Lessons from the Mana by-elec­tion

Kapi-Mana News - - OPINION/NEWS -

The Mana by-elec­tion turned out to be one of those events in which ev­ery­one could take home a prize. Labour’s Kris Faafoi won the con­test for the seat, and on one level that was all that mat­tered to the Labour lead­er­ship.

Both Na­tional’s leader and its Mana can­di­date could also claim vic­tory, af­ter turn­ing a safe Labour seat into a mar­ginal one – at least within the pe­cu­liar con­di­tions of a by-elec­tion.

The Greens could feel very sat­is­fied, in that they held on to their vote per­cent­age from 2008 and un­earthed a can­di­date in Jan Lo­gie who de­serves to have her solid per­for­mance on the hus­tings re­flected in a high rank­ing on the Greens list next year.

The only real loser was Matt McCarten, who failed to col­lapse the Green vote.

His paltry 816 votes will do lit­tle to con­vince Labour it needs to pay much at­ten­tion to its left flank, as it tacks to­wards the cen­tre next year to do bat­tle with John Key.

Down be­low those up­beat out­comes, there was also plenty for the ‘‘cup half empty’’ pes­simists to chew on.

Labour can take lit­tle joy from the fact that it took a mas­sive onthe-ground ef­fort by the party faith­ful to cling to one of its safest seats.

Any hopes of us­ing the by­elec­tion as a test of whether the tide had fi­nally turned on a pop­u­lar Govern­ment went out the win­dow, in a grim bat­tle for sur­vival by the in­ex­pe­ri­enced can­di­date that the Labour lead­er­ship chose to parachute into the elec­torate.

As the pop­u­lar­ity arc of the Helen Clark Govern­ment demon­strated nearly 10 years ago, it is go­ing to take at least one full term be­fore vot­ers be­gin the in­evitable process of dis­en­chant­ment.

By that logic, Labour must be look­ing at the next gen­eral elec- tion with some trep­i­da­tion, in that an elec­tion drub­bing (along the lines Na­tional ex­pe­ri­enced in 2002) could be in store.

Na­tional, for all its tri­umphant rhetoric, will also be aware that the by-elec­tion re­sult rep­re­sents its high­wa­ter mark in Mana.

Given the twin fac­tors next year of a higher turnout and with less at­ten­tion be­ing paid to Mana by the prime min­is­ter – whose pres­ence will be re­quired in all cor­ners of the coun­try – Labour’s mar­gin can be ex­pected to dou­ble in 2011.

The puni­tive poli­cies likely to be un­veiled next year af­ter the Wel­fare Work­ing Group re­ports its find­ings on wel­fare re­form will also not help Na­tional’s chances in Mana, or in any other elec­torates with a sim­i­lar so­cio-eco­nomic pro­file.

The Maori Party and United Fu­ture – who did not con­test the by-elec­tion – will also be back in the fray next time around, as will New Zealand First. In Mana, the cen­tre-right voter will en­joy a far wider range of choice in 2011.

Spare a thought, though, for Labour leader Phil Goff. His lessthan-gal­vanis­ing per­for­mance in one of the coun­try’s most thank­less jobs has been sharply ex­posed.

If Na­tional’s pop­u­lar­ity in­creas­ingly de­pends upon John Key, Labour’s in­abil­ity to get trac­tion is once more be­ing sheeted home to its lack­lus­tre leader.

Gor­don Camp­bell is an ex­pe­ri­enced po­lit­i­cal jour­nal­ist and colum­nist who has writ­ten for The Lis­tener and Scoop.

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