Every Election, there’s a seat or several whose outcomes are fantastically interesting to watch. This is because they are the ones that are actually balanced upon the knife-edge – where a few dozen votes one way or ‘tuther will actually help to determine the shape and course of our politics for years or even decades to come.
Customarily, attention is placed upon a handful of ‘well-known’ ‘hot-spots’. I hardly need to cite their names: Ohariu, Te Tai Tokerau and Auckland Central spring instantly to mind, and we can probably add other ‘swing’ seats like Maungakiekie to that list. Further, as developments in Northland in early 2015 so amply demonstrate … sometimes even the perceived ‘safe’ or outright ‘fortress’ seats can be the ones where History finds its ‘first draft’ authoring happening.
But there are other, lesser known battlegrounds who – whilst they might not immediately spring to mind – will be just as important in directing where things will go from here in our politics.
One of these is the Lower North Island seat of Wairarapa.
Now, conventional wisdom holds that this is a relatively ‘safe’ Blue seat. As the old saying goes, you could stand a stuffed poodle in the electorate – and provided it was wearing a National rosette, it would probably win.
This metaphor has found new currency in the person of Alastair Scott – who manages to combine the classical Nat ‘born to rule’ mentality [i.e. the ‘poodle’ genetics and hairdo] with a complete lack of actual action or interest in the affairs of his Electorate [as in – he’s “stuffed” in one or possibly two senses].
What this means in practice is, serious political observers are asking searching questions about whether we might once again see this seat change to a colour that’s something other than Blue.
And to be fair, it wasn’t that long ago [a mere twelve years] that this seat was the relatively safe demesne of Georgina Byer. I won’t say it was a “Labour Seat”, because from those I’ve talked to it appears more that Wairarapians were motivated to vote for the candidate and their own personal merits rather than those of her Party. [A fact which may be further adduced by Byer consistently scoring several thousand more candidate votes than Labour picked up for Party votes – a pattern which promptly reversed itself as soon as Labour attempted to stand a non-Byer candidate in that Electorate in 2005].
But looking forward to later this year, it is not the resurrection of Labour fortunes that I am predicting – although there seems little doubt that the serious challenger to Scott shares one feature in common with Byer … that of also being a former Mayer of Carterton.
However, for those of us seeking to roll National’s Alaistar Scott, there is a bit of a fly in the ointment. One other than Scott himself, I mean.
You see, the Wairarapa has hitherto fallen prey to what we might term “Epsom-Ohariu-Central” disease. A most curious malady, wherein the combined vote-totals for the two or more non-Government parties easily exceeds the figure which the questionably popular Nat(-supporting) reprobate gets … but due to somebody’s pig-headedness leading to vote-splitting – the ACT, United Future, or Nat candidate keeps winning regardless.
Ordinarily, the ‘spoiler’ figure is the Greens’ local representative. In Ohariu, for instance, at literally every single election since the seat came back into existence, Peter Dunne would have been GONE but for whichever errant Green standard-bearer was running taking votes away from the Labour Party’s candidate. And in Auckland Central likewise – at every election since Labour last held the seat under Judith Tizard, it’s been a strong Greens vote that’s rendered the Labourites unable to overtake Nikki Kaye. Epsom, of course, is a little bit different – in that it’s the National candidate rather than Labour who’s triennially robbed of a victory he quite plainly doesn’t want – but is otherwise an instance of the exact same pattern.
Northland nearly fell victim to the same disease in 2015 – but with Labour quite sensibly deciding to functionally pull their candidate [thus reducing Labour’s electorate votes from 8969 the year before to 1380 in the by-election], such a fate was happily avoided. And the course of New Zealand politics arguably shifted rather more than slightly towards a better future with a more marginalized National Party. Hopefully, anyway.
All of which bring us back handily to Wairarapa later this year.
Now, a cursory analysis of electoral results for the last twenty years shows that Labour has CONSISTENTLY been losing both Electorate and Party votes there since their peak in 1999. Admittedly, they continued to hold the seat right up until 2005 – but with the departure of the aforementioned Georgina Byer, apart from one brief relative surge of a mighty 837 candidate votes between 2005 and 2008, their overall trend has just been down, down, down. Finally falling into the single-digit thousands at the last election with their this year’s candidate, Kieran McAnulty.
