How will Cunliffe start 2014?

I hope that NZ Labour leader David Cunliffe had a restful Christmas holiday. After a gruelling leadership contest, closely followed by a by-election campaign, party conference and referendum campaign, it is safe to say that he really worked his guts out in the tail end of 2013.

And he should be pleased with where things are at. Christchurch East, despite looking dicey on paper early on, delivered a very strong result for Labour. Neither the party conference or referendum campaigns were disasters.

He will surely be glad to have these off his shoulders so he can get down to the real business off the day: defeating National.

While the last few months have seen a slight improvement in Labour’s fortunes in the polls, certainly enough to keep the wolves from the door, there is still much to be done to take the treasury benches. It certainly seems that Cunliffe has managed to shore up Labour’s base, taking votes from coalition partner the Greens, but is yet to inflict any dents in National’s support base, still polling in the late 40s.

Early 2014 will involve a lot of internal work for David Cunliffe. He will have to be involved, hopefully indirectly, in many electorate selections; and of course the mammoth task of building the party list is already underway. However, we should expect fairly smooth sailing on both those fronts so I’d only expect to see any of the internal machinations of either bubbling into the public arena should things start to go very, very wrong.

David Cunliffe needs to continue to look competitive, and the only way he can do that is if he can start to take votes from National supporters. I’d say it is fairly likely that he will attempt to snatch the political agenda in late January or early February with a “state of the nation” type speech. The only way that this will be a worthwhile endeavour for him will be if he has some new policy initiatives to announce. Given the hard left rhetoric we saw in the Labour leadership contest, I’d expect to see something like the re-nationalisation of Chorus, or a massive spend up on public transport. How he’ll manage to get either past David Parker remains to be seen.

Regardless, David Cunliffe starts 2014 in a good position. He’s a smart operator and if the hype is to believed, should be able to gain the political initiative from National very shortly.

More on Labour’s selections

Earlier this month I posted about Labour’s upcoming selections, as Jenny Michie on the Daily Blog has pointed out, Labour has been particularly silent about them. Despite selecting some great candidates, they seem to be hesitant to tell anyone about it. Not a single mention of the process or the successful candidates can be found on the party website, Facebook page or Twitter stream. 

As well as this, I’ve found it extraordinary that as a member I haven’t even been sent an email about what is happening in terms of selection. In the latest copy of the regular magazine that the Victorian Labor Party sends to members, there were practical tips about how to get selected and get involved in the party – really simple stuff, but it makes a huge difference to members who want to get involved (okay, it would be expensive to produce a magazine, but fairly easy to pull together email updates).

Not only does it seem pretty out of touch to be selected candidates without telling the membership, it also seems to be in direct contrast to the recommendations of the organisational review, started just after David Shearer became leader. From the ‘Communication and Organising’ recommendations that came out of the review:

a) We will develop more effective two-way communication with members nationally, regionally and locally. Party and Parliamentary communications will be well integrated and planned.
b) We will use modern tools to have readily available up-to-date information for Party members, as well as guidance for activists and office-holders. This needs to include improvement of our website.

I would find it hard to justify keeping members in the dark about selections against these recommendations.

It would be interesting to see what other review recommendations the party hierarchy is choosing to ignore or forget…

Labour’s candidates for 2014

While recently I’ve been more interested in what’s been happening with Labor’s preselections for next year’s Victorian state election, the New Zealand Labour Party has also quietly started getting together its candidates for next year’s New Zealand general election.

As much as I can from afar, I hope to cover the candidate selection. If any aspiring Labour candidates want to publish a guest post, I’m happy to host it. And if anyone has any information on how the process is going and names that are coming up, please let me know.

After sending a tweet asking if the details of NZ Labour’s nomination process were on the party website, a kind volunteer emailed me the 2014 Candidate Nomination Pack.

