Winston takes Northland

winston peters grinning

I was planning on posting this in the morning … but it seems pointless to wait!

Well. The only word to describe that is “a pasting”.

Winston was hugely ahead from the moment the first results dropped on the Electoral Commission’s wonderfully sturdy website, and it only got better and better for him from there.

This cracks a few of the golden tropes of by-elections and MMP. It’s the first time in the MMP environment that a by-election has seen a total change of hands, with neither the former MP nor their party winning back the seat. It showed that even a once-safe seat – a seat National had held for fifty years – can change hands, and change hands decisively. It showed that voters do bloody well understand how to vote tactically when they want to. And it showed that, despite the protestations of many of my comrades on the left, Labour does know how to act for the benefit of the wider opposition – even in really complex circumstances.

Willow-Jean Prime is a fantastic candidate, and if she doesn’t get a very winnable list position in 2017 I’ll be shocked. But unfortunately Winston didn’t tell anyone about his plans to run until very late in the game – a luxury of being a one-man band who doesn’t have pesky party-democratic processes to deal with.

So Labour, and Andrew Little, were given a difficult choice: how to acknowledge that Winston was going to win – even give their blessing to staunch Labour voters to hold their noses and elect a former National Cabinet Minister – without opening themselves to cries of corruption and dirty deal-making.

Pulling a good candidate entirely, as some suggested, was simply not going to wash. It left Little with a delicate balancing act: not backing down on the fact Prime is awesome, not uttering the words “Vote for Winston” no matter how much Tova O’Brien and Patrick Gower tried to make him, but also sending the message that there was really only one way to defeat the Government.

And he managed it. Insert my usual statement of gross bias here, but the fact is I cannot see any of the recent leaders of the Labour Party – not Cunliffe, who I also like personally, not Shearer, not Goff – pulling it off. This was Helen Clark-level political pragmatism, and political message management.

The real loser in this isn’t Mark Osborne. It’s National. They threw everything they had at this by-election: huge commitments of time by senior ministers, tens of millions of dollars in bridge bribes, and they got owned. The John Key magic couldn’t carry him through, and you can decide for yourself whether that’s because the shine has rubbed off, or because he’s getting bored with the job, or because the stink of whatever reasons Mark Sabin had for resigning four months after a general election was just too strong.

Things are not going to go up for National from here.

Now we just have to hope that Winston doesn’t bite the hand that tactically fed him …

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