Bryce Edwards: The Big predictions for 2023

Bryce Edwards: The Big predictions for 2023

Pundits have been making their political forecasts for the year ahead. Here are some of their predictions about what we can expect in 2023.

The Big issues of 2023: Economy and ethnicity

There’s a consensus that the political year, and especially the election campaign, will centre around the economy, with inflation, the cost-of-living crisis, and the recession being the big issues of public concern.

No one is predicting that Covid will have much impact on politics this year. The impact of the virus will still be widely felt, but it won’t have a significant political dynamic.

The other big policy debates are likely to be around co-governance and the Treaty, crime, and climate change.

The Government says it’s paused its’ co-governance programme until after the election, but this may just make the public more suspicious about what it has planned once re-elected. Most pundits believe National will raise questions about co-governance during the year, while Act and NZ First especially will push very strongly on this issue.

Ethnicity, generally, could end up being a “significant cultural marker” for the year in politics according to Stuff political editor Luke Malpass, who says contention is broader than governance: “it’s Māori names being given prominence over English ones (Waka Kotahi – New Zealand Transport Agency, Te Whatu Ora – Health New Zealand, for example); it’s te reo becoming a far greater part of everyday New Zealand language; it’s the growing economic clout of iwi.”

The Government: The fightback begins

Labour starts the year on the back foot, leaving behind a terrible 2022 in which it lost direction and a huge amount of popular support. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is promising both a “reset” and a Cabinet reshuffle to get back on top.

In terms of policy, Ardern is promising to make Labour all about the economy and things that really matter to voters. Journalist Graham Adams predicts that when Ardern inevitably announces her snappy slogan for this year, it will be something like “The Year of Economic Resurgence”.

Labour’s new laser-like focus on economics means ditching pet projects and unpopular programmes. Most are predicting that the fraught RNZ-TVNZ merger will be killed off or at least put on hold.

Harder to predict is what the Government will do about its promised Social Unemployment Insurance scheme, due to be legislated this year. The Herald press gallery team forecasts that it “survives the purge, but perhaps with reduced scope or an extended timeframe.” But National Party pollster David Farrar says it will be axed entirely.

The Budget will be a big deal, and difficult to draw up for Finance Minister Grant Robertson. But most commentators are predicting he will come up with tax cuts or something similar, such as tax bracket adjustments, that will put more money in the hands of low- and median-income New Zealanders.

The Herald team says Labour might also make Working for Families more generous.
Henry Cooke predicts a promise of major spending – if reelected – in areas such as early childhood or increased dental provision.

The Auckland light rail project will continue to cause great angst, given that Labour promised that the trains would be running by 2021. David Farrar is predicting that construction won’t even begin this year. The Stuff parliamentary press gallery are predicting that the Government will give up trying to get Auckland Council to pay for their share, as Mayor Wayne Brown seems to have the upper hand, and so Labour will be forced to commit in 2023 to paying for the project itself.

Ardern’s promised Cabinet reshuffle this month could be a major one. It’s widely agreed that Nanaia Mahuta will lose her Local Government portfolio, especially after the Three Waters fiasco of 2022. Andrew Little is also forecast to lose the Health portfolio, with Stuff predicting he’ll be replaced by Ayesha Verrall.

Commentators seem to agree that Barbara Edmonds will be elevated to Cabinet. Others are predicting promotions for Deborah Russell and Duncan Webb.

The Herald says at least two senior ministers will announce their retirements, and at least two other Labour MPs will go too. Rumours suggest that one retiree could be Peeni Henare. And David Farrar predicts that a Cabinet Minister or two will shift from standing in electorates to the party list (which means that they can more easily resign from Parliament if Labour loses the election).

For many commentators, Labour’s fightback is considered somewhat futile. But rightwing political commentator Matthew Hooton writes this week that Labour’s pragmatism in the face of potential defeat shouldn’t be underestimated: “It will do whatever it takes to get a third term. If Jacinda Ardern’s reshuffle and policy re-set is bold enough and she starts focussing on practical rather than highfalutin policies and programmes, she’ll be viable.”

The Election: Change is certain

Few commentators want to predict the election outcome. But Henry Cooke says that all the current polls and information point to a National-led government being on the cards.

David Farrar also predicts a National-led government, and he confidently forecasts that regardless of who governs after the election, National will be bigger than Labour (winning at least 10 electorates off Labour) and Act will be bigger than the Greens (although he thinks the Greens could do much better if Chloe Swarbrick was brought in as co-leader). The Stuff parliamentary team are predicting Labour will lose at least 18 seats – suggesting their final percentage of the party vote will be less than 35 per cent.