It sets out (most of) the dates for the selections:

…we resolved to supercede all previous decisions on early selections, and to act on nominations for Parliamentary electorates and the Party List in 2014 as follows:

A to open nominations for the Labour Party list for the 2014 General Election on Monday 7th October 2013, closing Wednesday 30th April 2014;
B to open nominations for general electorates in the South and West Auckland, and Canterbury hub areas, and for any newly created electorates, following the initial iteration of the boundary review, by end November 2013;
C to open nominations for all other current Labour-held electorates on Monday 7th October 2013, closing Monday 31st March 2014; and
D to open nominations for all remaining current electorates on Monday 7th October 2013, closing on Friday 6th December 2013, subject to:

an adequate campaign plan being provided to me by Friday 8th November 2013;

a suitable candidate or candidates being available for nomination, to be reviewed by Friday 15th November; and

there being no significant boundary-related issues raised after the initial iteration of the boundary review.

The closing date would otherwise be liable to extension.

Interestingly, there is no listed closing date for group B, which opened in late November (but that date wasn’t specified either). Which is rather odd given that specific dates for group C & D electorates are listed, in fact last Friday was the closing date for nominations for group D electorates. If anyone has any information about who nominated for a group D electorate I’d be more than welcome to hear!

 

Labour’s urban targets

After my previous post looking at Labour’s self-declared provincial targets, and potential seats that National might target in 2014, the next natural step is to look at the urban seats Labour might target. Here are some that spring out at me…

Auckland Central

The boundary changes in Auckland Central will make this a harder seat for Labour to win, but certainly not impossible. Over the last two years Jacinda Ardern has continued to work incredibly hard in this electorate, and has a huge public profile.

She’ll likely want to revise some of the campagin tactics she used in 2011, but defeating Nikki Kaye certainly isn’t out of the question next year.

Prediction: Too close to call

Kelston

The second new seat in Auckland, Kelston will be a Labour strong hold. Expect a massive scrap for the selection, with Carmel Sepuloni the likely favourite at this early stage.

Prediction: Labour gain

Maungakiekie

This seat used to be a Labour stronghold, until Carol Beaumont was selected to stand for Labour when Mark Gosche stood down in 2008. The revised boundaries make this an easier win for Labour, though I wouldn’t quite say that victory is certain.

It will be interesting to see if Labour continues to reward failure and re-selects Carol Beaumont, or uses Maungakiekie to bring some much needed fresh talent into Parliament.

Prediction: Labour gain

Hamilton West

Hamilton West is also made more challenging with its new boundaries, however it is still a seat that Labour needs to take seriously, especially if they start to see a lift in the polls.

That said, five time loser Sue Moroney is never going to be able to take the seat for Labour. It’s time that Labour uses Hamilton West to address its talent shortage in the Waikato and get some decent fresh blood in there.

It will be a very hard fight – but it is one Labour needs to take very seriously.

Prediction: National hold

Christchurch Central

In 2011 National managed to win Christchurch Central for the first time in it’s history, with a wafer thin majority of 47 votes.

The new boundaries make this a much safer seat for Labour, and with a decent campaign and an upswing in the polls, the seat is almost certain to return to Labour in 2014.

Again, like Kelston, it’s likely to be a very tough fight for the selection in what is going to over time become a safe Labour seat. I’ve already heard of several challengers, it will be interesting to see who prevails.

Prediction: Labour gain

National’s targets for 2014

I started this blog post by quickly writing up a list of seats which I think National may target in the 2014 elections. It didn’t take me long. Over the last few elections Labour has lost so many of its electorate seats there are virtually no swing seats still in Labour hands.

Which means that a goal of winning electorate seats off Labour is unlikely for whoever is the National leader when the 2014 election comes around. They are almost certainly going to focus their effort and resources on maintaining their current level of support, and perhaps doing some sensible electoral deals to ensure they still have coalition options after the election.

Still, there is a small handful of seats which the Nats may have their eyes on…

Upper Harbour

The only seat in the north island which National is sure to pick up is the new seat of Upper Harbour, at the far reaches of the Waitamata Harbour. Paula Bennett has already put her hand up for the seat, and will almost certainly get it. Interestingly, like the last new seat created in Auckland, Botanty, it is seen as a safe National seat right from day one. I have a theory that this in large part due to how disconnected Labour is to the heavily-morgtaged, hard working and aspirational Kiwis settling in the sprawling subdivisions at the periphery of the large cities, but that’s a topic for another blog post…

Prediction: National gain

Ohariu

Ohariu has been a solid blue seat for many years, and the latest boundary changes will only cement that. The only way Labour has ever had a chance at winning the seat is in a very strange three way split with Peter Dunne – if we had preferential votes for electorate seats, they would never even get close.

