The Northland By-Election: Hang on Winston, help is on its way.



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. Because, after the Cunliffe debacle, very little that Labour does surprises me.

Still, you’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 Keri Keri 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.

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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 Keri Keri and Russell and all the other comfortable settlements of the North. But the winning margin in this contest, the votes of desperate people living in dying towns like Kaitaia, 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 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.


  1. …..”struggling manfully to predict the direction from which the next manic media assault is going to come”…..
    Christ Chris! That shouldn’t be too hard a struggle should it? !!!
    The Herald; followed by Stuffed (once their skeleton staff have received instructions – it might make the 5am update tomorrow); followed by Sooze and Guy, all in time for the regular work-life balanced gal with the diverse portfolio on Nine2Noon; the Hissy fit Hooter and his Right hand man Moik whose creds we must all bow down to; then every man’s best friend (and WOEman of course) Mr Mora (doing his best to bring the old NZBC Commercial Network to RNZ National); building up within the echo chamber so the ONE News and # (3) News put a few pictures with the spin.

  2. Well,

    If we look forward at the next three years with a National win in Northland, we would have a $39million dollar flag to pay for, a new TPPA partnership in which we are controlled by for an unlimited time as well as being told by global corporations how to conduct our business and theirs here with impunity.

    A loss of RMA protections, our own Sovereignty and more asset sales.

    So if we are heading for the NatZ ditch with this National wrecking ball, what better way to stymie their plans and put the spanner in NatZ works than ask Winston back again to sort it as we had in 1996-8 to stop that Natz Bolger/Shipley shipwreck of that era?

    Better the devil you know in this case, and he is a very seasoned politician as well as entertaining in parliament, hell I may even be able to sit through the whole hour of Parliamentary Question & answer period at the beginning of each session instead of only bearing 10 minutes now with that boring lot with no fireworks.

    • @ Cleangreen ….
      I see the Gosman cohort hasn’t yet arrived to give us the thumbs down. We both have one loik outta 1 vote. Jamie-Lee hasn’t yet read this thread and passed on instructions to his disciples

      • Yes Tim they have their trolls alright.

        Ever wonder how much they get paid?

        God we do it for our grandchildren for free.

  3. “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.”

    What a typical chunk of duck-weasel avoidance-speak from those Luvly People(?) in Labour.

    You pinned it perfectly, Chris. In that one little quote is all the slithering scramble to the rear that is modern ‘Labour’.

    ‘We regret if anyone has been offended – blah-blah-blah’.

    My biggest concern if Mr Peters actually wins this seat is how he will service this sprawling electorate with roads still at 1960s standard, and get those concerns heard/acted on in Wellington.

    Who’s going to run the cake stalls and galas to get those bridges done and that rail upgrade? Who’s going to head into the little-known niches to get people onto the electoral rolls? Boots on the ground and knuckles on the doors…can Winston follow through?

  4. I smell a rat. National is setting it up for NZ First and Labour to fail. Key is sitting in the shadows, waiting to unleash his dog soldiers as soon as Key finds the weak link to suddenly pounce. This is his pattern yet again. He goes quiet when he’s been cornered, and when the dust settles, out he comes with his baying dogs of hell, and his mouthpiece amplifying his lies to rally his supporters and ensnare the unwary victims of his opponents. Sabin was Keys sacrificial lamb in the game of shuffling the blame. Who’ll be Keys next pawn? What will be Keys next angle of attack?

  5. I’m sure that debate was had. But the problem with labour is they seem to have lost their intuition. Winston has it in spades. To their credit Labour are backing away now from competing for votes, but really, couldn’t they have had a cup of tea before?

    The reality is that Labour will need Winston and the Greens to govern. It is going to take them a long time to recover from the last 6 years of mess. If they don’t have the tea, we all know who will get in first once Crosby Textor works out Brand Key is diminishing.

  6. Whatever. He’s democratic, and trusts the voters to make up their own minds. Do you really think people are waiting for Andrew Little to tell them how to vote? As usual, you are overcooking it. Your own media assaults on Labour are as consistent as anyone’s.

