The Dim-Post

March 20, 2015

Grim up Northland

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 8:20 am

It’s already been a hell of a by-election, and it sounds like it might get even fiercer up there but I still think National will win. If you’re watching the TV news then the by-election looks like a train-wreck for National, but – just as in 2014 – the real election is happening off-screen

National will have a database profiling almost every voter in the electorate. In the next eight days every ‘Highly Likely’ National voter in Northland will get a call from a party volunteer or Curia staffer reminding them that the government’s majority is under threat, and advising them of where their closest advance-voting booth is. Scores of volunteers and young Nats will be mini-bused up from Auckland. They’ll door-knock possible soft-New Zealand First voters and repeat scripts that have been focus-grouped to induce anxiety and doubt about Winston Peters and New Zealand First among key demographics. They’ll be staffing booths in malls and canvasing pedestrians in town centers. They’ll mail out personalised leaflets to harder-to-reach rural voters. Peters is a good campaigner but he can’t compete with that. Short of any unforeseen catastrophe, National will win.

What’s interesting is that National has to work this hard to hold one of their safest seats. There’s a mixture of factors in play. The reason for Sabin’s resignation. Winston Peters’ political skills. The poor quality of the National candidate. But one of National’s main problems, I think, is that when they’re fighting against Peters and New Zealand First they’re fighting themselves. Winston Peters is, famously, a protege of Robert Muldoon, and his party is based on Muldoon’s legacy of populist, dirigiste conservatismNational is a big party and thus a ‘broad church’ but it was – for about twenty years – dominated by free market economic liberals, partly as a reaction against the economic disaster that Muldoonism inflicted on the country.

But in the last six years National has undergone a dramatic transformation. They’re no longer ‘economic liberals’ in any meaningful sense. (Although they probably still think they are, much as aging ex-hippies with property portfolios and luxury cars might still consider themselves anti-establishment rebels. People like to cling onto idealistic conceptions of themselves long after any attempt at living up to the ideal has gone.) National is no longer a party of economic or individual freedom – they’re a populist conservative party of economic intervention, mostly indifferent to or openly hostile towards individual freedoms. Their points of difference with New Zealand First are so trivial they’re reduced to running around Northland warning provincial voters that a Peters win might jeopardise a free trade deal with South Korea. That’s the big policy gap between Muldoon’s disciple and the modern National Party.

I don’t know what the long term political consequences of National’s shift means. Muldoonism was very popular even when it bought the country to the brink of economic collapse because it was a form of government exclusively devoted to maintaining its own grip on power. To paraphrase Citizen Kane: It’s no big thing to win elections – if all you want to do in government is win elections.


  1. If National had to work this hard to keep every safe seat, or even a few safe seats, during a general election, they’d be in real trouble. But all those Curia phone pollsters and young Nat volunteers effectively represent an excess capacity. During an election year, even a large and well managed electoral machine like National has to deploy them carefully, but any other time the cost of mobilising them is small, so the benefit that National’s opponents gain from getting them to commit these resources to Northland right now is basically nil.

    And to much more briefly address a much more substantive point, National are still an economically liberal party. It’s not like the stuff that is often pointed to as signs of their dirigiste policies (building highways, giving easy money to big businesses) wasn’t in play during the nineties, too.

    Comment by kalvarnsen — March 20, 2015 @ 8:29 am

  2. I think you’re mis-reading the Nats to a considerable degree.

    *Both* Muldoonism and the economic liberalism of which you speak were abberations – or rather, mutations of existing traits within National’s body politic.

    This is more a reversion to type. National is a conservative, not a right wing party. There’s a very important difference.

    Comment by Rob — March 20, 2015 @ 8:32 am

  3. How do they know who is a “Highly likely National voter” and who is a “Soft New Zealand First voter”? Is it based on some arcane algorithm that crunches through demographic data or what? And what can I do to avoid getting on such lists?

    Comment by Conrad — March 20, 2015 @ 9:12 am

  4. It is a by-election, a chance to send a message etc and not for the first time

    Also worth remembering that despite the media pundits ( and my Twitter feed ) as in at the last election real people vote

    Comment by rayinnz — March 20, 2015 @ 9:28 am

  5. Danyl you’re bordering on mythologizing the campaign effectiveness of the National Party. They’re beatable, and there’s a lot reasons they could lose here. But the obvious one is that the Sabin affair has most likely not run its course yet and no one likes being lied to, especially not about what it’s rumoured to be about. You can make all the election promises you like, but if the image of you as the worst kind of liar becomes fixed in the public consciousness, then the promises are seen as idle. Especially when they appear to come with the price tag of the vote for some nobody candidate, with the not-even-hidden threat that the promises will not be delivered if Northland votes the wrong way.