They’re now on 9,452 and 25.41% for the candidate vote [a slippage of 6.23% from the previous election], and 7,712 and 20.56% for the party vote [minus 2.74% from 2011].
Or, in other words, the odds of McAnulty (who I hear’s a nice guy, by the way) somehow managing to make up the quite substantial 6,771 and 18.20% gap between himself and National’s Alaister Scott … are perhaps rather long. Particularly given the observable swing against Labour in both rural seats and nationwide that some pundits have noted.
But hark. A Challenger appears. Looking at Ron Mark’s results for the same election – 8,630 votes and 23.20% [both rather mark-ed increases on NZ First’s previous results in the electorate and part of an ongoing upward trend] – it’s quite frankly re-mark-able that he managed such an incredibly strong result despite only announcing his candidacy a mere twenty five days out from the Election. This is particularly the case when we consider that his two main opponents [one each from Labour and National – the good old “coca-cola/pepsi tag-team”] had been actively campaigning and engaged in the electorate for most of the previous three years.
Now imagine just how well Ron is poised to do, given he’s been an MP for the Wairarapa for the last three years – and the number of issues like local opposition to forced amalgamation of local body authorities, and fighting for improved infrastructure, where he’s been able to take the leading representing the views and voices of his constituents. Indeed, looking at his intensive efforts on this front over the past term, you’d probably be forgiven for thinking he actually already WAS the elected electorate MP for the area.
Adding to this, we have the fact that by almost any poll or talkback radio reconnaissance, New Zealand First is absolutely surging. This is particularly the case in rural seats, as it should be, and I would dare say that a Government-neglected region like the Wairarapa will quite likely be leading the pack.
I therefore think it’s pretty fair to state that Ron’s in with a serious shot. Not least because of the striking number of folks down there who appear to be considerably more enthused about Ron than they are about Winston or the rest of the Party. I had a hard time keeping track of the number of people who straight-up told us when we were doorknocking there last year that they were reluctant to vote for New Zealand First, but would have absolutely no problem supporting Ron when it came to the crunch.
Or, in other words, I’d hazard that Ron Mark is far more capable of drawing in soft-Nat support than Kieran McAnulty is. And the stats from 2014 showing Ron doing twice as well as McAnulty when it came to bringing in votes from outside his own party go some ways towards proving this.
So with all of this in mind, you’d think that the immediately obvious thing for Labour to do if they were really interested in removing the National party carbuncle from the seat … would be to hang up their shoes and run a party-vote only campaign. Doing as they so successfully did in Northland in 2015, and allowing Our Man Ron a clear shot at taking down the local Nat baronobody.
But unfortunately, there are few things more prone to self-defeating fits of ‘pride’ than a man backed into a corner – and as far as I can tell, the local Labour Party just isn’t getting the message. Instead, they’re calling in favours and rattling chains to try and get as high a profile of support-crew for McAnulty as they possibly can. Which thus far amounts to two local Mayors – Lynn Patterson, the incumbent Mayor of Masterton and one of her predecessors, Bob Francis – attempting to rally otherwise flagging support for McAnulty’s campaign.
It’s a free country and a free election, of course (subject to the limits of the Electoral Finance Act and occasional legal threats for playing a song which demeans the government) – but those Labour-people out there attempting to desperately corral Wairarapians into the polling booths for McAnulty really do need to sit down and ask themselves whether what they’re doing is really going to help unseat Alastair Scott come September.
Particularly as an argument can quite easily be mounted that attempting to ‘rope in’ well-known local figures on one’s side when you’re flagging in the polls in a manner that suggests you’ve Red Peaked … may very well be read as a sign of implicit desperation.
Now obviously, when it comes to matters electoral, i’m slightly biased. I genuinely do not like the National Party, and have not infrequently been of the opinion that some parts of the Labour Party can be little better.
But to accomplish the great and mighty deed of rolling National in the Wairarapa (a victory which will have flow-on strategic effects for the rest of the country), it is necessary for ALL us non-Government supporters to work together. We’ve got to unite behind the one candidate in this electorate who’s actually capable of drawing votes from Labour, National, New Zealand First and elsewhere in order to actually outnumber Scott’s share of the vote.
In short, we’ve got to send the Nats a message. Together. With one voice. Namely – that on September 23rd … Alaistar Scott is Gone!