Andrew Little praises Labour's win in Mt Roskill by-election, John Key downplays impact

Warwick Smith/Stuff

While attending the lower North Island National Party Christmas function in Palmerston North, Prime Minister John Key talks about the Mt Roskill by-election.

Labour and National have traded barbs over the significance of the Mt Roskill by-election, with Labour leader Andrew Little saying the "overwhelmingly conclusive" result augurs well for its chances in 2017.

However, Prime Minister John Key has downplayed the impact of Labour's win, saying low turnout and history meant National "never thought we'd win".

Labour's Michael Wood comfortably bested National's Parmjeet Parmar in the race to replace Phil Goff, winning by 6518 votes.

Prime Minister John Key says he always expected National would not win the Mt Roskill by-election.
DAVID UNWIN/FAIRFAX NZ

Prime Minister John Key says he always expected National would not win the Mt Roskill by-election.

While Labour's victory margin in the seat was down due to lower turnout, Wood's 66 per cent share of the vote was higher than Goff managed in the 2014 election.

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Little said "the result exceed[ed] all expectations", despite Key's "trash talk" last week about Labour's need to win.

"This was a big effort required on our part: we had a new candidate who had to establish himself, it was a seat where the party vote goes in favour of National.

"I have to confess I got a little worried when I saw the amount of time the Prime Minister was spending in the electorate...but he simply did not draw the vote out."

The "overwhelmingly conclusive result", combined with strong performances in the local body elections, was a sign that Labour could lift its polling and perofrm well at the 2017 election, Little said.

"It does tell me that when we are campaigning on the basis of issues that people are concerned about, that we don't get drawn into distractions, that we keep our eyes on the prize frankly, then we can win."

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'WE DIDN'T THINK WE'D WIN, AND WE DIDN'T WIN'

Speaking to media in Palmerston North, Key said he was not embarrassed by the result.

"It was certainly as expected - we didn't think we'd win and we didn't win."

Other parties' decisions not to stand a candidate had worked in Labour's favour, while the 38.5 per cent turnout showed voters were not interested.

"The Greens didn't show up, NZ First didn't show up and actually the voters didn't show up, so you've had one of the lowest turnouts we've really seen in a mainstream by-election."

Key also pointed to history, saying no incumbent government "in the history of New Zealand" had ever won a seat they did not hold in a by-election.

He denied the loss was a sign of National's waning popularity, saying "you can't really take anything out of a by-election".

"Labour will want to say somehow this has been good for them, but if it is, it's a pretty low bar really...it doesn't take away from the fact that they're polling in the mid-20s and that's how they're going to end the year.

"If Andrew Little thinks victory is holding a seat they've held for 40 years, that's good but I don't think that makes a general election victory."

However, he defended Parmar's campaign, saying his visits to Mt Roskill were a show of confidence in her work.

"We never thought we'd win, but that doesn't mean that we don't go and support a member who did a really good job. She worked hard, she performed well and I think she did an excellent job of what she was trying to do."

 - Stuff

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