State of the race #5: Trump enters debate

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The President’s so-called “Muslim Ban” wasn’t just centre-stage in the United States this past week – it shaped most New Zealand political debate too, with Prime Minister Bill English labeling the whole affair “frustrating”.

Labour’s leader Andrew Little addressed an overflowing crowd in Auckland for the joint Labour-Green State of the Nation event, which Steven Joyce attacked for including no policy whatsoever. However, Newshub politics head Patrick Gower remarked it was the best vibe the centre-left side of politics had felt in years.

Little took a hard-line against Trump, reaffirming Labour’s pledge to double the refugee quota and calling out Bill English as “weak”.

Little later said in a press release “We should be leading the way. We can set the standard for co-operation, for tolerance, for a government that governs with compassion. We can, and we must, show that there is a better path than isolation and bigotry”.

Of course, some were quick to punish Little as hypocritical, and opportunistic, suggesting Labour didn’t have a strong foot to stand on when it came to being tolerant of immigrants. A letter to the editor in Christchurch’s The Press even drew comparisons between the Labour leader and the President, Donald Trump.

However, a New Zealand supermodel, one of just a few Kiwis who count themselves as friends or acquaintances with the new President, told reports this week that Bill English and Donald Trump have quite a lot in common.

Kylie Bax hasn’t gone far in the way of political commentary, but did strongly defend Mr. Trump during the election campaign amid allegations of sexual harassment and assault. “They might have a few things in common” Bax said, “I know Bill loves his family and I know Donald loves his family too – so I think that’s a good starting point”.

Among other similarities Bax also cited Mr. English’s business career, which never occurred. The Prime Minister is a policy analyst by profession.

On Wednesday Newshub published a National Party newsletter dated from 2005. In it, Mr. English described refugees attempting to come to New Zealand as “Middle East leftovers from terrorist regimes” and accuses (then) Prime Minister Helen Clark as being a “soft touch” on immigrants.

“Labour has turned our migration control into a joke. If you turn up at the border with an apple, you get done. If you turn up with an Iraqi and references to Suddam Hussein you get in” English said. It’s the second question raised by Newshub in the last fortnight over English’s past stances – the last being the revelation that English supported the 1981 Sprinbok tour.

Former refugee, human rights lawyer and aspiring Green Party MP Golriz Ghahraman has called out English, labeling his attitude towards refugees as extremely “callous” and “politics by fear”.

Wellington races take shape

Locally, the scene for election 2017 is already taking shape. On Wednesday morning former Police Association boss Greg O’Connor confirmed he will seek the Labour Party’s nomination for the key seat of Ohariu, which United Future MP Peter Dunne has held since 1984 – when he won it as a Labour candidate. O’Connor, who has been criticised by left-wing commentators and is viewed with some suspicion by members of Labour’s left, has previously called for all police to be armed. Labour’s leader Andrew Little was grilled on the topic in a media stand-up in Dunedin, where he said O’Connor’s private views would not override set party policy.

South to Wellington Central and senior Labour MP Grant Robertson will soon start rallying the troops to see off a challenge from the Greens’ male co-leader James Shaw. The Greens finished comfortably ahead of Labour, 23.7% to 29.5% at the last election in the party vote race. However, Shaw will need to build on his 13.2% performance in 2014 to reduce Robertson’s 8,267 vote majority where the candidate count is concerned.

The National Party’s nomination list continues to stack up, with former Onslow-Western ward councillor and mayoral candidate Jo Coughlan revealing parliament will be her next career move. As the major centre-right candidate in 2014, Coughlan finished with 20.4% of the vote. Nicola Willis, a high-flying corporate associated with Fonterra will also contest the nomination and is understood to have the backing of former Prime Minister John Key. Meanwhile Paul Foster-Bell, who stood for National in 2011 and 2014, will again contest the nomination. Robertson expects Foster-Bell to be successful.

In Rongotai Annette King and Andrew Little’s confirmations that they intend to stand as list-only candidates at the election have cleared the way for Deputy Mayor Paul Eagle to win the Rongotai nomination. Eagle has the support of the city’s mayor, Justin Lester, as both were elected under the Labour Party banner. Paul Eagle is understood to be expecting to see a challenger attempt to trip-up his otherwise smooth coronation to the position, and is not convinced that whilst the seat is heavily in favour of its veteran MP Annette King, that this translates to support for Labour. If Eagle is successful in winning the Rongotai seat, he has stated he will resign his position of Deputy Mayor.

Meanwhile Eagle’s Green Party counterpart in the Southern ward, David Lee, has announced he intends to become his party’s candidate in the Christchurch seat of Ilam, currently held by National’s Gerry Brownlee. Lee, who lives in Brooklyn with his young family, has parents living in the electorate who he visits regularly.

North to the Porirua seat of Mana, and there are mixed messages over the intentions of former mayor Nick Leggett. Leggett defected to the National Party from Labour in an unusual move following his defeat in the Wellington mayoral election to Labour-endorsed Justin Lester. His defection came a mere week before the sudden resignation of John Key. Leggett’s relationship with English is understood to be less warm, with the political campaign at times getting sour between Leggett and English’s sister-in-law Jo Coughlan. Leggett has also been seen ‘liking’ anti-National comments on Twitter, particularly with regards to MP Judith Collins. His intentions, whilst clear-set under the leadership of Key, remain uncertain under the new leadership.

