An emphatic win for National raises a whole series of questions, especially for a left-wing struggling to understand middle New Zealand... and then there's Dotcom

The coming days will see a welter of words on the reasons for the spectacular success of National and the failure of the broad left. As a 'pundit', I might as well add my views.

National's advertising was subliminally a triumph. An integrated team resolutely heading in the same direction contrasted to an old tub going around in circles. As soon as I saw the ad I knew that it captured the mood, and that the message would be absorbed in a flash.

The distractions of “Dirty Politics” and “The Moment of the Big Fail” only reinforced the message.

The left was also too desperate, in part because of their hatred of John Key. This is something I do not understand. Why do so many activists on the left hate Key to the point they have no understanding why he appeals to so many New Zealanders?

But one thing we do know about elections is that the ground work for a win is laid down many months earlier. Voters make a continuous judgment about governments, and also of opposition parties. They may not read the detail of policy, but through the vast array of media they form a view. And it is a simple proposition, does the government work for me and my country and do the opposition understand my situation?

So for most New Zealanders the government has done an OK (actually a very good) job of piloting New Zealand through stormy seas, and they are inclined to trust John Key when he says that New Zealand is on the cusp of an exciting future, even if that cannot yet be articulated. They have seen enough of the emerging new economy to know it might be true. And I would also note (to John Campbell) that the great majority of people in Christchurch can see real progress, both for themselves and for their city.

So an opposition message, that everything is a disaster and -- to quote David Cunliffe -- that the government is a “bunch of clowns” did not resonate. In the campaign he pulled back from that, but it was too late, he had already done the damage to himself. But I would note his concession speech showed real insight that Labour has to change direction if it wants to win. It's something National did after 2005. Now Labour has to do the same.

I have made many comments on this site and elsewhere that Labour has failed to take on board why voters support National, and that Labour’s commitment to repeal everything National has done was wrong headed. Will Labour go into 2017, promising yet again to repeal the 90 day probation period, and to kill the major road projects? As the original author of the 90 day bill, I deliberately chose the most moderate period in the OECD. It was intended to be a signal to Labour that it would work out OK. But it is not a message yet listened to.

I was wrong on the Greens; I thought they would do better. But perhaps spending three years saying “No” to everything was all too effectively absorbed by the public. You cannot look like you hate the New Zealand economy and then get entrusted with it. The change to a more moderate position during the election campaign was too late. I also think that too many of the Green MP’s sound like crusading social workers for them to really win a lot more votes. They have to start sounding like they actually understand the country they live in. So the next three years is quite a test for them if they want to break though to 15 or more percent.

Winston was so close to holding the balance of power. Where to from here? Can he effectively sit on the cross benches and do enough with the government to look like he will be responsible in that role in the future?

This is also a test for National. They have just got away with not needing him, but what about 2017? It will be a real test for NZF to go beyond 2017 to be able to fulfill this role. Or is that now the prospect for the Conservatives? Because it looks like 2017 might be their year.

And finally Hone. He must surely rue the day he got into bed with Kim Dotcom. I am certain he would have won Te Tai Tokerau without Kim Dotcom’s baleful influence. I know a large number of conservative Maori in Te Tai Tokerau (family connections) who voted for Kelvin to get rid of Dotcom. Normally they would have voted Maori Party, but they were deeply offended by KDC’s influence. They also thought that Labour needs Kelvin. It was a demonstration that even opponents of Labour nevertheless have a regard for where Labour could be heading, since they know that Labour will eventually sit on the Treasury benches.

But ultimately the night belonged to John Key. He has shown why we get regular reports that people in other countries wish he could be the Prime Minister of a bigger country. It is why he is the golf buddy of President Obama.

A large number of New Zealanders intuitively know that he gets what is needed and that is why he has the trust of so many New Zealanders.

And that is why he is the Prime Minister with the potential to emulate Keith Holyoake’s fourth term; the Holy Grail in National Party circles.

Comments (22)

by David Crosswell on September 21, 2014
David Crosswell

There's so much wrong with that, I simply wouldn't know where to start, so I'll note what I agree with.

Labour needs to reassess policy, and probably slough off an image that stems more from its history than what it is in the present, in order to gain more public recognition.

There. Much easier.

But I don't go for the party politics factor anyway, being a regional politics advocate.

by Nick Gibbs on September 21, 2014
Nick Gibbs

A column that rings true to me and my experience. I can't think of any friends or colleagues who were enamoured with Labour but plenty who liked or at least respected John Key. Meanwhile

too many of the Green MP’s sound like crusading social workers 

is a very good line.

by barry on September 21, 2014

I can't agree with this analysis.  It is not policy but people's love for John Key that did for Labour.  Unfortunately it takes more that a few months to turn around people's perceptions and the general reaction to being told that Key's politics are not so nice is denial. (e.g "they all do it").

