The Winston Peters difference

Instead of sending press releases from Wellington like Steve Joyce does, Winston is getting down and dirty and talking to the people. ? Scarily, for all of us, this is how votes are earned.

At a Kaikohe engineering supply shop, Wade, behind the counter, says the region’s infrastructure is struggling. “If he can bring extra [investment] to Northland that’s got to be good. But if he’s just doing it for his own agenda that would be sad.”

On the street, a Peters fan accepts the “old campaigner” is keener on hurting National than helping Northland but is adamant he would prove “outstanding” for the region.

How serious is the Peters threat to this rural National stronghold? Serious enough to scare the bejesus out of the Government.

National’s Mike Sabin (whose January 30 resignation forced the byelection) captured 52 per cent of the votes last September; twice as many as his nearest rival. NZ First last fielded a candidate here in 2005. But polls place Peters neck and neck with National rookie Mark Osborne, who was wet-nursed around the electorate this week by the likes of Steven Joyce, Paula Bennett and John Key.

Wherever they went, Mark was pretty much ignored as the National rock stars took all the lime light. ?Only when it was his time to speak did it give the appearance of people coming to listen to him. ?But before, and soon after formal presentations, the crowds would move away from Osborne. ?

Since the scary polls, money has been found to replace 10 one-lane bridges – a few of which were previously scheduled, only for funding to be pulled. On Thursday, a previously announced funding boost for ultra-fast broadband was dressed up as new.

It’s not just the spectre of a byelection loss in a safe seat. With 60 seats in Parliament, National can pass legislation with just one minor party vote. With 59, it would need two – meaning contentious reforms such as the latest assault on the RMA would not get through.

Labour leader Andrew Little saw this and virtually invited supporters to vote Winston.

Peters’ campaign presses regional sorepoints, summed up by the call to arms on the side of the bus. Northland has been neglected. It is a leading export region yet it lags behind other regions in infrastructure, wage growth, education and jobs.

“We’ve got to make export provinces gods in this country like we used to,” he tells patrons at the Mangonui Hotel. “They’ve forgotten who creates the wealth.”

Peters is talking to them, while National is talking at them. ? He’s a veteran campaigner who always lifts his support as soon as he puts his face around the media and the electorate.

National’s biggest problem is that many of its supporters want to send it a message. Around Wellsford, they’re still steamed up over the law change to get Kaipara District Council out of the rates mess it created with the Mangawhai sewage scheme. Not to mention the forced amalgamation with Auckland.Across the seat, there’s real hurt that voters weren’t told before the September election that Sabin was under police investigation. The question dogs every campaign meeting: When exactly did National know? Osborne can offer only a Hoss Cartwright-like grimace while Key tells media in Kerikeri that National was bound by process.

Peters is merciless. The hugely-costly byelection could have been avoided, he tells patrons at the Mangonui Hotel, before hinting at more. “[But] I’m not here to spread malice and gossip … ”

If Peters wins on March 28, it won’t be because of bridges and potholes and wealth disparities or the Cheshire grin. It will be because National voters felt taken for granted.

And that’s why Joyce and de Joux are making a mess of it. ?They have no idea what they’re doing.

If National do not lose, it will be because of the hard work on the ground by dedicated supporters that actually understand how these things work.


-?Geoff Cumming, NZ Herald