On Thursday Vernon Small wrote on the Chch East by-election: “Anything above 53 per cent will look like a fine result for Labour, anything under 50 per cent a relative failure. If Doocey can attract 40 per cent of the vote National can be well-pleased. Less than 33 per cent and the warning bells will be ringing for 2014.” And we know what happened next.
Poto Williams rocketed home with a massive 61% of the vote – above the vote share that Liane Dalziel achieved. National’s Mathew Doocey managed only a pathetic 26% – well below Aaron Gilmore’s effort.
National would be right to worry about what this means. It’s a little known fact that the number of people who voted National fell everywhere in the country except Christchurch in 2011 and it was the most significant area where Labour lost votes. Retaining votes in that city is absolutely crucial for National to have any chance in 2014; likewise, Labour needs to win those votes back.
The signs from this by-election aren’t good for the Tories. A 10% decline in support for the candidate, with nearly all of that moving over to Labour.
Fundamentally, it seems that the people of Christchurch gave National a chance in 2011 and that chance has expired. In a typical post-disaster response, they gave the ruling party an endorsement to get on with the job of rebuilding… but it didn’t happen.
Gerry Brownlee is awful, just bloody awful. He isn’t up to the job of being vice-roy and it shows in his frequent outbursts and, more importantly, in the grindingly slow pace of the rebuild. He hasn’t solved any of the major barriers to rebuilding and all he can do is hurl insults around.
The best thing National could do to stop bleeding support in Christchurch is sack Brownlee. If there were any other Nats of any seniority in the city, they would have the job. But there aren’t. So, maybe the answer, instead, is to give the resource and power to the council. That would show that National believes in the people of Christchurch and is backing them to rebuild their city as they choose.
It won’t happen, of course, National hates local government, especially when it represents the people, not business interests. So, Christchurch is stuck with Brownlee and National’s failures. But, through that pain, comes good because it is building the momentum for a change of government.