On October 19, the Government no one saw coming celebrated its first year in office and all the political commentators awarded it high marks, despite its unlikely construction.

Even a normally harsh critic, radio broadcaster Mike Hosking gave it "eight or nine out of 10".

Since the election, business confidence as reported in regular ANZ surveys of selected CEOs has virtually collapsed and one explanation for this phenomenon has been the unexpected outcome of the general election.

However, when you look at polls as far back as two years before last year's election, they were predicting just such an outcome, though before Jacinda Ardern came along as Labour Party leader, the balance between the three parties which make up the current government was very different.


It was probably a matter more of luck than good planning that there was a major poll commissioned by the Labour and New Zealand First parties less than a week after the first anniversary of the formation of the coalition Government.

As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, half of the most recent Colmar Brunton poll published on TVNZ in which National support was barely dented was conducted before the Jami-Lee Ross fiasco exploded but the internal poll taken between October 24 and 31 was able to capture the full fallout of this ongoing shemozzle.

This poll had National slumping four points on previous polls to 37 per cent, while both Labour and New Zealand First picked up two points each to register 46 per cent and 7 per cent respectively. The Green Party was steady on 7 per cent.

The survey also captured rising backing for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and further erosion of support for National's Simon Bridges.

This poll reflects a well-deserved consolidation of support for the governing parties and an equally well-deserved slap on the hand for the National Party, which has been treading water for months and which allowed the Jami-Lee Ross matter to fester to the point of detonation.

If this kind of result is reflected in the now rare public polls, Simon Bridges' hold on the National Party leadership will weaken rapidly.

On these numbers, National would not only lose up to nine list MPs, assuming their electorate MPs can hold on, but those same under-threat list MPs would begin hoping that some electorate MPs in marginal electorates will lose their seats so that they can hang on.

This is a situation that makes internal unity very challenging and MPs in marginal seats like Tukituki's Lawrence Yule will start looking around for a new leader that might get the National Party back to its 44 per cent general election tally and save their careers.


Still, as the British Prime Minister Harold Wilson was reputed to have once said, "a week is a long time in politics" and in these volatile times, who knows what might happen next. Jami-Lee Ross has leaked a second phone call and with his former leader firmly in his sights, this may be a long-running and ruinous side-show for Simon Bridges and National.

With the benefit of some intellectual space between now and the 2017 general election, it is possible to divine some key lessons for the future and to rediscover some old lessons from the past.

The election should remind all politicians that parties matter and not just Members of Parliament.

Parties - voluntary organisations that contribute to policy, select candidates and mount election campaigns – have a key role in winning elections, as I believe we again saw last year.

It was telling that Jacinda Ardern in her first speech to a Labour Party conference as prime minister, made a special effort to thank her on-the-ground troops. It was the successful efforts of these people that contributed a crucial election deciding advantage, a decisive win in the special votes.

It seemed to me that neither former Prime Minister John Key nor National's campaign manager Steven Joyce came into Parliament via the National Party organisation and they didn't have much experience of, or use for, on-the-ground organisations.

These local elements of the National Party have in years gone by and, in my long experience, been strong and effective but have dwindled in both size and clout over recent years.

National lost two seats it won on election night on special votes, an area they once dominated.

Special votes are squarely the responsibility of local party organisations and the numbers tell us that National's local branches were beaten by both Labour's and the Green's.

The loss of these two seats turned an election night deficit of one seat into three and allowed Winston the breathing space to exclude National from his calculations.

*Mike Williams grew up in Hawke's Bay. He is CEO of the NZ Howard League and a former Labour Party president. All opinions are his and not those of Hawke's Bay Today.