Analysing last weekend’s Mana by-election results, I’m wondering if we might be witnessing another seminal political moment. Like the 1972 general election, it is possible that the closely- fought Mana contest holds some crucially important lessons for the major parties.
At the most superficial level, the result was a clear moral triumph for the Government and its very effective candidate, Hekia Parata. In a country only slowly emerging from recession, in an Opposition- held electorate perfectly positioned to send the Government “a message”, it almost beggars belief that the by-election campaign ended with a 14 per cent swing towards the governing party.
A moral triumph indeed. Heh it reminds me of the caption that my brother’s rugby team had on their team photo. It was “Played 15, Won 11, Moral Victories 4”
Indeed, without radical Left-wing trade unionist Matt McCarten’s last-minute entry to the by-election race, it is entirely possible Parata would have won the seat.
Umm, that is an unusual interpretation.
His challenge to Labour was to give on-the-ground, practical expression to the progressive policy ideas announced at its annual conference by campaigning – as he did – on low wages, inadequate housing and the urgent need for job creation.
Labour’s candidate, the woefully inexperienced television journalist Kris Fa’afoi, wasn’t equal to that challenge, but McCarten’s sudden intervention was sufficiently worrying for the Labour hierarchy to pour everything it had into the Mana campaign.
It was this massive intervention that ensured Fa’afoi’s victory – albeit with a sharply reduced share of the popular vote.
I think Labour were always going to pour everything into the campaign, but McCarten’s candidacy may have cemented that.
To the cynical observer, McCarten’s 3.6 per cent share of the Mana vote might seem derisory. But then, so did the 2 per cent share won by Values in 1972. Besides, there are moments in politics when, as Key told Parata’s jubilant supporters on Saturday night, “losing is winning”.
Hopefully Labour’s “got the message” McCarten was sending it throughout the campaign. That, if it is to successfully counter Key’s (obviously still effective) appeal to aspirational Kiwis, it has to maintain the sort of on-the-street presence for which McCarten and his radical Unite union are justifiably famous, and which, ultimately, is all that rescued Fa’afoi from catastrophic defeat.
But, even more important than getting Labour out on the street, McCarten’s candidacy – like Values’ campaign in 1972 – should remind Labour that getting people to vote is only half the battle; the other half is giving them something to vote for.
What you mean no GST on fruit and veges is not enough?