Lessons from the Mana by-election
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.