And the winner of the Ikaroa-Rāwhiti by-election is ... Winston Peters?

The Ikaroa-Rāwhiti by-election result is bad news for the Maori Party. That's good news for Winston Peters and New Zealand First.

Hot off the press, here's my take on the Ikaroa-Rāwhiti by-election result - with a stronger than usual warning that I don't necessarily know what I am talking about.

First, Labour has won, so any excited media speculation that the result could bring on a leadership change will have to be warehoused until the next available opportunity. Which will no doubt eventuate in a fortnight or so ... I'm picking July 8, with the birth of the next new moon.

Second, final turnout is under 40% of enrolled voters. The only people who bothered to cast a vote were the most motivated/most loyal individuals in one particular part of the country, in which things like individual personalities, legacy effects and tribal loyalties played an important part. Which makes extrapolating this result into more general lessons for New Zealand's politics a mug's game.

Third, in spite of the above warning and so proving my muggishness, this is a bad result for the Maori Party. They ran the only candidate who had been before the electorate before - so if any of the individuals seeking election had a name recognition advantage (beyond Te Hāmua Nikora's status as an entertainer, that is), it would be Na Raihana. Nevertheless, not only did he come third in the contest, but his share of the total vote actually dropped from where it was 18 months ago (that's taking into account the lower turnout, of course).

In 2011, the electorate votes for the Labour, Maori Party and Mana candidates in Ikaroa-Rāwhiti were:

  • Parakuria Horomia (Labour) = 10,558
  • Na Raihana (Maori) = 4017
  • Tawhai McClutchie (Mana) = 2,484

At that election, there were 18,319 votes cast.

This time around, with about 12,000 votes cast, the totals for the Labour, Mana and Maori Party candidates were:

  • Meka Whaitiri (Labour) = 4,368
  • Te Hāmua Nikora (Mana) = 2,607
  • Na Rongowhakaata Raihana (Maori) = 2,104

What that suggests to me is that the "protest" or "anti-establishment" vote is flowing to Mana, while the "pragmatic" or "work inside the system" vote is pretty much staying with Labour. And so the Maori Party are being frozen in the middle - which spells bad news come 2014. Because not only is it looking increasingly unlikely that there will be another Maori seat for them to contest at that election, but if they can't make headway in Ikaroa-Rāwhiti in a "blank-slate" situation where they run the only established candidate, then they stand little chance of winning any of the four seats held by Labour and Mana. In fact, you'd have to wonder how secure its position is in the three seats it currently holds.

Which is perhaps the most interesting issue to come out of this result. Because the pundit (and Pundit) consensus is that National has had a very good week both policy wise (having cleverly snookered Labour on Auckland transport issues) and in terms of the electoral horse race (based on the over-importance that the NZ Herald's commentariat have to attach to the result of their own newspaper's opinion poll). Yet that party still faces a big, big problem. Popular as it may remain - and the poll-of-polls doesn't have it anywhere near the Herald's 48.8% - it's sitting out in an increasingly lonely place.

Come 2014, ACT and UnitedFuture (assuming it is resurrected) look to be one-MP vehicles (at best) ... and those MPs may well occupy "overhang" seats if their parties can't clear about 0.4% in the polls. And if the Maori Party really is on the skids, as this by-election result suggests, then its ability to rejoin National in government post 2014 is similarly questionable.

Which means that National's path to a third term looks more and more like passing through the Kingdom of Winston.