State of the race #2 – English v Little

Last week on state of the race we looked at the three potential Prime Ministers, following the resignation of John Key as National Party leader. Not long after the publication of that update, the contenders who had lined themselves up for the top job, and for deputy, began to withdraw. In a caucus meeting on Monday morning, Deputy Prime Minister Bill English and minister for social housing Paula Bennett were elected unopposed as the new leader and deputy leader respectively.

But, enough of what you probably already know!

English’s first two question times and the fallout
He’s a few days into the job and already the new Prime Minister has been tested for his ability to think on his feet, responsibly answer questions and outshine the opposition. John Key used this time as a chance to crack the odd joke and refresh his stand-up routine, which would often earn him a presence on the news hour which helped to build his happy-go-lucky character. With this considered, how a Prime Minister performs in question time is, in many ways, how they’re remembered. For Key that’s certainly true – on top of his game, glossy and remarkable in comparison to his opposition, and fun.

Robert Muldoon and to a lesser extent Helen Clark would use question time to drive a dagger into their opponents and cement their dominance. David Lange, on the other hand was more like Key in his performance. Then, there are the forgotten characters of question time – those who never shine, never make the news for their antics, and leave plenty to the imagination. The first reviews of English’s performance seem to indicate he may resemble the latter; a very forgettable and rather dull style, which puts him on a level playing field with Labour leader Andrew Little. Little performs at his strongest in the less-covered and far less strained general debate.

As for questions, English faced a bounty on housing and poverty issues, which are emerging as the battleground topics of next year’s general election. A poll released on Wednesday by Roy Morgan found 40% consider ‘Human rights/Housing’ issues as the most important facing the country heading into election year, with concern over economic issues well down to 31%, almost half what it rated four years ago. 15% cite social issues as the most important and environmental issues rates 4%. Concerningly for English, all these issues, bar economic, are fields where National are considered weak – particularly on housing.

The house filled with more angst when the issue of Pike River entered centre-stage. Pike River families, led by spokesperson Bernie Monk, had descended on parliament’s cenotaph earlier in the day voicing dissatisfaction with the government’s inaction and the potential resealing of the mine. Andrew Little spoke to the protestors and was joined by West Coast-Tasman MP Damien O’Connor, however New Zealand First leader Winston Peters won the most media attention with his promise to be the first to re-enter the mine. Green Party MPs were also present. Bill English did not speak to the families as he was pre-occupied with his new job, and no National MPs attended – however Nick Smith joked he had “met Bernie [Monk] many times” and would do so again, before leaving.

The opposition was heavily criticised for the perceived politicisation of the tragedy, with National List MP Christopher Bishop tweeting:

 “In a long series of lowlights in Andrew Little’s leadership, his politicisation of the Pike River bodies really is the lowest. A disgrace.”

Many agreed, with one other Twitter user saying Little’s response was “actually just crass”. Defenders of Little raised the point of his previous career in the EPMU (Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union), where he served as national secretary, a key advocacy group for workers and their families.

Another Twitter user wrote;

“Whenever the Right whinge about “politicisation”, remember what they’re actually trying to do is shut down important political conversations… Pike River was the direct result of deregulation, disempowering of unions, and prioritising “the needs of business” over health and safety… It had political causes, it required political solutions”

An online poll taken by Willie Jackson and Alison Mau’s afternoon talkback program on RadioLive found a narrow majority of listeners believed Winston Peters was politically grandstanding with his pledge to enter the mine.

Paula Bennett’s television interview
Worse than lacklustre, the public appeared to react negatively to the Deputy Prime Minister’s first television appearance in her new role on TVNZ 1’s morning news segment Breakfast. The affiliated 1 NEWS NOW website ran with the headline “Seriously, Paula Bennett! Kiwis slam NZ’s new deputy PM over lack of knowledge on child poverty report”. The article referred to comments made on 1 NEWS’ Facebook page, some going as far as saying the interview was National’s “death warrant”.

The new report by the Child Poverty Monitor found an “alarming” increase in child poverty numbers, an area in which the government and the minister are frequently seen as weak. The report found 90,000 children are living in “severe poverty” while 28% of all children in New Zealand are living in low-income households unable to afford basics. Ms. Bennett told Breakfast she had “only seen the headlines” concerning the report.

