Being Gracious in Defeat
On the 20th September, voters in the New Zealand General Election delivered a crushing defeat to the left and a third term to the popular centre-right National party, handing them a powerful outright majority in Parliament - something that hasn't been achieved by any party since the country moved to a proportional system in 1996 (since publication, the final vote count reduced National's election night result by one seat, meaning they now fall just short of an outright majority and require support parties to pass law). Hayden Eastmond-Mein worked as the Green Party's Campaign Social Media Advisor, and shares a few quick thoughts as he comes down from the campaign.
In the wake of the weekend's election result, it's been frustrating to see the left's anger and disappointment translate to arrogance, blame, and conspiracy theories online.
Having worked in the thick of the campaign, I don't feel like I'll fully decompress for another month, but having had a little bit of time to come down from Saturday night, here are some disjointed thoughts about the campaign and what the election result means for the left:
It's damn disappointing - for Labour as they face their worst result in 92 years - but, from my perspective at least, particularly for the Greens, as the result ran so counter to the momentum that we felt on the ground and what was reflected in the polls. We won't know why we only achieved 10% until more data comes out in the election survey, so there probably isn't much use performing uninformed dissections. It's also not wise to make the decisions that will need to be made when we're still in a state of shock. The problem for Labour is they are now under immense media scrutiny and are being forced to make decisions in haste. Rarely do such decisions turn out to be sound long-term solutions.
It's okay to be bitterly disappointed and angry. It's not okay to call the 48% of people who voted National idiots, or stupid, or ignorant. I've certainly been guilty of this rash reaction after past elections. But how on earth can we think we can convince those people to vote for the left, or deserve their votes, if we start from a place like that?
What we need to do is get way better at communicating what concerns us about New Zealand with those people in a way that resonates. Perhaps that means thinking beyond the adversarial and oppositional nature of party politics? I'm not sure.
3.If you're angry, depressed or dejected: join a political party. Get involved in the grass roots. Agitate for what you want it to stand for and how you think it should be run. In the same way that some parties are guilty of only engaging during election campaigns, so too are heaps of politically-minded people. You - angry, depressed, dejected person - are exactly who these parties need right now; and in the same way elections are decided by who turns up, the way parties are run is decided by who can be bothered being a member throughout the parliamentary term. If you only engage with political parties as brands during an election (as most of us do), you'll probably be quite pleasantly surprised by how much of a role members actually have.
A sub-point of this, but perhaps what needs to come first, is parties need to seriously look at making membership more accessible. Particularly to young people. To many, active membership has more to do with party bureaucracy than party policy. We need to figure out how to actually engage supporters in the process without asking them to sit through meetings about a branch's accounts. The stalwarts and lifetime members are incredibly important to every party, but they need to acknowledge that what excites them about the process puts many others off.
4.Don't blame journalists. Most are trying to do the best they can within a commercial model that favours covering the game of politics and scandal over policy. While National are so strong on the PR front, they'll usually win that game.
The most immediate thing the left can do is learn from National. Not the dirty side of it, but the message discipline. Perhaps this is actually too hard an ask when Labour has so much soul searching to do. But it's essential.
The longer term strategy is to make sure we actually bring back a proper public broadcaster when given the chance. A country our size needs it, and I think it would actually set the bar for political reporting and improve it across the board.
The next three years - and the next year in particular - are going to be incredibly important for the left in New Zealand. There will no doubt be a lot of reckons from all corners over the next few months. But with some distance from the election we'll all gain some perspective - hopefully that can lead to some meaningful decisions being made. To the thousands of people who worked hard on a campaign, now's the time to take a well-earned break.