While National’s victory in the Tauranga By-election does not change the numbers in Parliament, it confirms Labour is in serious trouble. The Labour Party would have known that from their own polling during the campaign.
That may be why Jacinda Ardern was nowhere to be seen during the campaign. It is extraordinary for a party leader to not make an appearance on the ground during a by-election campaign – even if only to gee up the troops. As Richard Prebble observed in a recent column, Jacinda Ardern is willing to travel to Washington and Canberra but not to Tauranga. It is telling that the master of selfies is exuberant when addressing the woke crowd from Harvard but shrinks away when challenged in the street by ordinary citizens - just as she lacked the courage to speak to ordinary folk protesting about mandates on the grounds of Parliament.
Labour should have done well in this by-election.
Jan Tinetti contested the seat in 2017 and 2020 and presumably is well known to the electorate. She has been an MP since 2017 and has had numerous platforms to build a profile. In 2020 she gained 39% of the electorate vote, just 1856 votes behind Simon Bridges, and Labour gained 42% of the Party vote against National’s 33%. Tinetti is also a cabinet minister (albeit one of the invisible ones) and she was up against a no-profile newbie from the National Party.
Furthermore, the Greens did not run a candidate in the by-election. Tinetti should have hoovered up all of the left-wing votes. Despite those advantages, Labour bombed.
National gained 56.3%, Labour 25.2%, and ACT 10.3%. That result puts National on a par with the electorate votes Simon Bridges received in the elections from 2008 to 2017.
The National/ACT block gained 67% of the electorate vote (47.5% in 2020).
Labour gained just 25% against a combined vote of 43.6% for the Labour and Green candidates in 2020.
The Tauranga result confirms polling trends. The 2020 election result was clearly a COVID aberration – it will not be repeated in 2023. In many respects, 2023 is shaping up to be like 2017, except ACT has picked up the NZ First votes and taken over its kingmaker role.
Labour’s only prospect in 2023 is to stitch together a coalition with the Greens and the Maori Party, and Labour will know only too well that the prospect of a Labour/Greens/Maori government may be too scary for more than 50% of the electorate to stomach.
The minnow parties outside of Parliament have a lot of work to do if they are to have any chance of gaining enough traction to be of any concern to the main players. Collectively, they picked up around 8% of the vote in the by-election, and by-elections are typically an opportunity for anti-establishment parties to make an impression. The task will only get harder at next year’s general election. There has been talk of bringing the minnows together under a single banner, but that seems unlikely given their disparate interests. The window of opportunity for a small party to fill the void while National was highly unpopular appears to be closing as Chris Luxon emerges as a credible Prime Minister in waiting and ACT fills the gap vacated by NZ First.
Voter turnout: 38% (83% 2020 General election)