A Northland win for Winnie: A short term gain but a long term loss for the left?

But the Opposition’s gain in the by-election, if Mr Peters wins, might be its long-term loss.

People seem to forget Mr Peters is a former National MP. New Zealand First was in coalition with National from 1996 to 1998.

It is possible Mr Peters might be a minister in the present Government now, had National not had enough support from ACT, United Future and the Maori Party to form a third-term government.

And while Mr Peters will undoubtedly need the votes of centre-left supporters to take Northland, it will be longstanding National voters switching their allegiance which will do most to make him the electorate’s MP.

Those National supporters will be able to do that, not just because of frustration with their own party, but because in Mr Peters they recognise a fellow traveller.

A win for Mr Peters would force National to take him more seriously. Rather than foreshadowing a difficult run to the next election that relationship might just ensure John Key gets a fourth term as Prime Minister, this time leading a National-New Zealand First Government.

So, for Labour, and, to a lesser extent, the Green Party, there is much to think about.

Does it take the immediate tactical advantage of taking a seat off National, or think more strategically and ask itself what might the result mean for the next general election?

It is too simplistic to believe a victory for Mr Peters is immediately all good news for the centre-left.

Will Northland maximise the short term benefits or the long term benefits? ?

While Northland voters might be flattered by all the attention, they might also ask why.

Take Mr Peters. He is right. He spent quite a bit of time in the electorate at the last election touting for party votes.

But, despite saying the electorate has been neglected by National, he did not stand in Northland last year nor did any other candidate from his party.

Mr Peters is standing now because the by-election represents an opportunity for him to promote his party and make life difficult for National.

National, too, is suddenly showing much greater interest in Northland for the very reason that its stranglehold on the seat appears to be under threat.

Labour is now hedging its bets about who voters should support because it believes National could be defeated by Mr Peters, not by its own candidate.

All three parties are playing politics with the region but once the by-election is over their focus will shift back to Wellington.

Northland voters should enjoy the attention while it lasts.

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-?Brent Edwards, RNZ

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