Kiwiblog Manages Mana Meme Marvelously
New Zealand’s smash-hit politics and current affairs site, Kiwiblog, wears its National Party allegiance lightly. Founder, David Farrar, keeps his conservative politics in check and gives credit where it’s due across the political spectrum. This ecumenical approach has won his site a wide and diverse following.
On the question of the Mana by-election, however, it is tough not to conclude that Kiwiblog is doing some hard yards for the National Party. This post is the latest effort to portray Mana as all but unwinnable for National when nothing could be further from the truth. I have written earlier about how Labour has strangely opted out of the expectations game in Mana — and have thereby allowed the Kiwiblog meme to take hold. This is an unfortunate — and unforced — strategic capitulation on Labour’s part.
I feel obliged to fly the flag for the Mana Labour Party here: this by-election is an uphill slog and National have at least an even chance. First, however, is Farrar’s case:
- 1. The history of by-elections in New Zealand suggests a government pick-up is unlikely (weak)
2. The turnout is likely to be low (weaker)
3. Key’s popularity won’t translate into vote-switches (weakest)
Kiwiblog deserves credit for allowing that the chance of a National pick-up is not nil, a modest but notable shift on its part. Perhaps, by November, Farrar and I will meet in the middle somewhere — but not yet. Here’s why I think his argument doesn’t stack up:
- 1. While history is useful as a general guide on these matters, I don’t see the same definitive pattern Farrar does. Admittedly, my research is limited to a couple of hours’ wading through old election results and Wikipedia snippets (as well as my frail and fractured memory), but nothing suggests that the Mana by-election is bound to any immutable historical precedent. The current political climate is a far more compelling guide — and far less comforting for Labour. If we agree that 2,500 is the nominal margin, National could achieve it without breaking a sweat — given the right conditions.
- 2. This brings me to the genius at the heart of Farrar’s argument: he concedes that the political conditions are indeed favourable to National but pivots with breathtaking speed to suggest that this will not translate electorally:
- “…the PM is a popular Prime Minister, but being popular doesn’t necessarily mean voters will want to take a seat off the Opposition and give it to the Government as a thank you note.”
I can’t help but admire the audacity here. Of course John Key’s popularity will help National’s chances in Mana, and to suggest otherwise is just spin. You could argue that it won’t help enough to overcome a 2,500 vote margin but it flies in the face of common sense to suggest that people will vote against the government they support in favour of an opposition they don’t for clever-sticks tactical reasons. Voters don’t “take a seat off” the incumbent party as if playing chess; they make a choice based on who they support at the time. And this time, I would suggest, the popularity of the Key Government will translate, straight-forwardly enough, to a some degree of vote-switching. Enough for Mana to change hands? I suspect so, but hope not.
3. If the “National Can’t Win” crowd keep saying a low turn-out is good news for Labour I may be forced to conclude that they actually believe it. This notion strikes me as so completely bogus that I can’t really see the point in rebutting it, except for this: Mana/Porirua had a low-stakes, low turnout election as recently as yesterday. Take a look at the outcome of that and do, as the Columbia University students whose wifi I am currently thieving might put it, the math.