By-election a seismic shift

Democracy HQ
A personal view,
by Councillor Steve Morris

The result was never in doubt, but National’s share of the vote has sent shockwaves as far away as the Beehive. National candidate Sam Uffindel won more than 56 per cent of the vote in the Tauranga electorate by-election on the weekend – the best result for National since 2011.

However, that’s only half the story. Combined with Cameron Luxton’s strong performance for ACT, the centre-right parties won a historic two-thirds of the votes cast.

For the centre-left, it was their worst result since 2014. Election night 2020 must seem like a lifetime ago for Jan Tinetti. That night, her message to National was: “Lookout, we’re on our way”. How quickly things have changed with Labour shedding a whopping 14 per cent off their 2020 result, winning just 25 per cent of the votes cast.

The Greens usually win between four-six per cent of the electorate votes in Tauranga; they didn’t contest this by-election and instead rallied their supporters to back Jan Tinetti. If the Greens ran, it’s conceivable that Labour’s vote could have fallen below 20 per cent

The issues that matter

Why did National do so well? Both Sam Uffindel and National talked about the issues that matter to Tauranga. Internal party polling showed that the cost of living crisis, crime, traffic congestion, and a lack of local democracy were the top issues for Tauranga voters. On each issue, National offered solutions, whereas Jan Tinetti was left defending Labour’s indefensible record on each.

Jan deserved better

Tinetti fought the good fight, but at times, her apparent frustration at constantly having to defend the Government’s lack of delivery showed in the debates. It’s not easy flying the flag of an unpopular government in an opposition electorate. I know, I helped National campaign in the true-red Kelston electorate in 2014.

National’s leader Chris Luxon and ACT leader David Seymour were regular visitors to Tauranga to help their candidates and encourage local party activists – but the Prime Minister was nowhere to be seen. There’s no excuse; Labour announced their candidate long before National, and there was plenty of time for a quick stop in Tauranga. On a human level, both Jan and local Labour activists deserved better. Everyone, including Jan, knew it would be a loss, but they gave their best. The least the PM could do was show some loyalty to them in return.

Inside National’s selection

I was proud to be chosen as one of the 63 delegates to select National’s candidate. We were spoilt for choice, and I am confident that any of the four contenders would have won the seat for National. Sam won selection by a decisive margin, but I thought it would come down to a run-off between him and 25-year-old Tom Rutherford, who proved to be a strong speaker; watch out for his name in the future.

My takeaway from the by-election result? The politics of the pandemic are clearly over. National and Act have got to be clear favourites for 2023.


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