In 2008 the Nats were very negative and their policies were not all that popular.  The difference is that they had had years of eroding Helen Clark's popularity to the point where Key seemed like a breath of fresh air.

There were so many cases reported in newspapers of people saying what they were looking for in a government that looked much closer to Labour or the Greens, but then they finished up saying that they were likely to vote National.  People don't vote for policies as much as they vote for the person.

Within reason, it is not the policies but how committed to them you are.  National even got away with asset sales last election and that was a lot more unpopular than labour market reform or capital gains tax.

For the left the best strategy is to keep on at the media about the dirty politics.  If the reporters know they are being played then they might not be so amenable to being National's lapdogs.  The message from Labout and National has to be filtered through the media and it is hard enough without having at least a neutral press.

For Labour it is to stop the infighting.  Don't give them the ammunition.  Tell a consistent story.  Look like you believe what you are saying.  That means getting rid of the members who really want to be in National.

Don't let the government get away with their lies.  The country was NOT a disaster zone in 2008.  National has had earthquakes and the GFC to deal with but they also had terms of trade that other generations would have killed for.  The long recession of the first 4 years or so was created by the government and the recent growth is just getting us back to where we should be.  The first term tax changes were a BAD thing and caused the economy lots of pain.  They badly mismanaged the deposit guarantee scheme etc. They have NOT been competent managers.

This is the story that needs to be told starting now.  If they leave it to the next election it will be too late.

by tussock on September 21, 2014

Why do so many speakers on the right love Key to the point they have no understanding why he is hated by so many New Zealanders?

Not that your sycophancy completly disgusts me. Oh, wait. Probably explains the job though, eh. Not to mention which media get their OIA requests through (or even get to keep their jobs in the state media), which corporates get 30 million dollar mystery grants, which toadies get knighthoods, which civil servents are promoted and which vilified in public in the face of laws that forbid reply. Do you love the Johnkey? Do you like your job, your funding, the sanctity of your private life, just wax lyrical a while on the wonders of the PM, and you too can pass under the radar another round.

Enjoy your inevitible promotion and honours, Wayne. You've got the touch.

by Alan Johnstone on September 21, 2014
Alan Johnstone

" Why do so many activists on the left hate Key to the point they have no understanding why he appeals to so many New Zealanders?"

This isn't a difficult question at all, it's the exact same reason that those on the right loathed Helen Clark beyond words.

Both Key and Clark were serial election winners. It's really that simple.


by Wayne Mapp on September 21, 2014
Wayne Mapp

I was just going to let the comments flow on this item. After all, we all have our own views as to the result. 

Bu on one pont Barry, it will do no good for the left to argue about what happened in 2008. By 2017 no-one will care. And in any event David Cunliffe said on several occasions that he gave credit to John Key in respect of getting New Zealand through the 2008 to 2011 recesssion. You simply will not convince voters that National caused the recession, and it is simply not relevant to the future.

by Ben Thomas on September 21, 2014
Ben Thomas

As a disillusioned Labour supporter who reluctantly voted National, I agree with all of this.  I also find the demonisation of Key strange. For that matter I find the tendency of right and left to demonise those who do not share there views strange.

i must say it is a pleasure to read a discussion that is rational unlike one blog where the left supporters are claiming the vote was rigged.

by Steve F on September 21, 2014
Steve F


A succint analysis  and one I can't argue with but its amazing what comes out of the woodwork when you post a right of center commentary on a left of centre blogsite. After the revolution of 1984 settled down NZ has been a nation following centrist views. They get dished up in different colours but basically we've had six years at a time with slight dietry changes in between. I believe its not the party and policy mix that drives the swing from one side to the other but its the personailties. We get tired of them eventually and everyone wants to trade in their old model at some point. Except in this analogy the national variant seems exceptionally well built and the old adage rings true .... If it aint broke, dont fix it.

by Lee Churchman on September 22, 2014
Lee Churchman

They have to start sounding like they actually understand the country they live in.

Well, if they did, they wouldn't bother campaigning. If anything has come out of this election, it's that most voters appear not to care very much about political corruption. That is unhealthy.

by Lesley Ford on September 22, 2014
Lesley Ford

I'm one of those who loath Key and don't understand why so many "love" him. I just do not trust him and have always felt that he has an agenda that is quietly being foisted on us in the way that you cook a frog - toss in cool water then slowly heat up so it doesn't realise it's doomed. I have never been taken in by his persona, which has grated as false since I first attended a Press meet the candidates forum in 2005. And lastly I despise liars and Key has repeatedly shown himself to be just that; the problem is that he is not brought to task on that by a compliant media.

by Brendon Mills on September 22, 2014
Brendon Mills

Ben -- why did u vote National?


