National UnravelsPosted: June 15, 2009
National is putting a brave face on its loss in the Mt Albert by-election, stating that it was always the underdog and that it never expected to win. However, this merely masks the extent to which it has tumbled since it started the campaign. Initially, it had brave hopes. Labour was at a very low ebb, National, on the other hand, had popular support on a number of issues. The Government’s attitude in Parliament reflected this new reality, with National and ACT members running procedural and oratory rings around their hapless Labour counterparts.
National was very confident that it had a real chance in Mt Albert. At the beginning of the campaign, it was Labour that was seen to be on the back foot, lacking coherent policy and seemingly, any charisma. Political commentators opined that it would be a close run between National and Labour. In short, the by-election was National’s to lose. And, lose it, National did.
At the beginning of the Parliamentary term, a newish National MP asked John Key a patsy question in the House. The gist of the question was how confident was the Government that it had popular support. John Key answered that the high level of support for the Government was reflected in the opinion polls, which showed Labour in the mid 20 percent rate and National in the mid 50s. This was followed by snickering from the National MP’s and blunted wailing from Labour’s. Key would have done better to have kept in mind the political proverb attributed to UK Labour Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, who commented that ‘a week is a long time in politics, and a fortnight an eternity.’
National chose the wrong candidate in Melissa Lee. A favourite of John Key and of the party leadership, she was seen as having been parachuted into the position over the previous National candidate, Ravi Musuku. She then proceeded to blunder from one gaffe to another as the campaign progressed. Her comments on the motorway, followed by her refusal to front at meetings in the electorate provided the impression of a candidate who was afraid to appear in front of voters. Even her jokes backfired on her, with her comments about MPs working long hours for low pay which she gave at the launch of the Unite Union’s campaign in favour of raising the minimum wage, making her look ‘out of touch’ and arrogant.
Into this mix was the decision by National to press ahead with the motorway, which meant bulldozing hundreds of residential properties, the somewhat teenage stalking by MP Richard Worth of two women and the continuing saga of the Auckland Super-city, spearheaded by ACT Minister, Rodney Hide. When you have friends like ACT, one wonders, who needs enemies? By the end of May, National looked slightly seedy and slightly shabby.
However, despite its convincing win, Labour should not take the Mt Albert result as vindication for its strategies and programme. In spite of Labour swamping the electorate with its workers and its supporters, what really superbly aided its campaign were National’s own appalling political decisions and their final one to desert Melissa Lee, leaving her to sink.
Labour still lacks a coherent programme, its policies and strategies offer the same approach as they did prior to its General Election loss (Tory-lite). In this, Labour’s candidate David Shearer is a prefect representative, presenting himself as conservative and bland, much like Labour’s leader, Phil Goff. Labour, remains an aimless Party, pursuing an aimless agenda.
At the end of the day, Labour won in Mt Albert, because National lost.