Labour lessons from Tai Tokerau: A Westie Surprise

A day out campaigning suggests two factors Labour has in its favour as we approach the serious end of the electoral cycle. And no, they're not what you expect

Arriving at the Lions Hall in Te Atatu South for some Te Tai Tokerau door knocking last Saturday, I had a pleasant surprise.

As a recent president of the Labour Party, and a long-time denizen of West Auckland, I expected to recognise nearly everyone in the room.

I didn’t. All the old Labour Westies were there, but there were just as many fresh young faces eagerly lined up to collect their target voter lists and get on the road.

Revival in opposition seems to be happening and regional organiser (and very old mate), Andy Beyer told me that this was happening all over his patch, party driven, he thought, by the stunning and somewhat unexpected success of Labour and Labour aligned candidates in the first super-city elections.

Cruising around Massey and West Harbour in the bright and positive company of Carol Beaumont MP, I had some time consider what, in media wisdom, is an unlikely outcome in November:

Could Phil Goff and Labour form the next government and consign John Key and National to just one term in government?

Here’s why that just might happen:

Phil Goff

Goff has done a good job even if the polls don’t yet recognise this.

He inherited a defeated party with fully a third of his caucus new to parliament, kept it intact by wisely refusing to overdo the post-mortems and, with Annette King, welded a diverse team with many neophytes into a force which can match National in the House.

He initiated and guided a thorough review of policy, so far without public dissent and drove Labour back to its core concerns – jobs, the cost of living and basic services.

Happenstance gave him the chance to promote talent and he took advantage of those opportunities. And he’s led from the front – he was in the line with me to door knock on Saturday.

Campaigns are the happy hunting ground for Leaders of the Opposition and Goff could surprise, just as Clark did in 1996. The media has to notice you and exposure always lifts ratings and performance.

He’s always campaigned well in his own electorate, and takes advice from campaign strategist par excellence and old mate, South Australian Premier, Mike Rann.


If you read the polls you’d think that there are two choices – the leftist block and the rightist block.

This is not true. There are three choices – left, right or no vote.

In 2005, the Clark government was sustained in office by the increased participation of voters concentrated in South and West Auckland, North Wellington and East Christchurch.

These were normally non-voters, many of whom cast their first ever ballot, and were driven out to vote by Don Brash’s perceived threat to their benefits and state house tenancies.

Ring a bell?

In 2008, most of these people returned to non-voting, quite likely as a silent protest at Labour’s social engineering, but they are again showing signs of participation where it counts – in actual contests.

This partly how Len Brown defeated John Banks for the Auckland Mayoralty and took a supportive team into office.

This phenomena showed up in the Mt Albert by-election, in Botany, and even in Te Tai Tokerau where the turnout was two thirds that of the preceding general election, instead of the normal half.

Phil Goff and a higher participation will not alone propel Labour back to power, but there are some other subtle undercurrents at work that might help.

Given that I’ve already tested your concentration span for a blog, I’ll come to those next week.