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The Count Is On: Labour 44 – All Others 23

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The Count Is On - Electoral boundaries: Labour 44 – All Others 23

King Country to
North Auckland.The recently released electoral boundaries are a victory for the Labour Party.

As a rule it is in the interests of the opposition party (National in this case) to create as many marginal electorates as possible. A whole swag of marginal seats is regarded as positive as it opens up the prospect of close election contests were a candidate who campaigns for two ticks – the party vote and the electorate vote – can win the electorate.

For the incumbent party (Labour) the best outcome is to have as many ‘safe’ electorates as possible. A seat that a party can expect to win by a significant margin seldom generates an opposition campaign of any substance. The incumbent candidate has a better opportunity to influence of the campaign agenda and has more flexibility to campaign for the party vote.

Well that’s the theory anyway.

So it must have been particularly satisfying for Labour president Mike Williams to see the Representation Commission confirm electoral boundaries that are likely to deliver a swath of Labour fortresses at the forthcoming election.

Auckland is Labour’s first victory. The new Waitakere electorate gives Labour candidate Lynne Pillay a majority on paper of around 4,000 votes. Notwithstanding Alliance Party leader Laila Harre’s candidacy, Pillay benefits from boundaries that include suburbs such as McLaren Park, and Glen Eden – rich pickings for Labour.

Also in Auckland, boundary changes create New Lynn, a fortress Labour electorate for David Cunliffe. His seat is among five in Auckland City – New Lynn, Mt Albert, Auckland Central, Mt Roskill and Maungakiekie – that Labour is likely to win.

In Manukau City the Representation Commission has strengthened Labour’s hold on Manukau East. Ross Robertson has kept Labour-leaning Papatoetoe, Otara and East Tamaki, while losing part of National-leaning Howick to the new Clevedon seat. Further south, the Manurewa electorate looks set to return Police Minister George Hawkins for another term.

Elsewhere in the Auckland region, other Labour incumbents look set to win comfortably. No boundary changes means that Northcote MP Ann Hartley, who won in 1999 by less than 300 votes, is likely to win and significantly increase her majority this year.

National’s bright spot in Auckland is located in the northwest corner of the city. The new and ultra safe National seat of Helensville will elect candidate John Keys to parliament.

The National Party has bombed out in Waikato and the Bay of Plenty. The boundaries in Hamilton effectively deliver the status quo – a Labour marginal (West) and a National marginal (East). However look for Martin Gallagher to extend his majority over National list MP Bob Simcock, beyond 2,000 votes in Hamilton West.

National’s Tony Ryall should hold the Bay of Plenty electorate by a reasonable margin. Although his seat has been moved further west and he will shed Whakatane to the East Coast electorate, which in turn is held by Labour backbencher Janet Mackey. Whakatane provides Ryall with a lot of personal support, although it should help to keep Mackey’s majority in the East Coast beyond 3,000 votes.

Labour’s Rotorua MP Steve Chadwick picks up some National-leaning Reporoa and Broadlands from her Labour colleague Mark Burton, the MP for Taupo. However such is Chadwick’s majority that she looks set to win Rotorua by at least several thousand votes.

Taupo is a huge victory for the Labour Party. Gaining Labour-leaning Taumarunui in the southwest has offset the loss of National-leaning areas in the northeast. Taupo is a genuine marginal seat for Labour. The changes to this enormous electorate will help to add to Burton’s majority – a dire prospect for National.

Elsewhere, boundaries in the North Island are largely unchanged. Labour’s Whanganui MP Jill Pettis will contest an electorate that has been moved further west into rural south Taranaki. Although her majority is unlikely to fall. In fact smaller towns such as Eltham and Manaia may well contribute to pushing Pettis’ majority beyond 3,500 votes.

Rangitikei is the only seat held by National in the south of the North Island. With effectively no change to the electoral boundaries, Labour looks set to hold every seat in Wellington except Ohariu-Belmont, which is a fortress for United Future MP Peter Dunne.

National is placing high hopes on taking Wellington Central off Labour’s Marian Hobbs. But National has absolutely no hope anywhere else. Seats like Rongotai, Hutt South, Rimutaka, and Mana are all safe Labour electorates. Wairarapa, which shocked many political commentators when it fell to Georgina Beyer in 1999, might shock pundits again – with Beyer increasing her majority.

If the North Island looks bad for National then the boundaries defining electorates in the South Island offer no comfort.

Labour’s two rural electorates are held by massive majorities. West Coast-Tasman MP Damien O’Conner is well respected and enjoys immense personal support. Aoraki MP Jim Sutton is a popular south Canterbury farmer who boasts a majority in excess of 7,000 votes.

National have no realistic change of winning either electorate in Dunedin, which are both held by local Labour personalities Pete Hodgson and David Benson-Pope. National’s Dunedin-based list MP Katherine Rich secured less than 20 percent of the vote in Dunedin North in 1999. She is unlikely to improve on that result this year.

Minor boundary changes are unlikely to alter the electoral landscape in Christchurch. Labour will hold Christchurch Central and Christchurch East, probably by over 10,000 votes respectively. Marginal Waimakariri, held by Labour’s Clayton Cosgrove, may well become a ‘safe seat’ as voters warm to Cosgrove’s staunch and parochial style of advocacy.

National’s other big chance in Canterbury is the Banks Peninsula seat held by Disability Issues Minister Ruth Dyson. National had hoped to move Labour-leaning Woolston out of that electorate thus denying Dyson a solid block of Labour supporters.

The Representation Commission rejected National’s proposed changes in Banks Peninsula. Dyson is likely to hold the electorate and deny National the opportunity to pick up a marginal seat in the South Island.

The Maori electorates are not National’s battleground. Labour should win all seven Maori electorates by overwhelming majorities, whereas National will struggle to secure double-digit support among Maori electors.

Given National’s inability to secure coverage in the media, dominate the government in parliament, or gain traction in the public opinion polls, Labour must be particularly pleased with the boundaries confirmed by the Representation Commission. Outpolling National by more than two to one in the electorate contests gives Labour a huge head start from which to build on.

National president Michelle Boag’s speeches and reported comments about Helen Clark have become increasingly shrill and vitriolic in recent weeks. Is Boag’s frustration caused by (a) Clark’s exemplary handling of the media, (b) the government’s good relationship with stakeholder groups across all portfolios, or (c) National’s disastrous deficit in the electorates? You be the judge.

Send your comments to:Spectator News Editor.
© Spectator News Agency, Multimedia Investments Limited, 2002.

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