National Party will undoubtedly be on a soul-searching introspection mission soon. However, the first thing that it could do well now, is to acknowledge the grim reality that it never “had a plan” for this election.
The “plan” that National’s campaign messages were trumpeting loud and boisterously in the lead up to the election - was for a supposed economic recovery - from the current downturn that the country was facing because of Covid-infliction disruptions.
Surprisingly, there was no “plan” to deal with the continuously rising popularity of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, which has further risen after New Zealand’s success in managing the impact of public health pandemic.
Instead, the party had remained either delusional or distracted or just not bothered with Prime Minister Ardern’s continuously rising popularity.
Contrary to 2017, it was not the “stardust” that the National had then chosen to contemptuously define and subsequently ignore, and just been hoping that it will automatically recede by the time of next election when it will supposedly fail to deliver many of their aspirational goals.
It was merely wishful thinking, which clearly had not unfolded as per the party’s hopes.
In the lead up to 2020 election, what National was facing was not mere “stardust” of an untested, freshly minted, a seemingly woke and glamorous leader, who was anointed out of turn within her party to turn around its fortunes.
Rather Ardern had transcended into a truly popular leader who had been at the helm of affairs for one full term, led the nation through some shocking crisis in a never-seen-before, kind and compassionate style of leadership, and maintained at least an economic status-quo right till the Covid disruptions - if that gives some assurance to National’s normal supporters - and yet was popular.
National seems to have been misled by a selective line of commentary appearing within some sections of the media, which argued that Ardern’s recent popularity was at best erroneous, and an infatuation of “fear-stricken” people who have been scared out of their lives because of the manner of government’s covid management.
While nothing wrong in such media commentaries, despite reflecting upon the intelligence level of the public a bit poorly, it is for the political parties and their “think-tanks” to know how best to process such selective analyses.
Often, such passionate yet selective commentaries have to be reconciled with more divergent-assessments of the same political realities, to have a more comprehensive understanding of complex challenges.
In politics, one is doomed to fail, if they take a myopic view of any issue or challenge, and National’s view of the political challenge ahead, particularly ever since the Covid had hit upon us was extremely myopic and a recipe for disaster.
The National Party had clearly underestimated Ardern’s massive popularity and never had a “plan” to deal with a first-term popular Prime Minister.
This was also an outcome of the party’s failure in comprehending the electoral outcome of 2017 elections and coming to terms to the new reality of sitting in opposition, despite then being the single largest party in the parliament.
The party had since then been living in their own little world with a false self-entitled view that it deserved to be in the government and not in the opposition trenches, and hence completely underestimating the difficult path ahead.
The journey from the opposition trenches to power in government is arduous most of the times.
Some of the glaring failures within the coalition government such as in housing, Kiwibuild, Light-rail, etc had only been enhancing National’s self-entitled view in the last term that this election will be for the government to lose, and not the opposition to win.
That explains, no serious brainstorm within the party in the last term, about the future of political and financial-conservatism in this country, as it wished to reap the benefits of the dominance of the so-called Key-English era in NZ politics.
The party failed to foresee that the country had very swiftly entered into Jacinda Ardern-era in politics and had neither any appreciation and nor any plan on how to sail through this new era of politics.
What Nats had at best offered in this election, was incessant attacks on the government, which were often baseless and unsubstantiated, and a demonstration of an abject lack of political large-heartedness – something that was completely antithetical to Jacinda Ardern style of politics.
An honest acknowledgement of this seemingly simple, but a glaring error, will allow the party an honest introspection and put it quickly on a path to recovery and possibly road to power sooner, than what may appear from the latest electoral drubbing.