John Armstrong on politics

John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

John Armstrong: Key machine pushing into Labour country

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Prime Minister John Key meets Koria Taana, 4, while campaigning in the Mana, where there was a big swing away from Labour. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Prime Minister John Key meets Koria Taana, 4, while campaigning in the Mana, where there was a big swing away from Labour. Photo / Mark Mitchell

For most Wellingtonians, Pukerua Bay is notable only for a couple of kilometres-long stretch of State Highway One where the speed limit briefly but annoyingly drops from 100km/h to 50 km/h and creates another bottle-neck on the slow trip north.

Little through traffic bothers to stop for long in this tree-lined enclave that borders the Kapiti Coast and its secluded commuter and retirement havens for the capital's above-average income earners.

It is here that a major shift in voter behaviour was noticeable in last Saturday's extraordinary outcome of the Mana byelection.

National's Nick Smith had much delight in rubbing Labour's nose in the result - the first swing in favour of the governing party in a byelection in the Cabinet minister's lifetime.

National did not win the seat and its vote fell in terms of numbers. But Labour's fell by much more.

It should be very worried, and not only because its vote count dropped in the electorate's poorer suburbs.

The amount was relatively small. It can be blamed on voter apathy, although the Government's new policy on state housing, which no longer guarantees someone will stay in the same house for life, should have prodded more state tenants to back Labour.

Labour's tactic of targeting its core voters on cost of living issues with a promise of no GST on fresh fruit and vegetables also seems to have had little discernible effect.

What should be really worrying Labour is what is happening at the other end of the income scale. In places like upmarket Whitby, Labour got walloped, as it always does.

Its problem is a category of voters who might be termed "well-off liberals" and who were attracted to Labour because they liked Helen Clark's political style.

This cohort - many of them women - is slowly deserting Labour.

In Pukerua Bay, where a large proportion of people designate themselves as "professional" for Census purposes, National's Hekia Parata won by 249 votes to 217. Go back to the 2002 and 2005 elections and you find Labour winning the booth on the party vote - the fairer measure as the candidate vote was distorted by the huge personal appeal of Winnie Laban, whose retirement prompted the byelection.

Pukerua Bay went narrowly in National's favour in 2008 - an indication that Clark's cross-over appeal was on the wane.

Admittedly the number of votes is small and analysis is complicated by the collapse - bar the Greens - of the vote for minor parties.

But the trend was replicated elsewhere in outlying settlements of Porirua City, such as Plimmerton and Pauatahanui. National's share of the vote even increased in less well-off Titahi Bay.

This may explain why National's nationwide support in opinion polls is holding close to 50 per cent - five percentage points up on National's vote in the 2008 election.

There are still wealthy pockets of Mana, such as Paekakariki and Raumati South, where Labour's support remains staunch. These settlements may have saved the blushes of Labour candidate and now MP, Kris Fa'afoi. But with the Key machine carving out more territory in middle New Zealand for occupation by National, Fa'afoi should not be relying on them remaining faithful next year.

Labour's stranglehold on Wellington is under threat; the National barbarians are storming the city's northern gates.

TWO YEAR SUPPORT PARTY REPORT CARD

Stocktake of progress on Government's agreements with support parties:

Maori Party:

* Establish review of constitutional issues, including Maori representation, by early 2010. Not done, expected soon.
* Review Foreshore and Seabed Act 2004. Done. Replacement law in select committee.
* Significant outcomes in whanau ora - work in progress.
* More funding for Maori electorates and some large general electorates. Done.

Act Party:

* Set up taskforce to advise on closing income gap with Australia by 2025. Done.
* Fair consideration of Act's law and order 'three strikes' bill. Done. Weaker version passed into law.
* Review emissions trading scheme and delay implementation. Done, but Act opposes new scheme being phased in.
* Taskforces to review government spending. Work in progress.
* Set up regulatory responsibility taskforce. Done.
* Consider setting up productivity commission. Done; it is set up.
* Resource Management Act reforms - work in progress.
* Interparty working group to consider ways to give parents more choice of school. Done; Act recommendations not accepted.

United Future:

* Maintain role of Families Commission, some efficiencies with Children's Commissioner. Done.
* Greater use of private hospitals for elective surgery. Done.
* Progress long term medicines strategy - work in progress.
* Public private partnerships for major roading projects - work in progress.
* Support income splitting bill to select committee. Done. No guarantee of further support.
* Establish statutory big game hunting council. Under way.

- NZ Herald

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