  7. It is irrelevant whether Winston Peters can fix the roads in Northland. It is irrelevant what happens in Northland the day after the election. This is a by-election, for pities sake. Its a once off. If National wins, we have about 30 months of more of the same. If Winston wins and another by election comes along, we have a left wing government possibly within a year. Which do you choose? Its as simple as that.
    As for the 2017 election, Northland will be forgotten and irrelevant if the left wing makes good use of its time in the interim.
    It is nonsense to pontificate on Labour’s long term strategy. A week is a long time in politics. A reaction to the TTP; a collapse in the $NZ; a housing bubble burst; these things can turn the political map upside down. WE need a victory now – if only for our battered morale – and there is only one way to get it.

  8. “We thought you understood, Andrew, that winning in 2017 only happens over the battered and bleeding bodies of the Greens and NZ First.”

    Not in this Universe, Chris.

    Perhaps in a Parallel Universe, where the MMP Referendum was lost, First Past the Post still governs us; and Labour can win outright without pesky third parties. (Though even in 1978 and 1981, despite winning more votes than the Tories, National still won more seats. Such is the “Lucky Dip” of FPP.

    In the meantime, the “battered and bleeding bodies of the Greens and NZ First” won’t achieve anything except guarantee the Opposition benches for the Labour Party until the Sun goes nova… (In about 5 billion years time).

  9. I think their will be blow back at national over Sabin because the locals know …………..

    Their new candidate is part of the Sabin-Con attempted cover-up…….

    The ‘big gun’ Key is up to his neck in the Sabin affair and saw special qualities in the man as he left him on as chair of the Justice & Law committee ………….. even months after he was informed and well aware of more than just ‘rumors’.

    I wonder if in this by-election whether John Key and the nats will be at private dinner parties with some local rich criminal picking up $25,000 donation cheques …………… and then run a smear against Winston using that criminal to make up false statements which Nationals mates in the Herald could run as a story and demand Winstons resignation ………………

    That worked so well for them with their Dong Lui Dirty Politics hit on Cunliffe at the general election.

  10. 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.

    Short term – yes, I concur.

    Longer term – no, not quite.

    If the Nats lose this by-election, their numbers drop from 60 to 59. Even ACT will take them only to back 60, making them more reliant on Peter Dunne and the Maori Party to pass legislation and win Confidence Votes.

    Now consider if the Nats suffer another loss in another by-election. That takes them to 58 + ACT + Dunne takes them to 60. Not enough to govern, because all of a sudden they will be at the mercy of the Maori Party.

    That would be untenable for Key. Game Over. Early Election. Key gone by lunch-time after Election Day.

    In the short term, gifting Northland to Peters may make him stronger.

    But at the same time, it makes the Nats more vulnerable to another by-election loss.

    And remember – Peters can’t afford to cosy up to the Nats too much. Many voters have long memories and remember his bloody big mistake ( in coalescing with National in 1996. NZ First was ripped in half and he came within 86 (?) votes of losing Tauranga in 1999.

    He won’t want to be seen as getting too close to National, and suffer the stink-by-association that the Maori Party have suffered because of their closeness to the Tories.

    He will have to show that he is an effective Opposition leader, and for that to happen, he will need to be ruthless and relentless against Key.

    Anything else; any softening to National, will send a message to Voterland that a vote for Peters is a vote for a possible coalition partner for National. In which case, why vote for NZ First when you might as well vote for National and get the real deal anyway? If Peters alienates the angry/disaffected vote, the beneficiary will be Labour.

    As always, small parties walk a tightrope. Peters has been in politics long enough to know that salient fact, of that I am 100% certain.

  11. Keri Keri or Russell.

    It is Kerikeri, not Keri Keri.

    Apartheid without the pass laws.

    ffs (facepalm)

    At least spell the place correctly before the insulting innuendo.

    • It’s not insulting it’s beautifully accurate. I have lived in various parts of Northland for most of my life. I was born up here. The privilege of the white towns is more apparent now than at any other time in my life. From the shitty over priced lifestyle blocks around the Bay of Islands to the silly private religious schools in the same area to the Soweto style encampments of the West Coast and Hokianga and stunning organic farms and vege plots of the hippies in the same area. There are some brilliant communities in the so called poor areas of the Hokianga and Kaitaia catchments. The crappy dangerous roading all but disappears once you go near the East Coast. John Carter country. Meanwhile the best farmland and forestry country is on the poor West Coast where we get nothing but shit services and gross underfunding compared to the enormous wealth produced. Racism is nowhere more glaringly obvious than in the North.

