Northcote a win-win for major parties
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.