- south Aucklanders to turn out to vote in record numbers;
- the Green Party onside and returning a party vote result above 12 percent;
- swing voters to give it the nod in the provinces.
PART ONE OF THREE: In this, the first of a three-part weekly feature, The Daily Blog looks at why south Auckland’s vote must not be taken for granted; how National has been working a strategy designed to erode Labour’s support-base; and what Labour must do to become relevant to those currently estranged from political representation.
Ch 1: Like All Others Before It: |
Ch 2: When Compelled To Vote: |
Ch 3: National’s Vice Strategy – The People: |
Ch 4: National’s Grand South Auckland Plan: |
Ch 5: National’s Tactics There For All To See: |
Ch 6: National Needs A Dose of Its Own Medicine: |
Ch 7: In Conclusion: |
FOR AS LONG as south Auckland has been a place where working class families live, a place where working class values thrive, Labour has been the party of choice for the majority of those who turn out to vote. That’s a given. But what is variable is the proportion of eligible voters who turn out to vote.
That fact alone has caused the region to become a political battlefield where National’s strategising threatens to destroy the historical symbiotic relationship between centre-left political representation and the good people of the Great South Auckland Basin.
The purpose of this piece is to signal to Labour the need for it to reconnect to those who have become estranged from political representation.
Like all others before it, next year’s general election will see the nation’s peoples glued to their collective televisions watching the early poll results coming in.
And as they do so, they will see the TV results turning blue. The first two hours of election night will see National surging ahead.
There’s nothing new to this, but for both those aching for a change of government, and, for the others who long for third-term National Party rule, it will be a nervy experience.
Rural and provincial polling booths are traditionally the first to return their tally. These are the booths representing National’s rural rump and died-in-the-wool blue provincial-urban loyalists.
To the casual observer, the early election results (from 7-9pm) will suggest National advancing onward to a landslide victory. But National Party stalwarts will know that to win the 2014 election they will need to build on 2011’s record-breaking result and create an unprecedented third-term swing.
As we all know, for National to achieve glory, its leader John Key will have to produce a blinder of a campaign. Quietly, National Party strategists say, even considering Key’s magic, with Labour’s new leader David Cunliffe at the opposition’s helm, it will be a close fought battle.
No one, certainly Labour, appears to be taking anything for granted.
As election night churns on, thousands upon thousands of south Auckland voters will begin to sit upright in their chairs – as they have done for generations.
Joined by the nation’s Labour and Green supporters, they will wait with anticipation and wonder if the peoples of the Great South Auckland Basin have mobilised in numbers so large as to turn the TV screens red – as they have done in previous generations.
Everyone knows, that when given a reason to; when driven by a mood of change; offered political leadership worth voting for, and policies that connect – policies that will make a difference to them, their children, their parents, their community – a mobilisation takes place all across this region where centre-left voters honour their opportunity to deliver a change in government.
It’s a covenant of sorts: If Labour positions itself well, offers people solutions, hope, respect, an egalitarian promise made by a leader, backed by policy so as to be believed, the Party and its candidates will be rewarded, as they have been rewarded in previous generations.
One gets a sense that Labour is on message, that after some years, it is back walking the south Auckland talk.
But if Labour fails to be a Government in waiting, fails to pull behind it a trailer-load of solution-based policies designed to deliver opportunity to this country’s 800,000, the politically estranged, then south Auckland’s people too will stay home, shut their doors, and leave the politicians to it. With eyes downcast they will harden themselves again against the failed ideologies that cause their children to cry and their parents to feel shame. Some… will wait for their powder to dry.
Whether you are red, white, brown, yellow, green or blue, south Auckland is both a terrific ally and a formidable foe. It is, as the old Manukau City Council motif suggested, ‘The Face of the Future’. You ignore this place to your peril.
In the past, National had zero ability to affect voter behavior inside this Great South Auckland Basin. But today, and in 2014, that has changed.
When Compelled To Vote:
When south Aucklanders mobilise, a sea of red urban working class votes surges like a political King tide over New Zealand’s provincial blue.