  12. I agree with alot said here but paticually with DENNIS DORNEY and Frank M.

    Politics is a war . Its as simple as that . Its not a game.

    And we need victory NOW!

    Your long term strategy CAN and DOES get affected by your current tactics. In fact you can destroy your own long term strategies by erronous tactics.

    War is fluid. It needs an adaptable mindset. Countless generals lost because of either obstinancy or inability to realise and adapt to the changing mode of warefare adopted by the enemy.

    A good political mindset is one of Sun Szu….a principle of Sun Szu is not to have a war of ‘annihilation ‘ such as the West would view it , – but one of taking ground. Your aim is to win , – with as minimal loss as possible – particually if you have inferior numbers.

    And you must be pragmatic and ruthless.

    Totally ruthless.

    Consider the Lefts position : less well resourced , theoretically ‘ less numbers ‘ …( dubious ) a MSM that acts as the govt’s propaganda machine , fighting against USA corporate / political backing , a fabricated environment whereby there is economic fear of loss from small businesses ….and many other powerful psychological triggers besides this small list.

    THIS is the larger ARMY you are up against. Therefore you think in expedience , – you favour no pet projects or primma donna’s that will get in the way of victory. You have no sacred cows to protect . This is war.

    Sun Szu conducted his warfare less like the western game of chess where ‘ piece taking ‘ is the general method deployed for victory , – but more like the game of ‘G o’.. the Chinese game where you take territory – not ‘ pieces’ to achieve victory.

    Lets wiegh up Winston Peters general beliefs about certain current topics :

    1) He is against the TTPA – which all of you want.

    2) He is against mass surveillance – which all of you want.

    3) He is against comitting troops to the Middle East – which all of you want.

    4) He is against NZ’s asset sales – which all of you want.

    5) He is generally against the neo liberal agenda – which all of you want.

    6) He is for retaining our National Soveriegnty by not buying into all of the above points- which all of you want.

    Sun Szu would probably view Winston Peters as a valuable ally in a war with a common enemy. Labour in the long term would still become the dominant party of the Left , by being allies WITH the ‘ kingdoms ‘ of NZ First and the Greens – not by infighting with them.

    And by doing so- would win TERRITORY’S – not just merely take ‘ PIECES ‘ .

    In other words to take ground , by setting down issues of lesser import and minor differences in order to win a WAR …..NOT JUST a battle.

    You would then start to be able to carve out a cohesive , generally united front – the very thing National has been doing all these years.

    • I would also add by means of two good examples of the difference between the ‘ chess ‘ strategy and the ‘ G o ‘ strategy :

      World War One was a classic ‘ chess ‘ strategy – a war of pointless attrition that cost millions of lives and ended in an armistice….

      Hitlers Blitzkreig war across Europe in the early stages of World War Two is to be considered a definate ‘ G o ‘ strategy – it was lightning fast , it focused on taking TERRITORY – not ‘ pieces’ .

      I would suspect that having someone with those basic veiwpoints take the ground of Northland would be one step further towards consilidating the Lefts position overall . Thats why I support Peters in winning it.

      Lesser issues and pontificating on the ‘ what ifs ‘ ‘ what will people think ? ‘ should be secondary considerations.

  13. Agree with you about the ‘two faces’ of Northland, which is a microcosm of all of NZ.

    However, you are being a bit harsh on Andrew Little. Labour had to make their move BEFORE Winston declared his hand, which I suspect he delayed doing deliberately in order to maximise his leverage over both National and Labour, because ultimately Winnie is mainly in anything for himself.

    That does not mean I hope he loses the byelection, but we have to always keeping mind that when thinking of Winnie, his motives in anyhting are not entirely pure, and he is very much Ego driven.

  14. “Northland’s about as close as you get in New Zealand to the American Deep South” I almost broke a rib laughing at this strangely accurate description!

    Pick up trucks, dirt roads, single lane bridges and six fingered good ol’ boys called Cletus who, when they ain’t burnin’ crosses on some coloured folks dirt lawn whilst wearing a pointy white hat, are voting National. Absolutely 10 out of 10 brilliant!

    All we need now is vote rigging……

  15. Oh dear Chris, who needs friends on the left when the right has you ro carry their flag. We know your income stream relies on the continuation of the Key Govt, but really Chris your reactionary rubbish is about as believable as National’s 1080 scare.

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