Mt Albert By-Election

20 May

From ex Leader to next Leader.

Some notes for a wider project piece I am trying to put together …comments welcome ….

The New Zealand political environment was still trying to come to terms with the resignation of Prime Minister John Key when only 2 days later it was reported that former Labour leader David Shearer was to resign his seat and take up a job as United Nations special envoy to South Sudan[1]. The Mt Albert electorate was to have its second MMP by-election to allow a former Leader to safely parachute out for an international job. Perhaps MMP by-elections had found a purpose after all.

IMG_4517

Shearer had not formally resigned his seat, nor been confirmed in the role and the thinking about whether there would be a by-election was advancing. Some commentators, and even the Labour leader Andrew Little, wondered if there might be cause for an early general election if Mr Shearer were to resign alongside the potential departures of the Pakuranga MP Maurice Williamson, the New Lynn MP David Cunliffe and the former Prime Minister and Helensville MP John Key. [2]

Within days of becoming Prime Minister Bill English announced that the by-election would be held on 25 February 2017 and that National would not contest the seat (even before David Shearer had resigned the seat). This seemed to end any speculation of a super Saturday for replacing sitting MPs or an early election. English wanted National to focus on winning the 2017 General Election, a decision aspiring Labour candidate Jacinda Ardern noted as “surprising”[3] and the Deputy Leader of the Labour party, Annette King, went on “I think he’s a bit of a scaredy-cat, he doesn’t want to look as if he’s not successful and he doesn’t want to have a defeat at the beginning of the year, “That’s fair enough, but it’s very strange that he wouldn’t take the opportunity to run a candidate and put out their policies and what their achievements are, if they can identify them.”[4] Nationals campaign manager Steven Joyce hit back and said that Labour’s decision not to stand in Northland had been fine for them. When challenged with the reality that Labour had stood in Northland, Joyce called this a “ relative term “[5]  The Green Party announced on 23 December that they would contest the seat, to give voters a choice. Given they had previously not contested the Mt Roskill by-election to assist the Labour party it was a decision open to some interpretive criticism. [6] Green co-leader Meteria Turia said the party were committed to standing but accepted that the Labour party would win. Quite how her reality of accepting defeat and standing was any less or more rational than English’s view of accepting defeat so refusing to stand will be for others to consider. What was clear, even before Shearer had officially left his seat, was that Labour would win.

2014 Election Result

Mount Albert was held at the 2014 election by David Shearer. Shearer had won the seat in a by-election in 2009 making it the first seat to be contested twice as an MMP by-election. There had been some initial excitement that given National had gained a larger share of the party vote than any other party in the 2014 election, that they may be able to win the seat.

David Shearer Labour 20,970 58.17%
Melissa Lee National 10,314 28.61%
Jeanette Elley Green Party 3,152 8.74%
Jeffrey Johnson CNSP 525 1.46%
Tommy Fergusson ACT 321 0.89%
Joe Carolan Mana 290 0.80%
Anthony Van Den Heuvel 76 0.21%
Michael Wackrow 68 0.19%
Informals 336 0.93%
Votes Cast 36,052
National Party 14,359 38.89%
Labour Party 10,823 29.31%
Green Party 8,005 21.68%
New Zealand First 1,512 4.10%
Conservative 719 1.95%
Internet Mana 603 1.63%
ACT 356 0.96%
Maori Party 178 0.48%
ALCP 93 0.25%
United Future 57 0.15%
Ban 1080 12 0.03%
The Civilian Party 11 0.03%
Democrats Social Credit 7 0.02%
Focus New Zealand 6 0.02%
NZ Independent Coalition 5 0.01%
Informals 176 0.48%
Total 36,922

Candidates

For the Labour party the obvious strength of a high profile sitting list MP who lived in the Mt Albert constituency saw Jacinda Ardern emerge as the only person to put their name forward for selection. Her candidature was confirmed on 22 January at a local party meeting. [7] Ardern had stood in the neighbouring Auckland Central seat at the last general election.

The Green party also choose a sitting list MP in Julie Ann Genter. Genter had stood in Epsom in the 2014 General Election. Genter saw Nationals absence as a way to show politics could be done differently, and that the campaign would not be negative.[8]

The New Zealand People’s Party who had formed in 2016 as a party focused on Indian and Asian immigrants decided to contest the by-election and chose Vin Tomar as its candidate. Tomar was a former Green Party member and lived in the constituency.[9]

The recently formed but yet to be registered The Opportunities Party announced that it would contest the by-election. The party founder and leader Gareth Morgan announced the candidature of Geoff Simmons, a Wellington based economist and the party Chief of Staff, under a barrage of analogy. Simmons would be the “rose between two thorns” and “David against Goliath”. Labour and the Greens were “Sisters in arms”. Simmons even referenced a recent cricket match result to show that anything could happen. [10]

By the close of nominations there were thirteen candidates, including four independents, the Communist League, People Before Profit, Cannabis Party, the strangely named Not a Party and the Human Rights Party. [11]

Campaigning

In many respects the absence of the National party took the wind out of the campaign before it began. Whilst this may have been the intention from a political perspective it again raised questions about the financial cost of running a by-election in an MMP environment.

