The Hamilton West by-election has seen many a commentator weigh in on who has the best chance of winning. Will it be a test of the Prime Minister’s, albeit waning, popularity? Or is the Leader of the Opposition getting cut through with the average voter? Will it be a platform for NZ First to influence public commentary?
These are relevant questions, but there are some others that come to mind too.
How will the major parties run this campaign?
Labour and National need to remember the by-election will be watched by voters outside the electorate. The by-election effectively signals the beginning of the 2023 election campaign.
Opposition parties are normally loathe to release policy too early, but National’s dilemma is giving voters enough detail to show them that the party is a Government in waiting.
Labour faces a similar problem. Anything it promises in the by-election would raise voter expectations that it will be implemented next year.
What role does NZ First and other minor parties play?
ACT has confirmed it will run a candidate in the by-election, NZ First has confirmed it won’t and it’s not yet clear what the Greens intend to do.
Despite not standing a candidate, we would expect Winston Peters to still use the occasion as platform to promote NZ First policies. Recent media coverage of NZ First’s annual conference proves that you can never rule out Mr Peters’ party. Mr Peters has a knack for reading the zeitgeist and articulating the issues voters care about. It’s why he’s remained a key part of New Zealand’s political landscape for more than four decades.
A key consideration for all the minor parties is the high cost of a by-election campaign and whether it’s better to save their pennies for the general election next year, which Mr Peters is predicting will be earlier, rather than later.
Of the other minor parties, TOP has confirmed a candidate, but the small protest-type parties are yet to declare their intentions.
Which leads us to – who are the candidates?
National will want to show it’s learned from its mistakes in the Tauranga by-election by ensuring a watertight candidate selection process.
Labour will also want to avoid choosing another disruptive maverick like the outgoing Dr Gaurav Sharma.
Quality candidates count. The more the major parties talk about their own disfunctions the more apathetic the voter becomes.
And that’s another worry for the major parties – December is the start of the silly season. Voters are stressed and need a well-earned break, which includes a break from politicians. It will be difficult for both parties to maintain the cut-through to get their policies and ideas across to the voter, and for the voter to listen.
Hamilton West is a true bellwether seat that usually indicates where the country is going. Christopher Luxon has had a bumpy year as National’s new leader, while Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has shown that despite her party’s dip in the polls she’s still up for a fight.
While both are talking down their chances, a win for both is crucial at this time in the electoral cycle. For Labour, it would prove the Prime Minister still has star power. For National, it would give them much needed momentum heading into the 2023 general election.