn out the electorate, especially in South Auckland. Losing the Party vote in their safe seats is appalling and needs to be rectified before lasting damage is done.
One thing is certain though – the knives coming out two days after the election is not the way forward