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Opinion: Labour breaking up over same-sex marriage

Wednesday 8 Aug 2012 11:32 a.m.

Sio says Labour supporting the bill could cost them 30,000 votes.

Sio says Labour supporting the bill could cost them 30,000 votes.

Opinion by Political Reporter Patrick Gower

The gay marriage bill has started to tear the Labour Party to pieces.

Labour's Mangere MP Sua William Sio has basically called for a divorce from the bill, saying it should be withdrawn - because it could cost the party the next election.

Yes, that's right - Sio says the bill could cost Labour an election.

And you can't really fault Sua's logic: he says it will wipe out the Pacific vote in South Auckland - that's Labour's heartland, that's where it wins elections.

Ouch.

As Sio told Radio NZ this morning: "There are weightier and more pressing issues, like holding John Key to account for the weakening economy and the lack of jobs - and that's where our priority ought to be."

Now that has to hurt David Shearer, who is out shaking hands in Nelson today trying to woo provincial voters back to Labour - while Labour's stronghold in South Auckland is burning.

Sio says homosexual law reform and civil unions cost the party about 30,000 votes - and same-sex marriage could do the same.

Losing 30,000 votes - now that should really have Shearer worried - I really don't think he can afford to lose 30,000 votes right now.

Now, the gay marriage bill is a conscience vote and plenty of MPs will vote it down because they are worried about the backlash from their constituents.

Many of these will be National MPs - and the odd Labour MP, like Damien "gaggle of gays" O'Connor.

Sio is obviously appealing to his own voter base but saying it could cost Labour the election is a pretty extreme way of doing that.

But no MP has gone so far to say it should be withdrawn - and say that it could cost Labour the election.

In private, Shearer probably agrees with Sio to an extent and wishes the bill never got drawn.

It conjures up all the images of a Labour Party obsessed by so-called "social engineering" like anti-smacking rather than issues like jobs and wages.

No wonder John Key is voting for it - it's causing Labour many more problems than it's causing National.

Along with the "Monday-ising" bill, it shows Labour is making inroads on two things - more holidays and gay marriage.

And don't forget that Sio is a big "camp Cunliffe" man - he was well and truly in David Cunliffe's corner at the last election, even doing the numbers.

As my boss Duncan Garner blogged yesterday, the Shearer/Cunliffe bitterness is far from over.

So Sio will probably get the political bash from the Labour heavies now, if he hasn't already this morning.

Sio will be in trouble for telling the truth - and of course ruining Shearer's symbolic visit to the provinces.

Labour has been having an increasingly fractious relationship with the Pacific Island vote in recent years.

Yes, there was Mike Williams' famous "get out the vote" campaign in 2005, where South Auckland voters were bussed to the booths.

But the reality is Labour says it doesn't "own" the Pacific Island vote like it thinks it does. Many voters there just don't see any alternative.

And that's why Sio is so worried.

But remember Taito Phillip Field? Well, when he ran as the conservative Christian "Pacific Party" in 2008, he got 5525 votes in Mangere.

So the votes are there - and Colin Craig knows it.

His Conservative Party would love a slice of the 30,000 votes from the South Auckland church community that Sio says could be looking for a home.

The Conservatives made a push in the area at the last election. Expect a roll call of Pacific Island candidate and a big campaign in 2014.

So the gay marriage bill seems to be the gift that keeps on giving - for John Key and Colin Craig.

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