    Comment by Ben Wilson — March 20, 2015 @ 9:44 am

  6. Rural (non-farmer) and regional (non-farmer) NZ has little to thank National for….if they stop to think about it. On farms much of the hard work (14 hours / day, 6-7 days / week) is now done by temporary foreign labourers the Dept of Immigration touts on their web site as – essentially – throw-away labour on two year terms. The Egyptian (Gore) and Philippino (Canterbury / Waikato) dairy farm managers are becoming more numerous. So even in rural areas, what jobs there are tend to be long hours for relatively low pay and few Kiwis want to live like that. Don’t blame them.

    So will they vote for National anyway? Probably.

    Comment by Steve — March 20, 2015 @ 9:59 am

  7. +1 Ben. The Sabin affair and Nationals knee jerk policy reaction to perceived pakeha Northland needs plus a viable protest vote in Winnie, could make the big party machine counter productive.
    Disenchanted conservatives being asked to toe the line…

    Comment by Knob Endt — March 20, 2015 @ 10:06 am

  8. And this


    Comment by Knob Endt — March 20, 2015 @ 10:30 am

  9. I can’t help but think something else is at stake in Northland – and that is Key’s continued enthusiasm for the job. His behaviour is reminding me more and more of a sort of political Jeremy Clarkson, bored with amusing the idiots at the same gig and subconsciously already looking for the exit. Lose in Northland and Key, IMHO, might just decide 2017 is the time to go.

    Comment by Sanctuary — March 20, 2015 @ 11:13 am

  10. hey, looks like I am not the only one….

    Comment by Sanctuary — March 20, 2015 @ 11:15 am

  11. Hopefully Winston will find a way to reveal the extent of Sabins offending before the upcoming by-election which I am sure would finish National off, interestingly whilst in the Police ,Sabins running mate in Criminal Intelligence and Drug Enforcement was….the disgraced and convicted Detective Mike Blowers – what next !

    Comment by Woz — March 20, 2015 @ 11:35 am

  12. >Hopefully Winston will find a way

    Well, Woz, there is already parliamentary privilege, and we know he’s not afraid to use it. He can pull that out at any time, if he wants. But I think he would rather win outright and let that all come out after the byelection so that it looks as dirty as it sounds like it is.

    Comment by Ben Wilson — March 20, 2015 @ 11:49 am

  13. I think the difference between Key and Clarkson is that Key would swing and miss.

    Comment by Ben Wilson — March 20, 2015 @ 11:50 am

  14. @Conrad – If you have received a polling call from National generally they ask who your voting intentions are PV and EV depending how you answer they rate the person strong or weak to the respective party or if undecided they note as such- you don’t want to be noted as undecided if you don’t want further calls ir more stuff in your letterbox, From memory calling lists are from the general elections lists available to the general public at any good library, if you don’t want the call have your name removed from the public list or just say to the caller you refuse to answer and you will be noted as such not to be further bothered. I can’t speak to whether Greens/Labour calling is the same as I haven’t been a recipient of them.

    Comment by anon — March 20, 2015 @ 12:01 pm

  15. Freedom, democracy and privacy smashed to bits by Emperor Key a totalitarian dictatorship where the will of the people is ignored and we have all become unwilling participants in the Americanisation of our country, he doesn’t need to wait for 2017 to go – now works for me, Viva the Post Viva the Net

    Comment by Woz — March 20, 2015 @ 12:28 pm

  16. I don’t think National are a conservative party. I would describe them as ‘centre-right’ as in halfway between the neo-liberal right and the crony-capitalist right. They will even do un-conservative things like legalising same-sex marriage or changing the flag if they think these things are popular with floating voters.
    I see New Zealand First as much more of a ‘conservative’ party. Not specifically right-wing conservative, though – I think they appeal to tradition and nostalgia on both the right and the left.

    Comment by Can of Worms, Opened — March 20, 2015 @ 12:45 pm

  17. Well, Woz, there is already parliamentary privilege, and we know he’s not afraid to use it.

    Timing is everything though. I do agree with your sentiment about Peter’s wanting to win outright, but I also suspect he’s holding back because it’s a one shot revelation.

