Monday, August 14, 2017

Seen being seen

There are electorates in New Zealand that are strongly associated with either the Labour Party or National Party, and a lot more that are at least theoretically competitive. New Zealand’s electorates are drawn by a non-partisan commission, so the concentration of supporters has to do with the demographic make-up of those electorates. It’s nothing untoward, but it still can be kind of annoying when you support the minority party.

For all but six of the 21+ years since I arrived in New Zealand, I’ve lived in an electorate with an electorate MP from the National Party. Those six years were when Labour’s Ann Hartley represented the Northcote Electorate. I worked on her 1999 and 2002 campaigns, but in 2005, when she lost the seat to the current National Party MP for the electorate, we lived in the Coromandel Electorate (then as now it had a National MP).

When we moved back to Auckland, it was back to the Northcote Electorate and its National MP. I voted for the Labour candidate in 2008, 2011, and 2014, and worked for the candidate in 2014 (my friend Richard Hills, who is now an Auckland Councillor). Each of those years was worse for Labour than the year before, and each time I saw the Labour candidate in Northcote lose and Labour failing to win government.

Nearly six months ago, we me moved to the Hunua Electorate in the former Franklin District (which is now part of Auckland Council). The electorate has only existed beginning with the 2008 election (from 1996 through 2005, it was part of the Port Waikato Electorate, which was abolished in 2005 when the boundaries were redrawn). Since 1996, the voters in the area have always elected a National Party MP, and usually by substantial margins, making this the MOST pro-National Party electorate I’ve lived in.

There’s only one election hoarding (sign) near our house, and it’s for the National Party’s candidate. A little further away, there’s a settlement with several signs, including one for Labour, but you have to travel to the bigest town in the electorate, Pukekohe, to see large numbers of signs, including a lot of Labour signs.

So today when I cleared the letterbox I saw the flier I shared on Instagram (photo above), and it was really nice to finally see something from my side, as it were. we’ve received at least a couple fliers from the current National Party MP, at least one of which was paid for by the taxpayer (perfectly legal at that time), as well as the taxpayer-funded newspaper I mentioned in the photo caption. Because I’ve been in the printing and publishing industries for so many decades, I know how much a paper like that costs to produce. That MP, Judith Collins, is from the Papakura Electorate, which the Hunua Electorate mostly surrounds. So, one could argue it was an easy mistake, but it was sloppy and also kind of annoying to receive a taxpayer-funded paper from someone who’s not even our MP. I put our copy directly into the recycle bin, unread.

Aside from the National Party stuff, we also received a badly colour laser printed flyer from NZ First promoting a public meeting, and two separate copies of a flier promoting a new racist pressure group fronted by a former National Party leader who later became leader of the Act Party before he failed to win an election for them, too. Maybe the bitterness has kind of festered?

All of this is much less than what I was used to seeing in Northcote, where we constantly got things from various parties, and hoardings were everywhere. Here, it’s suprisingly—well, peaceful, is probably the best word. But campaigning IS happening in the electorate—just not where we are. The local business group is having a candidate forum later this month which I hope to go to so I can actually meet the candidates.

Every election since the Hunua Electorate came into existence, I’ve known the Labour candidate, though apart from 2011, when Richard Hills was the candidate, I only knew them through social media. Labour has a policy of running candidates in every electorate in the country, but when the electorate is unwinnable, the Labour candidate can be a sort of “sacrificial lamb”. In Hunua, a painted stick would win with a 16,000 vote majority just as long as it wore a National party rosette (which is not a slam against the current MP, just the harsh reality of this electorate). Because of that, Labour has sometimes had candidates they wanted to “train” run in unwinnable electorates like Hunua so they could get campaign experience without risking anything. Their real job is to promote the Party Vote for Labour, because it's the nationwide Party Vote total that matters, and even unwinnable electorates can add to a winning nationwide tally.

So, I have no illusions or high expectations for success in this electorate next month. Although I’ve never met the current MP, and he’s a bit of an invisible backbencher, I haven’t detected any sort of groundswell against him. The National Party will also probably win the Party Vote in this electorate, unless there’s a huge nationwide swing to Labour, in which case it will tighten up dramatically (this last happened in 2002 when the National Party suffered its worst-ever election defeat under then-Leader of the Opposition, Bill English).

While I’m realistic about what the results of the election will be in this electorate, I nevertheless like to see Labour promoted. That’s not just a “fly the flag” kind of thing, but a long-term marketing necessity. Sure, the electorate is currently overwhelmingly pro-National Party, but as more and more housing developments are added, the demographics will change. Also, people who already support Labour, or who might do so, need to know the party is here in this electorate, too, and wants their vote. Being seen matters for both groups.

And that’s why I was especially glad to see the Labour Party flier show up in our letterbox. By itself, it won’t influence this year’s election, but it’s part of the necessary groundwork to one day make this electorate competitive, and that’s something that’s absolutely possible. Something as simple as a flier—being seen being seen—is part of what will make the possible, probable.

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