And the winner of the Christchurch East byelection is ... Labour's Poto Williams
"Williams actually increased the majority. Not bad for a first timer. For many it was a referendum on National's Christchurch performance, which is why it's so worrying for the govt"Featured comment
UPDATE: Labour's Poto Williams has has easily won Christchurch East in today's byelection.
Ms Williams - a social worker of Cook Islands descent - received 8119 of the 13,318 votes cast, demolishing earlier suggestions that demographic changes could make the seat more competitive.
National Party candidate Matthew Doocey placed second on 3506.
The result was a positive for Labour leader David Cunliffe, who frequently campaigned alongside Ms Williams.
In the minor party stakes, potential National coalition partner the Conservatives - whose canidate gained 3.5% - thrashed ACT.
Soto Williams (Labour): 8119
Matthew Doocey (National): 3506
David Moorhouse (Green): 929
Leighton Baker (Conservative): 487
Sam Park (independent): 75
Paula Lambert (Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party): 56
Gareth Vale (ACT): 56
Adam Holland (independent): 31
Jenner Lichtwark (Democrats for Social Credit): 20
Ian Gaskin (independent): 19
Disallowed votes: 23
EARLIER: If media coverage is any gauge, National has surged in the runup to this weekend’s Christchurch East by-election publicity.
Scarcely a day goes by without a bevy of National supporters winging in to hold the hand of their candidate Matthew Doocey.
Yesterday, in the Press, Mr Doocey was pictured on the knee of Santa at a shopping centre gazing at Minister of Social Development Paula Bennett, who was on the other knee.
And in what must surely have been satirical treatment, the newspaper featured Prime Minister John Key holding a baby the other day.
Even Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee made a foray from his well-heeled Fendalton electorate recently to carry out a door-knocking stint in the east with cameras in tow.
Labour leader David Cunliffe and some fellow MPs have also been in town, supporting hopeful Poto Williams but they don’t seem to have captured the media to the same degree.
For most political observers this by-election is a cliff hanger, largely because of long term and more recent demographic changes.
And, for the same demographic reasons, it may not provide much of a steer for what will happen at next year’s national election.
The “godfather” of the Labour movement in Christchurch, David Close, says he has heard of such wildly differing scenarios for the outcome that it’s impossible to be definitive. Mr Close is a former city councillor and enjoyed various directorships. He remains on quangos such as the advisory board to the Prime Minister’s $100 million earthquake relief fund, which is now mostly spent.
The fact is, he says, Labour has lost traction in all recent government and local authority elections. Even at community board level Labour now has two compared with three previously.
Labour’s loss in the neighbouring electorate, Christchurch Central, was a big shock in the last elections. It had been held strongly under Tim Barnett who had a large network of supporters. But this dissipated somewhat under Brendon Burns, and combined with the effect of the earthquakes, the electorate chose National’s Nicky Wagner by a narrow margin.
Mr Close says that for nearly 50 years after World War II Christchurch East was safely Labour’s. Younger scribes on local newspapers continue to repeat the cliché but he says it’s no longer true.
Over the past two decades there has been an urban transformation in the eastern suburbs.
They are no longer the place where cheap housing is developed.
Ngai Tahu’s Tumara Park and the Waitakere subdivisions now sport houses costing $600,000 to $700,000 compared with the median of $400,000.
Home ownership in the east is above average when compared to other places in New Zealand although it still has the highest proportion of people on benefits.
It has become an electorate with greater extremes, Mr Close says.
Then there is the earthquake effect – about 10,000 people have left Christchurch east and electoral boundaries require redrawing.
No one knows the effect of this migration yet. Mr Close says that while there are plenty of vocal, grumpy voters still awaiting insurance settlements and house repairs, there is also a sizeable number who have been satisfied.
When pressed, Mr Close falls back on his faith in the Labour family and says he thinks Ms Williams will win.
All will be known by about 7pm Saturday evening.