New Zealand’s Tories, the National Party, have been returned to lead the government, but only by the narrowest of margins.
National won 59 out of 121 seats in Parliament, and is reliant for a majority on the neoliberal ACT party and centre-right United Future, who got one seat each. Turnout was the lowest since the 1880s - about a million people (26.8%) on the electoral roll did not vote. The saving grace of the election was the result of the concurrently held referendum on the voting system — Mixed Member Proportional Representation (MMP) will be retained. In 1990 National gained a similar percentage of the vote, but the First Past the Post system delivered them 70% of the seats. A vicious neoliberal onslaught followed.
National ran a dumbed-down election campaign, banking on the national euphoria of a Rugby World Cup win and the remarkable personal popularity rating of its leader, John Key. Labour’s campaign centred around opposition to privatisation, but it also advocated raising the state retirement age from 65 to 67 (which National opposed), and tried to attack the government from the right on police recruitment numbers. Labour’s share of vote collapsed in virtually every electorate, except in South Auckland, where they ran a vigorous campaign. The party’s leader resigned immediately following the election.
ACT’s meltdown was spectacular — it went from five seats to one. However its single MP (given a generous cabinet portfolio) will provide useful political cover for Key, especially when trying to justify hard right policies, such as Charter Schools (Academies). The Maori Party suffered from its close relationship with National over the last term, as well as facing pressure on its left flank from the newly launched Mana Movement. The Greens got their best ever result winning 11% of the party vote. New Zealand First, a populist nationalist party, also did well winning eight seats - their anti-privatisation propaganda centred on the perils of state assets falling into “foreign ownership”.
The Maori-led, working class-orientated Mana Movement retained its one MP, Hone Harawira, and won 1% of the party vote.
Its main campaign slogans were “Tax the rich”, “Feed the Kids”, “Jobs for all” and “20,000 new state houses”. Mana was only launched a few months ago, so 1% is not too bad, but it should have and could have done better. Mana failed to make a real breakthrough into the Pacific Island and working class European communities, perhaps because it was perceived to be exclusively a party for Maori. Mana did develop a decent policy on Pacific Islanders - equal rights with immigrants from Australia; and a 12 month amnesty for visa overstayers — but it was launched very late in the day.
Mana is a broad church, composed mainly of Maori Sovereignty activists, plus leftists and trade unionists, especially from Unite. All the major far left organisations are now active within Mana — the three Cliffite groups and the politically heterogeneous Workers Party.
In its post election analysis, the Workers Party identified contradictions in Mana’s propaganda on asset sales.
It is sometimes progressive, other times economic nationalist — concluding: “We in Mana need to be sharp on economic nationalism if we want to grow beyond 1% of the party vote. After all, if our policies are presented as a pale imitation of New Zealand First, we can hardly be surprised if voters end up going for the real deal instead.”
The most positive sign is that Mana activists are continuing to hit the streets immediately following the election, supporting locked out meat workers and state housing tenants facing eviction.
For the potentially vulnerable National-led government, Mana is likely to be the staunchest opposition it will face over the next three years.