It happened for Norman Kirk’s Labour in 1972. The memory’s in black and white now, a neighbour’s two elderly Maori great-grandparents limping across Takanini School Road to vote at the primary school’s polling booth. I remember my mother, young but only 17 month’s away from her death, smiling, saying to me: “I can guess who they will be voting for.”
Back then the same could be said for almost all of south Auckland’s peoples. Here our friends lived in houses mostly built by the state, some owned their houses and some paid rent. These were hard working families where the mother raised the kids, did some part-time work, and the fathers went out to full-time work. Each morning thousands boarded trains that made their way northward. The men disembarked at the railway workshops near Otahuhu, and others got off at the freezing works stations of Hellabies, Westfield, and Southdown. Every afternoon the tide of human labour returned home. It was the southern oscillation, it was the pulse of the population, and the beat was strong.
We all know the story. Kirk died too early. My grandfather and I sat watching the funeral on TV. Perhaps that’s why I remember it in black and white. He told me all about Kirk, and of Mickey Savage. He said, Savage brought in a rule where one man did one job. He said it didn’t mean a man got to work all day every day, but more people got a chance to work.
I remember him saying the new Prime Minister would be Bill Rowling or Bob Tizard. He preferred Rowling but didn’t think he could ever step up out of Kirk’s shadow, even in death.
I remember 1984 in full colour. I was an apprentice by then and we had an in-law visiting my father’s home. He made some pro-Muldoon comment. And I remember saying: “You may believe that, but the people in this house and in this area wont vote for that tyrant and he will be out on his arse before this day is through.”
South Auckland delivered. Its peoples delivered again in 1987, even though they were hurting. We would all have gone to the wall for David Lange back then. Many of us still would if given a chance. After all, he was one of us, not a turncoat like Douglas.
By 1990, we had all had a gut’s full. South Aucklanders stayed home on polling day.
But in 1999 we all voted. They sure did.
By 2008, we had all had a gut’s full.
And now it’s nearing the eve of election year 2014. The cycle is tighter. And south Auckland is listening, thinking, testing, waiting.
But times have changed. The region is no longer what it was. People have long gone, people have died, people have moved on, and the collective sense of knowing who we are or have become is blurred.
Like others, south Aucklanders now see politics in multilayered terms. The old left-right arguments mean squat, and the old cultural connections to Labour or National are more fluid. It’s a marketplace out there, where most know what party will help butter the bread, but it is a case of whether the bread is able to be baked.
National knows this and is milking it.
National’s Vice Strategy – The People:
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Labour’s force was expanding not only in south Auckland but also in the provinces. Manurewa, Manukau East, Mangere, Maungakiekie were the voting powerhouses that Labour relied on to keep it in government. For awhile, it looked like Labour (should it place a strong candidate into the fringe electorates) could have given the people of Takanini and Papakura-east a reason to vote and take the seat. It was an electorate in transition with fractured conservative/centre-right MPs squabbling away at the dusk of their careers. Papakura’s dynamic offered the centre-left an opportunity.
But that opportunity was not realised by Labour, and then a National Party political hopeful, Judith Collins, seized her chance, ran as a candidate, and has since solidified her hold on the seat, expanded it, controlled it, and the Party’s reach into the south of Auckland region.
Collins is largely the enforcer of National’s political machine in south and east Auckland. She is both the powerhouse and benefactor of National’s vice strategy here.
A few years ago Collins attracted to her Daniel Newman, a former Labour Party member, Manukau City councillor, community board chair, leader and key strategist of the now dominant economically rightwing ACTion ticket.
Under Newman’s control, ACTion’s local government politicians have swept across Manurewa, Papakura and Franklin winning a solid majority over centre-left teams and delivering community board dominance and ACTion team councillors to the Auckland Supercity.
It is testament to Newman’s cunning and inside knowledge that his rightwing local government machine has been able to become the ticket of choice for south south Auckland voters.
His influence and focus is now on Central Government.
National’s Grand South Auckland Plan
Over the past six years the National Party has been working with former Labour members in an attempt to erode the centre-left of south Auckland’s votes.
