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Party-Hopping 2005 (updated with photos)

Keith Ng on the election trail | Sep 18, 2005 04:13

One quote captured election night. Sitting in front of the TV at National's Wellington Central party, a young lad of about 7 or 8 dressed in a mini-tux with a puzzled look on his face asked: "It's all gone down somewhere, where has it all gone?"


Earlier in the evening...

19:10 - 3 pens, a pad, 2 cameras and 8 spare AA batteries in my bag, noodles in my belly and iPAQ bookmarked to holstered on my hip, I made my way to the ACT party. Strolling down Lambton Quay, I considered how to write this opener. Last Ball on the Titanic? Or perhaps a short dialogue: "Hi, I'm the Grim Reaper. Is the ACT party in? I believe we have an appointment tonight."

19:28 - I arrived at Dog and Bone just as a group of ACT campaigners were being turned away by the bouncer. As I was being sized up by the bouncer, I heard cheers - cheers? - coming from inside. First result has come in from Epsom - Hide is ahead by just over 100 votes. His supporters are pleased, but not at all surprised. Hur?

"We knew it all along," said Michael Collins. Their polling showed it. That Roy Morgan poll showed it. Though only 11% of the votes were counted, they didn't need to see any more to know that Hide had won and to start the "We Told You So". Hell, they didn't even need to see that 11% - they *knew* that Hide had won before the election began. Things looked promising for Hide, but I certainly wasn't going to count that fried chicken before it hatched.

At 58, then 59 seats, National nearly had enough to govern alone. But the first results come from small, rural voting booths, so they always show a Right bias. Sensibly, not many people took it seriously, though it made for good tough-talking material. NZ First was at 5.8ish% and Greens were at 4.8%; Clarkson was in the lead in Tauranga. As the night rolled on, I thought, the Greens were bound get a kick over that threshold, whereas NZ First will no doubt take a hit as the urbanites weighed in. (I still don't understand why NZ First never dropped below 5.8%, though seeing Peters lose Tauranga was a good consolation prize.)

United Future was dropping from 3% to 2.8%, so I rushed off to the Backbencher to see how they were doing.

20:35 - They were doing okay. Very sensible, middle of the road of them. I left.

20:58 - Arrived at the Labour camp at the Loaded Hog (a bit of irony?). By the time I got there, the big two-digit gap had closed to 3-4%. Saw Jordan Carter furiously number-crunching or somesuch in the back. Everyone knew that the numbers meant little at that stage, though there's still a tension in the air, as everyone stayed glued to the TV.

21:05 - Blumsky called to say he'll be coming to concede.

21:07 - The numbers moved. Crowd cheers. It's now 41.6% vs 38.8%.

21:12 - It's 41.5% vs 39%. Cheers again. The numbers matter now.

21:25 - Blumsky, accompanied by atoning campaign manager David Farrar, conceded to Marian, hope they can work together in the future, etc. Lots of friendly BS. Marian told David Farrar to do less blogging, more jogging.

21:28 - 41.3% vs 39.3%. Crowd goes wild. I make my way to the National party to try to get there before the lead changes hands...

21:53 - National was a bit sedated by the time I got there. Apparently they were quite down since Blumsky lost - even when National was stratospherically high in the early polling. The way National's gap disappeared certainly put a damper on things, but their minds were focused on their humiliating defeat in Wellington - Hobbs beat Blumsky by 5,000 votes. It's a massive margin, and it was even bigger than the margin by which Hekia Parata (who?) lost by last time, while they're in an election with a massive swing towards National and with a high-profile candidate like Blumsky. Recriminations were already being quietly circulated, blaming a poorly run campaign - with campaign manager David Farrar himself coping the bulk of the back-stabbing. The now-hairless Farrar blamed the civil servant votes falling out from under them, which was a fair call.

22:11 - I was getting a beer at the bar, when I turned to the TV to see National and Labour even. Then Labour ahead. My inner-voice was screaming "Woah!! Did anyone else see that?". I looked around, and nothing. Nobody twitched. A few people were watching the TV, obviously seeing the numbers, but nothing. No boos, no "ouuuu, ahhhhh". Its inevitability just sunk in that little bit more. It was at this point that the little kid (the one on the right) said what nobody else wanted to: "It's all gone down somewhere, where has it all gone?"

22:40 - Blumsky gave his thank-you-for-your-hard-work-speech. He was applauded onto the podium, and he asked the crowd to stop clapping: "No, no - *I* should be the one to give *you* the clap." Snickering ensues.

22:55 - Back to the Labour camp. They're up ahead by 1% at this stage. They're showing it. This was a real victory party. My questions about the coalition numbers (which looked pretty much like they do now: Ugly) didn't get much attention. Nobody cared about the coalition - as far as they were concerned, they won! What about *governing* for the next three years? Who cares? It was all about the third term. A two-month third term is still a historic third term for Helen.

The bar sales are skyrocketing. They had a good laugh at Don Brash's non-concession speech - the numbers at this stage made it nigh on impossible for him to form a government. One Labour man tells me that he never lost his nerve, despite that gigantic margin.

The widespread atmosphere of alcoholic relief spoke for everyone else.

00:20 - Back to ACT. The rowdiest of the lot had left for town, in a reasonably festive mood. At the pub, Heather Roy was reasonably pleased with herself. The most striking thing was that nobody gave a toss about National. They were all glad that ACT was going to be back in, but... it was almost as if they were quietly pleased that National couldn't form a government, because then they would have to work with the prats who left them for dead!

There was a "we've lost an arm and a leg, but we've survived" feeling in the air. They were very reservedly and grimly pleased - and acted as if this was exactly what they expected (which it probably was).

I think they deserved a "More Faith than Destiny" props here: while everyone else completely discounted ACT (and I mean *everyone*), they've held steady as a rock this election. I'll be interested to see how many people in the Scoop sweepstakes predicted the return of ACT.

To all those who failed to be elected, look on the bright side: Look at how much weight Jenny Shipley lost! (Ah, if only Donna had waited this long.)

[Full set of my election photos can be found at the ASPA photo archive.]

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