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Gordon Campbell on the Mana by election results

Gordon Campbell on the Mana by election results

When you’re hot you’re hot, the Nashville musician Jerry Reed once explained, and when you’re not, you’re not. Phil Goff must know that tune pretty well by now. Arguably. the Mana by election campaign contest should have been a homecoming celebration for Labour – a virtual handover of one of Labour’s safest seats (on paper at least) to its new representative. In the end, Labour scraped home.

To put things in perspective, Winnie Laban won for Labour by 6155, in a 2008 general election turnout of 82.88%. In proportion, and within the context of the 54.7% turnout in Mana on Saturday, that would translate to a Labour majority of 4199. Instead, Kris Faafoi won the seat by only 1,080 votes on the night.

Even in 2008, there had been signs of National’s latent strength in the electorate. While Laban’s margin was 52-34% over National’s Hekia Parata in the electorate race at the last general election, the party list vote in 2008 had broken down to a far closer 44-37% ratio. In other words, the comfort zone in the Mana electorate was for Laban alone. Faafoi, a naïve and uncertain campaigner with no ties to the electorate, was always going to struggle.

All that aside, a win is a win – and Labour will be just glad to put this struggle behind it. Yet the fact that a big final push by the party organization to get out the vote could produce only a severely shaved majority is a chastening prospect for Labour. Neither its candidate nor its leader managed to get traction in an electorate still feeling the impact of the recession and ripe for rebellion – one might have thought – against a government that has done nothing to dilute the impact of the economic hard times.

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Labour can probably find grounds for hope that National support has now hit its peak in Mana, and that in the context of a general election – with John Key focused elsewhere and the party’s resources similarly dispersed around the country – Faafoi should almost double his majority next time around. The policies likely to emerge early next year from the Welfare Working Group can also be expected to strengthen Labour’s position next time in Mana, and in other electorates with a similar socio-economic profile. In addition, centre right voters next time will also have the Maori Party, United Future and New Zealand First bidding for their support. All were MIA on Saturday.

National’s Hekia Parata can feel pretty pleased with herself about the outcome. For now, National’s hold on the voting public remains unshaken. More than anything, the Mana result has underlined that – just as with the Clark government ten years ago – it takes more than a single term in office before the majority of the voting public begin to experience the inevitable process of disenchantment. Not much comfort there for Phil Goff, who on the basis of this result, can look forward to much the same sort of drubbing next year as Bill English endured as National leader in 2002.

The other big winner on Saturday was the Greens candidate Jan Logie, who kept the Greens share of the vote within a respectable distance of its share in 2008, while beating off Matt McCarten’s bid in the process. McCarten would certainly have fared better if he hadn’t had the misfortune to run into a strong candidate from the social justice wing of the party, which effectively nobbled any hopes he might have had of collapsing the Green vote. Logie used to be Sue Bradford’s executive assistant, had been on the shortlist to run the Greens’ election campaign in 2008 and has a strong background in the NGO sector. On the basis of this showing, she should qualify for a high ranking on the party list next year.


Smoking in plain brown packets, and arresting Bush

The UK is considering an attack on smoking at the advertising source of its aura of glamour: namely, advertising. In future, cigarettes may be required to be sold in the UK within plain brown wrappers.

Little chance of that approach surfacing here, where the Key government has shied away from any health-related initiatives (eg raising the tax on alcohol) that are likely to impact on the bottom line of business.

In other weekend news a survey of 1,000 men in Afghanistan's turbulent Helmand and Kandahar provinces showed that 92 % of men in those regions had never heard of the 9/11 attacks, which must make the sudden presence of alien US troops in their country perplexing as well as unwelcome. Where is Fox News when you need it?

Meanwhile, conservative London mayor Boris Johnson has been warning George Bush that he might get arrested – for torture related reasons à la General Pinochet – if he turns up in Britain to flog his memoirs. (Hat tip to Juan Cole for these two links ).

It is not yet clear whether George W Bush is planning to cross the Atlantic to flog us his memoirs, but if I were his PR people I would urge caution. As book tours go, this one would be an absolute corker. It is not just that every European capital would be brought to a standstill, as book-signings turned into anti-war riots. The real trouble — from the Bush point of view — is that he might never see Texas again.

One moment he might be holding forth to a great perspiring tent at Hay-on-Wye. The next moment, click, some embarrassed member of the Welsh constabulary could walk on stage, place some handcuffs on the former leader of the Free World, and take him away to be charged. Of course, we are told this scenario is unlikely. Dubya is the former leader of a friendly power, with whom this country is determined to have good relations. But that is what torture-authorising Augusto Pinochet thought. And unlike Pinochet, Mr Bush is making no bones about what he has done.


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