While there is still a reasonable chance that Peter Dunne could retain the seat, the days of him ever being able to bring in any more MPs in with him off the list are well gone. 2014 may very well be the right time for National to pounce and take the seat that they should have held for many years in their own right.

Interestingly, the latest boundary changes bring in Wadestown from Wellington Central, and with it, Wellington City Councillor, Jo Coughlan. If National do decide to take Ohariu seriously, expect Coughlan to be one of the leading contenders for the selection.

Prediction: National gain, if they want it

Port Hills

The seat of Port Hills was never natural Labour territory, but thanks to the very hard work of Ruth Dyson and her team she’s managed to keep the seat red. The people of Port Hills like Ruth and the work she does for them, despite the party she comes from.

Unfortunately, the boundaries for Port Hills have changed dramatically, bringing in almost 20,000 people from Banks Peninsular and Halswell from the seat of Selwyn.

Dyson’s only chance of staying in Parliament is if she gets a good list spot, because despite her good local profile, this seat is now very blue.

Prediction: National gain

Mt Roskill

Like Port Hills, Mt Roskill has long been served by a very hard working local MP, Labour’s Phil Goff. Ever since he was first defeated in 1990 and then worked his way back in 1993 he has taken nothing for granted in Roskill. He is a true local icon, loved by the electorate.

Unfortunately, just like Port Hills, the electorate boundary has changed substantially, now taking affluent chunks of Epsom and Maungakiekie, and losing working class New Windsor and Blockhouse Bay to New Lynn.

Phil’s personal majority is large enough that he can probably survive the boundary changes, but when he does move on, so too will the seat of Mt Roskill.

Prediction: Labour hold, while Goff still stands

 

Next in the series will be a look at which seats the minor parties might be targeting…

Cunliffe’s provincial targets for 2014

I’ve been meaning to write this post for some time, but yesterday’s announcement of the proposed boundary changes for the next two New Zealand general elections have finally given me all the material I need!

In New Zealand’s MMP system, the immediate electoral goal of any serious party is to gain enough of a share of the party votes so that they and their allies have enough of the seats in Parliament to form a government.

Because of this, it is easy to take a simplistic look at the voting system and totally write off the need to campaign for electorate seats – after all, if all you need to win government is enough party votes, why would you devote valuable resources to an electorate contest?

There are two very good reasons that campaigning for electorate seats should still be a priority under MMP (though of course, not as important as winning party votes).

The first is that by showing the electorate that you take their interests seriously, and are connected to them at a very local level (in my mind one of the keys to winning an electorate seat) you are more likely to improve your share of the party vote. Swing voters will take your party far more seriously if they have a local champion to relate to.

The second is far more tangible: resources. Electorate MPs get substantially more funding than list MPs (at least $60k – up to over $100k for large electorates, versus just $20k for list MPs). Not only that, but having an MP on the ground makes it far easier for parties to organise and run campaigns (generally – there are some notable exceptions to this on both sides of the equation).

Something that recently got my attention was an article in the Wairarapa Times Age where Labour leader David Cunliffe stated that he aims to win back five provincial seats at the 2014 election. They are: Wairarapa, Wanganui, Napier, New Plymouth and Te Tai Hauauru. My gut reaction was that this looks like a bit of a mixed bag of targets. Still, it’s good to see that Cunliffe is being bold enough to aim to win back seats outside of the major cities.

Now that the proposed boundaries have come out I’m going to take a look at Labour’s chance at winning in each of these seats. In further posts I’ll be looking at which urban seats Labour may target, and also potential targets for National and the minor parties.

So starting off, lets look at Cunliffe’s provincial targets for 2014…

New Plymouth

Despite a spirited campaign, Labour’s Andrew Little failed to unseat National’s Jonathan Young at the 2011 election. Massive gentrification and boundary changes have seen this seat go from being Labour’s safest seat in 2002 to National heartland. Labour will really have to take stock of their chances here after the surprise landslide defeat of Harry Duynhoven – former MP for New Plymouth, cabinet minister and the mayor for the previous term. The proposed boundary changes for 2014 see the electorate take in a large solid rural area to the south, from the Whanganui electorate. This will only further cement Jonathan Young’s majority.

