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Christchurch East debacle a wake-up call for National

Last weekend’s Christchurch East by-election was an absolute debacle for National.

In 2011, 13,252 residents of Christchurch East turned out to back John Key and the governing party. That was a staggering 46% of the vote, well ahead of Labour, which has held the seat since 1922, on a pitiful 31%.

Even more remarkable, 10,225 voters backed National’s candidate, the lamentable Aaron Gilmore. Given that Mr Key was re-elected in 2011 by fewer than 10,000 votes, it was National’s extraordinary performance in the previously Labour stronghold of Christchurch that saved New Zealand from a Labour/Green/NZ First/Maori Party/Mana coalition.

It now appears Christchurch is again red.  On Saturday, just 3506 voters bothered to turn out for National’s Matthew Doocey, a shocking 26% result.  It means that nearly 10,000 National voters in suburbs like Shirley, Burwood, Aranui and New Brighton stayed home.  Fewer voters bothered to back born-and-bred-Cantabrian Mr Doocey than ticked the disastrous Melissa Lee in Mt Albert in 2009.

National kids itself that it was the victim of a low turnout but Labour’s campaign manager, Jim Anderton, managed to motivate nearly 90% of Labour’s 2011 party vote to get to the booths to back his candidate, Poto Williams.  That’s despite her being a recent arrival from Auckland and embarrassingly naïve in claiming Labour’s main policy plank, KiwiAssure, would somehow help resolve insurance disputes with existing providers relating to the 2010/11 earthquakes.

In contrast, even with Mr Key personally campaigning on the streets of Christchurch, National couldn’t get its voters out.  The main reason the turnout was so low was because National voters stayed home.

Bungled operations
National’s campaign was designed, as always, by cabinet supremo Steven Joyce.   He sent one of his most trusted lieutenants, Auckland-based Jo de Joux, to run operations. Wellington-based PR experts guided the local media campaign.

As NBR’s Christchurch correspondent Chris Hutching reported the day before the by-election, National undisputedly won the media battle.  Seldom a day went by without Mr Doocey, Mr Key or other senior party figures appearing in the local media shaking hands or kissing babies.  It created the impression that just as National had thumped Labour for the 2011 Christchurch East party vote, it had a chance of picking up the seat.

The historic importance had that been achieved cannot be overstated: no government has taken a seat from an opposition party in a by-election in New Zealand’s history.  Had National only got its 2011 party vote to the polling booths, David Cunliffe’s leadership of the Labour Party would now be at risk and Mr Key would be on track to win 2014.

Alas, Mrs de Joux’s team couldn’t get the voters to the booths.

By-election and general election campaigns cannot necessarily be compared.  In a by-election, hundreds of one-on-one interactions make the difference.  In a general election, media management is more important. In that area, the Christchurch East experience indicates National retains the edge.  

But as she prepares to run National’s general election campaign in 2014, Mrs de Joux will want to reflect carefully on what went wrong in Christchurch East.  In 2005, remember, it was Labour president Mike Williams’ extraordinary effort in getting his party’s South Auckland supporters to the polls that kept Don Brash out of power.  Labour never tires of telling us that, in 2011, had just a handful of the estimated 800,000 non-voters turned out for Phil Goff, Mr Key would have been defeated after a single term.

Developments this week have again weakened Mr Key’s chances for next year.  Boundary changes have probably helped Peter Dunne retain Ohariu but Act is headed for oblivion in its current form.  The Maori Party is struggling and cannot be relied to back National should it hold the balance of power.  Another disastrous coalition with Winston Peters is surely off the table.  Mr Key’s other hope, the Conservative Party’s Colin Craig, has caused a furore after seeming to question the 1969 moon landings.

To scrape home, Mr Key needs the 10,000 missing National voters in Christchurch East to turn out for him in 2014, and he can’t afford any turnout debacles elsewhere.  Mrs de Joux has a lot to think about over summer.

Comments and questions
7

The results of the Christchurch East By-election were;
1) National voters stayed home
2) Labour won a seat it's held since 1922. Wow
3) Greens had no confidence in Mojo their previous candidate
4) NZ First have only 7MPs 2 are from Christchurch. AWOL
5) Conservatives doubled their vote from 2011, sign of things to come
6) Act humiliated
7) ALCP, like Act result lower than an Independent.

National needs a reality check if it is to have any chance of winning next year. The best thing they could do is start listening to the people and deliver some legacy policy - instead of selling the crown jewels at a loss.

Act was not humiliated at all.

The result was disappointing, but not unexpected.

Christchurch East has traditionally been one of our worst electorates. We didn't even stand an electorate candidate in 2011, and the proportion of the total votes we achieved in the by-election was HIGHER than our proportion of party votes in 2011,albeit that was a disappointing result.

What we did do was to campaign beyond the Christchurch East electorate itself. We spent our billboard money on the eastern side of Christchurch Central, where not only Christchurch East voters would see them, but thousands of others as well, rather than entirely within the electorate itself.

As for the Conservative Party, they fish in the same pool as NZF, and with NZF not standing a candidate it was entirely predictable that the Conservative's proportion would be higher. I was surprised it wasn't even higher still.

However I do agree with Mathew Hooten, the roads and other infrastructure in the electorate are a disgrace 3 years after the earthquakes. National has cause to be concerned.

