Fat Tony on Northland

Mike Williams aka Fat Tony has a column in the Hawkes Bay Today about Steve Joyce’s Northland debacle.

MAKE no mistake, the outcome of the Northland byelection last Saturday is a political boilover of seismic proportions.

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters won one of the National Party’s safest seats with an election night majority of more than 4000 votes, erasing a National Party majority of over 9000 votes in the general election just a few months before. Winston Peters’ final majority is likely to increase when the nearly 1000 newly-enrolled special votes get included in the total.

This 13,000 vote turnaround is unprecedented in our political history, but it is the internal dynamics of Peters’ triumph that should give Prime Minister John Key and National Party campaign manager Stephen Joyce pause for very serious reflection.

Apart from a governing party losing a safe seat, two statistics set this contest apart from any previous byelection. About half of the voters chose to cast their ballot before election day and the level of participation was huge.

The early voting phenomenon is unprecedented, and it exceeds a trend in recent polls.

The turnout level is a genuine abnormality. It has been a rule of thumb for years that byelection turnout levels are half of the previous general poll. The Christchurch East byelection saw 13,000 electors vote compared with the 28,000 who had voted in the previous general election.

This is the established pattern.

Northland broke that mould. With 28,000 voting in the byelection, this wasn’t much short of the 34,000 that voted in the general election five months before.

And Steve Joyce and John Key think it is of no consequence that a) the turnout was up and b) they lost a seat National has held for 70 years.

These two statistics suggest anger, and we should explore what National did wrong, what the other parties did right and what this might mean for electoral politics in New Zealand.

National was overconfident to the point of arrogance.

Although National knew about the likelihood of a byelection before anyone else and Key decided on the date, they were the last big party to nominate a candidate. National then took a week to get its billboards up and they chose to plaster their candidate’s image over recycled former MP Mike Sabin hoardings.

When the rains came some local punters were faced with images of Sabin, just the man National wanted everyone to forget.

It was amateur hour stuff. People were and are angry…but Key and Joyce think it doesn’t matter…they think their polling won’t be affected…and so no one in National is even looking at the debacle.

The malign influence of Australian political consultants Crosby Textor was also evident and almost certainly counter-productive.

This outfit specialises in the political equivalent of sledging and their newly-minted New Zealand affiliate, Hannifin de Joux, having opened its account with a duck in Northland, will be ruing its timing.

Jo de Joux didn’t even go to Northland…the party hired her, paid her a not inconsequential amount and she stayed in Auckland ran the campaign for Steve Joyce by remote…hectoring and abusing volunteers from?the?comfort of her home.

I was surprised that some old hands like Matthew Hooton and Michelle Boag were not involved in National’s campaign. This might have avoided destructive clangers like Joyce getting caught prompting his candidate from behind a camera when the hapless Mark Osborne appeared on Q+A on TV1.

Boag or Hooton would have known that if you need to do this, (and sometimes you do) then get a discreet earpiece and don’t advertise it.

Fat Tony places too much stock in Michelle Boag, he well knows she was the president that delivered up the lowest ever result for National of?20.93% and that promoting her is very, very cynical. We all know he wants her back to screw?up another campaign, but it won’t work because the National party have a long memory.

It seems the only people who aren’t looking at the implications of the loss in Northland by Steve Joyce and his dream team of campaigners is the dream team.

No lessons are being learned.


– HB Today