For the second time in recent months, National Party supporters have stayed at home on election day only to allow Labour an overwhelming victory.
First was the centre left’s clean sweep in the Auckland Council elections in October and now the Mt Roskill by-election has seen Labour hold the seat in a landslide thanks to a seven per cent swing from National to Labour.
The story of the election was simple; Labour got its vote out, National didn’t.
There are though some important caveats about the result.
First, Labour’s vote was inflated by the absence of NZ First and the Greens from the race.
And second, the Prime Minister made it clear that neither the election nor the result mattered much to National.
National’s President, Peter Goodfellow, told POLITIK yesterday that it was not an unexpected result.
“It’s not a party vote campaign; it was an individual by-election, and all by-elections are different to general elections,” he said.
“I think we will certainly note what happened but I’m not particularly concerned that our voters didn’t turn out.
“They didn’t turn out; that’s the reality of it.”
Even so, National took some big hits.
At the legendary Maungawhau School polling booth in leafy Mt Eden, for years the booth that swung the way the country swung, Parmar’s share of the vote went down from 47.16% at the general election to 37.49% on Saturday.
What should worry National is that even though overall votes at the booth were down 28% on the general election; Labour’s candidate, Michael Wood actually got nine more votes than former MP Phil Goff did in 2014.
Needless to say, Labour were ebullient about the result.
While National could muster only Steven Joyce, Paula Bennett and Paul Goldsmith along with party officials and members to front up to Parmar’s post-election party; Labour had a full array of its front bench and Auckland MPs at the Winstone Park Tennis Club to celebrate at a packed and ethnically diverse victory party for Wood.
Labour Leader Andrew Little described it as a “stunning” result because of the size of Wood’s majority (6418) even though the overall vote was down.
And he echoed the private comments of many of his colleagues when he said the message they had been getting on the campaign trail was that there were issues that people were really hurting about.
“People are concerned that their adult children or grand children can’t get their first home,” he said.
Labour pushed that issue during the campaign.
But perhaps what is important about Labour’s campaign in this by-election was how it broke with the past by ignoring attacks on John Key and by avoiding identity politics.
The new Labour leadership team of party president, Nigel Haworth, party Secretary General, Andrew Kirton and Andrew Little is a very different proposition to what Labour went into the last election with.
Their goal in Mt Roskill was to win their heartland, and they did that.
In contrast. National’s heartland stayed at home.
The National campaign can’t be blamed for that; it was well organised and seemed (judging by the number of billboards) to be well funded.
Party officials said it had been a chance to try out some new software they had purchased from overseas, but they were not willing to discuss what it did – though they did say not all of it worked.
So was the prob;em the candidate?
Several of Parmar’s Parliamentary colleagues have told POLITIK that she was the wrong choice.
Partly that was because as a high caste Sikh with a Ph D she polarised the huge Indian community, most of whom are Gujarati small businessmen or wage workers, in the electorate.
She also clearly lacked an empathetic common touch.
One senior MP said, “she’s a great list MP, a good member in the House but not a good choice as an electorate MP.”
But on Saturday night, National’s Campaign Chair, Steven Joyce, was full of praise for Parmar.
“Parmjeet you have been an excellent candidate,” he said.
“You worked tremendously hard.
“Nobody worked harder than you.”
He said she had shown how good she was.
Parmar herself said the result was disappointing, but it was always hard for the Government to win a by-election seat off the Opposition.
She pledged her ongoing support to Mt Roskill.
That leaves the worry that some of National’s voters are becoming disillusioned and that though they are not yet ready to vote Labour they are no longer so keen to support the Government.
That often tends to happen towards the end of a Government]s time in office; its voters simply stay home.
But it was Labour’s night.
And as they began to analyse the results they began to realise, possibly for the first time since they lost Government in 2008, that middle New Zealand might be in reach for them.