Northland isn’t Epsom – nor Ohariu

Danyl Mclauchlan has rebutted the spin around Winston’s victory in Northland – “Labour can’t criticise the Epsom deal now! Hypocrites!” very well. (And after I’d drafted this post, Rob Salmond made one, too! Great minds, etc etc.)

I’ve been a little disappointed in how many people have basically warned the lefties they know – oooh, you’d better not say that, that would look really bad, wouldn’t it?

Northland wasn’t Labour’s to give. New Zealand First didn’t need Labour’s help. Winston certainly isn’t going to turn around to Andrew Little and say “what policies would you like me to adopt so you can pretend you don’t really want to pass them?” And Andrew Little didn’t sit down for a farcical cup of tea photo opportunity (and then try to claim it was a “private” engagement when someone recorded his foolishly-uttered words.)

Northland isn’t Epsom.

Northland also isn’t Ohariu, which got very interesting last year. National fielded a candidate who was too scared to say his own name in case people ticked it (and gave him a nice safe list position so he wouldn’t scare the horses), but despite this Peter Dunne’s once-mighty majority was slashed to 700 – one of the lowest in the country. But the “deal” there took a very different form: the National Party basically pretended that Ohariu didn’t exist. They certainly didn’t do what they did in Northland, which was see bad poll results and massively over-react to protect their preferred candidate (which ironically would have meant undermining their actual candidate.)

And thus everyone assumed Ohariu was a (sorry) done deal, to the extent that local newspapers didn’t even mention the Labour candidate (the very talented Ginny Andersen) by name in some of their coverage, and many were shocked at the comical scenes from Dunne’s victory party – populated mainly by his staff.

But a deal was (sorry) done, nevertheless, and a man whose party could barely get more than 5,000 votes, who had to resign his ministerial portfolios in disgrace over leaking a confidential GCSB report, got a reprieve from retirement and the plum role of Minister of Internal Affairs.

That’s what a dirty deal looks like.

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Northland by-election today

Whatever the result, it’ll be an interesting day in New Zealand politics and a great warm-up for the tension and excitement of the Cricket World Cup final tomorrow!

TV3 will have coverage at 9:30, and I’m sure #nzpol will be buzzing from just as soon as anyone can figure out what we are or aren’t allowed to say under electoral law.

ETA: And results should be available from around 7pm on the Electoral Commission’s results website.

Who said it? Shane Reti vs. Aaron Gilmore

There’s an odd trend among National Party backbenchers. Slipping in on the list, or shunted into safe seats by a party at the height of its power, they’ve bought all the spin and never been told the cautionary tale of the dark days of 20.93%. And then, when someone questions their divine right to do whatever they want, they completely lose the plot.

Aaron Gilmore was elected in 2008 off the list and had to resign in 2013 after being a right prat to a waiter. He was succeeded by Claudette Hauiti who lasted just over a year before she had to resign for misspending parliamentary money on a holiday (and kept spending up large even after she announced her retirement from politics.)

Later, emails from Gilmore’s time at MoBIE emerged, showing him to be a bit of a workplace bully, puffed up by his imminent return to Parliament.

Now, Shane Reti, elected in 2014 in the safe seat of Whangarei, has been accused of threatening a local lobby group to stay quiet while the Northland by-election hangs by a thread.

It’s appalling behaviour, but is it surprising? After all, can you pick which of the quotes below were said by Shane Reti, and which by Aaron Gilmore?

1. “I only tell you this as I am sure this thing will come back to haunt you.”

2. “What I tried to say to you, before another email arrived, hold your breath.”

3. “You may want to consider your penchant firing off messages to all in sundry trying to undermine people simply because you don’t agree with them”

4. “The only thing I would say to you is … the more threatening the emails are, almost certainly my approach will come to an end, I guarantee it”

5: “Its not your questioning of analysis … its some of your emotive emails which I have seen this past week or so you have sent to others”

6: “If the next two and half weeks is so critically important to have that tone then go ahead and do it. No problem. And we will see what the consequence is.”

ANSWER: The odd numbers are Gilmore; the even numbers are Reti. The over-wordy, very concerned, maybe you should watch what you say tone is identical, isn’t it?

Sources: Shane Reti’s phone conversation audio at Stuff; Aaron Gilmore’s emails here.

Bridges’ Bridgegate?

Andrew Geddis lays out the facts on National’s blatant Northland by-election bribe:

Maybe the motivations behind this announcement are cynical at best, but at least something good will come out of it. Northland will get a bunch of new bridges to deliver safer roads and help fix its transport problems.

That would be true … but only if it were true that these bridges really are a desperately needed bit of infrastructure. And there’s very good reason to doubt that this is the case.

And in [Northland Regional Council’s Regional Land Transport Plan], only three of the ten bridges that the Government has now committed to funding are even mentioned as possible projects: Matakohe Bridge, Kaeo Bridge and Taipa Bridge. The other seven appear to be so far down the list of possible projects that the Regional Council doesn’t bother putting them up for consideration in the plan.

But we mustn’t leap to conclusions, even though as Geddis points out it’s extremely unusual for a mere candidate – technically a private citizen – to be making multi-million-dollar Government funding announcements. And Simon Bridges (make your own joke) has been refreshingly honest about the fact this funding is a direct consequence of the by-election.

Geddis leaves us with some food for thought:

Imagine that this didn’t happen in good old clean New Zealand, with its number two ranking in Transparency International’s corruption perceptions index. Imagine instead it happened in, I don’t know … New Jersey. Or Hungary. Or Venezuela.

What would you call it then?

To which I can only say: don’t give them ideas, Andrew! Next thing you know the National campaign team will be googling “New Jersey” and “bridges” and then we’ll have some convenient lane closures on by-election day …

My reckons on Northland

Opinions about the Northland by-election are like cliches, they’re getting trotted out all over the place. So why not add my 2c?

I’m on the record saying I don’t think Labour can win the seat, but can definitely use the by-election as a platform to get Labour’s message out to a wider audience. But that was before Winston was a definite contestant, and now the big question seems to be whether a three-horse race is going to ruin everyone’s fun.

Is Willow-Jean Prime going to “cost” Winston the by-election? No, in the same way Green voters didn’t “cost” Labour the chance to retire Peter Dunne and the same way Labour-candidate voters didn’t “cost” the left as a whole the chance to retire ACT. Voters are smart. Sometimes they may not vote in the way a totally rational actor I would personally, but we have to trust that they’re ticking whatever box they tick for reasons which are good enough for them.

The voters of Northland will vote as they see fit, and we might not like the result. If we don’t accept that then we may have to rethink how committed we are to some basic democratic principles.

I’m not a Northland person. I have distant-relatives-by-marriage up there and a BFF who spent her childhood there and at uni I dated a guy whose parents are farmers in some small town I can never remember the name of. I’m an Aucklander transplanted to Wellington. I have about as much sense of the ~mood~ of the electorate as Winston has an ability to stop himself grinning when he’s being cheeky to Tova O’Brien.

What I do know is that ~everyone knows~ by-elections have lower turnout, and this favours the incumbent. And in the MMP era the only time an electorate has changed parties in a by-election is when the incumbent MP re-wins their seat. So a Winston victory is a long shot, whatever the 3News polls say. And it would be a great poke in the eye to National to lose a safe seat, another black mark on the start of their third term.

But I’m not going to hold my breath.

And it’s still a great platform for Labour to get their messages out there.