It was nerve-wracking and therapeutic, it was exhilarating but panic-inducing at the same time. The atmosphere at the New Zealand First Official Viewing Party in Russell on the night of the 23rd of September was an eclectic mix of emotions.
The movers-and-shakers of the Party were in attendance: obviously the Boss himself, former Deputy Leader Tracey Martin MP, eventual MP-elect Jenny Marcroft, North Island Vice-President Julian Paul, and Winston’s personal advisers such as Brian Henry, Dover Samuels and Tommy Gear.
Alongside them were Party faithful and members of the media encompassing all the major and noteworthy networks. Newshub sent the one-and-only Lloyd Burr, a known Winston and New Zealand First critic, who was the most vocal in condemning the Party Leader over the leaked superannuation overpayments. It was a given that he would receive a ribbing from the Boss during the course of the night.
I secured an invitation to the function due to my affiliations with the Party’s youth wing. It was a very important experience for me to have given the big names who would be present. It was a vital networking event as well as a once-in-a-lifetime moment to experience viewing election results with the main stockholders of a major political Party. In previous iterations of general election results viewing, I was in the dull confines of my own home – merely a spectator of the people who were at these events.
The festivities began no earlier than 6.30 p.m. that evening. Members of the media were among the first to attend the event, then bigwigs like Dover Samuels and Tommy Gear and their respective whanau all came through. Another good thing about the event was the generous open bar and free food trays served to guests, it definitely made the four-hour trip from Auckland worth it!
The initial results came out around 7-7.30 p.m. – with NZ First painfully at 6.5%. That number would be consistent with recent polling numbers shown, but when you’re a member of the Party you tend to discredit the accuracy of those polling numbers given the historic underestimation of our support. I could imagine the mood at the Green Party event was even more dire, since they initially clocked in a sub-5% result.
The result percentage for NZ First was gradually going up, albeit very sluggish. Within an hour we had breached the 7% mark, giving us another MP bringing the total to 9. This would secure Jenny Marcroft’s entry into Parliament, but the result would still mean the Party would lose 3 seats from our previous total in the 51st Parliament.
Due to my anxiety over how many MPs our Party would manage to secure, I failed to pay attention to the numbers that the two traditional governing parties – National and Labour – had. I was too fixated on the fact that NZ First would lose seats in the House that I did not realize that number actually meant we were in the driver’s seat to decide the next government. We were the kingmakers.
There was also much speculation as to Winston’s mood regarding him losing Northland. I can’t deny that the people present were aghast to see him slowly slip away from the lead, losing to a newcomer form the National Party in Matt King. However, the result bothered him not one bit and he finished the night with a huge grin and told us that the Party “held all the cards” in terms of forming a government.
That did prove to be the case. The feeling in both National and Labour camps could best be described as one of uncertainty – both knew that victory was achievable, but their work to achieve it was far from over. Right then and there, the two big Parties realized they had to meet New Zealand First’s terms.