In defense of Labour electorate MPs




In this week’s Listener article by Ruth Laugesen (Regaining the love Labour’s lost), there is a bold pull-out line that states: “MPs such as Phil Twyford are seen with some suspicion within Labour as having selfishly built their own vote rather than that of the party”.  The line is pulled from a paragraph that reads: “After [the 2011] result there was much muttering within Labour over the failure to win strong party votes in seats such as Auckland’s Te Atatu, where Phil Twyford won a personal vote of almost 16,000 but a Labour party vote of just 12,000.  Rather than being seen as a laudable demonstration of a candidate’s crossover appeal to National voters, MPs such as these are seen with some suspicion within Labour as having selfishly built their own vote rather than that of the party”.

So who are the “MPs such as these..”?

  • As a reference, in the electorate in question – Phil Twyford’s Te Atatu – Labour received 39% of the party vote and Phil received 52% of the candidate vote (against a gaffe-prone Tau Henare; who is hardly another John Key.!) for a majority of 4,000 votes.
  • David Shearer’s Mt Albert (not that far from Te Atatu): Labour received 37% of the party vote and David got 57% of the candidate vote for a majority of over 10,000 votes.
  • Grant Robertson’s Wellington Central: Labour received 26% of the party vote and Grant 48% of the candidate vote for a majority of over 6,000 votes.
  • Phil Goff’s Mt Roskill (not that far from Te Atatu either): labour received 32% of the party vote and Phil received 56% of the candidate vote for majority of over 7,000 votes,
  • Annette King’s Rongotai: Labour got 34% of the party vote and Annette received just under 50% of the candidate vote for a majority of 9,000 votes.
  • In other West Auckland seats, Labour ended up with 37% of the party vote in Waitakere, and 37% of the Labour party vote in New Lynn.

Shearer, Robertson, Goff and King are hardly ‘selfish’ and yet they all have a larger candidate majority than Phil. In fact, in terms of party vote percentage, Phil Twyford did better than all four in the former and current leadership teams, and better than the other two West Auckland electorates.

I have known Phil ever since he came back to NZ from representing Oxfam in New York and became involved in the Labour party.  In fact, we were both in the Epsom LEC.  I can testify that Phil is an extremely hard worker and a very effective campaigner.  One only had to drive through Te Atatu during the last election to realise that Phil had more hoarding sites (party vote and two-tick) than anyone else in Auckland.

The provider of the line in the Listener article also fails to understand MMP: one of the great things about MMP is that it allows constituents to vote for whom they consider to be a very effective MP, despite what that person’s political affiliation’s may be.  And it always goes in swings and round-abouts.  In Rongotai, for example, Nat Front bencher Finlayson (by all accounts a very able front bench cabinet minister) received less candidate votes than the Nats received party votes.  I wonder if the Nat’s are sitting around saying “Finlayson, you are obviously not very popular so we need to replace you with someone who is going to get as many candidate votes as party votes?”  Of course not.  MMP allows good local MPs like Shearer, Robertson, Goff, King and Twyford to be rewarded (or not punished) when the party isn’t firing.

I would also contend that in this day and age it is pretty much impossible to run a pure ‘candidate-centred’ campaign.  Every Labour electorate MP is in parliament because they are aligned with Labour.  The party is much larger than any candidate.

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Su’a William Sio’s victory in Mangere in the 2008 general election proves the strength of the Labour brand over that of the individual. In 2005 Phillip Field won Mangere as a Labour MP with a majority of 16,000 (the largest majority of any MP in parliament at the time).  When Field stood as an independent in 2008, Labour’s William Sio won with a majority of over 7,000.

There is no doubt that an effective candidate improves the party vote: it’s the reason why the Green’s refuse to stand candidates aside in general seats, when to do so could well mean that Labour wins the seat; because they know that without a candidate their party vote drops.

Phil Twyford is an example of an exceptional candidate and it is the reason why Labour’s party vote was 39% and not 32%.   Phil will be a fantastic cabinet minister one day, and I have no doubt that as Labour’s party vote in Te Atatu waxes and wanes depending on the party’s fortunes, Phil’s personal majority will continue to increase in line with his work ethic and sense of community responsibility.

Personally, I don’t know who views Phil ‘with some suspicion’ because if every Labour-held electorate had received 39% of the party vote, Labour would probably be in government.



  1. Hi Stuart – good contribution to the debate. I too believe that good, locally grounded candidates are essential to building trust and supporting the Party Vote campaign.

    One minor correction I have to make from a Mt Roskill point of view. In 2011, the Party for Labour in Roskill was in fact 44% (14098/32330 total votes).

    • Michael, I apologise profusely. You are right and I am wrong: Mt Roskills party vote was indeed 44% and not the 32% I mentioned. Just shows what an exceptional team the fantastic local MP Phil Goff has built.

  2. Phil Twyford seems to be one of Labour’s bright new lights. Lets hope he can continue to represent as he has done thus far for as long as possible.

  3. Stuart, the reason these guys got higher candidate votes than party votes seems pretty simple to me, and it’s nothing to do with how hard bench-warmers like Goff work. With such a vicious National government licking its chops for a second term, most people who vote for the Greens, Mana, or any other left-leaning party, or a single issue party like the Cannabis Party, is going to vote for the Labour candidate to try to topple the Nats in that electorate.

    So when you say:
    >> it’s the reason why the Green’s refuse to stand candidates aside in general seats, when to do so could well mean that Labour wins the seat; <<

    This is a filthy smear. In fact, it's the other way around. I'd wager that for a lot of the people who turned up to vote Greens in 2011, the Labour candidate in their electorate got another tick.

    Labour, for their part, could easily afford to stop splitting the vote in strong Green areas like Coromandel, so that Catherine Delahunty could have a chance at beating Scott Simpson. National worked out some time ago that it works in their favour to give potential coalition partners a leg-up, and be owed a favour or two.

    If Labour stood aside in Ohariu in 2014, with Katrina Shanks spliting the pro-GCSB expansion vote, Gareth Hughes could have a chance at putting Dunny out his misery. Unless anyone can convince Charles Chauvel to come back, in which case I would strongly advise the Hughes to pull out at the eleventh hour, and encourage his supporters to back Chauvel to make sure Dunne is done.

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