The morning after the general election I got mail. It was from American relatives writing from degrees of lockdown with a degree of existential envy. "A joy to see a bit of sanity," said one. "Fingers crossed for us."
Sanity is not a word that sprang to mind as the election night television coverage unspooled like a runaway toilet roll. We switched from John Campbell and Hilary Barry on TVNZ 1 to Duncan Garner and Tova "Taser" O'Brien on Three. Advance voting meant early trends barely budged. This left room for everyone, especially Newshub's increasingly frenetic Paddy Gower, to fill the time being giddy as geese. Paddy capered, gurned, unleashed analogy-geddon. "The red fire of Labour, burning everything up!". Labour was caning it, creaming it. "I see red, I see red, I see red!"
In a deeply symbolic moment Paddy did a sort of reverse limbo in front of National's numbers that saw him end up face down on the studio floor.
Metaphors for a bad night for the party? Hold my beer, went former National MP Chris Finlayson. "It's an enema that's gone through the caucus," he purred.
Meanwhile, on TV1, John Campbell was driven to dump a whole packet of gummy dinosaurs in front of studio guest and former National MP Nikki Kaye as an offering to her mostly mute suffering.
The night wore on. As one, the nation dived for its remotes as Kelvin Davis began his poem. Winston Peters bowed out with a trademark carnivorous grin and good grace: "We should never stop trusting the people who we are privileged to serve."
That advice hasn't stopped the spinning of narratives to account for the historic outcome, some of which seemed light on evidence and strangely contemptuous of voters. On Q+A the next morning Gerry Brownlee put his party's loss down to "a herd instinct" adopted during Covid. The "Wake up, sheeple" theory. The notion that masses of National supporters voted Labour to keep out the Green Party had some commentators bizarrely claiming a landslide for the left as a triumph for the right. Or it was about Jacinda Ardern's "popularity"?
What does that even mean? Mittens, Wellington's endearingly floofy wandering cat, is popular. No one wants him running the country. Though National might consider him if Judith Collins doesn't work out. The All Blacks wouldn't be so popular if they weren't pretty competent at what they do.
Now the Government has to deliver on it's 2017 promise to be transformational. But the night was a reminder that, in the last three years, we have inhabited transformational times. No one should ask again whether a woman can have a baby and still do stuff. The Christchurch mosque attacks and Covid showed us – and the world – how powerfully people in Aotearoa can pull together in tough times. For all the war metaphors trotted out in public discourse – war on crime, culture wars, bloodletting, the battle for Auckland Central – it's possible to have an election without going the full MAGA.
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In The Guardian, playwright and comedian James Nokise described a campaign that, "feels so low-key and full of charming, non-threatening characters, that someone outside the country would be forgiven for thinking they'd accidentally stumbled across Taika Waititi's new take on The West Wing."
TVNZ's normally steely-eyed Jessica Mutch McKay had visibly softened by the end of the night's coverage: "No matter which political side you sit on, we have seen history being made here and it's a cool thing to be part of."
Over the next three years many shameful failures forged over decades – child poverty, inequality, health, housing, climate – need finally to be faced. It will be all shoulders to the wheel to transform that lot in the middle of a pandemic. Whoever is in power, 2020 has shown that they can't do it without us.