Hard News by Russell Brown


Ups and Downs

I'll always remember Saturday's Mt Albert by-election -- but not for the result. It was an unexpected introduction to the democratic process for our older son, Jimmy, who turned 18 at the beginning of the year. We discussed his options with him, but his vote was his own choice, as an adult.

We walked to Pt Chevalier primary school early in the afternoon. In the hall there, things seemed to be ticking over well enough, although the Labour scrutineers were clearly more chipper than the ones with the blue rosettes.

Jimmy got his ballot, took it into the booth, emerged and dropped it in the ballot box. "First vote," I observed to the woman minding the box. Jimmy punched the air. And the room erupted in applause. That was so good.

"I felt like I was famous!" said Jim as we walked out.

You are to us, pal.

Now, I'd have linked to The Standard's Ralston vs Ralston post, but they appear to have forgotten to pay their domain name fees, so here goes my version …

In an April 26 column, headed Colour change for Clark's seat, Ralston declared:

… come the byelection on June 13, Labour could face real humiliation. It could lose the seat or, at least, have that more than 10,000-vote lead slashed to a few hundred or less.

Yesterday, Ralston was of a different mind:

Yet how is Labour winning one of its safest seats suddenly a marvellous achievement? It will take heart from the win but I am not sure if it has learned anything from the crushing defeat of eight months ago.

April Ralston was pretty keen on National's likely candidate.

It's worth also noting that National is likely to put up a relatively high-profile candidate in Melissa Lee.

Mt Albert is a culturally diverse electorate and her ethnicity should not harm her. She is also a trained media professional, which should be of great advantage because byelections are almost presidential contests, with the candidates getting much more media exposure than they would normally get in a general election.

Bollocks to that, says June Ralston:

Last year Melissa Lee was a "star" candidate, fast-tracked through the list with little scrutiny by the party. As a list candidate she had never developed the bare-knuckle skills required on the hustings for someone contesting an electorate seat … Lee was the wrong person, in the wrong place, at entirely the wrong time.

The fact is, there was a potential calamity for Labour in the by-election, and a greatly reduced majority or even a loss was not out of the question at the start of the campaign. A strong, old-fashioned electorate campaign and a series of missteps by the other side eventually meant that was not the case. Revising history now is just silly.

There was more ropey writing in the Herald on Sunday. In a confused mess of a feature story, Anna Rushworth and Jonathan Milne declared:

The Mt Albert by-election, you see, was a masquerade. Much was not what it seemed.

And then:

Just as Mt Albert is not a mountain deserving of the name, neither was this an election deserving of that name.

And, again, in case you missed it:

This was no more a real election than Mt Albert is a real mountain.

For goodness sake, it was a high-profile by-election in which the morale of one party and the momentum of another were at stake. The Green Party took a big punt by standing a co-leader. John Boscawen clearly fancied his chances of a good showing, especially as Melissa Lee stumbled. And there would actually have been a small Parliamentary advantage for National in a Lee win -- it could then have passed laws with only an abstention from Act.

I think John Armstrong was a bit more on the mark today:

Labour's crushing victory in Mt Albert is not quite as glorious as the party is claiming. But it is not far from it. National's drubbing is about as bad as things get.

Saturday night's massacre underlined one law of byelections but broke another. The first law is not to make mistakes. David Shearer may not have set the world on fire. But his campaign was solid. His main opponent got burned by just about everything she touched. The byelection was a triumph of the soporific over the catastrophic …

As a minimum, however, the byelection is another item on a lengthening list of recent events which include the Christine Rankin appointment, the Richard Worth scandal and the Auckland Super City proposal and which have been marked by sloppy political management.

That was again apparent on Saturday night with the party leadership missing in action, leaving Lee struggling on her own until the bitter end.

I think the morale-enhancing quality of the win for Labour is of much more significance than the blow to National, which can still happily point to healthy polls at a national level.

Bolder readers may enjoy the orgy of dummy-spitting (not, I hasten to add, from the host, who is more realistic about these things) on the relevant Kiwiblog thread. Redbaiter, as you might expect, takes the cake:

Dead?? Dunno, but the brains of Mount Albert voters give every indication of being in that state.

What a disgrace. Almost a whole electorate of bludgers, no hopers, tax thieves and other assorted socialist losers voting for a parachute candidate because he had a red rosette and because the Labour voting mainstream media scum gave him a free ride.

Democracy— pffft..

Not until we are rid of Labour’s mainstream media cronies.

Poor wee poppet.


The past few days have also been anxious ones for the family and friends of Chris Knox. I found out he'd had a stroke a couple of hours before The Orcon Great Blend (which was a tremendous evening) and, like many other people, have been shocked and worried for Chris and his family.

It's not my place to release news but I do feel bound to say that I understand things are a bit more hopeful than was suggested in the Sunday Star Times' front-page story, which quoted unnamed "friends". I accept that Chris is a prominent cultural figure and worthy of news, but that story was irresponsible. The fact is that they probably won't know what they're dealing with for another two or three days yet. It is certain that there's a long, difficult recovery ahead, but Chris is surrounded by people who love him and will help him there.

There was a happy time at the weekend too. My best friend Andrew Moore turned 40 in style. He'd been practising for weeks with a once-only band (rejoicing in the truly awful name Suicide Wednesday), and, with the assistance of his friends Marty and Mark, and the one-man guitar orchestra who is Matthew Heine, he nailed it.

Here, for posterity, is the actual set list:

* * *

That's 'Victoria' by The Kinks via The Fall, not the Exponents song, although Jordan Luck did leap onto the stage for 'Surrender' by Cheap Trick.

"This one's for fuckin' Knoxy!" shouted Andy before they launched into 'Rolling Moon'. And the whole damn bar gave voice to 'Anarchy in the UK' and 'Born to Run'. Later on, what was effectively the Bird Next Roys played. It was wonderful. It was a testament to the importance of the friends-who-are-your-family and to the redemptive power of rock 'n' roll. Thanks Andy. It was indeed Just What We Needed.

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