I don’t think too many people would argue against a claim that 2014 hasn’t been a great success for Labour in New Zealand so far. The scene was set by a series of embarrassing gaffes from leader David Cunliffe, and all but the very far left seem to think Shane Jones’ shock departure is a bad look.
The last public opinion poll had Labour at only 28.5% – which is very alarming when you consider at this point in 2011 they were polling at around 34%.
But it is not all doom and gloom.
Despite how bleak Labour’s immediate prospects are looking, there are some amazing new candidates coming up through the ranks who seem to be running some excellent campaigns. Unless polling dramatically improves, few are likely to be elected, but it is a very healthy sign that the party is actually attracting talent.
Being on the other side of the Tasman, I’m reasonably detached from what is happening on the ground. But from what I can tell, here are some of Labour’s great new candidates who are making a huge difference…
Tamati Coffey – Rotorua. This goes without saying. Not only does Tamati have a great deal of charisma, and already has huge name recognition from his TV career, but he seems to be taking to political campaigning like a duck to water. His Facebook page is plastered with photos of a large and diverse campaign team, actually doing things that win votes, like getting on the phones, knocking on doors and talking to voters. It would be very easy for a celebrity candidate like Tamati to stick to a vanity campaign and cover the electorate in posters of himself, but he obviously realises that politics in the 21st century is a much more nuanced beast.
Clare Wilson – Bay of Plenty. Like Rotorua, the Tauranga/Bay of Plenty region hasn’t got the strongest local party organisation. That said, Clare seems to have whipped up a bit of a firestorm in the electorate and is running a smaller, but targeted campaign. The Bay of Plenty isn’t a seat Labour would win even in a very good year, but Clare is working hard building the base, and in conjunction with neighbouring electorates, is doing the best they can to mobalise party votes.
Willow-Jean Prime – Northland. I have to admit that I know very little about Labour’s candidate for Northland, which is why it was such a surprise to see that she almost has 1500 likes on her Facebook page already. Now Facebook likes alone aren’t going to get you elected (especially not in the National stronghold of Northland), but it does indicate something else. In selecting Willow-Jean Labour have chosen a well-known local councillor. Prime was elected at last year’s local government election as the second highest polling candidate in her ward, and has a large local profile. I can’t say what her campaign this year will be like, but Labour have shown some smarts in picking a well-known local who already has some political smarts and a strong electoral track record.
Adrian Rurawhe – Te Tai Hauāuru. This is one seat that Labour is generally accepted to have a decent chance of picking up this year. The incumbent, Taria Turia of the Maori Party, is standing down leaving a prime vacancy. But Labour haven’t taken anything for granted. Rurawhe has built what seems to be a very large campaign team and as well as getting all over the (huge) electorate, seems to be making a solid effort of canvassing. It’s hard to see him not being a shoe-in for the seat with the awesome effort he is putting in.
Arena Williams – Hunua. Arena has put her hand up to fly the flag in the National stronghold of Hunua, just south of Auckland. It is traditionally one of the last seats that Labour manages to find a candidate for, but her enthusiasm is incredible. She’s already mobalising many of Labour’s younger members to help out, and they’re knocking on doors and phoning like crazy. Of course, there is no way Arena is ever going to win Hunua, but it looks like she is going to make damned sure Labour gets all the party votes it can out of this safe blue seat. Good on her.