Didnt you like Labour's plans to help the poor and vunerable and ensure they are protected with labour laws and welfare safety nets?


Didnt you like Labours desire to build things up?


Are you aganst smaller class sizes?

by Brendon Mills on September 22, 2014
Brendon Mills

And Wayne,


Do you accept that the 90-day trial period just sends the message to worker that they are expendable and that if they give their boss the slightest hit of displeasure then they can be sacked? 


And do you accept that workers do actually have a genuine reason to have a personal greiviance, ie getting sacked because they needed to go home early and pick their child up from school etc. And that employer have used it.

by Alex Stone on September 22, 2014
Alex Stone

Good day Wayne -

You appear preplexed as to why some peole have a dislike of John Key. It is because he is a proven and practised liar (you simply cannot argue agianst this: the documented examples are many), and we feel such a dubious ethical basis does not qualify him for public office - let alone leadership.

Also, intelligent people don't enjoy being cynically 'played'. The hiding and now sudden 'resigntion'of Jason Ede being a case in point.

To be fair: proponents of centre-right policies have every right to work their patch within the political realm. It's just wehn some stoop to deceit, and clearly unethical behaviour, that there is cause for concern.



by Wayne Mapp on September 22, 2014
Wayne Mapp


The 90 day trial period has not in general been abused. Otherwise I would expect to see more evidence of this. That is not to say that no employers have abused it.

By the way I would always want to see more about the facts of any one case. Was the employee's actions the last straw, or not? 


I know a lot of the left are convinced that John Key is a "proven and practised liar." And as long as they go on believing that, the left will be in trouble.

In any event it is not true. I have read Blips list on The Standard. His huge long list deal with opinions, not facts. 

And to say a person is a liar is different to getting a statistic or fact wrong when interviewed. We have all done that. If we never made such errors, we would get multi-choice tests 100% correct, but who does?


by Katharine Moody on September 22, 2014
Katharine Moody

I think the difference between you, Wayne and the PM is that you admit that neither you or your office communicated with Cameron Slater other than at party meetings which he attended. John Key is different. He rang the guy regularly by his own admission. And he rang him the day after a particularly disgusting post about a dead man he called a "feral" and Mr Kwey told him (again by his own admission) that he recognised the woman/mother of the dead man who was also referred to in Cameron Slater's blog piece.

Call me old fashioned but I'm extremely sickened by the fact that our PM shared a tent with Cameron Slater. It's not 'hate' for John Key and what he embodies, so much as disbelief and shame that this whole episode in NZ politics has such similarity to the fictional House of Cards;

If I hadn't watched the fiction series - maybe I could just let it go.

 Best thing Key could do is set up that Royal Commission himself. That is what someone who had certainty that they and their party would not be implicated or negatively impacted would do. It is what someone with integrity would do.

by Brendon Mills on September 22, 2014
Brendon Mills

Good to see that you will always take the employer's side in an unfair dismissal case Wayne. I bet you sack your workers willy nilly then.


I bet you would get rid of sick leave and holiday pay if you could.


As well as ban unions.


People deserve some security in their job. They want to turn up to work knowing that they are not going to be fired with out good reason and due process.

by Brendon Mills on September 22, 2014
Brendon Mills

And another thing Wayne. Workers are human beings. They should be treated with some sort of dignity, not as just disposable commodities.

by barry on September 22, 2014


"You simply will not convince voters that National caused the recession, and it is simply not relevant to the future."

You are right that I will not be able to convince voters of it, but it is no less true.  It is relevant because National have been given credit as being the best economic managers and it is a large part of the reason that so many voted for them.

I think it was a mistake for Cunliffe to give Key credit for his economic management.  Voters will have taken the message that even he thinks that National are good managers. 

In the debate he even let Key get away with saying that National inherited a basket case. Anybody with any economic credibility will agree that the reason NZ fared as well as it did during the GFC was due to the low debt NZ had at the time which meant that Key could cut taxes and borrow to keep the economy afloat.

I know Cunliffe was told not to be mean to Key to avoid upsetting people, but he had to show a bit more fight.

Now National have talked up the economy so if it doesn't perform there is nowhere to hide.

by Steve F on September 22, 2014
Steve F


As you mentioned above just let the comments flow. It appears to be serving as a purifucation process for a lot of visitors to your post. They'll feel a lot better for it after putting pen to paper. I've just digested the ANZ's analysis  of the economy here

and it is clear that the country is on the rails. The economy is the engine room. Without it then there would be no jobs to turn up to.


by Tim Watkin on September 22, 2014
Tim Watkin

Tussock, usually appreciate your comments but as you know 'play the ball, not the man'. Or don't bother.