All commentators are predicting Te Pāti Māori will prosper in 2023. The Herald says that not only will Rawiri Waititi hold the Waiariki seat, but Debbie Ngarewa-Packer will win back Te Tai Hauauru, and another Māori electorate will be won off Labour – possibly Tamaki Makaurau. Similarly, the Stuff parliamentary team says they will win two electorates and a further list MP. And Farrar agrees that at least another of the Māori seats will shift hands.

New Zealand First will be the big minor party to watch – most commentators are predicting that they will make it back into Parliament. Henry Cooke has argued that they won’t make it, but David Farrar says they will easily get 5 per cent but won’t hold the balance of power.

The Stuff team say that if NZ First doesn’t make it back, then it is likely to be another minor party instead, such as TOP or the New Conservatives. They argue: “the times seem right for a political disrupter to come to the people’s house. This is extremely rare in New Zealand politics and tough to do, but 2023 could just be the year.”

The minor parties could help deliver a “wild ride” in 2023 according to Matthew Hooton, writing this week about his predictions: “Conspiracism is one of the major issues of our time. In the US, it’s Trumpism to worry about. But, in New Zealand, MMP means even if 5-10% buy into some combination of anti-vax, World Economic Forum, He Puapua, 9/11-truther, climate denial and other conspiracies we are in for a wild political ride in 2023, especially as the economy worsens.”

Hooton argues that Labour and National have both unintentionally caused people to lose faith in conventional politics and cast around for solutions from political outsiders. He relays that market research that informed the campaign he helped run for Wayne Brown’s successful Auckland mayoral campaign showed that “the electorate is incredibly angry”, partly due to Covid, partly due to “smug PR messaging from Wellington”, but more generally as “a reaction to more than a decade of bullshit politics” from National and Labour.

According to Hooton, the “substanceless” promises and visions of John Key and then Jacinda Ardern have alienated large chunks of the population – especially because they haven’t delivered – and so now a betrayed public feels that it just wants politicians like Wayne Brown and minor outside political parties that promise “action – of any type”.

This opens the opportunity for the minor parties to do much better in 2023 than currently expected. Hooton says that even “TOP to have a good crack at 5% based on something like the Australian teal independents.”

The Electoral aftermath: Resignations and marriages

According to Stuff, the election will be held on either 11 or 25 November. If National forms a government after this, according to Farrar, Gerry Brownlee will be made Speaker of Parliament.

Most are predicting that NZ First won’t be part of any new government, but will stay on the cross-benches – not entirely part of government nor opposition. The Herald is even forecasting that leader Winston Peters will step down at the earliest opportunity: “Winston Peters will decide he doesn’t want to return to Parliament after all and will either campaign but reveal at the last possible minute when the party’s list comes out that he is not on it, or will step out soon after the election if they get back in”.

If National can form a government, the Herald is predicting that, like John Key before, “Christopher Luxon will try to broker an agreement with Te Pāti Māori anyway, to give him more than one way to reach a majority.” But rather than a full coalition, Te Pāti Māori would give some support in exchange for “gains in specific areas, such as Whanau Ora.”

The Herald also predicts: “David Seymour will push hard to be made Minister of Finance, but ultimately will not get it.”

If National fails to form a government after the election, Nicola Willis might be expected to replace Luxon. It would all depend on how badly National loses – a close loss wouldn’t be the end of Luxon’s ambitions to lead the country.

And although there are plenty of predictions of National’s likely triumph this year National-aligned commentator Matthew Hooton believes it’s far too early for complacency: “Some in National think they have it in the bag, but they have bumped their head on 40% and can’t seem to get above it. They are also only one candidate scandal or one major Chris Luxon gaffe away from voters worrying it’s still the same National as in 2020.”

If Labour loses, most are predicting that Ardern will step down from the leadership. Henry Cooke says Grant Robertson will replace her in the short term, but watch out for possible leadership bids by Chris Hipkins and Kiri Allan.

The Herald says that, in the event of a Labour loss, both Robertson and Ardern are likely to resign from Parliament, causing by-elections in Wellington Central and Mt Albert.

Regardless of what happens in the election or the formation of a new government, the Herald is predicting a big post-election event for mid-December: the marriage of Jacinda Ardern and Clarke Gayford.


Dr Bryce Edwards is Political Analyst in Residence at Victoria University of Wellington. He is the director of the Democracy Project.

This article can be republished under a Creative Commons CC BY-ND 4.0  license. Attributions should include a link to the Democracy Project.  


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Stuff: The year that could be: Stuff’s political predictions for 2023
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Richard Prebble (Herald): Predictions for 2023 (paywalled)
Will Trafford (Whakaata Māori): No back down on Māori issues – Ardern
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Martyn Bradbury (Daily Blog): The Daily Blog Predictions 2023
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