On the third day, the Great Gough rose from the dead and breathed life into the Labor vote in two byelections being held in the Hunter region of NSW. And it came to pass that Labor won both seats — Newcastle and Charlestown — and there was great rejoicing among the comrades.

Their leader, John Robertson, proclaimed “mission accomplished” and promised greater success in the state election on March 28. We shall see. He won’t have the Great Gough next time.

The Pharisees, aka the Liberals, did not stand candidates fearing they faced a whitewash from angry voters.

And another thing: their election war chest is empty because donations have dried up in the wake of public revelations at the Independent Commission Against Corruption of campaign rorts and dodgy business deals.

Before Gough’s death on October 22, there was no sign that voters in Newcastle and Charlestown were remotely interested in Labor’s campaign. The Greens were attracting many more followers to their public meetings and street events.

His death at 98 brought an avalanche of coverage in the mainstream and social media. The Newcastle Herald printed full-colour wraparounds devoted to his life, legacy and triumphs. People recalled the 1969, 1972 and 1974 federal elections, when Labor triumphed in the Hunter and the nation changed for the better. And they also recalled “old Labor”, i.e. what the ALP was like before it was taken over by spivs and deal makers.

As if by magic, Labor voters began to emerge from the sullen suburbs and neglected streets of the two electorates. They found that had something to be proud of and something worth voting for, even if was only a memory of grand things past.

When the votes were counted on Saturday night, Charlestown’s new MP, Jodie Harrison, had collected a primary vote of 49.67% and a two-party preferred result of 70.3%. By way of comparison, at the last state election in March 2011, sitting Labor MP Matthew Morris attracted a primary vote of just 28.9%. He lost the seat to the Liberals.

Labor’s candidate in the Newcastle seat, Tim Crakanthorp, had a less spectacular win. His primary vote was 36.95%, with independent Karen Howard in second place with 26.3%*.

Given recent ICAC revelations about former ALP factional powerbrokers Eddie Obeid, Ian Macdonald, Eric Roozendaal and Joe Tripodi, voters in Newcastle and Charlestown have either short memories or they are extremely forgiving.

For my money, they gave a sentimental vote to Labor. They were voting for Gough.

If “Robbo” thinks they were voting for him, he must be dreaming.

*Correction: An earlier version of this story mistakenly said the Greens candidate came second in Newcastle.

Peter Fray

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