Steve, your comment that people tend to think 'if it ain't broke...' makes some sense to me. It's an interesting impression to have because arguably there is a lot broken, quite literally in Christchurch. But there is remarkably public faith in (and sympathy for) this government's handling of such things. More sympathy than most governments are afforded, and I keep coming back to the air of competence Key maintains. While people's faith in him is dented, they're not looking too hard because they have faith in his competence.

Barry... and others... the economic debate has a similar hue. Labour deserves credit for low government debt, the new floor created by Working For Families and the like. But it also oversaw an unaddressed house price boom that still plagues us and English is right that we had slipped into recession before the rest of the world.

Since then there has been a conservative competence in the Key/English management. Results are being squeezed from a pressed public service, a surplus (however manufactured) has been achieved, growth is happening and economic confidence is very strong. Huge amounts were borrowed so that the most vulnerable didn't face cuts (and so the rich could get their cuts, in taxes). Things are as good as people expect.

But the other story is of falling exports (not just export prices), of a limiting and polluting love affair with exploiting our natural resources (typical of conservative governments), wage growth mostly at the top end, and some serious economic problems in many regions. While English has run a steady ship, history will not be kind when it comes to the Super Fund contributions, superannuation, partial asset sales, housing and a failure to "rebalance" the economy as promised.

But it's a mixed picture either way – both government have done some very sound things, which is why both have got three terms and attempts to paint either as extremists fall flat with most.

by Steve F on September 23, 2014
Steve F


from ANZ Rresesrch's September  bulletin

Link is in above comment of mine. I'll sleep soundly tonight;


We forecast the New Zealand economy to grow 3.6% in calendar 2014 and 3.0% the following year. That’s a remarkable performance in the global context. Admittedly we can’t – or wouldn’t want to take the credit ourselves as a nation for some of the drivers, including a once-in-a-generation terms of trade boost and an earthquake rebuild but there is plenty for New Zealanders to be justifiably chuffed about. New Zealand has tidied up its act. Debt is a much lower share of GDP than it was during the GFC, and the pool of labour is growing. Along with signs we are also working smarter, these factors are setting the nation up for a period of stronger trend growth in the years ahead. Inflation is expected to remain well contained. Global deflationary forces and a still-high NZD have played a role, but so too has larger supply side capacity, with improving productivity holding the key to boosting living standards.

Of course, the economic cycle around the trend matters too, particularly for those at the sharper edges of the economy. That cycle is now maturing from strong growth rates off lows, to moderate growth off good levels. That’s not a bad thing. Indeed, it has been partly prompted by policy settings. After a certain point, additional cyclical growth comes with an associated build-up in nasty imbalances, necessitating a bust later. The New Zealand economy appears to have pulled up short of a boom-bust scenario, and that’s a positive for the medium-term outlook. 

by Alex Stone on September 23, 2014
Alex Stone

Good day Wayne -

Thank you for your response to my comment about John Key's record of dishonesty.

You said: "to say a person is a liar is different to getting a statistic or fact wrong." I agree with this, and agree with your comment that many of the 'long list' of John Key's lies could fall into this category, or that of 'broken promises', or of unforseen things (such as "We won't raise GST").

But, with great respect to your experience in politics, I think it is still too glib for you to fob off the proven, documented lies that are on Key's record.

Could you adequately explain away just this small selection?

"I'll vote for you, Bill English" (in the leadership challenge that Don Brash won)

"I don't own a vineyard" (when video evidence shows him boasting about his vineyard prior to that statement)

"I wouldn't have sent troops to Iraq" (when his voting record shows otherwise)

"I voted to raise the drinking age" (when his voting record shows otherwise)

"I've always believed in climate change" (when an earlier statement completely contradicts that)

"I only own 20,00 Tranzrail shares." (Take a look at the 2008 TV interview - its on YouTube. You must have come down in the last shower if you can't see this is a man knowingly lying. He starts a short interview saying only 20,000 shares, and ends by admitting to 100,000. He knew the correct answer all along. That's the definition of lying.)

"Standard and Poors said..." (this led to a correction in Hansard, one of three on Key's record. Surely the most formal of admissions of misleading the people)

"I will apologise to [the Malaysian diplomat sex attack victim] when I know her name..." (Instead he refused to when he did know her name, saying he only aplogises in serious matters)

"There is no mass surveillance of New Zealanders communications.''

And lest this be seen as a sour grapes snipe at one person, I say that New Zealanders' widespread, passive acceptance of this record of dishonesty, or denying it (as you just demonstrated) is a worrying trend, and indicative of a wider malaise. This is how corruption in government takes hold, litlle bit by little expedient bit. We should not let this happen to us.

It simply is unacceptable for a man of such limited ethics to hold a senior leadership postion; and irresponsible of people like you to to continue to pretend otherwise.


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