by Phil Duncan
Whatever way the Mt Roskill by-election went, Labour was always going to spin it. Of course, it would have been more interesting – and amusing – to see how they would have spun it had Labour lost. Since the seat, and its predecessor constituencies, were historically safe Labour seats a loss wasn’t likely. However, the trend in this seat has been for a steady drift of the party vote to National and while Labour veteran Phil Goff won it in 2014 with an 8,000 majority, the party vote actually went to National by about 2,000.
This time around Labour are crowing that they won by 6,500 and took 67% of the vote, as opposed to 55% of the vote taken by Goff two years ago. But this is a crock.
The most salient points about the by-election are that the turnout was not simply down, as you might expect in a by-election, but especially dramatically down; that Woods, despite being given a free run by NZ First and the Greens, took about 7,000 fewer votes than Goff did just two years ago; and that, since National had no need to win, most National voters didn’t bother to vote. There was no sign of any drift of votes from National to Labour.
What explains Woods’ 6,500 majority is that while his vote was down 7,000 from Goff’s, National candidate (and sitting list MP) Parmjeet Parmar took about 5,500 less votes than she did in 2014. With no need for National to win, as noted above, a majority of National voters went shopping or mowed the lawn rather than cast a ballot. Hostility to National is so blunted and enthusiasm for Labour so lacking, that only 16,857 people in a constituency with 47,266 registered electors, could bother casting a vote. And this despite Labour throwing everything it had into the by-election because it knew it had to win, while National ran a fairly limited campaign because the stakes for them were insignificant.
Labour’s ‘achievement’, moreover, hardly matches Winston Peters’ capture of a historically safe National Party seat, Northland, just last year. In that by-election 29,590 of the 45,955 registered electors turned out and Peters took 16,089 votes, capturing the historically fairly safe National seat. And Peters did that in the context of a far greater field of candidates, with Labour coming a distant, dismal third, nearly 15,000 votes behind the NZ First leader. The turnout in that by-election was 64.4%, inspired by the fact that Peters was running against National; in Mt Roskill, ‘inspired’ by Labour against National, a mere 35.7% of people could be bothered to vote.
Andrew Little’s claim that the by-election result is “a bloody nose for National” is not merely wishful thinking, but simply ludicrous. Moreover, given that the loss of Northland has made no difference to National and its overall popularity ratings, Labour holding on in Mt Roskill is hardly likely to cause Key or National’s strategists any loss of sleep.
And, however much Labour’s spin doctors and deluded members get themselves excited by the ‘win’, and choose to believe it is the start of a new momentum for capitalism’s clapped-out B-listers, Labour is likely to continue to wallow in the polls. At present the only thing that Labour has going for it is that at lunchtime today John Key announced that he is resigning as prime minister and National Party leader next Monday and will leave parliament before the 2017 election.