By any measure, the Hamilton West by-election result sends a profound message to the Government.
Sixteen thousand three hundred fifty-nine voters in Hamilton West who voted for the Labour candidate at the general election in 2020 were not prepared to do the same thing for Labour’s Georgie Dansey in the by-election.
The only consolation Labour might get from this is that they were also not prepared to ultimately turn away from Labour and vote National.
Its candidate, Tama Potaka, got 7807 fewer votes than its candidate, Tim McIndoe got in 2020.
So between them, National and Labour saw over 24,000 of their 2020 voters simply not bother to vote.
Labour always knew they were up against the odds.
They were behind in the nationwide polls to begin with; then, during the campaign, there was the Sandringham Indian shop assistant murder which resonated in the Waikato because he came from Cambridge.
Then the Governor of the Reserve Bank announced that New Zealand would be in recession next year.
To counter this, Dansey focused on local issues.
As if this wasn’t enough, it seems the former Labour MP, Gaurav Sharma, departed Labour with not only a number of its activists but also crucial data like the party’s hoarding lists.
On paper, it might look like he split Dansey’s vote with his eight per cent, but he was disproportionately strong in Nawton, the Hamilton suburb where he had strong connections through his work in a nearby medical practice and his relationship with a local community centre which worked with the largely low-decile Maori and Pasifika residents of the suburb.
He didn’t seem to impact Labour much in their traditional strongholds, the statehouse suburbs like Melville.
Again, what hit Labour was its stay-away voters.
Meanwhile, National got near their 2020 election night totals in their strongholds like Pukete and St Andrews.
Potaka’s election night total of 6629 was a respectable 45 per cent of McIndoe’s total in 2020, but even so, there were still 7807 missing National voters.
This was a vote where the two main parties mobilised their core supporters.
With the exception of ACT, whose candidate, sitting list MP James McDowell beat the party’s 2020 candidate Roger Weldon’s vote by 276 votes, the minor parties played virtually no role in the campaign.
The Greens and NZFirst didn’t stand, and The Opportunities Party ran an energetic campaign but ended up with only 337 votes, well down on their 2020 vote of 1024.
It is hard to see them being a force to reckon with come the next election.
National will be pleased with their campaign, which was run by Jo de Joux, who will run their general election campaign next year.
She placed a strong emphasis on a consistent national message rather than local issues.
In that sense, it was a dry run for next year’s general election.
National’s big fear was that it might not do well and that Christopher Luxon’s leadership would come into question.
Maybe that was why he invested himself in the campaign much more than he had in Tauranga.
Luxon is starting to have an impact on the party.
He said at one point during the campaign that he had known Tama Potaka for 18 months which suggests that he was a persuasive force in getting him to be a candidate in Hamilton West.
Potaka has been the CEO of the Ngāi Tai ki Tāmaki Tribal Trust which has ancestral rights to the Hauraki Gulf islands of Rangitoto and Motutapu.
The iwi claims exclusive rights to run trips to the islands and tours on them.
Coming into a caucus that has only one Te Reo speaker (Shane Reti), Potaka will add to Luxon’s desire for more diversity within the caucus.
That desire was evident in more National candidates elections announced yesterday.
In Te Atatu, the party announced a 28-year-old Cook Island-born lawyer, Angee Nicholas, would be its candidate.
She is currently a solicitor at the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in Care.
Interestingly the press statement about her selection did not contain National’s standard phrase announcing that a candidate had “been selected by local party members”.
That indicated that Te Atatu did not have enough members to meet the party’s threshold to enable local members to make the selection.
Instead, it would have been made by the party board of which Luxon is a member.
National also announced that its 2020 Christchurch candidate Dale Stephens (Te Rarawa would stand for the seat again.
A former police officer, Stephens is New Zealand Trade and Enterprise’s Director of Māori Partnership in Christchurch.
Luxon is heading a fundamental overhaul of National’s selections.
Potaka is the first visible statement of what has been going on.
But now the challenge for Luxon will be to convert those reluctant former Labour voters into National voters.