Can Labour win the Northcote by-election?

Jonathan Coleman’s resignation means that there is a by-election in the one seat north of the Harbour Bridge that Labour has held in the last 20 years. Ann Hartley won it in 1999 and 2002 before being beaten by Coleman in 2005. Hartley holding the seat reflected her longstanding service to the community, as well as a degree of low bastardry she displayed last year to tank the Greens vote and force Metiria Turei to resign.

In 2017 Coleman won with a majority of 6,210 over Labour’s Shanan Halbert, a candidate without much profile or the kind of personality that makes campaign managers think they have a chance of winning. This means that Northcote is a seat that Labour probably should be targeting, and should be targeting in a by-election with the view to putting a good candidate up now so they build name recognition for the 2020 election.  

Other factors put Northcote in play for Labour. Incumbency could mean as many as 2,000 votes for Coleman that will not revert to a new candidate. National do not have a presumptive candidate in Northcote, and they have an appalling ground game, as they demonstrated in the 2016 council election when Auckland Future candidates managed to get half the votes of Richard Hills, the 2014 Labour candidate in Northcote.

Auckland Future candidates Danielle Grant and Fay Freeman were scarcely going to set the world on fire, but, at the same time, the North Shore ward is one of the bluest in Auckland. The third place-getter was Grant Gillon, a former Alliance MP and another all-round cunning bastard who knows how to campaign. So, there were three strong lefties in a blue ward, and Auckland Future’s candidates did their own careers damage by running such an appalling campaign.

And since the 2017 election Labour have improved in the polls, to near parity with National. Even if we take David Farrar’s poll of polls, Labour have narrowed the margin to 3.6%, considerably up from the 7.5% in the election.

Labour have demonstrated a superb ground game at local elections, and in Grant Gillon and Ann Hartley they have formidable campaigners on their side – campaigners who will be willing to knife their opponent if they get the chance. Labour should be looking for a good, strong candidate to run now with an outside chance of winning and a very good chance of winning in 2020.

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