Covid-19 changed everything, including old allegiances.
Jacinda Ardern picked up supporters from National through her management of the crisis, and Labour has held on to them throughout the campaign by highlighting its pandemic response.
And tonight’s result confirms what has been evident in political polls since the disease was first detected in New Zealand in February – that the public have confidence in Ardern to lead New Zealand through the ongoing challenges it has brought.
The Prime Minister-elect arrived at Auckland Town Hall tonight to scenes of jubilation as her party secured a vast improvement to the party’s fortunes in 2017 – when Labour won 46 seats.
Though the final results will not be officially declared until November 6, on tonight’s count the 2020 election appeared to deliver Labour as many as 64 seats – more than the 61 seats needed for a parliamentary majority.
New MPs include Ayesha Verrall, Vanushi Walters, Camilla Belich, Naisi Chen, Ibrahim Omer, Rachel Brooking, Helen White and Barbara Edmonds as well as many more.
Labour appeared to win many traditional blue seats including Upper Harbour and Ilam, and may have kept the seven Māori electorates – though final results may hinge on a recount in the tight races in Tāmaki Makaurau, Te Tai Hauāuru and particularly Waiariki.
Labour deputy leader Kelvin Davis warmed up the crowd by making light of National’s leadership changes, including “upcoming star” Judith Collins.
Ardern then took the stage to rapturous applause.
“New Zealand has shown its greatest support in the Labour Party for at least 50 years … in urban areas, in rural areas, in seats we may have hoped for, and equally in seats we may have not expected,” she said.
“For that, I have two simple words – thank you.”
She particularly thanked voters who have not backed Labour before, joking that there seemed to be quite a few of them.
“We will not take your support for granted. I promise you, we will be a party that governs for every New Zealander.
“Tonight’s result has been strong and it is clear Labour will lead the Government for the next three years.”
Before the first case of Covid-19 on February 28, National and Labour were closer in the polls and it looked to be a very close election.
But the National Opposition made Labour’s task easier by coups, scandals, leadership changes and resignations all concentrated into a few short months.
Judith Collins has been the fourth National leader Ardern has faced in three years as Prime Minister.
Ardern called this the Covid election and that was made even more so after a second outbreak was detected in August, forcing Auckland into alert level 3 and pushing back the election by four weeks.
It presented a major risk for the re-election of a Labour government, and Collins has used the outbreak as an example of government failures to ensure adequate border controls.
But the outbreak also gave Ardern another platform to assert her leadership and to do as she declared she would – to govern until the end of the term.
Covid decisions were still being announced in the last week of the campaign, such as tagging 250 places in managed isolation for PhD returning to complete their studies.
The outbreak was also stamped out at the start of the month – in the middle of the campaign – which saw the whole country return to alert level 1 again.
Labour’s campaign was a conspicuously low-risk affair, with policies designed to avoid any flight of the centrist voters it acquired through Covid back to National.
Its policy to increase taxes on those earning more than $180,000 would affect just 2 per cent of income-earners, while Ardern spent much of the last week repeatedly ruling out implementing the Greens’ proposed wealth tax.
Much of Labour’s campaign has been to continue what it started in government – including a massive infrastructure programme underway – and to improve child poverty against statutory measures and the supply of affordable housing.
Ardern has had anything but a gentle ride since August 1, 2017, when she was made Labour leader seven weeks from a general election.
She conducted complicated policy negotiations in parallel with the Green Party and New Zealand First, which held the balance of power at the last election. The outcome was a Labour-New Zealand First coalition government, supported by the Greens on confidence and supply.
Shortly after being installed as Prime Minister, she and partner Clarke Gayford announced she was pregnant and she gave birth in June 2017 to their daughter, Neve.
Ardern led the country through the aftermath of a massacre of 51 people in Christchurch mosques last year.
As a consequence of that she was considered to be on the short list by Time for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize but was beaten to the gong by the World Food Programme.
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