A denizen of the Far North observes who got things right – and who got things very wrong – in the by-election

Thirty years on the banks of the Hokianga have had their effect. 

From the first smirking, teasing comments on TV, I was sure Winston Peters would be a winner in the Northland by-election.

Unlike the much more broadly informed commentators south of Whakapara, my brain automatically links the words politics and Peters.

Whether it's the regional health system, rugby, education or local government, the name crops up near the top of the table with close connections and family networks embedded from the University of Auckland administration to the Whangarei mayoralty and the old hands at AFFCO meatworks.

And then there are the connections in the Maori political world ....

The national media, in contrast, seemed to have a much greater respect for the National Party organisation in the region, and the power of the party faithful at getting out the vote. The strength of the National Party in Northland, however, has quite simply been the stubborn, conservative loyalty of the farming and local business community, without much method, organisation or even enthusiasm. 

There has for so many years been no need. In parliamentary terms, the union members and needy folk were more often on the Maori roll.

But in local government the Far North District has elected more mayors of a left persuasion, and the current John Carter is the first card carrying Nat to win a majority.

And sitting on my porch, watching the mangroves grow and ignoring the racket of the logging trucks smashing our under-built roads to pieces, I have my own views on the performances of the major players.

Stephen Joyce and John Key have a great record at winning national elections, characterised by low turnouts of voters, using the major media to demoralise opponents. But their performances at by-elections are catastrophic. 

Poor old Hoss... Mark somebody. Whoever thought a local government manager would appeal to the voters? 

The National Party boasts of its democratic system of choosing candidates ... well this time they snubbed a respected farmer and member of the party's top table, in favour of somebody seen as a Mike Sabin crony and leech on the ratepayer.

And while National fumbled, Andrew Little played it cool, got his party to face facts and struck a great tactical blow from an unwinnable position.

The weird attack politics phrase "pushing Willow-Jean Prime under a bus" seemed ludicrous to anybody who attended a single hall or street meeting and has ever seen this statuesque six-footer standing tall and calm from first day to last of the campaign.

Like nearly half the voters, I had already been and done the deed before election day. This early voting is catching on fast. Most voters like it and it certainly gives the party workers something to focus on that's more useful than holding up signs at traffic lights.

And all the media hype around National Party volunteers getting out the vote? Really. When did a stranger with a smooth line on a telephone last impress you? And who in Northland who votes National needs a ride to the polling booth?

We all have cars. We need to drive everywhere. There is no public transport and very few compact communities. It's one reason we go on so much about roads.

This by-election was shaped and won, long before the votes were counted. The professional pollsters got it right from go to whoah, and that first 3News/Reid Research poll shaped the whole campaign.

 

Comments (1)

by Andrew Geddis on March 30, 2015
Andrew Geddis

Bruce,

Great piece. Thanks.

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