Northland isn’t Epsom – nor Ohariu

Danyl Mclauchlan has rebutted the spin around Winston’s victory in Northland – “Labour can’t criticise the Epsom deal now! Hypocrites!” very well. (And after I’d drafted this post, Rob Salmond made one, too! Great minds, etc etc.)

I’ve been a little disappointed in how many people have basically warned the lefties they know – oooh, you’d better not say that, that would look really bad, wouldn’t it?

Northland wasn’t Labour’s to give. New Zealand First didn’t need Labour’s help. Winston certainly isn’t going to turn around to Andrew Little and say “what policies would you like me to adopt so you can pretend you don’t really want to pass them?” And Andrew Little didn’t sit down for a farcical cup of tea photo opportunity (and then try to claim it was a “private” engagement when someone recorded his foolishly-uttered words.)

Northland isn’t Epsom.

Northland also isn’t Ohariu, which got very interesting last year. National fielded a candidate who was too scared to say his own name in case people ticked it (and gave him a nice safe list position so he wouldn’t scare the horses), but despite this Peter Dunne’s once-mighty majority was slashed to 700 – one of the lowest in the country. But the “deal” there took a very different form: the National Party basically pretended that Ohariu didn’t exist. They certainly didn’t do what they did in Northland, which was see bad poll results and massively over-react to protect their preferred candidate (which ironically would have meant undermining their actual candidate.)

And thus everyone assumed Ohariu was a (sorry) done deal, to the extent that local newspapers didn’t even mention the Labour candidate (the very talented Ginny Andersen) by name in some of their coverage, and many were shocked at the comical scenes from Dunne’s victory party – populated mainly by his staff.

But a deal was (sorry) done, nevertheless, and a man whose party could barely get more than 5,000 votes, who had to resign his ministerial portfolios in disgrace over leaking a confidential GCSB report, got a reprieve from retirement and the plum role of Minister of Internal Affairs.

That’s what a dirty deal looks like.

My reckons on Northland

Opinions about the Northland by-election are like cliches, they’re getting trotted out all over the place. So why not add my 2c?

I’m on the record saying I don’t think Labour can win the seat, but can definitely use the by-election as a platform to get Labour’s message out to a wider audience. But that was before Winston was a definite contestant, and now the big question seems to be whether a three-horse race is going to ruin everyone’s fun.

Is Willow-Jean Prime going to “cost” Winston the by-election? No, in the same way Green voters didn’t “cost” Labour the chance to retire Peter Dunne and the same way Labour-candidate voters didn’t “cost” the left as a whole the chance to retire ACT. Voters are smart. Sometimes they may not vote in the way a totally rational actor I would personally, but we have to trust that they’re ticking whatever box they tick for reasons which are good enough for them.

The voters of Northland will vote as they see fit, and we might not like the result. If we don’t accept that then we may have to rethink how committed we are to some basic democratic principles.

I’m not a Northland person. I have distant-relatives-by-marriage up there and a BFF who spent her childhood there and at uni I dated a guy whose parents are farmers in some small town I can never remember the name of. I’m an Aucklander transplanted to Wellington. I have about as much sense of the ~mood~ of the electorate as Winston has an ability to stop himself grinning when he’s being cheeky to Tova O’Brien.

What I do know is that ~everyone knows~ by-elections have lower turnout, and this favours the incumbent. And in the MMP era the only time an electorate has changed parties in a by-election is when the incumbent MP re-wins their seat. So a Winston victory is a long shot, whatever the 3News polls say. And it would be a great poke in the eye to National to lose a safe seat, another black mark on the start of their third term.

But I’m not going to hold my breath.

And it’s still a great platform for Labour to get their messages out there.