....and general election next year
Although recent opinion polls have shown Labour’s support dropping below 30%, suggesting it is now the underdog going into election year, party strategists still nourish the belief the Ardern government may emerge from the general election able with allied parties to hold on to office.
They are convinced the National Party has not won back the degree of support that would indicate it is a shoo-in at next year’s poll. This, they believe, will become clear after votes are counted in the Hamilton West by-election on December 10.
Back in Hamilton West Georgie Dansey, the Labour Party candidate, herself doesn’t believe the by-election will be a referendum on the government’s performance as much as a contest won or lost on local issues.
“Every electorate is different,” she says.Dansey is the chief executive of the Independent Schools Education Association and a small business owner. She has impressed in early campaigning and in defending a majority gained by Labour in 2020 of 6000, has a solid cushion.
The government, with plenty of cash in its back pocket, has made sure some of it is earmarked to be spent in Hamilton West.
National candidate Tama Potaka has a daunting task to shrink Labour’s majority to vanishing point, even if he taps into a rich vein of dissatisfaction with the government. The difficulty he faces is that National has not articulated clearly enough the kind of solutions it would apply to resolve the range of economic problems that have enveloped the country.
Of the other candidates, Dr Gaurav Sharma already has a high profile in the electorate, as the MP who secured the 6000-vote majority for Labour in 2020, but then fell foul of the party for his criticisms of Ardern, and the party’s administration. He seems to think the voters who gave him such a resounding majority will support him again. Almost certainly he will discover politics doesn’t work the way he thinks it should.
The ACT party has nominated a sitting MP Dr James McDowall to contest the by-election, and though he attracted only 5.4% of the vote in a neighbouring electorate in 2020 the experience he has gained as a list MP in the House has given the party’s leadership confidence in his candidacy. The former owner of an immigration firm in Hamilton, Dr McDowall has been ACT’s immigration and defence spokesman this term. He’s contributed to the party’s regular policy documents, including calling for more occupations to be placed on a fast track to residency and for defence spending to be increased to 2% of GDP.
McDowall’s performance in Hamilton West may give some indication whether ACT can lift its support to the point in 2023 where it could demand as many as four ministerial places in a right-of-centre government.
The TOP party also has a candidate Naomi Pocock running in Hamilton West. Under a new leader Raf Manji, TOP has invigorated its policy position. Manji stood in 2017 in the Christchurch electorate of Ilam, coming second to National’s Gerry Brownlee,beating the Labour candidate.
Notable absentees in Hamilton West are the Green Party and NZ First which may make strategic sense, but gives no clue on how either will perform next year.
The by-election campaign would have been enlivened by a NZ First candidacy, particularly if it had drawn Winston Peters out of his Northland lair.
Despite lying low for over two years, there was little doubt Peters would be sniffing the political breeze again and deciding he could once more become the ringmaster he was in 2005 and 2017.
He shares with Donald Trump the belief he has been the wronged victor, and voters will barely be able to wait to restore him to high office. The difference as he prepares for 2023 is that he is ruling out working with Labour again.
Whether that is a message that may resonate with Hamilton West voters will not be known until December 10.
Point of Order is a blog focused on politics and the economy run by veteran newspaper reporters Bob Edlin and Ian Templeton