What a difference a day makes in politics. Yesterday I wrote that Labour could still win a third term. Today the Labour Party faces a devastating electoral wipeout.
Since World War II, every Prime Minister who has taken office in between elections has gone on to lose.
Holyoake from Holland, Marshall from Holyoake, Rowling from Kirk, Palmer then Moore from Lange, Shipley from Bolger, English from Key. They have all lost. Some, Holyoake and English, put up a fight. Most were swept away in big landslide defeats.
Yesterday, Jacinda Ardern forming a coalition of the losers after the election, despite Winston Peters’ denials, was a real possibility.
Now, nothing can save Labour.
It has been obvious since the Tauranga by-election that Ardern cannot face campaigning to a sceptical electorate.
She went everywhere, even America, rather than going to the Tauranga by-election. Ardern pledged she would campaign in Hamilton West to retain what was a Labour seat. She never met a voter in the by-election.
Her only campaign “appearance” was a made-for-TV event from the safety of the inside of Labour’s Party campaign headquarters, talking to Labour Party campaign workers.
If you cannot face meeting the voters you cannot lead an election campaign.
It is nonsense to blame social media and claim things are different today. I went as a student during the Vietnam war to a campaign meeting in the Town Hall that Holyoake addressed. It was a riot. I came away impressed with his courage.
I attended some of Muldoon’s meetings. To say they were hostile is to fail to convey the atmosphere. Muldoon gave what he got back with vigour.
I have had to walk through picket lines of seamen and wharfies to reach public meetings that were stacked with hostile voters.
Yes, I received many threats including death threats. The police insisted on prosecuting two, one who physically attacked me outside a public meeting and another who sent a white powder through the post claiming it was anthrax. I had a Doberman and a huge German Shepard for a reason.
In a democracy you have to accept not everyone will love you. Some will hate you. In the country, there are some people who are certifiable. I am sure they all rang me.
As whip, I was very unsympathetic to MPs who complained when the going got tough. I would say “when you ran for election you made all sorts of promises to get elected. Well, now you are elected you must carry out those promises”.
We all love the Titanic examples. Jacinda Ardern, as captain of the Titanic after it has hit the ice, has said she does not have it in her to try and save the passengers, crew or ship and has taken the first lifeboat.
Regardless of what they are saying publicly, the Labour caucus will be very angry.
Around 40 Labour MPs, who also have families, who also have to find something in the tank to campaign, are now going to lose their seats. They do not have lucrative, tax-free, overseas job offers.
The only way any MP, probably Chris Hipkins, can get 43 MPs to vote for them on Sunday, is to do deals with Labour’s factions, the Māori caucus, the trade union caucus and the very powerful gay caucus.
Grant Robertson’s demand for his support will be that Labour proceeds with his very unpopular jobs tax, and unemployment insurance. The Māori caucus will demand there is no backing down from co-governance. Other MPs will have their own demands.
Chris Hipkins will be the weakest PM since Geoffrey Palmer.
Ardern’s parting gift was to fix the election date.
The main reason prime ministers elected by MPs rather than the country lose is because they have no mandate. They have a legal but not a democratic right to govern.
Chris Hipkins’ only chance would be to set out his programme and then ask for a democratic mandate by calling an election. The MPs who fear they will lose will not let him. They would rather have another eight months to enact their own pet agendas.
It is not just her caucus Jacinda has abandoned. She has abandoned Labour’s activists, donors and voters - the supporters who had the right to expect her to at least fight for what she believes.
Then there are the voters of Mt Albert. The PM is cynically leaving them without an elected representative for six months.
Then, there is us, the team of five million. Our captain is abandoning the ship of state.
Locking down the country was always the easy part. Getting the country going again is much more challenging. The leader of the team of five million has just quit because it is too hard.