Why the provinces matter


nz-map-regionalDuring the last election, according to Jim Anderton, Labour’s strategists decided that they needed to concentrate on turning out the Auckland, Pasifika and Maori vote in order to beat the Key government. Jim spoke to Goff and convinced him that Labour had to include the provinces in that mix.

In 1999 Labour held 14 of the 28 provincial seats, National held 12 and the Greens and NZ First one each. In 2002 Labour held 16 to National’s 11 and NZ First one. By 2008, Labour had lost all but Palmerston North and in 2011 Damien O’Conner had managed to win back West Coast.

So what went wrong in seats like New Plymouth (1999 Labour majority 15,092), Napier (1999 majority 11,863), Invercargill (1999 majority 7,990), Tukituki (1999 majority 8,646) and many others? Sure, there were boundary changes, but you can’t blame that on the provincial massacre Labour suffered.

What happened is that National took the provinces seriously and implemented a strategy that saw a number of good candidates work extremely hard with huge support from the centre. This, mixed with Labour’s complacency, saw many so-called safe seats fall.

While we all know that its ‘about the party vote’, what a number of those who don’t live in the provinces fail to understand is that an effective local MP who is seen out and about representing the party in a high profile way has the ability to maximise the party vote in a way that a candidate who arrives three months before the election simply can’t.

In Auckland if you hold your breath at midnight and drive really fast, you can cross 10 electorate s before you start turning blue. No matter who holds a particular electorate, chances are either a Labour and/or National MP will turn up to represent their party at an important occasion.

In the provinces, there is only one show in town and that is the local MP. And in conservative provincial NZ name recognition is very important. In Napier, for example, during the local body campaign, the highest polling candidate didn’t even put up a billboard, but was top of the pile due to the fact he is a long serving councilor with fantastic name recognition.

Of course turning out the Auckland vote is vital if a party wants to win an election, however, so is turning out the provincial vote. Campaigning is different, issue advocacy is different as are the issues themselves. It is almost impossible not to run a two-tick campaign because there is no other game in town.

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Provincial electorates also represent heartland New Zealand. No matter what anyone in Auckland says, two-thirds of NZ’s economy is still based around primary industries. If any party only holds seats in Akld, Wgtn, Chch and Dunedin, then they don’t have a particularly wide mandate to govern because they haven’t got MPs in caucus putting forward the views of the vast majority of geographic NZ.

The fact that David Cunliffe has taken the Regional Development portfolio, and Shane Jones the Economic Development portfolio shows that Labour takes the issue of provincial health and well-being very seriously.

I am beginning to see National make the same mistakes that Labour made in 2002 – 2005. A creeping complacency that a number of excellent Labour candidates will be in a good position to take advantage of in 2014. Whanganui, Otaki and Wairarapa are three seats that stand out, and I firmly believe my own Napier electorate will return to Labour next year as well.

In fact, I predict that in 2017, Labour will, once again, hold more provincial seats than National.

Only when Labour starts winning back provincial NZ, however, will it truly be able to maximise its party vote.


  1. This is true.
    In the 2011 election I was voting in the Taranaki-King Country electorate, one of those electorates tgat National could field a gorilla and they’d get elected. Shane Ardern is as close to that as you can get, and has been there a long time.
    I have seen him in action at a community function and I was less than impressed as he managed to stuff up the names and greetings of most members of the official party. I have requested meetings with him as my MP to discuss matters relating to education. He refused to meet with my colleagues and I and I have been told by other colleagues that after agreeing to a meeting he failed to turn up to it.
    Yet Labour fielded a candidate in this ectorate

  2. Electorate in 2011 with no standing in the communities that make up that electorate. He lived in the Hawkes Bay rather than Taranaki or the King Country or the Waipa district. I never saw a public meeting advertised in the evening for voters to meet or hear the Labour candidate in the Waipa district.
    This is an area with huge economic clout through the dairy industry, horticulture, horse racing/breeding… not to mention engineering, food manufacture and education.
    Imagine my excitement the other week when I learned that Shane Ardern would not be standing for election in 2014. Goodness knows which gorilla will follow in his footsteps for National however.
    So I look forward to Labour also putting up a credible candidate in 2014 and making sure who ever wins TaranakKing Country bloody well earns this.
    And I do apologise for te split post and quality of presentation; all I can say is: bloody smartphone ain’t so bloody smart!!
    I hope that in 2014

  3. I don’t know about Taranaki, but I am a fifth generation, born and bred Napier boy and name recognition – or deep tribal connections of marriage, blood and breeding – count for everything there. But the situation in Napier wasn’t as clear-cut in the swing to National as Mr. Nash makes out. The Labour candidate selected to replace Geoff Braybrooke (Russell Fairbrother) was from day one the subject of a nasty and orchestrated smear campaign by the same “nasty little nest of self-perpetuating provincial elites” as David Cunliffe fired from the HBDHB. Loius Pierard, the editor of the local paper, was donkey deep with the likes of Tremain and Lusk in what was, in retrospect, a trial run for smear campaigns we now see regularly from the Collin/Slater/Quax/Brewer/Lusk/Jordan dominated wing of the National party, complete with laundering smears through blogs and using biased local editors to write front page, thundering editorials ordering people how to vote and timed to cause the maximum damage to the left candidate.

    Since Tremain’s election, he has had a armchair ride from a compliant and gutted local media and since he is the very embodiment of a self-perpetuating provincial elite he is very much the local ruling elites man. But times, they are a-changing and the smear tactics of the right have been picked up by the left, and hence Stuart Nash is making headway.

  4. Try being on the West Coast and having Chris Auchinvole, whose veneers enter the room well before the man himself.

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