Labour has been downplaying the centre-right swing at the local government election, but the threat of a by-election loss in Hamilton West will be weighing heavy, writes political editor Jo Moir

Comment: Independent MP Gaurav Sharma is a godsend for the National Party.

On the same day National’s leader Christopher Luxon had been under sustained pressure over his MP Barbara Kuriger’s undeclared conflict of interest, Sharma shot a torpedo through what had been a moment of calm for Labour.

As Kuriger nervously stepped out of the House to face a media storm, she was asked to patiently wait while senior Labour MPs were questioned leaving Question Time to news of Sharma’s shock resignation.

It was the first time Kuriger had fronted media since losing her agriculture and biosecurity portfolios on Friday.

The demotion came after a whistleblower alerted Luxon’s office to her using her official MP capacity to repeatedly question the Ministry of Primary Industries about how it handled the case against her son that led to him pleading guilty to animal cruelty offences.

Sharma, the MP for Hamilton West was expelled from the Labour Party caucus in August after repeated allegations of bullying against his colleagues – that Ardern says have never been substantiated.

In a Facebook post at 3pm Tuesday, Sharma said he didn’t want his electorate to be without a voice for six months and was resigning to ensure a by-election took place in his Hamilton seat.

He claims the Labour Party planned to expel him from the party and Ardern was set to invoke the waka jumping electoral provision six months out from next year’s election to prevent the need for a by-election.

Ardern denies that is the case and has suggested he reconsider his plans, given the cost of a by-election to taxpayers.

A win for National in the Hamilton West electorate will only add to the Opposition’s narrative that the tide is turning on Labour and its running of the country.

This is not Sharma’s first helping hand to National.

When he went public with his bullying allegations, which he claimed went as high up the chain as the Prime Minister’s office – he did so in the same week National was battling headlines about its own MP, Sam Uffindell.

Sharma’s explosive claims first published in the New Zealand Herald were a distraction sent from the political heavens for the Opposition.

The revelation that a by-election will now take place is only more good news for the National Party.

Sharma almost certainly won the seat on the red tidal wave of Ardern’s popularity in 2020 and Labour would have preferred not to put that to the test earlier than necessary.

Sharma plans to set up his own party and run in the by-election but, in reality, it will be a race between National and Labour.

Ardern has held the line that local government and central government results don’t track the same political path after a number of the mayoralties swung centre-right at the election 10 days ago.

While history will show that to be the case often enough, it’s the fact many of the mayoralty winners campaigned on anti-government policy that is the bigger issue for Labour.

On top of that are mounting economic pressures for the Government in the form of the cost-of-living crisis not letting up with the latest quarterly inflation figures released on Tuesday holding high on 7.2 percent.

Add to that the ongoing ram raids and burglaries, including foodbanks being hit by theft this week, the headlines and outlook for Labour look increasingly bleak.

A win for National in the Hamilton West electorate will only add to the Opposition’s narrative that the tide is turning on Labour and its running of the country.

He might be a thorn in Labour’s side, but Sharma is the gift that just keeps on giving for National.

Jo Moir is Newsroom's political editor.

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