Tuesday 10 March 2015

Hang On Winston - Help Is On Its Way!

On A Roll: But Winston Peters only stands a chance of winning in Northland because he is, in his heart-of-hearts, a Nat – and Northland is a National seat. Accordingly, the bulk of his votes will come from the “nice” people of Kerikeri and Russell and all the other comfortable settlements of the North. But the winning margin in this contest, the votes of the desperate people living in dying towns like Kaitaia, have traditionally been cast for Labour. What will they get in return for shifting their support to NZ First?
I’M TRYING TO IMAGINE the discussions leading up to Andrew Little’s wink-wink-nod-nod-a-thon on Sunday’s Q+A. Assuming, of course, that Andrew’s not flying solo on this one: struggling manfully to predict the direction from which the next manic media assault is going to come; and just winging the whole Northland by-election shemozzle by making up Labour’s strategy as he goes along.
Wouldn’t surprise me. Following the Cunliffe debacle, very little that Labour does surprises me.
Still, I'd like to think that the Labour Party is led by people who “get” electoral politics. Hard-bitten old tuskers who don’t allow themselves to be distracted by ephemeral political theatrics. And who can’t be deflected from “The Big Picture” by the blandishments of a hyper-mediated present. It would be so much more reassuring for the Left if that were true.
Is it though? Rumour (or, at least, Matthew Hooton on Radio NZ National) has it that Labour and NZ First went halves on a poll of Northland voters. Supposedly, to find out which of them stood the best chance of taking the seat. Waste of money. Labour’s never going to take Northland off the Nats. Why? Because Northland’s about as close as you get in New Zealand to the American Deep South.
Northland’s Pakeha voters might elect a Social Creditor like old Vern Cracknell, who took Hobson (as the northern half of the seat used to be called) back in 1966. And they’ll certainly give Winston Peters and NZ First a serious sniff. But Labour? Not a chance. Not while most of Northland’s Maori voters keep themselves off the General Electoral Roll.
Just drive North for a few hundred miles. You’ll pass through toothless, stubble-cheeked towns exhaling a cancerous death-rattle. Boarded-up shops. Takeaway joints. Pubs that look like sheds. WINZ offices. These are the brown towns. Hopeless. Jobless. Joyless. And then, suddenly, you’re in Kerikeri or Russell. Busy shops. Prestige Brands. Cafes with outdoor seating. Ladies with lap-dogs. Gentlemen in Panama hats. Boats. Beamers. Batches. Apartheid without the pass laws. The New Zealand dream gone dark.
So Labour should have saved its money. Taking the seat was a non-starter. Which could (should?) have meant handing the whole thing over to NZ First– with an additional promise to make Willow-Jean Prime’s feisty little campaign skirmishers available to Winston for the duration.
Short-term tactics rather than long-term strategy? For sure. But that’s pretty much what contemporary politics is about. For Labour, it would have been a case of “all care, but no responsibility”. If Winston won, it would only be because Labour got in behind him. If he lost? Hey! Nothing to do with the Left!
So, why didn’t they do it? When they knew Winston was standing, why didn’t they instruct Willow-Jean not to forward her nomination? Because, once it was in, the by-election could only be a lose/lose proposition for Labour. If Winston won, it would be in spite of Labour. If he lost, it would be because of Labour.
Presumably, Andrew and his advisers (if he has advisers) understood that. Presumably, they were after a much bigger and more worthy prize than Northland. Like Government in 2017. Presumably some hard-bitten old tuskers sat Andrew down and asked him some very hard-edged questions.
“What happens to NZ First’s numbers if Winston takes Northland? Do they go up? Or down?”
“And if they go up, how much of the increase will come from the Nats? And how much of it will be at Labour’s expense?”
“You say you want the party to be at 35 percent by the end of the year? How’s that going to happen with Winston hogging the spotlight?”
“You want to pull 150,000 votes off Key’s 2014 tally? Where do you think those 150,000 wavering Tories are going to end up if Winston recovers his reputation as a political giant-killer?”
“We thought you understood, Andrew, that winning in 2017 only happens over the battered and bleeding bodies of the Greens and NZ First.”
“If you want the corporates to resume stuffing money in the party’s war-chest, then Labour needs to be seen as the meanest son-of-a-bitch in the Opposition valley.”
“What does handing Northland to Winston on a plate make us look like, Andrew?”
“It makes us look like the stupidest sons-of-bitches in the valley!”
The political objectives of participating in a by-election may be strictly tactical, entirely strategic, or a mixture of both. Whatever the motivation/s, a political party needs to weigh the consequences of its participation very carefully. This was especially true of Northland.
From a purely tactical standpoint, Labour’s stance on the by-election was a no-brainer. Stand aside and see if Winston can take it.
Viewed strategically, however, Labour’s choices were very clear in Northland. The by-election was an excellent opportunity to compare and contrast Labour’s political objectives with those of NZ First.
Winston only stands a chance of winning in Northland because he is, in his heart-of-hearts, a Nat – and Northland is a National seat. Accordingly, the bulk of his votes will come from the “nice” people of Kerikeri and Russell and all the other comfortable settlements of the North. But the winning margin in this contest, the votes of the desperate people living in dying towns like Kaitaia and Kaikohe, have traditionally been cast for Labour.
In an MMP environment, Labour’s long-term strategic advantage will not be secured by suggesting that the interests of the deprived and the desperate can be served by any other party. This by-election offered an opportunity to reiterate the historic message that things won’t change for the better in the brown towns of Northland until there’s a Labour Government in Wellington. A NZ First MP for Northland may make National work a little harder for its parliamentary majority, but he is unlikely to say or do anything that puts at risk the support of the reactionary cockies and conservative businessmen who have made it such a safe seat for the Right.
For Labour’s Northland supporters, without whose votes Winston Peters’ cannot hope to win the seat, this by-election promises little beyond the satisfaction of giving John Key a bloody nose. For the labourers repairing the electorate’s roads and bridges; the shop assistants selling tourists luxury merchandise; the over-stretched nurses and teachers struggling with the effects of poverty and neglect; National’s defeat is unlikely to bring them, or the people they serve, anything more substantial than schadenfreude.
So, Andrew, were these the sorts of issues that you and your advisers talked about before you went on Q+A? And, if they were, why couldn’t the party come up with something better than:
“In the end, by-elections are a referendum on the government of the day. If Northlanders feel they’ve been neglected and they can’t get their roads fixed and those sorts of things then they’re going to have to think about how they cast their vote in a way that sends a message to Government.”
Did it not occur to you that, with these words, you were delivering an even more important message to your own supporters? That any help that makes its way to Northland between now and 2017 is going to arrive gift-wrapped in NZ First Black – not Labour Red.

