Losers waking up to sober new day

16:00, Nov 26 2011

It is the morning after election night. Hundreds of politicians, party strategists and, especially, parliamentary staff have woken up with the smug satisfaction that they are still employed. But my every thought and empathy is with the losers.

Those who thought they had power – or at least free airfares and complimentary taxi chits – within their grasp, only to have it dashed by electoral reality are are rising from their pillows.

Oh yes, been there, done that. Hawke's Bay 1987, to be precise. I lost the seat by 800 votes to the incumbent Labour MP but it might have been 8000. The devastation of knowing that an entire year of campaigning, hand-shaking and that fixed smile had been for nothing. And the knowledge that both your creditors and the bank manager had read the same result.

Those on the cusp will know that their dream died last night. And no matter how much alcohol they plied to drown their despair, they have awoken sober and sore.

Imagine the media this morning. Especially those that shattered their personal and working relationships with the prime minister aspirant. Imaging them realising that the knowing glances of the party pilot fish are coming their way for the next three years.

And what of the pollsters? Who got closest and who was the most distant? Serious credibility and commercial employment rested on which pollsters got it right.


As for certain elements of the media, there will be no rest for the wicked. By the way, that's tongue-in-cheek: I find that it pays to semaphore everything to that quarter these days. There seems to be no understanding of a metaphor, especially if your views clash with theirs.

They will be up bright and early, doorstepping and home-invading both winners and losers. If it's been close then there will be a new feeding frenzy – this time around coalitions. They will be particularly savage on NZ First and Act if they have not gained the 5 per cent threshold or held Epsom respectively.

Although Winston Peters is a winner either way. No one credited, even two weeks ago, that he would get anywhere close. The polls had him at tipping point on election eve. He exploited the one opportunity that came his way. He may be 66 years of age and well past his best but the boxer still remembers the punch. Especially if someone walks into it.

But this election will be remembered for the wrong reason. If anything, it amplified that the political media of this country really don't understand the New Zealand people. We say that politicians are too remote but so too the Press Gallery and a galaxy of news editors.

Teagate diverted the media like Corngate nine years before, but John Key handled the result better. Helen Clark let the needle get to her. Key was not so turned.

Part of the problem is that the media are trying to sell you something too. There is an inherent contradiction in an organisation that retails news if you are claiming Fourth Estate privileges, all the while trying to attract advertisers.

Mass media doesn't work if it doesn't make money. So the desire to sensationalise, to sell, to create instant goodies and baddies is all about marketing. Today's journalists deliberately embrace their prejudices – it sells better.

As for the Labour Party, their message was simple enough. It is doubtful what else they could have done. They knew National's part-privatisation of energy assets was unpopular but perhaps misunderstood that it wasn't a game-changer. And the $15 minimum wage and GST off veges policies were not sufficient to woo middle New Zealand.

Yes, but think back to the last time a government party failed to win a second term. You need to go back to the Kirk/Rowling administration of 1972-75.

The Greens came of age though. They demonstrated tactical nous and stuck to mainstream environmental issues rather than being diverted by irrelevancies.

Their policy on food labeling represents mainstream opinion. And they dealt well with their fringe activists.

But to all those who tried – who took part – who put their lives and reputations on the line, you have this columnist's deepest respect.

You entered the fray. You didn't spectate. Don't give up.

Sunday Star Times