Matt McCarten, who has managed more than a few election campaigns, does a good post facto analysis of where National went wrong in Mt Albert:
Despite what the Nats said after the by-election, their internal polls (and Labour’s) at the start of the campaign showed they had a chance of winning. At the very least, the campaign could have been competitive.If National can win Auckland Central, it could have taken Mt Albert. Instead it ran the worst by-election in living memory and got the worst result in living memory.
Key picked Lee. He has no excuse. His senior ministers such as Murray McCully and Stephen Joyce are experienced campaigners and would have known she wasn’t up to it. Lee has a media background and knows to stick to a script. But it’s clear she didn’t have one. Astoundingly, she got worse as the campaign progressed. Next time, don’t go for the superficial, go for competence.
By-elections need seasoned management. Why is a minister doing what the party organisation is supposed to do? Is there something more sinister to Bill English and his allies not showing up?
They botched the motorway issue
Anyone can hold the job as leader when things go well. The test of a leader is when things are not going well…the unforgivable act was Key’s holiday on by-election weekend…If this is how National copes under stress in a campaign, I hope the recession doesn’t get too difficult. This by-election shows us that our Prime Minister and his Cabinet can’t be counted on when things get tough.
To that I would add two more points about the choice of Lee as candidate.
It was a mistake to choose a sitting MP. What could Lee offer Mt Albert that she didn’t already give them as National’s buddy MP for the electorate? David Shearer on the other had could only get in if the people of Mt Albert supported him.
It was a mistake, rooted in bigotry, to think that because Lee is Asian she would win the Asian vote. Asians are not a homogenous ethnic group and even homogenous ethnic groups don’t vote for someone just because they are a member of a group.
So why did they make all these mistakes? Only one answer there: arrogance. By down-playing the arse-kicking they got in Mt Albert, they’ve shown that arrogance remains undiminished.