Richard Prebble: What is significant is what is not happening in the Tauranga by-election
By-elections can be harbingers of political realignment. In 2015 National was polling 50 percent seemingly heading to govern alone after the next election. Then Winston Peters won the Northland by-election. 18 months later New Zealand First, Labour and the Greens ousted National.
Prime Ministers only resort to cabinet reshuffles when their government is in trouble. In the country polls National has broken through the important 40 percent hurdle. Labour is polling around 35 percent. The Tauranga by-election will confirm whether the polling is correct.
But it is what is not happening in the by-election that is most important.
“All I want to be is MP for Tauranga”, Winston Peters, is not standing. If Winston thought he had a chance, he would be a candidate. Tauranga confirms New Zealand First is a spent force.
The Tauranga by-election should be an opportunity for Labour to deliver a devastating blow to National. Far from being a safe National seat Tauranga is a maverick electorate.
At the last election Labour won the party vote, 42% for Labour to just 32.5% for National.
Simon Bridges held the seat on his personal popularity.
The reason for by-elections affects the result. The electorate is sympathetic when it is caused by death or illness. Voters do not like having to vote again just because their MP has a better job offer.
By-elections focus on the quality of the candidates. The Hon Jan Tinetti has the advantage of having stood for Tauranga twice before. As a cabinet minister she can deliver for Tauranga.
In contrast National’s candidate, Sam Uffindell, is an unknown rookie who can deliver nothing.
But it is not happening for Labour in the by-election.
Jacinda Ardern is being disingenuous when she down plays Labour’s chances by saying the party has not held the seat since 1935. She will have seen Labour’s internal polling.
There are two public polls, the Reid poll and the Kantar Poll.
The Reid Research poll puts National’s Sam Uffindell on 56.9 percent of the vote, a massive increase on Simon Bridges 42.8 percent. Labour’s Jan Tinetti is on a disastrous 21.9 percent, a huge swing from her last election’s 35.5 percent.
Last Sunday’s Kandor poll has the parties closer. National is on 45 percent and Labour on 35 percent.
Both polls are relatively small and have significant margins for error. It is safer to average the polls. Averaging puts National on 50 percent. Both polls reveal a big swing to the Center/right.
The polls put Act candidate, Cameron Luxton, in third place on over 7 percent, up from 3.9 percent at the election. The near doubling of the party’s vote indicates Act is making things happen.
It is not happening for the Greens. The Greens have not stood a candidate. Apparently climate change no longer requires the party to campaign. In May the party announced their 20 candidates for the next election. The list did not include a candidate for Tauranga. Maybe the Greens’ complex candidate selection process is the reason for the inexplicable decision not to field a candidate.
The Reid poll included polling the Greens’ Party vote in Tauranga. In reaction to the failure to have a candidate the Greens polled at just 2.8 percent, a wipeout in a General Election.
The Tauranga by-election may be the harbinger that the Greens will not escape the third party MMP curse. Every third party in a governing coalition under MMP has at the next election been ejected from parliament.
The Maori Party polled very well in the Reid poll. Its party vote has increased to 4.7 percent. The Maori Party at 4.7 percent in a general election could sweep the Maori seats and or gain list members. By making the absurd claim the Tauranga is so racist it is unsafe to stand a candidate the opportunity to make things happen for the Maori Party has been missed.
It is always a mistake not to campaign.
Jacinda Ardern is just not happening. The PM is willing to travel to Washington and Canberra but not to Tauranga. In 18 months. Jacinda has gone from the leader of the fight against covid to an out of touch PM who has denied the cost of living is a crisis.
The captain of the team of five million was the party’s greatest asset. Today Jacinda is a polarizing figure who attracts a mob of protestors. Many of those protestors have lost their careers because of the vaccine mandates that she pledged never to introduce.
Every Jacinda walk-about produces TV pictures no candidate wants to be in.
If Jacinda cannot campaign in a by-election why will she be able to campaign in a general election?
To have any hope of winning the next election Labour needs to quickly resolve the vaccine mandate grievance.
Richard Prebble CBE is a former member of the New Zealand Parliament. Initially a member of the Labour Party, he joined the newly formed ACT New Zealand party under Roger Douglas in 1996, becoming its leader from 1996 to 2004