While it was surely one of the strangest election campaigns in living memory, postponed by a month because of the the Covid-19 epidemic, New Zealanders voted on Saturday (and in huge numbers beforehand) and exercised one of the most abiding elements of our personal stake in our democracy. Whatever the result, and whatever our politics, it’s hard to go past the reality that Kiwis are looking for a few core things in the next three years, stability and solid leadership. Personally, I do not envy the government, with expectations so high, the economy in recession and Covid-19 held tenuously at bay.
There is no doubt that the next three years will be some of the more challenging we have faced as a nation in the past 100 years. Many of the early effects of Covid-19 Lockdown were mitigated by a quickly delivered wage subsidy, and along with other fiscal measures, will take many years to pay off.
The second lockdown – mainly in Auckland where community transmission cut the city off from the rest of the country – bought another round of subsidies but we cannot imagine that those payouts will be meted put in future. If stringent lockdowns are set-up to combat any future Coronavirus outbreaks, then the steady flow of government cash may not be a solution, or even available in the ways it was previously.
Leaving the pandemic aside, for one small moment, we are in recession and it is going to be an incredibly hard slog in the next three years, at least, to find ways to bolster and grow our economy. Chunks of it have disappeared, in the short to medium term and we will need to find inventive and lasting solutions to increase our GDP.
The greatest pressures and the more worrying aspects of a recession concern the one of the driving forces of our economy, small businesses. It is inescapable that many will shut their doors, purely because of constricted cashflow, despite access to loans. Many small businesses, like the majority of Kiwis, do not have substantial cash reserves or savings and survive week to week. While the wage subsidies certainly helped over the past six months, they were a stop gap measure and businesses need consumers spending to keep them afloat.
And in many ways, it will be consumers who will decide how this recession will play out, but even if there is confidence in the government, there is no escaping the limited spending capacity consumers will have.
So while the majority of New Zealand voters opted for a particular style of leadership, exemplified by Ardern’s compassion and connection with many New Zealanders, an economic recovery requires more than that. It requires invention, hard work, cooperation and unity.
Post election prime minister, Jacinda Ardern made a point of stressing that the win was for all Kiwis, and it will take a hell of a lot of work to idealise that sentiment. There are many New Zealanders who may have changed their party affiliation this election, but there is still a number that didn’t.
I believe that we all want the same things, though we may disagree about how to get them, or what the hierarchy of priorities may be. If the government can include all New Zealanders in its vision to turn around a recession then that one be one hell of a feat. It is very early days, and there has been much optimism in New Zealand as we have worked to combat a devastating pandemic, but we are going to be facing some hugely challenging years. It will be far from easy.