Super Saturday? Bring it on

04:21, Aug 16 2010

I reckon we should have a mini general election later this year.

Just think, why wait for next year? And why should those Aussie have all the fun? With the decision by Winnie Laban to head for a nice safe post in academia, the way is open for Chris Carter and Jim Anderton to call by-elections in their own electorates, too.

We could have a Super Tuesday-style tri-series, with three by-elections all on the same day. That would save the taxpayer money, and spark a lot of interest in politics leading up to the general election. It'd also be a sort of dry run for Phil Goff, too, and would allow his colleagues a better chance to assess his chances of winning - or in the immortal words of Don Brash, to lose less badly - the general election.

There's other advantages to a Super Saturday. With Carter being an Auckland MP, Laban a Wellingtonian and Anderton from Christchurch, we've got the majority of the country covered, so there'd be interest from national media across the board.

Labour's traditionally done pretty well in by-elections. Something about the grass-roots support the party is always able to call upon. And the Tories are usually too busy/important/rich to bother with them. Witness Melissa Lee's trouncing in Mt Albert. Parties from the Left have always given the Nats an almighty scare in by-elections. Think Selwyn, or even Taranaki-King Country.

Of course, a Super Saturday would be a bit different, since all three seats are Labour's to lose. Chris Carter might think he's awfully popular in Te Atatu, but the reality is the seat's as red as the blood in Phil Goff's veins. Labour could stand a second-rate union activist (and probably will) and still win comfortably, on paper anyway.

Mana has no more chance of going blue than Winnie Laban has of being picked for the Hurricanes. It's solid, working-class Labour. And while Jim Anderton has owned Wigram for centuries (well it feels like it) in reality it's really Sydenham, and everyone knows Jim is a Labour MP these days anyway. He's running on a Labour ticket to all intents and purposes in the Christchurch mayoralty and he attends Labour caucus meetings, so let's call a spade a spade.

So does this mean National shouldn't bother showing up? On the contrary. For once, National's got a chance to fight by-elections in places it can't possibly win, which means if it does even passably well then it's a huge psychological blow for Labour right before the election. A death blow, really.

If John Key really believes his government is doing a decent job, he shouldn't be afraid to debate the issues ahead of next year's election. And it would also provide him with a great place to road-test some of the themes he's planning on running, such as welfare reform, law and order, the economy, tax cuts, and labour law changes.

If they tank, Key can put them back in the shot locker and focus on something slightly less scary.

And the primary-style nature of a Super Saturday would also give the public a chance to see both Labour's and National's teams in action ahead of the general election. For make no mistake, such a contest would go far beyond local issues. It would be an election campaign in miniature.

So what's stopping us? Well first of all Chris Carter has got to decide to chuck his toys and walk. I reckon he will. He's got nothing left, he doesn't owe Labour anything, and everyone would frankly prefer him gone from Parliament altogether.

Once that happens, there's enormous pressure on Anderton to agree to follow suit, should he win the Christchurch mayoralty. To date, Jim's been refusing to step aside from his other job as MP for Wigram, saying he'll do both jobs up until the next election. His main reason for this seems to be that he's saving the taxpayer the $500,000 it would cost to hold a by-election.

I have a suspicion the real reason is he wants to leave his options open in case he loses in October, but let's give him the benefit of the doubt, and say that if it were possible to hold three by-elections all at the same time then the additional cost for his Wigram one would be marginal. His main excuse would be gone.

And I think that's for the best. The people of Christchurch deserve more than a part-time mayor, and the people of Wigram deserve more than a part-time MP. They're fulltime jobs, Jim - you can't do both at the same time.

So bring on Super Saturday, I say. It's got to be more interesting than the rugby.

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