IT IS fascinating to note immigration is playing out as an election topic over the last few days. I'd indulged in two columns on Winston Peters and his views on the matter, and now David Cunliffe, leader of the Labour Party, has spied it as a topic that could earn him some points. In the meantime, the Mana Party joins forces with the Internet Party, and Mana's Sue Bradford quits in disgust. I can't say I blame her.

Election years are all about bread and circuses, with everyone searching for the novelty, the new idea. Everyone, that is, who is smelling a bit of desperation, and is willing to resort to the flashy trick when nothing else seems to be working.

In a previous column, I harked back to my grandfather's recollection of the Labour government of Peter Fraser and National's Sidney Holland's attempts in 1946 to swing the voters his way, in a country disgruntled by housing and job shortages. He didn't succeed then, but three years later, voters had had enough and Holland got his chance. My point is that novelties and gimmicks don't work.

Voters will vote against you because they are unhappy. They will arrive at a voting booth with the absolute knowledge of who they would sooner die than vote for. But I suspect not that many arrive at a voting booth fired up with the passion and knowledge to credibly vote for a party or person they admire.


And generally, I suspect voters will stick with what works - if it's working.

Attacking immigrants, a stock Peters tactic, has some minor traction. A social scientist might argue parties have to appeal more to the ageing demographic - especially since the young are hopeless at voting. But while it might get Peters over 5 per cent, I would be wary of anyone else trying to score off it. People feel a bit uncomfortable about getting tough on immigration; it feels like racism.

To my mind, if you are trying to appeal to an older population, it pays to remember that demographic respects integrity and traditional values. A marriage of convenience, the Mana Internet Party, falls well short, in my view. And while I'm aware that National have - rather successfully - "stolen" what could have been strong Labour policies, that's just good campaigning. Labour needs to tell people what isn't working under National. But is that a big list?