The Opportunities Party began their campaign with another bizarre analogy session. Simmons, perhaps anticipating the result, said he didn’t want to be a career politician. He then went on “Every politician promises you a nice pair of underwear but what you find after three years is, really all you had is, you’ve taken the old underwear, turned them inside out and put them back on again,”[12] He went on to say “We the party, we actually want to do ourselves out of a job – that’s what we’re setting this thing up so we don’t have to do it anymore”. Simmons father who lives in the constituency attended the launch, waving a Julie Ann Genter campaign sign and said he had yet to make up his mind which way to vote. [13]

The Opportunities Party were later subjected to a complaint on behalf of ACT (also not standing in this election) about the use of a van for “treating “. This is a legal concept alleging that voters were being given a free ride rather than a fun concept as no one could really imagine going for a spin in a van with Gareth Morgan’s face on it as a treat ! Thankfully the Electoral Commission cleared them of the allegation.  [14] [15]

The three main candidates all featured in a debate hosted in an Indian restaurant in Sandringham Media coverage seemed to focus on the absence of any difference between the three candidates and that they were all candidates of the left (though its questionable where The Opportunities Party and the Labour Party sit ). The Auckland housing market was a key question raised for the candidates. Simmons advocated a Capital Gains Tax on first homes. Arden disagreed with this while Genter advocated for planning zone changes. Simmons made another of his now familiar odd comments by asking that he was elected on the basis that he’s the only one not already in Parliament. [16] Whist’s it’s an odd campaign slogan there is of course a wider issue ( see below ).

The campaign seemed to focus quite quickly on the size of victory that Ardern would achieve and the potential impact that would have on the Labour party for the 2017 general election. Arden’s campaign was a personalised one, whilst there was some logic to this in a one-off election it also highlighted the candidates favourable image. Or at least a more favourable image than her party and leader. Electors were being asked to back team Jacinda rather than vote Labour. The perceived inevitability of the result made for a rather lack luster time.  Her main opponent even referred to her as “ own to earth and friendly, even though she’s a superstar in Parliament”.[17] Indeed the closeness of the two candidates ( they even apparently car pooled while canvassing !) took any potential edge out of the campaign. It even prompted what might be the worst piece of election writing ever by the New Zealand Herald when they declared “ The least bitter rivalry in New Zealand politics has broken out in the Mt Albert by-election” [18] Not only had they car pooled and canvassed together they had shown off dance moves. Genter said it had been “fun”.

As election day arrived, Labour leader Andrew Little campaigned with Ardern and downplayed discussion of a future reshuffle. Ardern toyed with idea of recycling her first name billboards for the General Election and discussion seemed to be on how low the turnout would be. [19]

C4rtXyCWcAExCIG

One observer who had witnessed many elections (Mike Williams) observed it was the “most low-key byelection I’ve ever seen” However it was thought the Labour party were testing a new campaigning strategy. The strategy was claimed to be adopted from the Victoria Labour Party and the recent Wellington Mayoralty. They established a network of field officers and volunteers who data mine whether a voter is persuadable and what issues they care about.[20] Some may question why they had never thought of this before.

Result and aftermath

The preliminary result surprised no one and Ardern received over 77% of the vote on just under 13,000 votes cast. Genter was second but distant and The Opportunities Party came in third. Turnout was only around 27 % at the preliminary stage. [21]

The official result published on 8 March with little change to the result.

Jacinda Ardern Labour  10,495 76.89%
Julie Anne Genter Green  1,564 11.46%
Geoff Simmons  623 4.56%
Vin Tomar New Zealand Peoples Party  218 1.60%
Joe Carolan People Before Profit  189 1.38%
Penny Bright  139 1.02%
Abe Gray Cannabis Party  7 0.05%
Adam Amos  81 0.59%
Dale Arthur  54 0.40%
Anthony Van Den Heuvel Human Rights  34 0.25%
Peter Wakeman  30 0.22%
Simon Smythe  19 0.14%
Patrick Brown Communist  16 0.12%
Informals  90 0.66%
Total 13649
Turnout 30%

By the Wednesday following the poll, despite rejecting the idea a week earlier, Annette King resigned as Deputy Leader of the Labour Party and Jacinda Ardern was backed for the vacancy. [22]

The Green party went off to contemplate what the result really meant for them. Could the poor showing undermine its chances of being in Government? Labour may cannibalize the Greens vote where it can and be left holding hands with New Zealand First. The expectation of gaining 30 or even 40 % of the vote seemed woefully optimistic. [23] The Opportunities Party were reflecting on achieving 4.6 % of the vote as being near its target 5%. It seemed rude to point out the absence of National and New Zealand First negated that effort somewhat. [24]

Three months after David Shearer indicated he was leaving there was a new MP in Parliament. However, this wasn’t the victorious candidate Jacinda Ardern. She had been in Parliament throughout the campaign as had her main rival. The new MP was declared elected on 15 March 2017 following Arden’s resignation from the list. Raymond Hau was the ultimate beneficiary of the poll result.[25] So what was this all about?

