Let’s cut to the chase. Labour has absolutely no chance of winning the Hamilton West byelection. The real question is how much they will lose by.
The December 10 byelection, at a cost of at least $1 million to the taxpayer, was triggered by the electorate’s incumbent MP.
His decision to resign risks becoming one of the biggest own goals in political history. A Curia poll of Hamilton West voters released on Thursday had support for him at just 2.5 per cent.
By contrast, 44.7 per cent of those polled backed the National party candidate, despite the fact the party has not even selected anyone yet.
While byelections can be unpredictable, the most likely outcome is that the incumbent MP will be gone by Christmas lunchtime.
Labour strategists will also be hoping to put this unwanted distraction behind them by the time the festive season kicks off.
Byelections in New Zealand rarely have any impact on the make-up of government or provide any useful insight into the outcome of the next election.
And even when they are popular, governments almost never win. In the 13 byelections since MMP was introduced in 1996, the governing party has won just two: Shane Ardern in the safe National seat of Taranaki-King Country in 1998, and Jami-Lee Ross in the safe National seat of Botany in 2011.
Labour’s track record in Hamilton West does not provide any indication that this trend will change. National has won the seat in four out of the past five elections. The only exception was the extraordinary 2020 result, a success that is unlikely to ever be repeated.
Voters rightly calculate that given the lack of impact, byelections can cast a consequence-free vote to send a message to the Government on issues they are concerned about.
And there is no shortage of concerning issues facing incumbent governments right now.
Like the rest of us, voters in Hamilton West will be feeling the effects of high inflation, cost of living increases, mortgage rate rises, and a general feeling of insecurity caused by geopolitical issues such as the war in Ukraine.
Given that neither the Reserve Bank governor nor Vladimir Putin will feature on the ballot paper, a lot of this ire is going to land at the feet of Labour’s candidate Georgie Dansey.
Spare a thought for Dansey, who seems to be a thoroughly decent person with strong links to her community and who owns a small business.
Boy, is she in for a rough ride.
Not only will Dansey be forced to defend the Government’s record over the past five years, but she will be held accountable for everything from the impact of international crude oil prices to the eyewatering cost of cauliflowers.
The best she can do is stay focused on the future and on what is best for the people of Hamilton West, rather than get sucked into the grievances of the incumbent or complaints about a government she has not been a part of to date.
Given they are not going to win, success for Labour is best defined as losing in a way that exceeds expectations.
The Curia poll indicates that voters in Hamilton West seem to have returned to where they were in 2017, with National at around 44 per cent and Labour at 36 per cent.
If Curia’s numbers are repeated on the day of the byelection, then National’s candidate could expect a majority of around 7500 over Labour’s Dansey.
Given the extraordinary economic and political headwinds the Government is facing, losing by that much would not be a bad result.
Andrew Kirton was Labour’s General Secretary from 2016-2018. He now works in government relations for transtasman firm Anacta Consulting. He is married to a Labour MP.