The conventional wisdom re the Queensland election was ”that Labor can hardly fail to take a huge bite out of the LNP’s unprecedented majority, but converting their current tally of nine seats into the 45 needed for a majority will be a bridge or more too far.” Anastascia Palaszczuk was obviously not conventional but was wise enough to dare to win on community issues. A community-issue based campaign in Northland could also spring a surprise here.
The key is community-issue based. If there is one lesson for New Zealand Labour in the successful campaigns in Victoria and now Queensland that have turned out one-term Liberal governments it is that they have run doorstep-based campaigns focussed on responding to local issues. That’s how Kate Jones beat Liberal leader Campbell Newman in the seat of Ashgrove.
The stakes in Northland are potentially very high. If National were to lose, they lose their majority in Parliament. So they will fight hard and they will want it over soon. And they will want it to be fought on national issues. That is obvious.
But it is a by-election, and the lesson of successful by-elections is that they are fought on local issues, of which there are plenty in Northland that are not so favourable for the government. The same is true of successful electorate campaigns against the odds. Taranaki-King Country in 1998 was a good example where trying to fight a by-election as a proxy for a national election was not good for Labour.
Obviously a lot of ducks would have to line up for there to be such a surprise. But I do not think it is a good thing to start by predicting failure. The first place you lose an election is in your head. I’ve known a lot of such pundits over the years – they have the satisfaction of 100% certainty that they will be proved right.
I think it is much better to start by asking what we would need to do to give ourselves a chance of winning.
One strong candidate, total focus on local issues, and all-out effort on the doorstep. Worth a go in my view – nothing to lose and an awful lot to gain if we begin to shift to community-based campaigning as in Australia.