For National this election has two major problems that one might say are almost indigenous to third term Governments seeking a fourth term in office:
- History rarely favours four term peace time Governments (the National led Government of Keith Holyoake is the exception)
- The third term malaise or third term blues
Only one Government has lasted longer than Holyoake since 1900 and that was the Labour Government of 1934-1949. It lasted that long because the period 1939-1945 was during World War 2 and it was seen as important that there be stability in a time of uncertainty. The third term malaise is a combination of early weariness among Ministers and Caucus members caused by the demands of the job, their crisis management skills – or lack thereof – starting to show and generally an opposition that by this point has usually revived.
So far National appears unaffected by the explosion of Labours new leader Jacinda Ardern into the media. Left, right and centre there was no getting away from her in the media last week. She has appeared to be everything Prime Minister Bill English is not – young and vibrant, deft with social media and sure footed in the face of challenges. But the election is in its early days yet and this could easily change.
For Labour this election just a few weeks ago looked like having the truly historic distinction of being just the second in peacetime to hand down a fourth term to the Opposition. The polls were grim. Andrew Little was trying his best, but whatever he did he simply could not connect with voters and it was starting to show in the most alarming ways. People liked him as a person, a human being, but as a politician seeking to be the next Prime Minister he was just not there.
Fast forward to the present day and a second poll has confirmed what the first one said. There has been a massive earthquake in the New Zealand political scene. The powerful aftershocks coming through show that few parts of the political spectrum have gotten away unaffected by the rise of Ms Ardern.
For New Zealand First the results will be disappointing. After two years of a consistent upwards creep in the polls, the prospect of setting the terms of the next Government may have slipped from their grasp. The party will still get around 10 Members of Parliament if it maintains its current 8% support, but both polls suggest that the 16-18 Members of Parliament it seemed assured of at the start of the month are no longer a certainty. Had N.Z.F. maintained that support, it would have meant a drop in support for National or a very large – possibly fatal – drop in support for the Greens.
Despite this, New Zealand First probably still hold the balance of power – the way it tips will now totally depend on how National and Labour play out their election campaigns. Whereas a few weeks ago, the options looked like a National-N.Z. First coalition or a National minority Government controlled by N.Z. First, the prospects of a Labour-N.Z. First coalition are not so far fetched that they should be dismissed.
But the real loss is to the Greens. Despite many people now rallying in defence of Metiria Turei, the W.I.N.Z. revelations and her handling of them have rocked the party like a torpedo hitting a ship. The damage is significant and their campaign is definitely – after looking like potentially their strongest ever – limping along. For the first time in three election campaigns they are playing a distinct second fiddle to Labour and possibly even New Zealand First.
Their campaign has other problems as well. On one hand they looked like they introduced their most powerful candidates with the intention of running some serious electorate races. On the other hand it looks like they also shot themselves in the foot by only announcing 29 candidates to contest 71 electorates, meaning even if their candidates all got in and the other parties on the left were obliterated, they would not be able to form a Government on the simple grounds of not having enough candidates.
As for A.C.T., United Future and the Maori Party, none of these parties seem likely to pick up new Members of Parliament unless they have a revolution in their game. None of them have support in the polls to suggest that between them any more than maybe 1-2 more Members of Parliament will be picked up. These would most likely come in the Maori electorates.
But six weeks out from the election, one thing is loud and clear. Labour is out of first gear for the first time since 2008.