David Shearer resigns; by-election looms
Meanwhile, on the opposite side of things, the former Labour leader David Shearer has resigned his position as MP for Mount Albert, which will likely trigger a by-election in the central Auckland seat. Shearer entered parliament off the back of Helen Clark’s resignation (the former Prime Minister was also MP for the area), with a large 63.3% share of the vote to National’s Melissa Lee who won 16.9%.

Shearer became leader following Phil Goff’s resignation in 2011. Goff had led Labour to its worst election result in decades. Shearer led a brief revival of the party, with the government assisting Labour’s rise by pushing controversial asset sales, spying legislation and school closures. However, Shearer jumped before he was pushed as it was soon revealed a veteran Labour backbencher, from the left of the party, was plotting to move a motion of no confidence in his leadership. In all, Shearer served for leader for just two years and admitted in his valedictory speech to parliament that in comparison to Phil Goff his achievements were “thin”.

This year, Goff and Shearer found themselves at odds with the party leadership and the party whips with the pair declaring publicly their support for the controversial (and now dead) TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement).

Shearer will take up a United Nations role in South Sudan, causing right-wing commentator Matthew Hooton to jokingly quip that he was opting for a safer zone than the New Zealand Labour Party caucus room. Shearer’s immediate exit means a by-election in Mt Albert is an almost certainty – almost as certain as the seat returning to Labour who, having held the seat since its creation in 1946, have extended nominations for their candidacy until the first few weeks of next year. Already star frontbencher Jacinda Ardern, who has been a List MP since 2008, has confirmed she’ll seek the party’s nomination. In a video posted to both her personal and public Facebook pages which showed Ms. Ardern in the front seat of a moving car being driven by Ian Lees Galloway, Labour’s Palmerston North MP, she said she had spoken to her campaign workers in Auckland Central and declared her intention to move southwest to Mount Albert.

Ms. Ardern says she now lives in the electorate and many of the northern suburbs such as Grey Lynn only moved into Mount Albert from Auckland Central at the last election. The move of Ardern to Mount Albert opens rumours that the Greens may stand former mayoral candidate Chloe Swarbrick in Auckland Central, unopposed by Labour. National’s List MP in Mount Albert is Melissa Lee, who is yet to declare her interest.

There may also be a by-election in Pakuranga, a seat to be vacated by Maurice Williamson.

Laila Harre re-joins the Labour Party
Days before Ardern declared her hand in the by-election, veteran politician Laila Harre tweeted:

“When are we meeting to start doorknocking for @nzlabour in Mt Albert this weekend?”

On Tuesday Harre made public of her decision to return to the Labour Party, an organisation she has refused to be involved with since 1989. Ms. Harre fell out with the party over its adoption of ‘Rogernomics’, a neoliberal reform package introduced by then finance minister Roger Douglas who later split off to form the ACT Party. Since then, Harre has found herself in practically every party on the left – the short-lived NewLabour Party, the Alliance, the Greens and the Internet Party.

Ms. Harre has a background in trade unionism, and previously led the Alliance Party which sat to the left on economic and social issues to its parent party Labour. She assumed the leadership of Kim Dotcom’s Internet Party in 2014, but quit following the Internet-Mana Alliance’s poor election night result. Ms. Harre stood in Helensville against then Prime Minister John Key in 2014, winning 1,315 votes (3.7%) but is expected to attempt to stand in the seat to be vacated by David Cunliffe, New Lynn, at the 2017 election. She’ll face a challenge there though, with Manawatu Labour figure and senior lecturer Deborah Russell eyeing it too.

Two ministers resign
Two ministers expected to be loyal supporters of failed leadership contender Judith Collins have announced they will not seek re-election in their respective electorates. Former Corrections minister, the Maungakiekie MP Sam Lotu-Iiga, faced controversy over the Mount Eden prison saga, after it was sold to, and then mismanaged by Serco.

Craig Foss, the current minister for Small Business and the MP for Tukituki will also resign.