From the outside Manurewa may appear a bastion of centre-left politics.
This is a place where the streets are harder than the concrete the pavement is made from. I know what it feels like, I grew up here, went to school here. At 12 years of age we used to walk around smoking Old Port cigars, trying to look tough. By 13 we drank Lion Red on Friday nights until we could hardly walk from the shadows in Tadmore Park. Sometimes it was at the railway station and sometimes under the SouthMall railway bridge. The underworld here was pretty bad then, I remember one night attending a party near the Bellbird Hotel and hearing for the first time this amazing sound, I looked down and saw playing on the turntable a record with two iron hands shaking, the sound was Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here album (it still sounds amazing!) And I remember looking up from the turntable and to the right was a guy about five years older, about 18, he was mainlining Mr Asia heroin into a vein. This was a time when you could buy Marty Johnstone’s imported Budda-sticks from the school grounds. Many of us had homemade tattoos by 12, and professionally inked tattoos by 15. By 16 we drank Heritage bourbon because it sold by the half gallon. I haven’t written about that time and space before and perhaps it should be left back there anyway, in black and white.
But all of that’s insignificant by today’s standards.
This weekend, during an interlude from writing this feature, I was down in the south. Driving along Great South Road the humm was silenced. A Police car, with siren blaring, flew passed, hurtled onto the opposite side of the road, overtook a couple of cars at highway speed, cut back into the traffic and sliced left into Mahia Road. A couple of minutes later on passing Boon Street, three cop cars and four or five officers had encircled a young Polynesian youth. He was on his knees. Hands cuffed behind his back. One of the officers was pointing something black to his head. On first glance it looked like a gun! But no, it was one of those things the Police use to test alcohol levels. I don’t know what his alleged crime was, but it was a reminder of how this place lives on a knife’s edge where the rapid response actions of the cops are as terrifying as the violence they are commissioned to arrest.
These are just snapshots, nothing more, nothing less, actions of what occurs everywhere, every day.
Whatever, never mind. Yes, no. Manurewa is hard. Does this mean it is politically loyal-left?
This is the place where Roger Douglas grew up. He coached soccer here while his brother Malcolm was our coach at the Manurewa Marlins Rugby League Club. The latter was a good coach and a good man too. Manurewa is where National’s Merv Wellington once reigned from 1975-78. And Manurewa is where Mr Rogernomics acquired huge support among the local LEC members and was the MP here from 1978-90. George Hawkins (a member of Labour’s right-leaning ‘backbone club’) took over from Douglas from 1990-2011 and as an MP pulled in huge majorities election year after election year. George was a good man too and in my view the most shrewd politician to have graced the south of the south Auckland electorates.
National knows all of this. Does Labour? Or has it forgotten.
For the past nine years, National’s key tactic has been to draw into the Tory fold conservative-leaning Labour members – those who have found themselves and their political ambitions estranged from the party. Among them, the lucky turncoats have been promised influence, respect, and for one political elite, a shot at a candidacy in a safe National Party seat just south of here.
These former Labour members are blue-chip acquisitions for National, and National is darn lucky to have them. They know intimately Labour’s strengths, and more importantly, Labour’s weaknesses. Once turned, the information they provide National empowers the centre-right to exploit the weaknesses of the centre-left’s territorial hold, dilute its influence and slowly, stealthily, arrest Labour’s ability to achieve its potential vote.
I’m not suggesting Labour could lose Manurewa, Manukau East or Mangere, but rather that National’s strategy has been to divide the seats, dog-whistle up a message that Labour’s Louisa Wall is hopeless at Manurewa electorate representation, leverage up the proportion of party vote National across the region, and provide representation in these safe Labour seats throughout the Parliamentary term.
That is something Labour has not done in seats like Papakura, a seat which contains large pockets of low socio-economically defined communities whose peoples struggle against the impact caused by this Government’s policies. These thousands of people, in just the Papakura electorate alone, find themselves glued to the perpetual indignity of being politically represented by one of the very architects of a system that accentuates their estrangement, completes their alienation, from the political process and ultimately from progress itself.
