Could balance of NZ political power hang on a single word?

Image: TVNZ

It’s always risky to call an election result in advance. So I’m going to resist the temptation.

But, barring an extraordinary infusion of yet more pork, I find it hard to imagine how National are going to win Northland at the by-election in two weeks’ time.

Because they can’t / won’t / don’t know to say “sorry”.

By-elections are never fun for governing parties. They are inevitably used as an opportunity for people to register protest and the margins which incumbent MPs usually enjoy in General Elections usually evaporate on these occasions.

At a National Party fund-raising lunch in Kerikeri on Thursday last week the Prime Minister warned the party faithful in words of one syllable that unless National supporters come out in their droves over the next two weeks to vote Mark Osborne in , Winnie The Pooh will be this province’s next Member of Parliament.

And National’s legislative programme as it currently stands will be almost impossible to achieve as they lose their Parliamentary majority.

I hang out predominantly with conservative Northland voters. And, to the PM’s point, I can attest that more than half of my politically-conservative Northland clients, buddies and buddy-clients simply won’t be voting.

While they can’t stand the thought of voting for either Winnie or for Labour, they do feel (rightly or wrongly) aggrieved that National has taken the Northland vote for granted for way too long and delivered precious-little by way of economic development stimuli for this most economically and socially depressed of all New Zealand provinces.

Some have even expressed a quiet hope that Winnie does take the seat, precisely so that the result can send them a message.

It’s a kind of kamikaze political mentality: they know that Winnie will be a diabolical MP for the region but, oh, what the hell. It’s time the Nats woke up to the fact that we’re worth something up here.

Which brings me to my point.

These aggrieved and grumpy potential National voters won’t be turning out for a few bridges to nowhere. Or for the hint of faster internet connectivity in a smattering of Northland towns. They’ll turn out for one thing and one thing only. An apology.

Something along the lines of: “Look, we know you’re grumpy. And we know why. We’re very sorry we’ve disappointed you. We’ve heard your message, though, and we promise to put things right. But no matter how much we want to, we’re simply not going to get a chance to unless you turn out and vote. So VOTE for our boy. Please.”

That’s the silver bullet. But you know what? I don’t think it’s going to happen. Because By-election PR 1.01 says it’s a bad idea. Never concede. Never focus on a negative. Bullshit and bluster your way through.

My conservative buddies seem to believe that, when it comes to Northland this year, it’s time the National Party threw out the rule-book. Or at least wrote a new chapter. What do you think?

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