People get sick of governments and their leaders, no matter how who those politicians are or how well they have done. Irritations and scandals accumulate like barnacles and eventually voters decide it's time to get a new boat. It's different in some democracies, like Japan or Sweden, when the same power has held power for decades, but not in New Zealand, Australia, the US or the UK. Change is why John Howard went. Change was Obama's campaign slogan. Change is almost certainly going to doom Gordon Brown. And change is why John Key was playing 'The Times They Are A Changing' at National's victory party yesterday - though, as TV3's John Campbell dryly noted, Dylan probably wouldn't have cast his vote for the Nats.
Voting for change in and of itself is stupid. Giving The Bill and Ben Party power would be a change. But after a few years the urge to try something different is something many voters feel, which is a nightmare for long-standing governments and a blessing for oppositions. Comes a time when all the opposition has to do to win is look moderately competent and not too scary. This election, John Key did those things and did them well.
A few thoughts on the New Zealand election:
1) If many politicians delivered every speech as well as they do their concession speech, they wouldn't need to concede. As John McCain did earlier in the week, Winston Peters and Helen Clark brought down the curtain on their careers with grace and dignity.
2) With the global economy in meltdown, this may have been a good election for Labour to lose. They've got three years to rejuvenate themselves and criticise National while the bad news rolls in. National have made a lot of promises and it's going to be very hard to keep them all.
3) Key has won a resounding victory, which is in a large part down to his personal popularity and rebranding of National as centrists. But he now has a difficult path to tread. He can govern with ACT, but that means a move to the right that will alienate the moderate swing voters he has done such a good job of capturing. Alternatively, he can govern with the help of the Maori Party - but a deal that involved something like changes to the Seabed and Foreshore Act or entrenching the Maori seats would be anathema to many conservative National supporters.
Helen Clark was a master of managing governments under MMP. Can Key? If not, this could be a short National government.
4) Labour's suddenly got some very big shoes that need filling. This was a bad election for them, but not a terrible one - they only lost six seats. A lot of that goes down to Clark, whose approval ratings were excellent for such a long serving leader. But she's stepped down, and soon the almost equally influential Michael Cullen will follow her. No one in Labour springs to mind as able to make those slippers fit.
5) Roger Douglas is back. It's like Wham having another No1 single. But weirder.
6) No more Winston. He's been in parliament practically my whole life. Yes, the times they are a changin'.