Let’s not forget identity politics, but people, out here the struggle is class, alienation, racism, and access to jobs that provide shelter and food.
National’s Tactics There For All To See.
The Vice Strategy (as I’ll refer to it as) is being applied most significantly to the great south Auckland basin electorates.
- Compress the borders of safe Labour electorates.
- Create boundary changes that eat into the National-leaning sectors of safe Labour seats.
- Place National Party candidates inside safe Labour seats who know they will lose but have National Party support via a list ranking high enough to maintain a Parliamentary career.
- Intensify influence across safe Labour seat boundaries through establishing and developing a loud and challenging network of local Government politicians.
Tactics Used To Achieve Relevance Inside Safe Labour Seats:
- Embed National list MPs through candidacies into safe Labour seats, and maintain their presence throughout Parliamentary terms – this demonstrates a commitment to the area and ensures the list MPs become the Party’s eyes and ear inside Labour’s safe seats.
- Maintain strong National Party brand inside safe Labour seats by locating Party List MP offices in National-leaning sectors of the electorate so as to demonstrate commitment to the area and provide Parliamentary Service paid electorate staff to represent and advocate for voters who did not vote Labour.
- Use those list MPs, their staff, and branch committees and members to identify political, cultural, and economic shifts within the electorates and network with ‘power elites’ in the Labour seats.
The strategy has been used to foster a demographic that spreads deep into south Auckland electorates. For over nine years now National has been reaching into suburbs on the periphery of safe Labour seats, sectors of suburbs that have been on the rise (socio-economically).
In south Auckland you can see the evidence of this when viewing how Labour’s strong safe seats, Manurewa, Manukau East, Mangere have been condensed and squeezed from the north, south and east – pressed against the Manukau Harbour.
From inside the electorates, National’s candidates work their influence. They include Cam Calder in Manurewa, Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi in Manukau East, and more recently Claudette Huaiti in Mangere.
From outside the electorates, National’s incumbents build their majorities and reach further into Labour’s turf and continue to connect with like-minded groups.
For example; with National now firmly in residence in Maungakiekie, its incumbent Sam Lotu Inga connects to the ‘Pacific Blue’ constituencies deep inside Mangere and Manukau East. Meanwhile Huaiti works the Maori communities inside Mangere and advances her rhetoric of how Maori have been abandoned by Labour. National in Maungakiekie has given up on holding onto the strong Labour Otahuhu sectors that once were part of the seat when Labour’s Mark Gosche held the seat. Today, Maungakiekie reaches further into Onehunga and its networks work their charm to gain Party vote support in Mangere Bridge.
Manukau East sits strong, but the shame of this electorate is that its representative has been missing for the best part of 13 of his 30 year reign. As a south Auckland politician Ross Robertson failed to fire, he never made Cabinet, and really has been a lame representative of this electorate’s peoples. He of course will see it differently. But for a man who committed himself so honourably to parliamentary politics over electorate representation, he should have done the honourable thing… accepted MMP is our system, stood on the Party’s list, and made way for a candidate that is hungry to make a difference and determined to truly represent his or her peoples.
Manukau East’s Ross Robertson is currently double-dipping, having won a local government role at community board level, he insists on staying on as an MP too until the 2014 General Election.
Meanwhile, chipping away on the outskirts of this electorate is National’s Jami-Lee Ross. His Botany electorate has chewed off sectors of Otara/East Tamaki, Clover Park and Flat Bush. Small bites, but over time is altering the demographics of the seat.
Over the past decade Manurewa, the ruby in Labour’s south Auckland crown, has lost significant territory to Judith Collins’ expanding Papakura electorate. The most recent electoral boundary changes have cemented in the invasion, especially on the seat’s south and south-east flanks.
On this border, Judith Collins has acquired the polling booths inside WattleDowns, The Gardens, and a large chunk of Hunua’s north-east blue-belt.
Manurewa and Papakura are significant to National’s plan, so let’s go deep.
