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…
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 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
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
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.