Election 2020: What now...?

7:05 am on 19 October 2020

Power Play - With the drama and excitement of election night over, it's now time to get down to business.

Jacinda Ardern

Labour leader Jacinda Ardern speaks to media after a meeting in Auckland with some of the senior ministers in her last administration. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

While Labour celebrates a resounding win, National's on a soul-searching mission to figure out how it all went so wrong.

The swing to Labour was so extraordinary it won the party vote in every single South Island seat, even in places that had been blue bastions. Labour's Tamati Coffey - on Saturday's results - was the sole MP to relinquish an electorate in the tide of red that swept over New Zealand.

Even senior Labour people can't quite get their heads around exactly what happened; one school of thought within National is a large number of their traditional supporters backed Labour to head off the Greens, preferring a majority government to one where the Greens could wield real influence.

That leaves Labour in a powerful position - but what to do with the Greens?

A coalition deal seems highly unlikely; why have ministers from another party around the Cabinet table when you don't have to. The more likely scenarios are a confidence and supply deal giving the Green a few ministerial positions outside of Cabinet, or a co-operation agreement similar to that struck in 2005 giving Green MPs government "spokesperson" roles, but with no real power.

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James Shaw and Jacinda Ardern (file pic) Photo: RNZ /Dom Thomas

There would be advantages to a confidence and supply deal: namely the expertise of co-leader James Shaw in the climate change portfolio and looking ahead to 2023 when Labour could need friends. If he was offered a ministerial position, there could be the same opportunity for the other co-leader Marama Davidson but there seems little appetite to extend that much further into the Greens' caucus.

There won't even be consideration of an arrangement with the Māori Party. Any deal would be a slap in the face to Labour's Māori MPs who are in direct competition with that party which would outweigh any future strategic advantages.

The leadership will take its time this week to settle in the large new caucus, talk to the Greens and start thinking about what the ministerial executive will look like. With so many positions up for grabs there'll be high expectations from the second tier of MPs; Labour's risk is people are not promoted for ability and experience but rather because there are so many portfolios to fill.

Caucus management will be a huge test for leader Jacinda Ardern and her most senior MPs, not only the competition for ministerial roles but the power the backbench could wield as the only ones with the ability to block legislation, coupled with the inevitable jubilation/ arrogance of being part of a majority government. Not a scenario we've seen before so starkly under MMP.

National on the other hand returns with its caucus and morale decimated; MPs are shell-shocked, dismayed and devastated to be farewelling so many of their former colleagues - "There probably aren't enough silver platters in New Zealand," one MP told RNZ.

Under the rules the caucus has to "appoint its Leader as soon as practicable after each General Election".

That won't be until after 6 November when the final result is revealed. There are still nearly half a million special votes to be counted which means the caucus that turns up for their first meeting tomorrow may still look different to the final line-up after those votes are taken into account.

Despite that, even from those who are not her biggest fans, there is a view leader Judith Collins should not be removed immediately. There's an acceptance she was given a hospital pass after Todd Muller bowed out and should be given more of a chance. How long will that last though?

 National leader Judith Collins concedes the 2020 New Zealand General Election

Judith Collins puts on a brave face on election night. Photo: 2020 Getty Images

Firstly, as long as the caucus doesn't believe there's anyone waiting in the wings who could do better.

Simon Bridges has experienced somewhat of a renaissance after throwing off the shackles of the leadership and has become much more relaxed and likeable as a result. He may still fancy himself as leader but would he want to go back to square one, and take on the hard work and relentless pressure for a caucus that knifed him in the back.

Newbie Chris Luxon's been touted as a potential leader but RNZ understands he's been advised by people who know what they're talking about to settle in, lie low and not move too soon. He's also completely untested, unknown by the public and being elected because of caucus panic or frustration is not always the best way to embark on a successful leadership.

National will farewell several former MPs but there may yet be more departures. The futures of long serving MPs Gerry Brownlee and Nick Smith are up in the air after losing seats they've held for many years. They will come back to Parliament on the list, but may decide now is the time to exit stage left.

Read more about the election results:

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