Election campaigns have become more and more presidential with most attention on party leaders.
That focus on the leaders continues between elections too but a leader doesn’t win or lose alone.
The seeds of National’s defeat in 1999 were sown before the 1990 election when Jim Bolger made stupid promises which were then not kept. Those seeds were fertilised before the 1996 election when too many MPs whose seats disappeared with the reduction in the number of electorates stayed on as list MPs.
Having failed to jump before the 1999 election many of those MPs were pushed in the 2002 one. Not only were many of them the tired face of National which the electorate had rejected three years before, many weren’t united behind the leader. The involuntary clean-out in the election provided the foundation for rebuilding which enabled the party to win in 2008.
Labour is following a similar path. It has had some refreshment but not enough. Parties need a balance between experience and freshness and it hasn’t got it.
It’s led by one of the longest-serving MPs in parliament and too many of his caucus are associated with the people and policies which lost voters’ support over successive terms. Further more they have done too little to persuade the public they have new and better ideas for running the country again.
MPs will have many reasons for clinging to their seats, the good of the party isn’t usually one of them.
The influx of new MPs in 2005 and 2008 refreshed the National caucus. Involuntary resignations by Richard Worth and Pansy Wong and decisions not to stand again by John Carter, Wayne Mapp, Simon Power and Sandra Goudie has provided the opportunity for several new faces in the next term.
All the blame for Labour’s dysfunction is being laid at Phil Goff’s door. He’s made mistakes but his caucus members need to look at themselves too. Sticking with him because there is no viable alternative isn’t a resounding vote of confidence in him which the electorate shares. But a lack of unity and refusal to stand aside by some of the longer-serving or more ineffectual MPs is also part of the problem.
Ranking the list is never an easy job and the number of tired old faces among the sitting MPs will make it even harder for Labour this time. However, if its MPs and the party don’t make some hard choices about who stays and who goes themselves, voters will do it for them as they did for National in 2002.