    Comment by Gregor W — March 20, 2015 @ 1:31 pm

  18. “Freedom, democracy and privacy smashed to bits by Emperor Key a totalitarian dictatorship”

    Funny: I thought we still had just as many chances to vote as we did under Labour (Cantabrians excepted, maybe). Democracy is a bitch when more people think different to you than the same, eh?

    Comment by Clunking Fist — March 20, 2015 @ 2:06 pm

  19. “I don’t know what the long term political consequences of National’s shift means.”

    By time Labour Greens get in they will be working in effect for the IMF/ NZ’s overseas creditors. Just like Lange / Douglas were. The cupboard will be utterly bare.

    Comment by Simon — March 20, 2015 @ 2:46 pm

  20. Winston Peters is the blow fly of New Zealand politics. – M. Cullen

    Winston is quite easy to defeat in a normal election, because he runs out the smooth Muldoonist pap about caring for everyone without any constraints of competency. He falls flat with everybody except those 5 – 10% who want to cared for and will stiff the country to get it. Almost everybody else looks at Winston and says they really would prefer a competent government.

    But in this by-election the government isn’t at stake and the Labour Party have decided to declare Winston a highly competent choice.

    Comment by unaha-closp — March 20, 2015 @ 3:56 pm

  21. Yes Clunking Fist you got it, I am a Cantab and what an excellent forum this is that you and I can pitch an opinion and disagree, I may not agree with your sentiment but would fight to the death to protect your right to do so.

    Comment by Woz — March 20, 2015 @ 3:58 pm

  22. There is another view. That Winston, far from being seen as the great saviour, is the handsome suitor and therefore a great way for an insecure spouse to negotiate a few overdue accounts from a negligent spouse who they suspect is taking them for granted. Having, inflamed said spouse’s jealousies sufficiently to achieve a renewal of vows, they may then return to the domestic assured of their errant husband’s regret and constant fidelity.

    In short, Winston won’t win this, because he just ain’t husband material..

    Comment by Lee Clark — March 20, 2015 @ 5:24 pm

  23. The important economic settings are fiscal policy, monetary policy and regulatory policy. I see no sign these are anything other than liberal, as was the partial selldown of some SOEs. What you call economic intervention is pretty small in the scheme of things. The guarantees to savings and finance institutions during the GFC were about avoiding systemic failure not favouring one firm or another. The good were guaranteed along with the bad, for very good reasons. The Comalco deal was all about avoiding unemployment in a specific region and it has been a rather cheap intervention. Even the convention centre will be financed by gamblers not the taxpayer. If you want to look for worthless intervention try the ownership of Kiwirail and Solid Energy but I guess you are in favour of those. The rationale for the RONIs is mysterious only to anyone who has never driven out of Wellington or north of Auckland. While the quality of spending within the boundaries of fiscal policy is important – as is being shown in the management of social welfare spending – that spending is a second order issue compared with overall fiscal policy. Don’t be dazzled by the beads and blankets, Danyl..

    Comment by Tinakori — March 20, 2015 @ 5:35 pm

  24. A lot of over analysing going on here. The consequences of a National defeat are they lose their absolute majority (let’s face it, David Seymour is a spineless stuffed shirt who does what he is told). Without that majority, they become a caretaker lame duck government creeping towards inevitable defeat.

    Comment by Sanctuary — March 20, 2015 @ 7:14 pm

  25. Great summary, sanc.

    Too much analysis.

    But, assuming the duck’s impairment was in the leg, wouldn’t it ‘limp’ rather than ‘creep’?

    I could be wrong, and, if the impairment was in the wing, I suppose ‘lurch’ might work, ‘creep’ is possibly over-egging it.

    Comment by Lee Clark — March 20, 2015 @ 7:59 pm

  26. Go for it Winston.

    Comment by bosun — March 20, 2015 @ 8:33 pm

  27. @Sanc: Or they do a deal with Winston and carry on as per usual.

    Comment by kalvarnsen — March 20, 2015 @ 9:20 pm

  28. … or Dunne…etc.

    Comment by Lee Clark — March 20, 2015 @ 9:45 pm

  29. … Anyway, we all know, deep down, were Winston to win, he’d sell out for a sinecure/knighthood faster than a crack-ho when the navy was in town.

