Labour leader Andrew Little argued it was not an election bribe, because he was only promising to bring forward from 2028 a project already on the books. And it would provide broader benefits to Auckland. The 10 bridges were very much a Northland thing. But the timing had that familiar porcine smell.
National’s campaign manager Steven Joyce, who deserves his share of the blame for the Northland debacle, added to the irony accusing them of taking “pork barrel politics to a whole new level” – apparently because the cost of the bridges paled beside the $1.4b price tag for light rail.
He also accused them of being “desperate”.
But for both parties there are big issues at stake.
If National pulls off an unlikely win it can reinstate the old order, prior to Northland, where it would needs but one of its three “Kling-ons” for a majority in the house.
Labour, meanwhile, is looking for a solid win.
It fears a result akin to the Mana by-election in 2010 – a safe seat where on a low turnout of 55 per cent Labour nearly made a pig’s ear of it.
Kris Faafoi eventually saw off Hekia Parata by just 1406 votes.
With one year to run until the general election Labour – and especially Little – will want to do better than merely squeaking in on December 3.
Labour must be worried to have to start their by-election campaign with a $1.4 billion promise.
It is worth noting that the BCR for this light rail project is estimated to be between 0.5 and 1.1. It is far from conclusive that the benefits would outweigh the costs.