Andrew Little’s lightly veiled messages to Labour voters to send a clear message to the government in last weekend’s by-election was the long anticipated entry of the Party into understanding the MMP environment. Prior to the last election there were all sorts of swirling possibilities of how people could be encouraged to vote in Auckland Central, Ohariu, Te Tai Tokerau and Epsom, all in the name of sending the government a clear message. The Epsom example was with regard to the by-election and getting Labour and Green voters to vote Goldsmith to keep ACT out. The message wasn’t picked up by the Left, many of who just couldn’t bring themselves to voting National.
But last weekend, NZ First romped home and the Key government got the message – that the people of the north weren’t going to be taken for granted and left out of important decisions any longer. Whilst I wished it was a more left-leaning candidate that took the seat, understanding the bigger picture means that I can breathe a tiny bit easier with National’s humiliating loss. In fact, I believe that there have been more announcements for the Northland electorate in the past month than there has been in a number of decades. Having no sitting MP seemed to do them quite a bit of good!
For me though, the best result for the Left was seeing the Labour Party accept and embrace that we needed to vote strategically. The mainstream media and ‘stuck’ political commentators continue to frame the discussion in FPP terms and both neglect and scare the electorate into thinking that it’s one party or another. This was definitely National’s strategy when their messaging changed from a big spend-up in the North, to fear that Winston wouldn’t support them on RMA reform. The beauty of MMP is that it allows a number of views and persuasions to be represented when votes are cast. Scaremongering people into believing that Labour and the Greens can’t come up with decent financial policy is the way you push the electorate into the old FPP thinking. So whilst I would have preferred the protest vote to have gone to Labour’s Willow-Jean Prime, I accept that for this time, the strategy had to be weakening the government.
So I formally welcome Labour and its strategists to the realm of positive, strategic thinking in the modern MMP era. I know it’s a tough transition to make, but the signals I picked up from the by-election were promising. Congratulations Little and Haworth for doing what’s needed to happen for almost two decades – getting our thinking and actions in line with the current electoral system. The Pacific community and young people have all worked it out and I’m excited by the prospects this now poses for the Party that I believe best represents my people. The challenge now, is to maintain this level of resolve.