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September 4, 2006 | by  | in Opinion | [ssba]

The Week in Politics

I wanted to start with a recap of Taito Phillip Field (Labour, Mangere) because I have had so many people call, email or ask me about this in conversation. Earlier this year (31 July), I wrote:

“…ok, let’s face it, you can’t get away from the fact that Field is a very dodgy man, who should have known better that his elected position does not permit ‘mates-rates’ or worse yet ‘slave-rates’ and only undermines the moral pedestal that Labour is trying desperately to build up. Furthermore, no report was ever going to completely reverse the damage that Field had created…”

And even earlier than that, there was this (6 July):

“…[Helen] Clark is the type of leader who will readily cut off their arm to save themselves (a lesson learned from watching your party implode over a decade before…)”

Ok, I can see if that I say I have no faith in the man I am jumping on the bandwagon well after the fact, but it is no surprise to me that things have got this bad for him, and more importantly, for the government.

Just so we are absolutely clear, let me make this point: Taito Phillip Field is fucked!

Field is finished, but this is not over, not even by a long shot. Someone asked me how bad this can be for Labour?”, and another asked, “why are they such pussies to not have a by-election in Mangere, Labour would still win, right?” Wrong.

The stakes are as high as it can get: if there’s a by-election, it will be touted as a snap election, thanks to the curiosities of MMP. There’s the loss of the overall majority in the House should Labour lose Field’s support (as an independent) or if some other MP who wins Mangere, but is not Labour friendly. If you were in National, you would be licking your lips at the thought of cutting one leg out of the Government, and leaning till it falls over.

Plus, let’s look at what a by-election would look like. By-elections have had a history of a lower turnout than general elections The King Country-Taranaki by-election in 1998, in an electorate that had in the previous election had a 86% turnout, only had 60% of all electors vote Shane Arden (National) in) and in Mangere, where voter turnout is low (around 70%) and getting the vote out there is as easy as getting blood out of a stone.

Labour could also have a hard time: most if not all of the local party organisers are loyal to Field (I’m talking about party members, not electorate office staff), and may just leave the party to help Field should he run as an independent. This would torpedo the party structure in the electorate like Peter Dunne’s (United Future, Ohariu-Belmont) exit from Labour in 1994 which took with him his loyal and active supporters. So don’t just expect a split Labour vote, but an undercut Labour effort.

Oh, lest we forget every other party who WILL campaign in the electorate. In 1998, ACT had come within a thousand votes of taking the King Country-Taranaki seat from National, and in the process overtook Labour as the second highest polled party (effectively). It would be a feeding frenzy, which would not abate until the last vote was counted. And with a rejuvenated National, they will campaign very hard.

Field’s support in the electorate is enormous, getting over 70% of the vote in the last two elections. But he has never had to work hard to win it. And it’s still uncertain how many vote for him, and how many vote for Labour: it is the seat of David Lange.

Don’t get me wrong, I think it would be fantastic drama and it really could be a very close race, but it won’t happen. I think you can see that that’s too much of a risk, and PM Clark will not be foolish (even if her own party is baying for his resignation). But every day he stays on as an MP, well it’s like Labour’s own Donna Awatere Huata, a painful political sore that you just can’t remove! And maybe that’s just as good for the Opposition as having a by-election.


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