It would be far too boastful to use the phrase ‘great minds think alike’ but the Herald’s Simon Wilson and I had the same thought on the general election result: There is a parallel with what happened in Britain in 1945. British voters turned their back on the man who had led them through the Second World War, and New Zealanders wanted to turn their backs on storm and pestilence.
Wilson commented that Churchill’s rival, Labour leader Clement Atlee, promised a welfare state, and that looked like the kind of peace voters believed they deserved. In 2023 “it has meant that one thing trumped everything in this election. We want to forget. Move on and forget. Don’t tell me about the pandemic, I have to find the money to feed my family.”
I think he’s right.
Winston Churchill put on a stoic public face after his defeat by Atlee (despite his private anguish), and on television on Saturday night Chris Hipkins did the same in acknowledging National leader Christopher Luxon’s victory.
The election night coverage on television – I’m sorry, radio doesn’t get a look-in on election. night in our house – was a waiting game. It was obvious early on that Labour would not retain the treasury benches. We were largely biding our time until Chris Hipkins came out to concede with grace and his National Party counterpart made a triumphal procession from his Remuera pile to election night HQ where he was greeted by a rapturous crowd and his éminence gris Sir John Key.
OneNews and Newshub competed with each other to provide the most creative – if not more informative – graphics, while Whakaata Māori disoriented viewers by endlessly circling the round table at which its anchors and commentators were seated.
On the night, Television New Zealand provided the greater depth, but TV3 engaged the audience. The latter’s ace card was its national correspondent Patrick Gower, whose personality and extravagance regularly delayed a channel swap.
“It’s a bluenami!” he exclaimed, somewhat before the evidence supported his claim. “A big blue duvet has been laid out at the foot of One Tree Hill,” was how he announced Greg Fleming’s win in Auckland’s Maungakiekie electorate.
Of course, Gower is no stranger to the political scene. He worked in the Parliamentary Press Gallery for my old paper, the New Zealand Herald, before joining TV3 and becoming its political editor. His irrepressible style is backed by extensive background knowledge.
The One News trio of John Campbell, Jessica Mutch McKay and Jack Tame brought their own considerable knowledge to the night but had a little more gravitas than Paddy and his colleagues Ryan Bridge and Samantha Hayes up the road.
The networks did a competent job in updating viewers on the count although Whakaata Māori understandably had a particular focus on the Māori electorates.
What none of the channels conveyed well, in my view, was the over-arching electorate picture. TVNZ and TV3 relied too much on the ticker-tape approach. I waited in vain for the interactive screens that anchors and reporters used to great effect in the last US elections on CNN.
For the interactive maps, I had to go to the websites of nzherald.co.nz and Stuff. Although I found the interactive functions a little too finicky to easily access on my iPad, the information was there if you were inclined to repeatedly deep dive.
I suppose what I was really missing was the blank electorate ‘score sheet’ that used to be a feature of newspapers a day or two before the election. I would sit there on the night, assiduously ticking off electorates for National, Labour and (occasionally) a ‘minor party’ and noting the provisional count. This election I looked in the Herald, the Waikato Times, The Post, The Press, and the Otago Daily Times but found none. I guess they figure that now they give us everything online. In the words of the Coloursteel missing cat commercial: Not everything.
To add further insult to my obviously outdated desire, I found no full election results page in either the Sunday Star Timesor the Herald on Sunday. Nor did I find them in Monday’s Stuff dailies. The New Zealand Herald and Otago Daily Timesobliged with provisional results for all electorates, and I found the ODT was easier to read because the Herald sacrificed valuable space for an unnecessary illustration (a joyful Te Parti Māori co-leader Rawiri Waititi).
The HoS did point me to the Herald website where its electorate results were buried in election night’s interactive map. However, it contained only the count for the first three parties and candidates. Were I a supporter of Brian Tamaki’s Freedom NZ or Liz Gunn’s NZ Loyal (I assure you, I am not), I would have been out of luck.
The Sunday Star Times bombarded me with 11 pages of wordy analysis of election night, but I had to use my own initiative, go to the Stuff website, and find my way to its election results hub. More deep diving but at least they had the results for all parties and candidates in each electorate. In my electorate I was a little disturbed to find that Apostle Tamaki’s umbrella party garnered a full 60 party votes and Ms Gunn’s even more – 94. But I digress.
The seductive appeal of graphics for their own sake strongly influenced coverage, and not only by publishers. Television is equally guilty of this form-over-substance approach to the use of graphics. Too often they are used simply because they are eye-catching, even though a simple table – and even the spoken word – would make the information easier to understand.
However, it is more likely that the rationale behind Stuff abandoning a comprehensive results page in its newspapers lies in a digital-first (and last) philosophy – ‘It’s on the website so sod the rest of you.’ I know it will come as news to bright young things but this sort of information is easier to understand on a couple of pages spread in front of you on the breakfast table.
Election night commentary reacts as results emerged, but coverage on Sunday and Monday had the benefit of the provisional results. Commentary on Sunday’s current affairs specials on TV One and TV3 were more reflective and, with the benefit of a fuller picture, more insightful.
Greens co-leader James Shaw’s interview with Jack Tame on One’s Q&A election special on Sunday provided a picture of that party’s fortunes in the coming Parliament even though it will almost certainly be in opposition. Shaw noted that its 14 MPs (on provisional results) would mean it could sit on all select committees and would be entitled to more staff and greater resources. In short, it would be a more effective opposition.
On Newshub Nation, Rebecca Wright’s interview with constitutional lawyer Mai Chen provided a useful roadmap of the stages before Christopher Luxon can go to the Governor-General and say with any confidence that he is able to form a government.
And One’s Marae Election Special, with commentators Shane Te Pou and Metiria Turei, gave added insights into the role that Te Parti Māori is likely to play in the new Parliament – more than just a member of the Opposition.
On Monday, the channels turned to interviews with Christopher Luxon, who poured cold water on any attempt to engage in coalition speculation. He did handle with good grace and humour Ryan Bridge’s AM faux pas in referring to him as “incoming prime minister Chris Hipkins”.
Monday’s papers turned their attention to the numbers game and speculation over coalition talks National will have with ACT and NZ First. Given Luxon’s determination to treat the talks like merger & acquisition negotiations behind closed doors, and Winston Peters well-practised art of keeping the nation guessing, all I can say is ‘good luck with the speculation’.
Mike Hosking on Newstalk ZB had no better luck in getting the incoming prime minister to give any insights into the makeup of the new government. However, Hosking moved on, and asked him about the inexperience of many he will have in his cabinet. The response was open and revealing. I did not know, for example, that Luxon had brought in former PM Sir Bill English and former Mr Fix-it Steven Joyce to talk to the National caucus about dealing with ministries and the processes of governing. Monday’s Mike Hosking Breakfast could be a ‘must listen’.
Attention will now turn to how a Luxon-led administration will govern. Economic commentator Bernard Hickey on his Kākā podcast on Sunday spelled out some of the challenges the incoming government will face. The following day Hosking painted a brighter picture – “There’s talk already that there’s going to be a lift in business confidence, a lift in the housing market, a lift in the mood of the country” – but there was no doubt in his or Luxon’s mind about the difficulties in bringing a cost of living crisis under control.
The next 100 days will be interesting, but I continue to reflect on Churchill.
Before Britain’s wartime leader left the prime minister’s country residence, Chequers, for what he thought would be the last time in 1945, he signed his name in the visitors’ book and added ‘finis’. Except it wasn’t the end. Churchill won the 1951 election and served for another four years as prime minister. It might be a good omen if Hipkins added ‘The End” after his signature in the Premier House visitors’ book.