State of the race #10: Councillors make the jump to the big house

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It’s been a week of local politicians deciding to, and deciding to not, make the jump into the national scene. Along with all that, there have been politicians appearing on university campuses, “racist, bigoted” leaflets and an appearance from Pepe the frog. It’s another week in the strange world of premature electioneering. 

Nats have new candidate in Wellington Central, Mana in question

Following Paul Foster-Bell’s surprise exit from politics last week, his challenger for the Wellington Central National Party nomination, Nicola Willis, has been elevated to the selection. Willis, a corporate high-flier and friend to former Prime Minister John Key, will square-off against Labour’s Grant Robertson, the Greens’ James Shaw, and a soon-to-be-announced candidate from New Zealand First. However in the far-north Wellington seat of Mana, the challenger to take on Labour’s Kris Faafoi is now in doubt. Rumoured candidate Nick Leggett, the former mayor for the area, announced Friday that he will not seek the National Party nomination, saying he intended to focus instead on family.

Leggett, who served as Porirua mayor from 2010 till 2016, attempted a run at the mayoralty of Wellington last year. He made the final round, but was beaten by Labour’s Justin Lester – 57% to 43%. During the campaign and after there was a bitter war of words between the candidate and Labour – his former party. In the weeks following his defeat Leggett confirmed his defection to the National Party, and rumours swelled about a Mana run. The current List MP based in the area, Hekia Parata, will resign at the election, leaving the National Party with no potential well-established candidate. The seat, previously one of the most marginal in the country, became a Labour stronghold at the last election – despite a dramatic swing away from the party nationwide.

Candidate interview leaves more questions than answers

David Lee, a Wellington City councillor as of 2010, has kicked up a fuss in Christchurch. The Green Party councillor for the Southern Ward sat down with Stuff.co.nz to talk about his out-of-place decision to stand in the seat of Ilam, held by Gerry Brownlee in the affluent western suburbs of Christchurch. Instead, Lee spent the duration of the interview praising the incumbent MP, Gerry Brownlee, and dishing the details on his previous associations with National. Lee said his politics could be described as “very blue” with a “green halo” and that his “mentor” was Brownlee, who has served the area since 1996. He also referred to his past work as a member of the Young National Party, and a campaign manager for a senior minister based in Auckland. However, it was his comment that his Christchurch campaign was a “sideline project” that caused some anger among locals.

Lee has deep roots within the electorate, having grown up there and still maintaining links through family. Whilst Lee is dismissive of his chances in 2017, he said this election was about increasing his name recognition to lay the foundations for a “hard out” tilt at the seat in 2020.

Brownlee faces serious challenge in Ilam

But there are more serious challengers eyeing up Ilam, and on Friday local Christchurch city councillor Raf Manji confirmed he’d be running as an Independent. If elected, he’d be the first successful independent since Winston Peters won the Tauranga by-election of 1993. However an independent has not won a seat in a general election since 1943. Whilst history is certainly against him, with New Zealand’s woeful record at electing independents, Manji and others insist there is appetite for change after over two decades of Brownlee. In fact, Manji is rubbing salt in it, saying he even has the support of most National Party sympathisers – a group he’ll need to win over if he’s to take out Brownlee’s 11,898 vote majority. The seat has never been held by another party, or even another member.

The resistance against Brownlee stems from widespread dissatisfaction with the minister’s response to the earthquakes, and the earthquake recovery process, which have dominated the last six years of his political career.

Manji is credited for being the city’s “money man”, working with the mayor and council on financial solutions for the authority which has been cash-strapped since the 2011 quake.

Labour has selected local pastor and housing advocate Anthony Rimell, who was beaten in the local elections by Manji. It isn’t entirely clear who Manji would hypothetically support in post-election deals, but the politician generally leans to the centre-left.

An (unscientific) online poll run by The Press of 3,100 people found Manji at 56%, Brownlee on 25%, Rimell on 11%, and David Lee of the Greens on 3%.

Politicians descend on O-Week

In the now annual tradition, politicians of all stripes descended on campuses in Auckland, Waikato, the Hawkes’ Bay, Palmerston North, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin. Wellington, being the hub of government, boasted the most politicians this year, with leaders of all the major parties coming along to rally support among younger voters. Winston Peters was the first to touch down at Kelburn’s campus, giving a speech to a packed lecture theatre. Not only did the 70 year old veteran politician draw hundreds of young people to hear him speak – he even got applause on multiple occasions throughout the night, particularly when he reminded those gathered of his party’s opposition to the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA).

However, Peters’ speech did not fly by without controversy. Upon leaving the lecture theatre, Peters was greeted by a young supporter holding a printed out ‘Pepe the frog’ meme, which Peters was photographed signing. The meme has become synonymous with white nationalism and other alt-right causes, although Peters said he wasn’t worried. The story reached as far as Buzzfeed in the United States, leaving some party members red-faced.

The Prime Minister’s visit ran smoothly on Thursday, although, notably, he did not attract nearly the same interest as his predecessor John Key. The New Zealand Herald reported there was “barely a selfie snapped” during the Prime Minister’s fly-in visit. Although there was a nice moment, when he was reunited with a student whom he had coached as a young boy.

Labour’s Andrew Little came later in the day, when students were out having their lunch – so time was already on his side. He was joined by the new deputy leader, Jacinda Ardern, in what was one of their very first outings as a combo. The junior political correspondent for Newshub, Lloyd Burr, asked students if they had heard of Andrew Little, expecting, presumably, the answer to be “no”. However, while almost all the students spoken to had heard of Andrew Little, fewer had heard of Jacinda Ardern. Although, it’s fair to say, Ardern seized on the opportunity of more selfies than the Prime Minister – something Little jokingly dubbed a “generational difference”.

Dunne goes to war on “bigots”

A flier backed by the anti-treaty 1Law4All Party has outraged Ohariu MP and United Future leader Peter Dunne. The flier, coupled with another that warns of the Chinese government’s takeover of New Zealand, attacks perceived Maori privileges. Dunne labelled both of the leaflets distributed “despicable, racist bigotry” and should be put in the bin. The 1Law4All Party will be announcing its leadership team soon, and is understood to be gearing up to fight the 2017 election. Don Brash and Colin Craig are among those being rumoured as possible supporters.
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).

NZ First: Barbara Stewart (List)

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 (Unchanged)
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 75,380 (+526)
2) Winston Peters 
74,926 (+317)
3) Andrew Little 30,397 (+117)
4) Metiria Turei 14,096 (+69)
5) Te Ururoa Flavell 12,906 (+22)
(Marama Fox closes page)
6) James Shaw 7,831 (+9)
7) David Seymour 4,747 (+112)
8) Peter Dunne 1,579 (+41)
Twitter followers
1) Metiria Turei 22.2K (+0.1)
3) Bill English 16.4K (+0.2)
2) Winston Peters 14.3K (+0.1)
4) Andrew Little 12.6K (+0.1)
5) Peter Dunne 8.3K (+0.0)
6) James Shaw 6.7K (+0.1)
7) Te Uruora Flavell 5.4K (+0.0)
8) Marama Fox 3.9K (+0.0)
9) David Seymour 3.7K (+0.0)

  • Bennett Morgan, Capital HardTalk. 

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