Prediction: National hold

Whanganui

Whanganui is an interesting seat for Labour. As with New Plymouth, it is a seat that it has held in the not too distant past. Labour still wins the polling booths in the city of Whanganui very comfortably, but gets devastated in the rural hinterland. Labour did a reasonable job here in 2011, with their candidate, district councillor Hamish McDouall reducing Chester Borrows’ majority by a thousand. Hamish has just been re-elected as the highest polling candidate to the Wanganui District Council, and appointed Deputy Mayor.

As mentioned earlier, the top part of this electorate has been sliced off for New Plymouth, in exchange it has gained the town of Stratford from Taranaki-King Country. Staford is a fairly solid Labour town.

The combination of a decent boundary change, McDouall’s increased profile and a poll shift towards Labour are all very good portents. Labour will have to work very hard to win this seat, but in 2014 it is certainly in play.

Prediction: Labour gain

Napier

After receiving a disappointing list position in 2011, list MP Stuart Nash fought tooth and nail against the popular, well known local MP and up and coming cabinet minister, Chris Tremain. Despite little outside support and a massive nation-wide swing against Labour, Nash managed to slash Tremain’s majority from over 9000 to less than 4000. Unfortunately he didn’t make it back into Parliament on the list – but despite no longer having access to Parliamentary resources he has been working very hard in the electorate and continued to build his profile.

2014 is going to be a different ball game. Incumbent Tremain has announced he is standing down from Parliament. National will not be able to find a better local candidate, and they will almost certainly go into the race with a lower profile than Nash. Adding to that is a minor boundary change which moves 1500 people in the rural north out of the East Coast electorate and into Napier – this will be a challenge for Nash as it’s not his local stomping ground and it’s unlikely Labour will do particularly well in the area.

Labour still has a hard road ahead of it in Napier, but if anyone is going to put in enough work to turn the seat red, it’s going to be Stuart Nash. It’s now or never to turn the tide in the Hawkes Bay.

Prediction: Labour gain

Wairarapa

Of Cunliffe’s five provincial targets, Wairarapa is going to be the hardest to win. Despite running an excellent campaign in 2011, Labour failed to even dent the majority of National’s incumbent, John Hayes. Hayes is no star performer, regularly slammed by the local paper and in the twilight of his career. It’s likely that he will lose an upcoming selection battle and Labour will have to content with a much stronger opponent. The boundaries in 2014 are not changing, and it will remain a very challenging seat for Labour.

Prediction: National hold

Te Tai Hauauru

The only Maori seat in Cunliffe’s list of provincial targets. It’s a behemoth of a seat, stretching from Porirua in the south right up into the Waikato. Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia has held the seat since before the dawn of time, and despite it being the Maori Party’s safest seat, her announced retirement has squarely put the seat in play.

While the boundaries – which are not going to change for 2014 – make this a very difficult seat to campaign in, this will be a factor both for Labour and the Maori Party. The recent Ikaroa-Rawhiti by-election will provide Labour some comfort, the results there certainly make the Maori Party look like an electoral relic. However Labour will not be able to focus its resources on the seat as it did during the by-election.

Much of the result will therefore come down to who each party selects. I’ve heard a number of whispers about potential Labour candidates, some of which would be very good, and some disastrous. It’s really Labour’s seat to lose next year, but if they make an early misstep and pick a dud of a candidate that could very well happen.

Prediction: Labour gain

Interestingly, all of Cunliffe’s provincial targets are in the North Island (although Labour do already safely hold West Coast-Tasman and Te Tai Tonga in the South Island). And there is significant focus on the Wanganui-Taranaki region. There were are few other seats that I was surprised not to see on the list, Tukituki, Rotorua and Te Tai Tokerau spring to mind.

Stay tuned for my thoughts on Labour’s potential urban targets and those of the National and minor parties. Although these will take a lot more analysis given the proposed boundary changes.