Armstrong on by-election

John Armstrong writes:

Saturday night’s massacre underlined one law of byelections but broke another. The first law is not to make mistakes. David Shearer may not have set the world on fire. But his campaign was solid.

One National wag labelled the cautious Mr Shearer as Labour’s answer to Clem Simich 🙂

The Greens nearly doubled their share of the electorate vote they won in the seat at last year’s election to nearly 12 per cent. But they hit close to 20 per cent in the party vote in some metropolitan seats in 2008. They would have expected to do much better in a byelection which had no bearing on who governs the country.

And this was one of the seats where they had a higher party vote.

Labour comfortably won the byelection because it kept the focus squarely on local concerns – the Waterview extension being the prime one.

Labour understood that voters were looking for someone who would be a good local MP – not some carpetbagger striding the national stage or someone representing a particular ethnic minority.

Much to National’s frustration, nationwide issues seemed to get little currency. The party’s strong showing in national polls thus had no spinoff in Mt Albert.

It was unusual that national issues played almost no part.

Shearer’s post-victory remark that the political tide had turned is misplaced. What Labour has done is stop the National tide going further up the beach.

The dominance of local issues, the fact the result did not matter, the carpetbagger factor and the neverending debacle that was Lee’s candidacy make it difficult to draw definitive conclusions about what the result says about the Government’s real popularity.

As a minimum, however, the byelection is another item on a lengthening list of recent events which include the Christine Rankin appointment, the Richard Worth scandal and the Auckland Super City proposal and which have been marked by sloppy political management.

It has been an untidy few weeks, and the challenge for National is to be seen to be working again on the issues that matter.

That was again apparent on Saturday night with the party leadership missing in action, leaving Lee struggling on her own until the bitter end.

With John Key unable to be there because of a long-booked private commitment in Taupo, deputy Bill English or another senior minister should have been in Mt Albert to face the music.

It is understandable no one wanted to front or were advised not to front – understandable but indefensible.

The absence of the leadership sent a dreadful message to the party about loyalty. The leadership has to be there for the bad times, not just the good.

Key did have a very long-standing commitment that weekend, but I think it was a poor look more MPs were not there on the night. Only three National MPs were there out of the 17 Auckland based MPs.

There was one unexpected person though. Not at the main party, but afterwards a few Nats went to tthe Kingslander for some drinks, and I thought they were kidding when they texted David Bain was there having a drink – but he was. If he lives in the electorate, I wonder who he voted for 🙂

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