Sunday, June 03, 2018

A by-election for Northcote

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern visits Birkenhead May 30 (Facebook).
This time next week, people in the Northcote Electorate on Auckland’s North Shore will have a new Member of Parliament. This is happening because of a by-election sparked by ex-Health Minister Jonathan Coleman’s sudden resignation from Parliament to take a job in the private health sector. The result promises to be very close.

While Coleman won’t be missed—at all—it’s annoying that he didn’t stand down at the election last year and save taxpayers the huge amount of money it will cost to hold this election. Nevertheless, it’s good he’s gone, especially as we learn more about what a terrible state he left the nation’s healthcare system in.

There are several candidates running in the election, including some that are, er, um, not exactly, er, um, credible—yeah, that’ll do. The two leading candidates, one of whom will be the new MP, are the Labour Party’s Shanan Halbert, who was also the party’s candidate in the General Election last year [full disclosure: I’ve known Shanan for several years now, and mentioned him in a few posts, most recently on September 13 last year]. The National Party candidate, who recently moved into the electorate, is Dan Bidois, who preciously sought selection in other electorates around Auckland.

There are two other candidates of note in the race: Green Party Candidate Rebekah Jaung, who was the party’s candidate in the election last year, and previous candidate Stephen Beery of the Act “Party”. It’s not clear why, exactly, either one is in the race. Jaung will take votes from Labour and Berry will take votes from national, though probably not nearly as many as Jeung will take from Labour. Maybe they won’t matter at all, but if the election has a close result, one of those two candidates could easily end up being a spoiler.

Labour is running a strong campaign in an electorate that leans toward the National Party. Although it’s always an uphill battle for Labour in the electorate, Labour's Halbert is polling well, and could end up winning the seat. So far, Advance Voting has been running well ahead of the pace of the General Election last year, which is always good for democracy, but very unusual for a by-election.

Pundits have been saying that if Labour wins, it will be an affirmation of support for the Labour-led Government, whereas a vote for National would mean a rejection of the Government (or, some of them say, suspicion). Maybe, but unlikely. While the current government and (especially) Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, remain popular, it IS a mostly National-leaning electorate. If Labour wins, that could mean simply that voters see the value of having an MP who’s part of the Government, and/or they prefer one who has lived in the electorate for years rather than just arrived to run for Parliament. If National wins, it will be no surprise: The election is really theirs to lose.

Northcote is my old electorate, of course, where we lived until early 2017. In fact, most of the years I’ve lived in New Zealand have been in that electorate, and I worked on Ann Hartley’s campaign when she was elected as Labour Party MP in 1999, and re-elected in 2002, and, of course, I was part of the 2014 Labour campaign there. So, I’m very familiar with the electorate, something that most pundits aren’t because they don’t live there and only look at raw data. That doesn’t mean I’ll be right or that they’ll be wrong, just that I may have a more intuitive sense of the place than they do. We’ll know, all things going to plan, by this time next week. At any rate, the only reason I’m talking about it at all is because of my long personal ties to the area.

Democracy is always a great thing, and for some of us, extremely fun to watch.

The Photo up top is from the public Facebook Page for Shanan Halbert for Northcote and shows Jacinda Ardern speaking to the media during her campaign stop visiting the Birkenhead shops on May 30. Shanan is behind her looking on.

Disclosures: I’m a member and supporter of the New Zealand Labour Party, but have no position of any kind with them, nor am I in contact with party leaders or the Northcote campaign. All opinions expressed are entirely my own, based on more than 40 years closely following election campaigns.

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