I’ll try to avoid spilling too many words on electoral politics here, but there are a few things worth saying on the recent by-election in Mt Albert. Despite its banality, and the inevitability of Jacinda Ardern’s landslide victory for Labour, there are a few important aspects of the by-election worth mulling over. It’s worth initially pointing out the turnout was considerably lower than many would have hoped for (about 28-29%). A true tragedy for undergrad civics nerds. The extent to which this really alters the end result is an unknown, but the abysmal return for The Opportunities Party (600 votes or 4.62%) seems an early warning sign for the party’s ability to capture disenfranchised National voters with ‘radical centrism’.
My main interest here is trainspotting socialist sects and assorted cranks who drift around the fringes of electoral politics in New Zealand, and who made a large showing in Mt Albert. With the absence not only of National, but also of ACT, NZ First, or just about any established political force that could have wooed right-leaning voters, a fairly clean run was opened for exactly those such candidates. It’s a fairly common assertion that the average Labour or Green voter would at least be by-and-large sympathetic to socialist policies further to the left of either party. But for a driving fear of National winning the next election, a lot of those voters are disillusioned enough with the two mainstream left-of-centre choices that they’d consider going with more leftist ‘anti-establishment’ candidates. It’s certainly true that a level of social democratic left populism can be successful in the post-Keynesian political sphere. The Alliance, early Greens and MANA all banked on such a platform to win over tens to hundreds of thousands of voters. With any consideration of a vote for Labour or Greens being necessary to keep out a right wing candidate, it should be fair enough to assume a well fought campaign on such grounds would do better than in normal circumstances.
Both socialist candidates, however, did considerably worse than expected. Disregarding the various cranks and perennial candidates, two parties stood on a clear platform well to the left of either major party. On behalf of Socialist Aotearoa, eternal leader Joe Carolan stood under the banner ‘Socialist – People Before Profit’ on a platform centrally focused on building 100,000 state houses over the course of a decade. For his efforts Joe came in 5th place (171 votes/1.32%), slightly better positioning but a worse return overall than his last crack in 2014 (290/0.79%) as a candidate for MANA. While the Communist League took its first swing at Mt Albert and scored its worst ever result for it (15 votes/0.12%), so much for the ‘movement of workers and farmers’. The much lower than usual turnout factors into this, likewise does the absence of most candidates from the major debates (which mostly only included Labour, the Greens, and TOP). However, Carolan at least had a ground team behind him and for all his faults is an experienced enough organiser with the resources for a short electoral campaign. The talk of a considerable amount of his material being destroyed may well be true, but given the long Kiwi tradition of indiscriminately destroying as much electoral material as possible this seems a non-issue. At any rate, the combined socialist vote came to less than 200 people. Given the not inconsiderable enthusiasm from sections of the left (The Daily Blog and friends in particular) for the prospects at Mt Albert, it should be hoped that the weak results are enough to give pause on the tactic of assuming a platform of several socialish sounding policies lashed together is enough to win disaffected voters. I don’t hold out much hope. One last sidenote, the pro-immigrant NZ People’s Party pulled in 4th (191 votes/1.47%) above all the other minor figures below. Not to say the NZPP is some bastion of progress or anything more than another minor figure on the fringes, but I distinctly recall various ‘left’ figures recently claiming a pro-immigrant platform is incapable to doing well in NZ.
On the flip side Carolan did achieve being crowned King Crank, unseating Penny Bright from her long held perch to be the strongest fringe-dweller this round. She came in behind (131 votes/1%) on a typically bizarre platform of hatred for the Auckland Supercity and ‘anti-corruption’, whatever that means to Penny. Libertarian weed connoisseur Abe Gray stood for the Legalise Party from Dunedin, for some reason, and for that probably expensive method of campaigning won the ALCP 92 supporters (0.71%). Between a few other independents perennial Mt Albert candidate Anthony van den Heuvel made his fourth attempt under the ‘Human Rights Party’ banner, claiming to have the best of both worlds proposing free healthcare & education, a living wage, and Third Way neoliberalism. For his efforts, he convinced 31 people (0.24%). Serial party jumping libertarian Simon Smythe stood under a new title, this time as Not A Party (or, hilariously, NAP). His candidate profile is by far the most thoroughly batshit, proposing a plan of destroying electorate offices and replacing them with soup kitchens. 17 souls appear to share his desire to give lazy homeless people soup rather than drug money, giving him the esteemed position of not losing to the Communist League.