Other candidates line up

Labour has confirmed its North Shore candidate as Romy Udanga, a business reporter. The affluent North Auckland beaches seat which covers the leafy suburb of Devenport to the south has elected the National candidate in every election since 1949 and is currently held by Maggie Barry.

It’s no deal in Nelson. After speculation and anger from the local Labour Party branch over the party potentially standing aside in the seat in favour of the Greens, campaign manager Andrew Kirton confirmed Rachel Boyack as Labour’s candidate. Nelson has been held by veteran MP Nick Smith since 1996 and he currently holds with a 7,605 vote majority.

The National Party has been slower in confirming its candidates with Bill English confirming Wednesday the date of the election for the 23rd of September. In Whanganui top-polling district councilor Hadleigh Reid has confirmed he will seek the National Party nomination, saying he intends to pay attention to rural development issues.

Local woman Steph Lewis has sent in her nomination for the Labour Party, and is preparing to fight the local campaign on the issue of jobs as the region feels the bite of lost low-skill labour.

Outgoing MP Chester Borrows held the seat with a 4,505 majority in 2014, but the seat is historically Labour-leaning. The electorate covers the town of Whanganui to the south and Hawera to the north, a large proportion of South Taranaki farmland and townships as well as the inland town of Stratford which it gained from the 2014 boundary changes. The Labour Party believes the boundary changes have benefited them.

Meanwhile Hastings mayor Lawrence Yule has declared he will contest the National Party nomination for the Southern Hawkes’ Bay seat of Tukituki when incumbent Craig Foss vacates that seat at the election, adding his name to the list of local politicians taking a shot at the national-level. Yule would take on Labour’s Anna Lorck, who is considered a star-performer.

Jackson defects to Labour

In an unusual twist, there’s been a defection to Labour. It was reported by the New Zealand Herald website on Wednesday evening that broadcaster and former Alliance MP Willie Jackson, who had been rumoured as the Maori Party’s candidate for Tamaki Makarau, had defected to Labour in favour of a high list position.

TOP adds spice to Mt Albert by-election

Jacinda Ardern now has a new rival. In a backflip by the new Opportunities Party, Gareth Morgan rolled into the Mount Albert by-election late Tuesday to announce the following day, in front of an election campaign vehicle bearing the slogan “Make New Zealand Fair Again” that Morgan Foundation economist Geoff Simmons would contest the seat for his new party. Morgan had previously stated that his party would not field candidates in seats. The Opportunities Party now lists a new set of policies, including a new tax system on all productive assets, limiting net immigration to 1% annual population growth and ceasing the intensification of land that impacts on water bodies.

Nominations closed on the 1st of February, giving candidates 24 days to campaign. Billboards have already been put up in the electorate supporting Labour’s Jacinda Ardern, the Greens’ Julie-Anne Genter, the People’s Party’s Vin Tomar and the Socialist’s Joe Carolan.
Other candidates include the Communist League’s Patrick Brown, The Cannabis Party’s Abe Gray, Simon Smythe of Not A Party (NAP), the Human Rights Party’s Anthony Van Den Heuvel and independents Penny Bright, Adam Amos, Dale Arthur and Peter Wakeman.

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 Thursday, 22 December 2016) (No change)
Roy Morgan poll for November/December 
National 46.0%, Labour 27.0%, Greens 12.5%, NZ First 9.0%, Maori 2.0%, ACT 0.5%, United Future 0.5%, Conservative 0.5%, Internet Party 0.0%, MANA Movement 0.0%
(GOVERNMENT 49.0% OPPOSITION 48.5%).

Poll change: National +1.0, Labour -1.5, Greens -2.0, NZ First +1.5, Maori +1.0, ACT +0.0, United Future +0.5, Conservative +0.0, Internet Party -0.5, MANA Movement +0.0.

GOVERNMENT +3.0, OPPOSTION -3.0

Poll average: National 47%, Labour 28%, Greens 12%, NZ First 9%, Maori 1.3%, ACT 0.5%, Conservative 0.2%, MANA Movement 0.1%, United Future 0.0%.
(Greens +1)

The leaders’ social media performance:
Facebook ‘likes’ as at Thursday 2/02/2017
1) Winston Peters 72,073
2) Bill English 67,662
3) Andrew Little 29,693
4) Metiria Turei 13,594
5) Te Ururoa Flavell 12,697
6) Marama Fox 7,961
7) James Shaw 7,673
8) David Seymour 4,330
Twitter followers
1) Metiria Turei 21.7K
2) Winston Peters 13.9K
3) Bill English 14.6K
4) Andrew Little 12.2K
5) Peter Dunne 8.2K
6) James Shaw 6.4K
7) Te Uruora Flavell 5.3K
8) Marama Fox 3.7K
9) David Seymour 3.6K

– Bennett Morgan, Capital HardTalk.

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