The South Island has got a lot to answer for. Not content just to let their own disputes fester in their own area, they seem keen to make sure that any issues that they have permeate the media nationwide. First a local council consultation dispute balloons into a Court of Appeal case, which in turn spawns the behemoth that is the foreshore and seabed debate. Secondly, a local family custody battle ends with the possibility of a vacant seat and a by-election.
If we are in the process of counting our blessings, then at least the Nick Smith saga takes some of the spotlight away from race relations. The phrase “post Orewa” was becoming the new “post September 11” of the news media. The only thing close to getting the media coverage that race relations has been getting for nigh on two months was what to do about superannuation. To put it bluntly, booooring.
So the prospect of a by-election is intriguing; all the more so because one of the quirky intricacies of our electoral law is that if it is decided that Nick Smith is in breach of the Electoral Act and subsequently the Nelson seat becomes vacant there is nothing to stop Smith standing again. In the 2002 election Smith got through with a hefty majority and the likelihood is that Smith would do so again, particularly given the fact that he has created the perception that he was standing up for a family from the Nelson electorate’s custodial rights.
Which has seen Smith make some interesting comments about ensuring that he still has a mandate with his electorate and being prepared to fight a by-election if a complaint goes before the privileges committee. The best way to paraphrase this is probably “by-election? Bring it on!” Why? Well, think of it as a twelve-year-old boy at his brother’s under nine soccer game where the younger brother’s team is down a couple of players. The twelve year old ostensibly grudgingly accepts to make up the numbers, with full knowledge that basically he is going to wipe the field with the other team.
That is exactly the type of scenario that would likely happen here. So far the only groups to show interest have been the Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party and the New Zealand University Students Association. Hmmm… Seasoned Nelson Constituency MP versus a weed advocate and a student activist in an area that is (a) reasonably conservative and (b) doesn’t have a university. You’d get better odds on Jonah Lomu being the next Governor-General.
Wisely the other main parties have said that they wouldn’t contest such a by-election. Labour knows that Nick Smith’s campaign would merely be a platform for National to test the mandate of its race relations policy and probably is a little bit scared about what an already National leaning electorate would say. Instead Labour (and the other main parties) has decided to do exactly what they did to Winston Peters when he had his by-election in 1992. They let Winston go up to Tauranga, eat tapioca pudding and roast chicken in rest homes and romp home with more than seventy percent of the vote. If a by-election does happen in Nelson, the same will probably be true, except Nick Smith will probably just go and play in the foreshore.