To get to WattleDowns, Collins has to drive through the urban-heartland of Manurewa’s Mahia and Coxhead roads. The people here assert to a dignity that is possibly lost on National. These people face daily an estrangement with government and if they scent opportunity they do so by their own talents. Despite the negative economic consequences delivered by National’s wealth-for-the-rich policies, the people who live along the route taken by Collins measure their successes in the short term and some can see the rewards of their efforts.
But compared to those who live at Collins’ destination, Mahia’s people are money-poor.
If you ever wondered whether the centre-right’s trickle-down economic theory works, take a drive to Manurewa’s Great South Road, turn into Mahia Road, travel up the rise and note how things begin to feel for you. Turn left into Coxhead Road, pull over for a time and slowly absorb the realness of the people’s struggle.
Not far from here is James Cook High School – just up the road – when I attended school there many of my friends lived around Mahia. Nothing has changed since then really; except more families back then maybe aspired to home ownership, could afford to paint their fences, fix their cars, clothe their kids, feed their kids, weren’t forced to down-cast their eyes when the area’s youth gangsters and peddlers mooched passed. When you visited a friend, back then you would be offered a Huntley and Palmers cracker (albeit without butter or spread) and a cup of tea. Such things are nostalgic these days – thanks to the trickle down theory. Don’t get me wrong, these are good people here, it’s the economics that is septic.
Just a few hundred metres ahead, still on Coxhead Road, is where Judith Collins drives to enter her Papakura electorate alcove of WattleDowns. You wont miss it. It’s New Zealand’s version of crossing Checkpoint Charlie – where a clash of ideologies contrasts in a way reminiscent of walking from old East Berlin and into the west. Only here, the wall, the open-gated entranceway with CCTV sign and warnings, was erected by the alcove’s wealthy. Was it a signal to Manurewa’s poor to keep out? In the space of ten metres the challenge of low socio-economic subsistence gives way to affluence, golf courses, beautifully groomed beach reserves, palatial estates and security alarms.
What exactly is the message here? If you vote Party Vote National you too can have all of this? Or is it merely a grim reminder of economic and political control – a wealth depository in the heart of Manurewa that demonstrates how contained and contrasting south Auckland has become? Good for the established, the rich, the connected to others with affluence? Bad for everyone else? Or is it merely a sector where those who have made it, cluster in numbers where they feel safe?
Whatever, it is a prized jewel in Judith Collins’ crown.
Of course, there are people in WattleDowns and The Gardens (slightly to the east of here) who do not subscribe to what the National Party stands for. But due to National’s Vice Strategy, they find themselves estranged from electorate representation. Labour’s MPs and staff are over the other side of the border. There is no Labour List MP representing them inside National’s Papakura electorate, not on their side of the border.
National Needs A Dose of its own medicine.
Those who find themselves estranged from political representation live in large numbers inside Judith Collins’ Papakura electorate. It’s an electorate screaming out for solid, persuasive centre-left candidacy. The politically estranged who live here in their thousands come from Manurewa’s Randwick Park, Takanini, Ardmore, Papakura East and many find it hard to be convinced voting is worth their while.
You wont find Judith Collins knocking on doors in these parts.
There are great things happening here though.
In 2002, at the height of Labour’s reach in south Auckland, the Clark-led Government committed over $23 million to establish the first state-owned secondary school to be build in south Auckland for almost three decades. Alfriston College (located in the Randwick Park area) was the first of the 21st Century ICT secondary schools, and remains a proud icon connecting the Manurewa East, Alfriston, The Gardens, Randwick Park and Takanini communities. (Disclaimer: I was appointed to the establishment board of this project and was also chair of the board leading up to the official opening.)
But since National regained power in 2008, no significant government social or economic infrastructure, or regionalised economic development, has been injected into south Auckland. And for many, Labour’s relevancy, while it has been in opposition, has receded to the safety of its three major electorates (Manurewa, Manukau East, Mangere). One gets the feeling however that now is the time for Labour to extend its commitment to Papakura’s non-National voting population – people in dire need of political representation from the inside.
