North­cote a win-win for ma­jor par­ties

Sunday Star-Times - - NEWS - Tracy Watkins Po­lit­i­cal ed­i­tor

Si­mon Bridges had ev­ery­thing to lose and Jacinda Ardern the most to gain in an up­set re­sult in the North­cote by-elec­tion yes­ter­day.

De­feat for Na­tional would have been seen as a ref­er­en­dum on Bridges’ lead­er­ship; a win for Ardern would have been a huge up­set – a fil­lip for Labour, a big tick for its Bud­get and a fin­ger in the air to the cam­paign against the Auck­land re­gional petrol tax.

In the end, how­ever, it didn’t hap­pen. Na­tional’s Dan Bi­dois won com­fort­ably, though with a sig­nif­i­cantly re­duced ma­jor­ity com­pared to that of pre­de­ces­sor Jonathan Cole­man.

That was largely due to a re­duced turnout – when Cole­man won in 2017 with a ma­jor­ity of 6210, the turnout was about

36,995, com­pared with 21,000 this week­end.

But it meant both sides could claim vic­tory.

In the end, how­ever, the re­sult will be seen as a vote for the sta­tus quo, though Na­tional will claim it as some­thing more.

Labour will be count­ing it­self lucky that it was al­ways seen as the un­der­dog. In truth, the re­sult could have gone ei­ther way. North­cote has a rep­u­ta­tion as a bell­wether seat in gen­eral elec­tions.

That Labour saw it­self as hav­ing a sniff of a chance was ev­i­dent by the num­ber of times Ardern was there cam­paign­ing. But as long as Labour was the un­der­dog, she could af­ford to do so.

Bridges, on the other hand, was care­ful not to over­play his hand. Na­tional kept the by-elec­tion de­ter­minedly lo­cal, hav­ing learned the les­son of North­land when it flooded the seat with prom­ises and min­is­ters in their Crown cars.

The lo­cals saw right through them and elected Win­ston Peters as a protest vote.

It was a re­minder that by­elec­tions can take on a life of their own.

So Na­tional will be happy to claim the win – and Labour will be happy it was hardly a trounc­ing ei­ther.

Win-win.

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