An­other mile­stone for Peters


By the next time Win­ston Peters needs to de­fend the North­land seat, he will be 72.

Luck­ily for the Gov­ern­ment, mod­ern tech­nol­ogy will prob­a­bly be un­able to get cloned copies of Win­ston ready in time for the 2017 gen­eral elec­tion.

If it could, barely a sin­gle ru­ral/ pro­vin­cial elec­torate in the coun­try would be safe from the Peters jug­ger­naut.

Last Septem­ber, Na­tional won a 9000 ma­jor­ity in North­land. Six months later, Peters has turned that into a 4000-vote rout, and trig­gered a swing of nearly 13 per cent against the Gov­ern­ment.

By win­ning the North­land by­elec­tion so hand­somely, Peters ex­posed the un­der­ly­ing fragility of the Gov­ern­ment’s po­si­tion in the prov­inces.

Plainly, re­gional New Zealand is un­happy. If of­fered an al­terna- tive, it would take it.

In their ex­pla­na­tions for the North­land de­ba­cle, no won­der gov­ern­ment strate­gists (such as cam­paign manager Steven Joyce) tried so hard to pin the blame on so-called ‘‘lo­cal is­sues’’ and the low pro­file of Na­tional’s cho­sen can­di­date.

By do­ing so, Joyce and his col­leagues hoped to pre­vent the ‘‘New Zealand First dis­ease’’ from spread­ing to other elec­torates that have equal rea­son to feel poorly treated by a suc­ces­sion of Bee­hive oc­cu­pants, Na­tional and Labour alike.

The over­whelm­ing sup­port for Peters was not sim­ply a ‘‘protest vote’’ though, to pun­ish the gov­ern­ment for years of ne­glect.

North­landers seem to have made the ra­tio­nal cal­cu­la­tion that if Peters wants to hang on to the seat, he will need to de­liver re­sults.

One can safely bet that in fu­ture, any good news that hap­pens north of the Har­bour Bridge will be claimed as ow­ing to the ster­ling ef­forts of the for­mer mem­ber from Tau­ranga, now re­born as the for­mer school­boy from Dar­gav­ille.

In sim­i­lar vein, if the Gov­ern­ment wants to win back the North­land seat in 2017, it will need to pick a good can­di­date, and back the cam­paign to the hilt.

Else­where in the coun­try, other vot­ers may well envy the po­lit­i­cal clout the by-elec­tion re­sult has just de­liv­ered to the peo­ple of North­land.

Though Na­tional has been ex­posed as vul­ner­a­ble (even in its safest strongholds), the by-elec­tion re­sult is still some­thing of a mixed bless­ing for Labour.

Clearly, the cen­tre-left voted as tac­ti­cally in North­land as their cen­tre-right equiv­a­lents have ever done in Ep­som.

Last Septem­ber, Labour can­di­date Wil­low-Jean Prime won 8969 votes, yet last week­end she re­ceived only 1315 votes as Labour sup­port­ers heeded the nod and wink from their leader, An­drew Lit­tle, and voted for Peters.

Labour’s Te Tai Tok­erau MP Kelvin Davis played a key role in this process. Thus, the mixed mes­sage.

Though Labour will be re­joic­ing at the set­back to the Gov­ern­ment and cel­e­brat­ing its own part in the re­sult, the real victory will come only when and if vot­ers around the coun­try de­cide to tick the Labour can­di­date, and – more im­por­tantly – give their party votes to a Lit­tle-led party.

Those par­tic­u­lar shoes have yet to fall.

In the mean­time, Peters can count North­land as yet an­other mile­stone in his re­mark­able po­lit­i­cal ca­reer.

Cor­rec­tion: The Jus­tice Min­is­ter who has just cho­sen Aus­tralian for­mer High Court judge Ian Cal­li­nan to head the Bain com­pen­sa­tion claim in­quiry is Amy Adams, not Ju­dith Collins, as stated in last week’s col­umn.

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