There were a whole lot of counter-balancing things going on in Northland. On one hand it was a super-safe National seat. On the other hand, that whole Sabin thing. But then again, the National Party political machine: Key, Joyce, Crosby/Textor, Curia, shitloads of money – they threw everything at this. But their actual candidate was a total novice going up against Winston Peters. And there was strategic voting. And the media bias against National was overwhelming. And voters could ‘send a message’ without changing the government.
I feel like all of these things should have factored against each other to produce a narrow win for National. Maybe a really narrow contested-on-the-specials win for Peters. And I was wrong. It was a landslide. Two factors counted for a lot more than they should have. They were, I think:
- The National machine under-performed. Not only did they get the tone of their messaging horribly wrong – the bridge bribe, the fleets of crown limos – but the actual on-the-ground organisation was, apparently, a total shambles until the final week of the campaign. People told me that while the campaign was underway and I simply didn’t believe them. How can you pour that much money and that much expertise into something and deliver such a catastrophe?
- Like I said in a previous post, the huge number of Labour supporters who turned out to cast strategic votes for another party in a by-election was (a) decisive and (b) surprising.
What does it all mean? The symbolism is obvious. All the actual result tells us is that in extraordinary circumstances a strong populist conservative candidate can win a seat off National so long as Labour doesn’t contest it.