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Feedback – to Paulo Politico’s ‘Labour is Ahead'

Feedback – to Paulo Politico’s ‘Labour Ahead in Boundary Allocations’

Nigel Kearney writes…

First published on…

The April 30 article 'Labour Ahead in Boundary Allocations' by Paulo Politico shows a lack of understanding of MMP.

It's true that the changes have created a number of safe Labour seats. The only relevant consideration, however, is the effect this will have on the party vote.

The argument that a safe seat gives the candidate more flexibility to campaign for the party vote ignores the fact that all candidates in that electorate will be in the same situation. In fact, parties with a large proportion of list MPs clearly have the advantage here, since those MPs can focus solely on the party vote.

In fact, the changes will hurt Labour due to reduced voter turnout. A hotly contested electorate captures the attention of voters resulting in an increased turnout. The opposite occurs when there is no contest. Many voters in those electorates will choose to stay home on election day, and since they are safe Labour seats, the majority of those who stay home will be Labour voters.

Nigel Kearney – Wellington

Paulo Politico responds

Mr Kearney’s reply is consistent with the ACT Party critique of the new electoral boundaries – that is that safe seats promote complacency and Labour voters stay home.

Mr Kearney might not realise this but Labour overwhelmingly achieves a high party vote in seats that elect Labour MPs by a wide margin. Labour polled more than 50 percent of the party vote is safe seats such as Dunedin South (50.52), Mangere (67.32), Manurewa (51.84) and Mt Albert (51.37).

By and large the same applies to the National Party. National achieved a comparatively high party vote in safe seats such as Clutha-Southland (46.83), Ilam (42.05), Pakuranga (40.53), and Rakaia (44.97).

A popular local candidate is a flag-bearer for the party. Once that candidate has built up a track record of service to a particular community, he or she becomes a powerful means of generating good will and popularity for the party. This in term delivers party votes.

Of course the only way that a candidate can build up local support is to have enough time to serve a political apprenticeship. This requires a safe seat that will consistently elect the candidate time after time. That is why Labour has a huge advantage holding so many seats at present.

Your correspondent is deluded if he thinks that parties with a large proportion of list MPs are at an advantage. Those list MPs generally have a much lower profile and seldom have the networks and contacts within an individual community that an electorate MP enjoys.

Take Dunedin for example. Labour’s electorate MPs – Pete Hodgson and David Benson-Pope – give the party a very high profile in the city. They attend the school prizegivings, the breakfast meetings, the seniors luncheons and this list goes on. National’s Dunedin-based list MP Katherine Rich has very little profile and very limited name recognition. Both Hodgson and Benson-Pope have safe seats and Dunedin preferred Labour to National by a two-to-one margin.

Your correspondent appears to assume that voters like list candidates travelling all around the country pretending to identify with different communities every three years. Consider this, Act MP Ken Shirley was once the MP for the South Island seat of Tasman. After a career outside of politics he returned and stood for the Wellington seat of Ohariu-Belmont in 1996. In 1999 has indicated that he would stand in Tauranga and then withdrew his candidacy. In 2002 he has indicated that he would seek selection in the Auckland seat of Tamaki.

I doubt voters really have much faith in Mr Shirley’s itinerant style. So how can he be a credible ambassador for ACT in central Auckland?

Paulo Politico

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