Armstrong: Northland a loss for National, either way

A narrow win is about as good as it is going to get for John Key next Saturday night after the votes have been counted in that day’s Northland by-election.

After a torrid campaign where more has gone wrong than has gone right, National will grab any kind of win, no matter how feeble.

But a week from polling day, the overriding impression remains that the mood of the electorate is such that next Saturday is going to be payback time for Winston Peters and humiliation time for National.

What is difficult to gauge is whether National’s share of the vote will sink to levels to accommodate such an eventuality.

It will have to fall a long way.

You have to go back to National’s nadir – the 2002 election – to find a scenario where New Zealand First and Labour combined outpolled National.

That was in the party vote – not the electorate vote which still flowed in copious quantities to the ever-popular John Carter.

There is evidence that National is expecting to take a major hit, however.

Three weeks ago, Mr Key was not giving Mr Peters ”any chance” of winning.

This week, the Prime Minister was talking of the ”difficulties” and ”challenges” in fighting a by-election as the ruling party even in supposedly safe National seats.

To say there is a blind panic in the lofty parts of the National Party is not overstating it. ?The total arrogance and overconfidence of a month ago has evaporated, and right now it looks like even a win will be a loss.

Mr Peters has so far run a near-faultless campaign.

National has run what must be one of the party’s worst.

But there are things beyond Mr Peters’ control which might well have a significant impact on the outcome of the by-election.

First, a fair chunk of those seriously flirting with voting for Mr Peters will still harbour some residual loyalty to National.

Confronted by the ballot paper, many will do what they have always done – tick the box next to the National candidate.

Second, much hangs on National getting identified supporters to the polling booths.

With National Party membership in the electorate among the highest in the country, there should be no shortage of volunteers to work the phones and ferry targeted voters to a polling place.

Third, Labour’s candidate, Willow-Jean Prime, is still on the ballot paper.

And although Andrew Little has given Labour supporters clear licence, though not clear instruction to vote for Mr Peters, Ms Prime will still pick up a large bundle of votes to Mr Peters’ cost.

Fourth, neither the Greens nor Colin Craig’s Conservative Party are standing a candidate.

That leaves about 5000-plus votes up for grabs.

Mr Craig’s share would logically switch to National.

Green Party supporters would have to swallow hard to vote for either National or Mr Peters.

This is where Armstrong loses the plot. ?The whole by-election is to ‘send a message’. ?Greens and Labour voters will happily vote for Winston if it means scuttling the RMA and extending the middle finger to National.

Northland will dispose of Winston at the next general election. ?Even Winston isn’t pretending this is a long term love-affair.

National are in deep doo-doos. ?It’s going to be interesting.


– NZ Herald