The social ills in evidence in Takanini, Randwick Park, pockets of Conifer Grove, and Papakura East require solutions that Judith Collins’ National Party is neither loathed or bothered to commit to. These people require policies that facilitate regionalised economic development that will deliver jobs, livelihood, facilitate progressive communities.
Let’s do a comparison.
Where Takanini’s Thoroughbred racehorse industry once employed many, now stand hectares upon hectares of land-banked holdings. There’s evidence that heavy industry is coming, but the thinking that’s gone into where to locate it (on the rich fertile productive soft-peat-soil of Takanini) is tragic.
The land that’s zoned high density residential is expansive. In time, politically, a new electorate will be born here, and it’s a safe bet due to the politics of the constructed social-class the people will vote centre-left – as compared to other sub-suburbs of Papakura’s like Karaka which is constructed to attract affluence.
But for today, on this prime horticulture land that once provided the energy that hurtled racehorses such as Sunline, Bonecrusher, Uncle Remus down the track, now grows gorse, wooly nightshade, ragwort. The only thing that grows well here (apart from weeds) is the book value on the accounts of offshore and domestic land-investors.
About three years ago, I enquired about the price of one small block which had had a for sale sign on display for over a decade. The surprised real estate agent said “Oh no, the land may become commercial. We would want many many millions for it.” Three years on, the land remains derelict. This is land-banking.
Some years ago you may have heard National Party people talking about police and community security. Policy were banded about, ideas with labels like broken windows and zero tolerance. Well where are these people now? What does Judith Collins think of the message these derelict buildings suggest to Takanini’s massive youth challenge?
Where Takanini’s racehorses once trained, the race course has been sold and after over a decade of land-banking, sections are now for sale.
Where the Papakura Army Camp once provided economic spin-offs for the region’s economy, now stands a padlocked gate adorned with the obligatory trespass sign.
Papakura East has suffered from some of the region’s most awful homicides, Ardmore has become the dumping ground for the bodies of some of the most disturbing killings. Streets like Dominion Road, Settlement Road, Bates Street, Smiths Ave remain places where many, when tensions rise, accept the assistance of established gangs rather than seek recourse via the authorities.
All of this is not solely National’s fault, but National’s Judith Collins appears bereft of ideas or solutions at this level, in her own electorate.
In a way, this isn’t necessarily a criticism of Collins, after all, she knows who she represents, the professional people, the retailers, the people of Puhurehure, Karaka, The Gardens, WattleDowns. She is reasonably honest about that, and networks with those who do not rub shoulders with the estranged.
But like with all science, where a political vacuum occurs, something will fill it. The question is who will oblige and with what.
Will Labour give National a taste of its own medicine?
To become relevant out here, Labour needs to do as National has done on its patch; run a candidate in Papakura who knows his or her stuff, knows the region, is high enough on the Party List to be assured of making Parliament, and embed that candidate into National’s south Auckland stronghold not just for the term of the election campaign, but for the entire three year term.
Labour needs to deliver a longterm strategy out here, right across the Great South Auckland Basin, inter-network its reach, or become as estranged from the Treasury Benches as these people are to politics.
Some may disagree. And that is their prerogative. But I argue here that the strength of Labour’s presence in the region should not be viewed by its sizable majorities gleaned in Manurewa, Manukau East, and Mangere, but by how effective is its advocacy, the reach of its networks, its influence in attracting both the estranged and swinging voters on the boundary fringes. When considered from this perspective, Labour has a huge challenge ahead.
National’s Vice Strategy has been effective.
It can be reversed.
But to create a big swing for Labour in 2014, it needs a strategic reexamination of its purpose out here. And it needs to implement a change of tack, with haste.
And if Labour’s top-brass read this piece to its conclusion, my message here is that this kind of challenge cannot be orchestrated solely by the local LECs and the dedicated few like Jill Ovens and Len Richards – people who have dedicated so much for so long. They need help to create the Labour movement in these parts and need strategic action and Party List commitment from Labour’s HQ.
Lest we forget.