Editorial: After Mt Roskill, Labour still has a lot of work to do in Auckland.
Labour was odds-on to win the Mt Roskill by-election. In fact it won handsomely, with a large majority over a weak National candidate. Labour is entitled to be pleased at the margin of Michael Wood's victory, but not at the low turnout or the more general lack of excitement during the by-election campaign.
In a sense the by-election is yet another marker of the stasis in politics generally. Prime Minister John Key decided Mt Roskill was worth a shot for National, but acknowledged the shot was a long one. By saying his party was unlikely to win, he was acknowledging reality but also undermining his own candidate.
So Labour has regained its safe seat, and National has proved that its ability to expand its vote is also limited. So we are back pretty much where we started. If Labour had lost the seat, Key said, Andrew Little's leadership would be in trouble. So now that Labour has won, it is back again - but still in the doldrums in the opinion polls.
A recent poll showed Labour at a dreadful 23 per cent of the national vote. This is probably an outlier, but Labour is still stuck in the 20s while National soars in the late 40s and even up to 50. And in Auckland it seems that the opposition parties that are growing are the Greens and New Zealand First rather than Labour.
In the 2014 election, centre-right parties won about 54 per cent of the Auckland vote, while the centre-left (excluding New Zealand First) got about 38 per cent.
Normally a third-term government would be suffering a loss of votes in the country's largest city as in other places. But National seems to be defying that trend. What's more, the hot issues in Auckland are not all breaking Labour's way.
The housing crisis is fiercest in Auckland, the town of mansions, million-dollar middle-class houses and homeless misery. But for many people who own their homes, the crisis is not a problem but a boon. Immigration is also a serious issue in Auckland, where the high net migration has helped push up house prices and further stress the already-creaking infrastructure. Labour's pledge to cut immigrant numbers, however, while it might play well with the poor white vote, does not do so well among Auckland's very large immigrant community.
Phil Twyford's ill-advised campaign against immigrants "with Chinese names" opened the party up to accusations of playing the race and xenophobia cards. This is not a comfortable place for a party which has traditionally campaigned on behalf of racial and immigrant minorities.
New Zealand First, by contrast, has often played the xenophobe, and it seems to be winning political support in Auckland as a result.
All of this is politics as usual and is fairly cynical. Little is encouraged by the by-election to keep banging the law and order drum. But promises of more police and more community police stations are not decisive vote-changers.
At the same time Labour is seeking to fix its embarrassing lack of Asian MPs in a city where National has four. It has a long way to go.