As if to bracket a truly remarkable year for the New Zealand Labour Party, The Electoral Commission this week released the party and candidate returns of expenditure for the 2017 General Election showing that Labour outspent National.

This would have taken every seasoned observer by surprise and I, for one, was gob-smacked.

Though I realised that the Jacinda effect had caused many members and supporters to open their wallets, I had no idea that the Labour Party had vanquished the National Party's formidable fundraising machine. This is yet another feather in the caps of the Labour Party president Nigel Haworth and general secretary Andrew Kirton and gives us a glimpse of just what a well-oiled machine they'd built.

We know all this because we are fortunate enough to have tight and transparent spending controls on parties and individuals in this country.


It would not be possible, for example, for some organisation like the awful National Rifle Association in America to buy political influence via huge political donations.

Political Parties contesting the party vote in 2017 had their spending capped at $1,115,000 plus $26,200 per electorate contested by the party.

As National doesn't contest the Maori electorates, this meant that National's spending cap was $2,791,800, somewhat less than the Labour's $2,975,200.
Neither of the big parties risked hitting their spending cap, but Labour scored a highly important and not entirely symbolic victory by raising and spending $34,000 more than National.

This final humiliation for National's campaign manager Steven Joyce was obviously too much to bear as shortly after the Electoral Commission's publication of the election spending returns, he announced his departure from politics and retirement from Parliament.

This was the third whammy for Mr Joyce in a short period.

Having failed in his bid to succeed Bill English as National Party Leader and getting passed over for the job as his party's finance spokesman; this news demonstrated the shortcomings in his previously vaunted campaigning skills.

It underlined the obvious fact that the National Party organisation had also suffered a much more important political defeat when it lost two of the seats it had secured on election night by coming up short in the special vote count.
When a politician who has been as influential as Steven Joyce departs the scene, it is always enlightening to look back and take stock of a political career. His was a particularly unusual one.

Though Steven Joyce and I locked horns as our parties' respective campaign managers in the 2005 and 2008 General Elections and won one each, I met him just once at a post-election debriefing some time in 2006.

He had been called in by Bill English to review the National Party after its disastrous 20% result in the 2002 General Election.

At that meeting he spoke of finding a "disunited" party that had not adapted to MMP nearly a decade after its advent, and I recall him telling the story of often finding election pamphlets lying around National Party offices months after Election Day.
This amounted to brutal criticism of the National Party Board and its president at the time, Michelle Boag, but he delivered his address with good humour and, if representatives of the media were there, there was no fallout.

He struck me as highly intelligent and I was impressed with his extensive vocabulary, though I thought that his apparent disdain for local party organisations amounted to a weakness that would come back to haunt him.

His report was apparently well received by the National Party hierarchy and he was appointed campaign manager in 2005 when National's vote under the leadership of Don Brash nearly doubled to 39%, though Labour pulled off an extraordinary last week/on-the-day win and grabbed another three years of government.

Joyce's reward was a further appointment as campaign manager for the 2008 general election and high and winnable position on the National Party list and, after John Key's victory in that year, a place in the new National Cabinet.

Prime Minister John Key obviously had a great deal of faith in Steven Joyce. He was tossed the hot potato of "Novopay", an Education Department payroll system supplied from Australia which spectacularly malfunctioned from its inception in August 2012.

This episode irritated many of the noisiest members of almost any community, but Joyce, with the aid of $45 million of taxpayers' money, didn't take long to tidy up the mess.
His lasting achievement will be the roll out of ultra-fast broadband which he planned and executed.

The rapid fall off in Sky Television subscriptions as the public turns to internet-based services like Netflix, shows just how effective this programme continues to be.
Steven Joyce was also arguably one of National's most effective attack dogs. Many in the Government will be breathing a very well justified sigh of relief.