POSTSCRIPT: Anyone doubting the political impact of Andrew Little's wink-and-a-nod towards NZ First should read Curwen Ares Rolinson's triumphalist posting on The Daily Blog.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Monday, 9 March 2015.


Guerilla Surgeon said...

All this assumes that Labour voters wouldn't of themselves vote tactically. Personally I think the onset of MMP has made voters just a tad more independent.

Anonymous said...

I don't know, Chris - maybe a defeat for National in Northland would come to be seen as the moment the tide started to turn. It's a chance worth taking.

pat said...

If I have interpreted your position correctly, and I must confess you appear to be somewhat conflicted...then Labours chances in 2017 require them to wave the flag this by election.
Consider the ongoing reaction of those(former) Labour supporters to the Lange/Douglas Government and I wonder if you (and the old tuskers) have not perhaps misjudged the impact on a lot of those seeking a glimmer of relief....all the business granted election promotion in the world will struggle to erase that sense of abandonment.

Wayne Mapp said...

As I have said several times before on this site Andrew Little and Winston have cut a deal, and not just about Northland. In my view Russell Norman knew (discerned) this, which is why he is out.

While Winston would have gone with the Nats in 2014 if that was the choice, he would not do that to prop up a fourth term govt.

So if Labour gets to form the govt in 2017, it will be primarly with NZF. The Greens only get the crumbs.

So you might think the Greens would look at other options. Not wed themselves to Labour, but see if they could National green, at least to a pale shade of green. And who is to say the the Nats could not suddenly become enthusiastic about electric cars and large scale solar farms (as an example). I am sure Mr Joyce, Me Bridges, Miss Kaye and Ms Barry could become so.

Brewerstroupe said...

Wayne Mapp.
There was no deal. The impetus for Little's equivocation came from within the Labour Party.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Winston is the oldest of the old tuskers and certainly has the biggest tusks. And his analysis of the Northland situation is pretty much on the nose, at least as far as perception goes. Little's been done to develop the regions in this country anyway, but Northland seems to have been abandoned more than most. And am I wrong in thinking that many of the people – at least the Pakeha people – up there are retirees? Not all rich? I tell you, we retirees appreciate the gold card – more than any other prick's done for old people. At least since the old age pension :-). If one of my elderly aunts can vote for Muldoon because he looked like Churchill, it's not beyond the bounds of possibility that Winston might pick up a few votes because of the gold card :-).
Not to mention he's as cunning as a shithouse rat, runs rings round most interviewers, and knows how to play on people's prejudices. All in all I think he's in with a chance. Dog whistle or not.

aberfoyle said...

Winnie,is like the old medieval troubadour on his bus, touring with not songs of love and poetry but words of promise and hope,so much so his impact has the ruling corporations elite gliding in and out with the dusted baubles of years and years past promises of better things for Northland.

Winston,is back home the area of his birth and youth stomping ground,the youth no longer so much he does not attend evening debates with his opponents off for a moi,get on the Waka in the morning for sure pull bigger crowds than any evening debate.

Anonymous said...

The important thing for Labour in this case is to take the pragmatic stance and allow severe dents in the Key armour to Occur. IE Winston takes Northland, clear and simple. The Nats need to know that their wall is goin' break.

Wayne Mapp said...


Can I point to a meeting, or to any verbal or written communication between Little and Peters. No I cannot.
But at the very least they have for some time been giving public signals to each other.
And I do think it is probable that they (or trusted representatives) have have had some sort of discussions about future options. Not that they would tell us of that.

Anonymous said...

I love the line in Curwen Ares Rolinson's piece:

"When Winston beats Labour up in Northland, it may very well signal the irreversible tipping point in Labour’s ever-accelerating transition from “Big Two” status to being a minor party."

Im not sure I agree its a tipping point - but by god Andrew Little has put all the spotlights onto Winston/NZF at his own parties expense, just when he should have been trying to eviscerate them and the greens as part of labours ascension to dominance of the opposition.

I think this is the beginning of the end for Andrew Little, hes a vanilla flavoured nobody, a man of straw of no account.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

I can't see me voting for Winston, but I love him for the way he annoys all the pompous political pricks out there. He annoys me the way he gets out of answering questions directly, but you have to admit he's a master of it. He is a master of politics. He is a master of populism. And he'd crawl over broken glass to get the job like most of them. Except Winston will use the broken glass to eviscerate anyone who gets in his way.
I don't care about labour in Northland. They haven't yet shown to me that there anything more than National lite, and until they do they can kiss my arse. I wouldn't vote for him, but I'll stand there and cheer him on from the sidelines. Because if nothing else he's a bit of entertainment in a country that has lacked any political humour for some time now.