Foss entered parliament off the National surge in 2005 which saw a large swathe of rural seats swing away from Labour, and Lotu-Iiga entered in 2008. Both seats were previously safe Labour, and the opposition party has already chosen candidates to fill each of them – Ann Lorck will contest the Hastings-centred seat of Tukituki, and Priyanca Radhakrishnan will run for the Southeast Auckland city seat off Maungakiekie.

Two new Labour candidates confirmed

The Labour Party has confirmed the selection of two more of its 2017 election candidates. In the East Coast seat, which spans from Whakatane in the west to the rural city of Gisborne in the southeast, the party has chosen lawyer Kiri Allan. The daughter of the electorate’s former MP, Moana Mackey, who contested the seat in 2014 and lost her position on the list, did not stand for re-selection. Kiri Allan will take on the current MP and minister Anne Tolley who holds a 7,900 vote majority. Labour lost the seat in 2005. The seat’s unique demographic makeup means a relatively low Pakeha population, with the majority of constituents also being from a working class background.

The seat of Waimakariri will be contested by New Zealand Army recruit Dan Rosewarne, who will attempt to wrestle the traditional Labour hold from National’s Matt Doocey. The seat covers the far north suburbs of Christchurch, the towns of Kaiapoi, Pegasus and Rangiora to the north and the settlement of Oxford, inland to the west.

Whilst the seat is fairly close between Labour and National candidates, National demolished Labour in the party vote in 2011 winning 56% to Labour’s 23%.

MPs resigning in 2017 (so far):
Labour: Clayton Cosgrove (List), David Cunliffe (New Lynn).
National: Chester Borrows (Whanganui), John Key (Helensville), Jono Naylor (List), Hekia Parata (List), Lindsay Tisch (Waikato), Maurice Williamson (Pakuranga), Sam Lotu-Iga (Maungakiekie), Craig Foss (Tukituki), Murray McCully (East Coast Bays).
Green: Catherine Delahunty (List), Steffan Browning (List).

MPs standing again, but only for the List (so far):
Trevor Mallard (Labour) MP for Hutt South since 1996, MP for Pencarrow from 1993 till 1996 and MP for Hamilton West from 1984 till 1990.

The marginals:
Auckland Central (held by Nikki Kaye of National by a 600 vote majority versus Labour).
Hutt South (held by Trevor Mallard of Labour by a 709 vote majority versus National’s Chris Bishop. Virginia Andersen will be Labour’s candidate in 2017, replacing Mallard).
Ohariu (held by Peter Dunne of United Future by a 710 vote majority versus Labour).
Te Tai Tokerau (held by Kelvin Davis of Labour by a 743 vote majority versus the MANA Movement’s Hone Harawira).

The polls:
Latest poll (as of Wednesday, 7 December 2016) [UNCHANGED]
Note: taken before resignation of John Key. 
Roy Morgan poll for October/November
National 49.5%, Labour 23.0%, Greens 14.5%, NZ First 8.0%, Maori 1.5%, ACT 1.0%, United Future 0.5%, Conservative 0.5%, MANA Movement 0.0% (GOVERNMENT 52.5%, OPPOSITION 45.5%).

Poll average: National 47%, Labour 28%, Greens 11%, NZ First 9%, Maori 1.3%, ACT 0.5%, Conservative 0.2%, MANA Movement 0.1%, United Future 0.0% (GOVERNMENT 48.8%, OPPOSITION 48.0%).

The leaders’ social media performance:
Facebook ‘likes’ as at Thursday 15/12/2016.
1) Winston Peters 70,260
2) Bill English 32,882
3) Andrew Little 29,128
4) Metiria Turei 13,211
5) Te Ururoa Flavell 12,582
6) Marama Fox 7,831
7) James Shaw 7,614
8) David Seymour 4,100
Twitter followers
1) Metiria Turei 21.2K
2) Winston Peters 13.6K
3) Bill English 11.7K
4) Andrew Little 11.6K
5) Peter Dunne 8.0K
6) James Shaw 6.2K
7) Te Uruora Flavell 5.2K
8) Marama Fox 3.6K
9) David Seymour 3.5K

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