Greens could trip Nats up in Northcote
By Richard Harman (author)
Though Labour and National yesterday selected their candidates for the Northcote by-election, the Greens will not decide till Thursday whether they will stand a candidate at all.
If they don’t, the seat will become much more competitive for Labour.
Retiring National MP Jonathan Coleman won the seat at last year’s general election over Labour’s Shanan Halbert with a majority of 6210.
Halbert was named again yesterday as Labour’s candidate to contest the June 9 by-election.
But if all the votes cast at the last election for the Green candidate, Rebekah Jaung, were to be added to his vote, the National majority would shrink to only 3753.
It is however highly unusual for an Opposition party candidate to lose a by-election in an Opposition-held seat.
And Labour Party President, Nigel Haworth acknowledges this.
“We are starting on the basis that it is an uphill battle,” he told POLITIK.
"We are the governing party, and a governing party has never won a seat off the Opposition in a by-election.”
And he says he hasn’t had any discussions with the Greens about them not standing, though their refusal to set out any timetable for selecting a candidate would suggest that at the very least, the party is debating not standing.
In selecting Halbert, the party rejected Auckland Councillor, Richard Hills.
Both he and the Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, have described each other as “good friends”.
Last December he told “Channel’ magazine: “I have a great personal connection to Jacinda,"
"I was so excited for her to get in [as Prime Minister].
“I have spoken to her about youth issues, the environment, public health, housing, for many years.
“We both share a passion about supporting people with mental health issues.
“She's spoken to me a lot about this."
So his failure to make it may be seen as a tick against her.
But it was always going to be hard to beat Halbert who accumulated a formidable track record after his general election campaign.
“It was an exemplary performance,” said Haworth.
Halbert is the Head of relationships and Recruitment at Te Wananga o Aotearoa and has a background in education. He has also worked in Parliament for Labour MP, Peeni Henare.
Ironically National's candidate, Dan Bidois, is also Maori. (A fact that prompted National's Leader, Simon Bridges, to make a light-hearted reference about their resemblance to each other speaking to delegates at the selection meeting.)
POLITK understands Bidois was the preferred candidate for both the party hierarchy and political leadership.
He failed to win selection for Pakuranga last year, but his formidable CV marks him out as a future Minister, according to party heavyweights.
He is currently Strategy Manager for Foodstuffs.
Bidois was raised and educated in Auckland, leaving school at 15 to complete a butchery apprenticeship with Woolworth’s New Zealand.
He went on to study at the University of Auckland, where he got a B.A. and an Honours degree in Commerce for which he wrote a thesis on “Ethnic Differences in University Success: A New Zealand Perspective".
Since then he has got a Harvard post graduate degree in economics and worked as an economist for the OECD.
He has worked as a strategist and economist in New Zealand, the United States, and Malaysia.
He apparently won the selection yesterday with a big majority on the first ballot.
And by last night party heavyweights were explaining his easy win by saying Northcote voters were used to having a Cabinet Minister as their MP. (National’s former Leader, Sir Jim McClay also represented the electorate.)
But Bidois was careful last night when asked about the expectations of the electorate.
“The people of Northcote are very aspirational,” he told POLITIK.
“They are looking for an MP who not only will be a good local and visible MP but also one that will be contributing to national issues as well so certainly that has been reflected in the former National MPs that we have had but first and foremost they would an effective local MP.”
Both Labour and National believe the by-election will be fought on local issues and though the parties differ on most of what those issues are, they agree what tops the list --- transport.
National has already polled the electorate and found that the proposed regional and national fuel tax is unpopular because it is seen as being used to fund transport initiatives like light rail on the other side of the harbour.
Northcote itself has only buses and ferries as its public transport. It is some distance from both the North Shore busway and the northern motorway.
“We’ve got all these proposed regional fuel taxes, and none of that will go to Northcote residents," said Bidois.
“Meanwhile there is planned light rail down Dominion Road; that doesn’t affect Northcote residents.
"No one is going to use that, yet they are having to pay for it, so it's about them getting their fair share."
Haworth says Labour have seen no evidence that that is a concern among Northcote residents.
“Most people who have looked at Auckland’s transport problems understand there has to be an arrangement that finances the change that is needed,” he said.
“I’m not anticipating a kickback on that at all.”
Maybe not --- but Labour will have their own cards to play. Expect health funding to get a big mention in an electorate where parts of the North Shore Hospital have recently been described as “not fit for purpose.”
These may be local issues, but they will have a national resonance and the fact that National has a new leader will add a national perspective to the whole by-election campaign.