The week was dominated by the news of the resignation of a senior Labour MP, the rise of Jacinda Ardern, and Bill English’s controversial comments surrounding drugs. But it all started with the Mount Albert by-election, so let’s begin there:
Ardern romps home
The question was never if Ardern would win the Mount Albert by-election, but by what sort of margin. Some were surprised by the majority of Ardern’s win, as the machinery of the Labour Party proved too much in the get-out-the-vote stage for their political rivals. The absence of the National Party meant Labour was the only major political party standing.
Labour sources on the ground said many of those doorknocked supported Ms. Ardern, wouldn’t bother voting in the by-election, but would turn out for the general. The area has changed significantly since the seat was first won by the Labour Party’s Warren Freer in 1947. The seat has swapped state houses, large families and working class roots for leafy suburbs, SUVs, swimming pools and a vibrant Chinese population. But the seat has remained with Labour throughout the decades, formerly electing Helen Clark as its local MP.
The preliminary results declare Ardern as the winner with 10,000 votes, representing 77.0% of the total votes cast. As expected, the Greens’ Julie-Anne Genter has claimed second place in a campaign that was all about setting the scene for the party’s 2017 campaign. Genter claimed 1,489 votes, representing 11.4% of the votes cast.
The battle for third had been hotly contested between two new political forces, The Opportunities Party and The New Zealand People’s Party. Ultimately Geoff Simmons of TOP won 600 votes, representing 4.6% of the votes cast. The NZPP’s Vin Tomar won 191 votes; 1.4%.
The Socialist candidate Joe Carolan won 1.3%, and the Independent Penny Bright won 1.0% ahead of various other independents and candidates from Legalise Cannabis, the Human Rights Party, Not A Party, and Communist League.
The question for Labour and Ardern now becomes whether it can convert popularity for their candidate into party votes. The first poll since the by-election performed by Roy Morgan, often dismissed as ‘unreliable’ by some commentators particularly on the right, has found an increase in support for National and a dip for Labour.
The Greens performed best in the western parts of Eden, a suburb with a particularly high affluent population. Housing and transport are the major issues in the electorate, with the Greens mostly emphasising the latter in its platform.
The interesting aftermath of Mount Albert
For an election victory that was predictable, what followed for the Labour Party certainly wasn’t. When asked if Ardern would be the next deputy leader of the party on the night of the by-election, leader Andrew Little declared, more than once, “there is no vacancy”. Labour’s deputy Annette King claimed the suggestions that Ardern should turf her out for the job were “ageist”.
However, on Wednesday Mrs. King confirmed not just her resignation from the deputy leadership, but from her health spokesperson position and parliament. King will join her senior Labour colleagues, Clayton Cosgrove (List) and David Cunliffe (New Lynn) in resigning at the election. King had already stood aside in favour of Wellington Deputy Mayor Paul Eagle in Rongotai after serving the area since 1993.
King insists that upon reflection she had decided herself to stand down, and had not been pushed. First entering parliament when David Lange swept to power in 1984, King first served as the MP for the Levin-based seat of Horrowhenua, until 1990. Being an MP under the Lange era, King has been criticised by some on the party’s left and by other left-wing observers as having never let go of some neoliberal positions. Stuff.co.nz was more favourable, describing King as “a political titan in her own right”.
In the Clark years, King served as Minister for Health (1999-2005), Minister for Police (2005-2008), Minister for Transport (2006-2008) and Minister for Justice (2007-2008).
On Wednesday, King confirmed she would nominate Jacinda Ardern to be the next deputy leader. With Andrew Little’s support too, Ardern’s rise to number two is all but confirmed. She will officially become the party’s deputy on Tuesday at the next caucus meeting, with Dunedin North MP David Clark expected to become the next spokesperson for health.
King assured the party that she was “only half way” through her career, and would never be far from the political scene. But, in national politics at least, nearly four decades of hard work ends on September 23.
Bill English slammed over drug comments
The Prime Minister, Bill English, has riled up some groups again, this time by suggesting young Kiwis couldn’t fill job vacancies because they were on drugs. But the Prime Minister’s claim was not backed up by data, according to statements by the New Zealand Drug Foundation. This prompted unions to label the Prime Minister’s position an example of “alternative facts”.
At the last count, unemployment in New Zealand grew to 5.4%. Around 0.1% of Kiwis applying for jobs had failed drug tests. The tests have been criticised by some, who point out cannabis remains in the system for up to six months. Even so, the Prime Minister didn’t entirely back down from his statement that was in support of the government overseeing a large increase in foreign workers, saying journalists should talk to businesses.
It’s not the first time English has been criticised by unions for comments made about New Zealand workers. Last year the then finance minister called some New Zealand men looking for work “pretty damned hopeless”.
Not everyone disagrees with the Prime Minister, however. Small business owner Mary Lambie, who owns a Subway store, says immigrants saved her business. Speaking to Three’s The AM Show, Lambie said “They [New Zealanders] were useless… particularly young Kiwi men. I’m talking, sort of, under 21. Unreliable, dishonest, lazy”.