    Comment by Lee Clark — March 20, 2015 @ 9:53 pm

  30. @lee. This is Winstons turangawaiwai, i think the stakes are a little higer than that.

    Comment by Knob Endt — March 20, 2015 @ 10:14 pm

  31. @Lee: 1996 never forget

    Comment by kalvarnsen — March 21, 2015 @ 3:06 am

  32. And in a way, you indicate at once Winston’s greatest political asset and his greatest political liability – that whatever the situation regardless of others’ needs -first and foremost it’s always all about Winston.

    Comment by Lee Clark — March 21, 2015 @ 8:36 am

  33. >I also suspect he’s holding back because it’s a one shot revelation.

    Nah, it’s got 2 shots in it. The first is obviously the whole smearing of the character of National candidates, for being silly enough to stand a person likely to be facing any criminal charges. The second is the specific attack of asking who knew what and when, which is the much more damaging shot. Even a seed of thought that perhaps these allegations were known before the general election could do huge damage to National’s brand, and not just in Northland. From what I can glean by way of the unmentionable internet the allegations are very serious indeed. So serious I find it hard to believe that Key would have let them slide, and would probably have vigorously urged Sabin to withdraw. But the point is that the question can be asked by Peters, and in the asking, the allegations are made public.

    If it is all about Winston, then he has little reason not to. If he’s a bit less ruthless (and this is probably the case) then he is considering the victims’ right to privacy.

    Comment by Ben Wilson — March 21, 2015 @ 10:36 am

  34. @Ben – I think part one has already been used, certainly by implication anyway. The trouble is it won’t get additional traction with the electorate because it’s an edge issue. From my own anecdotal, it’s not so much that voters specifically like National from an ideological perspective, rather they like the idea of having a theoretical beer with Key.

    Electoral committee and party machinery incompetence wrt candidate selection and – classic beltway issues in effect – won’t move people.

    Part two may well move people once the meat of Sabin’s offending comes to light – particularly if played well to tribal, white, liberal, 30-40 Nat voters with kids, justifiably horrified with the handling of the Roastbusters deal – especially as you say when the timing of who knew what and when, after numerous evasions and denials, is revealed.

    Potential game changer IMO.

    Comment by Gregor W — March 21, 2015 @ 3:53 pm

  35. Hmmm, dirty politics, anyone?

    Comment by Lee Clark — March 21, 2015 @ 7:25 pm

  36. @Gregor I don’t think there’s any particular demographic that would fail to be disgusted by the specifics – more so even than with the Roastbusters, because there’s at least 2 more levels of wrong involved. But certainly it is the core National voter’s actions that would make the biggest difference. I’m not sure why the age range of 30-40 strikes you as particularly sensitive.

    Comment by Ben Wilson — March 22, 2015 @ 10:59 am

  37. Ben – mostly because the 30-40yo age group are more likely to swing than older voters, and given some of the scuttlebutt surrounding Sabin, will (I suspect) both lend more credence too and be less forgiving of the nature of the allegations given that crimes of that nature are a hot button topic (no even counting the inferences that will inevitably be drawn between this and other cases of a similar nature involving former and serving Police officers).

    Comment by Gregor W — March 22, 2015 @ 9:58 pm

  38. Has anyone actually seen the Young Nats out campaigning ? They contrive to appear simultaneously privileged *and* servile. I dunno, but I don’t think the voters of Northland have a lot in common with the kinds of National supporters that will be mobilised this week, and I reckon it could actually turn a bunch of them off the National party.

    Comment by Mikaere Curtis — March 23, 2015 @ 9:19 am

  39. “… I reckon it could actually turn a bunch of them off the National party…”

    Who wouldn’t succumb to the perfect teeth and electoral charm of a battalion of florid faced red-trousered blue bloods lately from from Kings, ably assisted by a (supporting, of course) cast of demure Harriets and Felicities from St Cuthberts? Are you mad sir?

    Comment by Sanctuary — March 23, 2015 @ 10:02 am

  40. There’s a lot of unpacking needed there, I fear….

    Comment by Lee Clark — March 23, 2015 @ 11:08 am

  41. Love the Nat-hack’s latest poll spin in the Herald. “Untrusted!”. Yeah, that’s the big story here.

    Comment by sammy 3.0 — March 25, 2015 @ 7:50 pm

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