This was a defeat, and a big one. We have to start with this unpleasant reality. National, on the current results, could govern alone if they chose; at 48% their share of the vote has actually increased compared to the last election. This is an extraordinary situation. Over one million people voted for National. The Herald calls Key “triumphant”. The Dominion Post label him the “poll slayer.” The rich and powerful will be delighted with this result – National is the preferred party of the capitalist class, and it is in a strong position.
We must begin with a lucid registration of defeat. Over the last six years we have argued sometimes that Key’s support is ‘brittle’ or ‘hollow.’ These results show this to be wishful thinking rather than analysis – with each election National has maintained or increased its support. To win in 2008 it is true that National needed to position themselves ‘left’, working to shed the toxic legacy they kept from the 1990s. Tens of thousands of workers remember the Employment Contracts Act, Ruthenasia, the Mother of All Budgets. So Key brought National towards the centre, keeping popular Labour policies. What he has done from there is to redefine the ‘centre’ ground – National, over the last six years, has normalised its own position in society more generally. They have worked hard at promoting a socially liberal, ‘diverse’ image of themselves. And it is no lie: this isn’t a party of whisky-soaked old homophobes and racists. There are more right-wing Maori MPs than ever before; Key voted for equal marriage rights; the coalition with the Maori Party sought to draw more social layers in to this new ‘common sense.’