If National think they only have ChCh East or its successor worry about they should consider the following:- ChCh Central will go Red despite Nicky Wagner being OK but Waimakariri will almost return to Labour courtesy of a very poor performance by Kate Wilkinson and the number of former ChCh East residents who have moved to Kaiapoi. Port Hills may deliver a Party Vote shock as National have failed to do anything to assist re EQC or Insurers and the latest Colour changes on land smacks of incompetence and Jerry Brownlee is almost universally disliked for his perceived arrogant attitude and failure to understand the real problems living in limbo waiting for a repair or even a decision on repair/rebuild. Whilst no other party is currently performing any better in these matters Governments lose elections opposition don't win them or rarely. Will be a disaster if Labour form the next Government with the watermelons as economically National have done a pretty good job possibly a brilliant job. Wake up John Key sort out EQC and get declaratory judgments on key insurance matters, better still pass some retrospective legislation deeming interest on claims paid 6 months after the date of event and preferably at IRD rates to "encourage insurers " find a way to speedily settle claims and fairly.

John Key was originally voted in as the "redeemer ' - the guy with the smarts and the commercial nous to make a difference. He will unfortunately leave a legacy of asset sales that gained nothing for the Government or taxpayer and absolutely no legacy policy.

JK we don't need seats on the Security Council - we need you to wake up old son and roll your sleeves up and address the needs of NZ Inc.

It is scary but the South island will be the un-doing of National in 2014. They simply do not get it up there in Wellington in their Ivory Towers.The South Island is hurting, the people are fed up, the Government has had well over 3 years now to have taken control. Just look across the ditch, and see how quickly insurance companies repair serious damage like the very serious flooding in Brisbane, they have exactly 6 months by LAW, then they are in trouble if not completed. Here it means squat how long Southern Response takes and yet this is a Government owned and operated company and they still cannot get their act together, this alone will destroy national in the election.I actually think the Government is scared of Southern Response, a bit like the control they invested in CERA, not good for Christchurch.Brownlee is happy his house is now down in Fendalton and no doubt soon he will re-build, I would not mind betting he is not insured with Southern Response (AMI) so he could not 100% care about the poor "SR" claimants, watch this space.

Maybe it was simply a matter of which social worker/psych worker the electorate disliked the most . After all perscriptions for anti depressants which always were comparatively high in Christchurch appear to have been at record levels since the earthquake.
The assumption among the unrepresentative political elite which includes most serious bureaucrats and politicians is that the poor suburbs need more management, more social control, more restricted licensing and should just get a low paying job which will in fact wear them out and pay for little lifestyle.
Dalziel has never been popular with many sectors of the Christchurch electorate, many in the professional and semi professional sector, including some of my closest relatives, spat the word 'Communist' at the mention of the words. This rather flaky lawyer who had to make multiple efforts to pass Legal System, ( in my experience of the ultra right Canterbury Law School, passing for hard left ladies is a balanced assessment of how hot there looks are, raw IQ and how likely they are to accept the constraints of system to be effective barristers or commercial lawyer). How long such women take to start 'being passed' is always an interesting score.
That is to digress, but the far left Dalziel talks about the priortiy to establish a justice precint , a heatlh precint in the new council precint.
Christchurch and the CBD before the earthquale was basically a working class party town and despite the best efforts of Selman and the Cuban medical activists in the local branch of the medical school was becoming more so with the Henderson inspired SOL square. In the hipper areas of Christchurch and new lanes espresso bars, mingled with bars, mini casino, openly accepted brothels were tourists, students and middle class girls including quite a few productions of St Mags had their right of passage. Sex and booze was generally available for next to nothing and most of the student population after front loading on a doozen beers of shots and often among the Middle class liberal indulgence on what Nigella Lawson headed out to town to find a bedmate or drink till sunrise. THe working class more collectively got completly smashed in huge warehouse type bars to country or Irish bans.
Basically in Christchurch the moralising desire to enforce a pointless hard work culture that prevail among the working white poor and Act supporters was absent in Christchurch.
In my view given just how distasteful much of East Christchurh must find the belated adoption of hard left puritainsim and active do gooding by Dalziel the support for her and her out of town carpetbagger Social worker candidate simply must refect a very great hostility to somebody like a skinhead psych worker like Doocey.
His selection as a Nat candidate reflects the same idiocy that thought white west Auckland would vote for Banks and that its wise for the Nats to put in and actively support the likes of Celia Wade Brown or Dalziel. The arrogance and moral superiority of a Nat cacus which is largely from pretty well off backgrounds but pretty untalented by any objective standards means their hold on power is failing.
Nevertheless the earthquakes will have changed the desperate East Christchurch into an area where the needs and reactions of an electorate will be fast and flaky and have little in common with the much brighter and more beautiful and freeliving sentiment that prevailed in much of even poorer areas of Christchurch before the electorate and fickle and irrational electorate response in always to be expected from the know in many parts of NZ.
In essence the Nat candidate selection was totally wrong and in par the result is an irrelevant abberation but it also reflects a government and political elite that fails to grasp that much of NZ poor and working class had a good life and lifestyle until recently and aren't necessarily ready to accept a hard life without NZers need for pleasure and indulgence. The political class would be idiots if they fail people do not want to be managed and genally dislike social managers and social workers and the sort of aspirations and attitudes that prevail in Auckland and among the Nat neo con advisers, don't exist elsewhere in real NZ.