The comments come as net migration hits new record highs. A report by the New Zealand Institute found the benefits of immigration were outweighing the costs, and weren’t contributing to problems surrounding housing as much as people believed.
But English’s ‘tell it like it is’ style has earned him few new enemies. With an impressive debut start to the preferred Prime Minister poll ratings, polling far ahead of Winston Peters and Andrew Little after just a few months in the job, English is unlikely to alter his approach.
Key’s replacement in Helensville confirmed
The race for Helensville is underway. Last week Hayley Holt of the Greens was the only confirmed candidate for the seat spanning from Cornwallis in the southeast to South Head in the northwest. National have confirmed former Navy officer Chris Penk to contest the seat. Penk ran against Labour’s Carmel Sepuloni in the newly formed West Auckland seat of Kelston in 2014, losing by a 28 point margin. However, the seat of Helensville is considered safe for the National Party, having never been won by Labour.
Labour have also chosen their Helensville candidate, Kurt Taogaga, a former City Vision candidate for council. Elsewhere, Labour picked Korean New Zealander Jin An to run against Deputy Prime Minister Paula Bennett in Upper Harbour and Charrie Chapman to stand against Baby of the House, Todd Barclay, in Clutha Southland.
Foster-Bell bows out
MP since 2013, Paul Foster-Bell of National has confirmed he will bow out of politics at the election. His exit clears the way for Nicola Willis to take the National Party nomination in Wellington Central, which is expected to give the incumbent, Grant Robertson, a bigger run for his money. Foster-Bell has had a tough political career with a diminishing National candidate vote over two elections. He failed to grasp the party’s Whangarei nomination in 2014 and has faced criticism over alleged bullying and large travel expenses.
More recently, Foster-Bell won praise for coming out as gay following controversial comments by Destiny Church leader Brian Tamaki that the Kaikoura earthquakes were caused by gay sex. The MP is part of a cross-party group in parliament advocating for gay rights that consists of members from Labour, the Greens, National, New Zealand First and ACT.
New: The Retirement List
National: Chester Borrows (Whanganui), Craig Foss (Tukituki), Paul Foster-Bell (List), Jo Goodhew (Rangitata), John Key (Helensville), Sam Lotu-Liga (Maungakiekie), Murray McCully (East Coast Bays), Jono Naylor (List), Hekia Parata (List), Linsday Tish (Waikato), Maurice Williamson (Pakuranga).
Labour: Clayton Cosgrove (List), David Cunliffe (New Lynn), Annette King (Rongotai).
Greens: Steffan Browning (List), Catherine Delahunty (List).
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).
Latest poll (as of Friday, 24 Feb 2017)
Roy Morgan poll for Feb:
National 48.0%, Labour 26.0%, Greens 13.0%, NZ First 8.0%, Maori 2.0%, ACT 1.0%, MANA Movement 0.0% United Future 0.0%, Conservative 0.0%, Internet Party 0.0%,
(GOVERNMENT 50.0% OPPOSITION 47.0%).
Poll change: National +2.0, Labour -4.0, Greens +2.0, NZ First -3.0, Maori +1.0, ACT +0.0, United Future +0.0, Conservative +0.0, Internet Party +0.0, MANA Movement -1.0.
GOVERNMENT +2.0, OPPOSTION -3.0
Poll average: National 47.0%, Labour 28.0%, Greens 11.0%, NZ First 10.0%, Maori 1.3%, ACT 0.6%, MANA Movement 0.4%, Conservative 0.2%, United Future 0.1%.
(Greens -1.0, NZ First +1.0, ACT +0.1, MANA Movement +0.3, United Future +0.1)
Better Prime Minister poll: Bill English 31.0%, Winston Peters 8.0%, Andrew Little 7.0%, Jacinda Ardern 4.0%, John Key 2.0%, James Shaw 0.3%.
The leaders’ social media performance:
Facebook ‘likes’ as at Friday 4/03/2017
1) Bill English 74,854 (+887) – Overtakes Winston Peters
2) Winston Peters 74,609 (+344)
3) Andrew Little 30,280 (+205)
4) Metiria Turei 14,027 (+75)
5) Te Ururoa Flavell 12,884 (+83)
6) Marama Fox 8,069 (+51)
7) James Shaw 7,822 (+89)
8) David Seymour 4,635 (+21)
9) Peter Dunne 1,538 (+75)
1) Metiria Turei 22.1K (+0.1)
3) Bill English 16.2K (+0.2)
2) Winston Peters 14.2K (+0.1)
4) Andrew Little 12.5K (+0.1)
5) Peter Dunne 8.3K (+0.1)
6) James Shaw 6.6K (+0.0)
7) Te Uruora Flavell 5.4K (+0.0)
8) Marama Fox 3.8K (+0.0)
9) David Seymour 3.7K (+0.1)