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.