My year as a National supporter

National supporters should beware of sour grapes, writes Liam Hehir.

I've supplied this item in my capacity as a known National Party-supporting writer. While I'd rather be called someone who "prefers" National, I am sympathetic to the party's aims. So it's also fair to say that 2017 was a disappointing year for me. Disappointing, but not totally surprising.

It's been clear that Winston Peters would select the next prime minister since Budget Day in 2015. Even when Labour seemed stuck in second gear forever, National's toppling remained possible.

And so it came to pass.

Jacinda Ardern made the difference. Her personal charisma and decisiveness gave Labour a real shot in the arm. Strong support from the political and entertainment media added to that momentum. Quite simply, Ardern finally gave Labour the look and feel of a government in waiting.

Nevertheless, National performed well on election night. So much so, in fact, that my immediate reaction was that Peters was much more likely to keep them in power. That instinct proved wrong – and it may be that he always intended to install Labour in office.

Of course, a National-New Zealand First government would not have been ideal either. Many on the right called for Bill English to walk away rather than limp back into the barn with Peters in the saddle. I was one of them.

We will see whether our low opinion of New Zealand First and its leader is vindicated over the next few years.

But National supporters should beware of sour grapes. Losing office is never a good thing. It just happened that 2017 was not National's year.

National did not lose office because of a wave of disenchantment. The government changed because of a handful of seats changed.

National's support remains strong, however. It fell short of winning an absolute majority, but it retained a clear relative majority of votes. And, according to public polling, that support has held up since the election.

Keep this in mind when you read other commentaries on the year gone by. There's a lot of left-wing fan-fiction posing as analysis in circulation at the moment. Labour did not sweep to power at the head of a coherent coalition for change. National did not lose office because of a wave of disenchantment. The Government changed because of a handful of seats changed.

And if you have to be in opposition, that's not a bad position to be in. If one of the Government's support parties were to dip below five percent in the polls, 2018 will be interesting. If it happens to both, it will get very interesting.

Or perhaps they won't. Perhaps this Government will prove to be resilient and long-lived. And if it does, I'm sure it will be fine.

When Labour got its tail up again, I was on the receiving end of much taunting. Any criticism of the party or its leader became a sign of "fear" or "panic" about "my team" losing its grip on power. After a disappointing decade for left-wingers, I suppose I can't begrudge them a little triumphalism.

But truthfully, I'm not fearful of a Labour government and never was. None of the things that really matter in life are contingent on any particular election outcome. Labour isn't going to expel me from my profession or censor me or ban my religion or take away my basic freedom and prosperity or my wife and children. This just isn't that kind of country.

Not everyone in the world can say that.

As far as economic policy goes, Labour is doing some things that I think will be a drag on the economy. But we've already seen many welcome signs that being in office has moderated its ambitions. There will be no revolution against neoliberalism.

Would I rather not have Labour in power? Sure. But only in the same way that I'd rather not put on a few extra pounds over the summer. But from time-to-time, it's going to happen.

It's not a good thing, but it's not the end of the world either. Especially if you're motivated to lose those extra pounds in the New Year.

Liam Hehir is a writer and newspaper columnist from the rural Manawatu and former National Party activist.

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