There a debate to be had over the role and purpose of by-elections under MMP. Nigel Roberts returned to this debate during the Mt Albert contest. He points to the wide range of countries that don’t hold by-elections yet still have stable and useful democracies.[26] Would we have been any worse off to have replaced David Shearer with Raymond Hua without reference to the electorate? Does it diminish the role of by-elections on Parliamentary arithmetic? Well it’s a different world under MMP. Electors vote for party preference as well as individual MPs. There a desire to keep that party balance in place over the three years, which is a relatively short electoral cycle. Could we survive without another by-election? Well certainly without one as lackluster as MT Albert we certainly could.

img_5707

[1] Audrey Young “ David Shearer to quit for UN job: Mt Albert by-election Looms” 8 December 2016,at http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11762554

[2] RadioNZ “ David Shearer to quit, Labour ready for early election” 8 December 2016, at http://www.radionz.co.nz/news/political/319876/david-shearer-to-quit,-labour-‘ready’-for-early-election

[3] RadioNZ “ National won’t contest Mt Albert By-election” 19 December 2016, at http://www.radionz.co.nz/news/political/320794/national-won’t-contest-mt-albert-by-election

[4] RadioNZ “ Bill English accused of chickening out in Mt Albert ‘ 20 December 2016, at http://www.radionz.co.nz/news/political/320840/bill-english-accused-of-chickening-out-in-mt-albert

[5] ibid

[6] Stuff “ Green Party to stand against Labour in Mt Albert by-election” 23 December 2016, at http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/87898480/Green-Party-to-stand-against-Labour-in-Mt-Albert-by-election

[7] Stuff “ Jacinta Arden Labour’s sole nominee for Mt Albert by-election” 12 January 2017, at http://www.stuff.co.nz/auckland/88372683/Jacinda-Ardern-Labours-sole-nominee-for-Mt-Albert-by-election

[8] Nicholas Jones” Mt Albert by-election:Its Jacinda Arden vs Julie Ann Genter “ 12 January 2017,at http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11781265

[9] Sandeep Singh”New Zealand People Party to spice up Mt Albert By-election, announces candidate”,26 December 2016, at http://www.indianweekender.co.nz/Pages/ArticleDetails/7/7433/New-Zealand/New-Zealand-People-Party-to-spice-up-Mt-Albert-by-election,-announces-candidate

[10] NZHerald “ Gareth Morgan’s Opportunities Party to run in Mt Albert by-election” 1 February 2017, at http://www.nzherald.co.nz/politics/news/article.cfm?c_id=280&objectid=11792452

[11] RadioNZ “ Thirteen candidates for Mt Albert by-election “ 01 February 2017, at http://www.radionz.co.nz/news/political/323580/thirteen-candidates-for-mt-albert-by-election

[12] Troika Tokelau-Chandra “ Mt Albert by-election Candidate Geoff Simmons makes unlikely comparison at launch “ 4 February 2017, at  http://www.stuff.co.nz/auckland/89097590/mt-albert-byelection-candidate-geoff-simmons-makes-unlikely-comparison-at-launch

[13] ibid

[14] Treating is defined in the Electoral Act 1993 (Section 217 ) as the provision of food, drink, entertainment or provision with the exception of a post meeting light supper, with the intention of influencing or procuring the recipients vote.

[15] Issac Davidson “ Gareth Morgan accuses ACT Party of petty complaints.” 21 February 2017, at http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11804867

[16] Simon Maude “ Mt Albert electorate left to the left wing parties to fight it out “ 15 February 2017, at http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/89458458/mt-albert-electorate-left-to-the-left-wing-parties-to-fight-it-out

[17] Ricardo Simich, “ By-election front runners guide to Mt Albert” 18 February 2017, at “ http://spy.nzherald.co.nz/spy-news/by-election-frontrunners-guide-to-mt-albert/

[18] NZherald “ Greens’Julie Anne Genter and Labour’s Jacinta Ardern strike up friendship in Mt Albert “ 22 February 2017, at http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11805567

[19] NZHerald “ Mt Albert byelection:Andrew Little joins Jacinta Arden for final day of campaigning “ 24 February 2017, at http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11807048

[20] Issac Davidson “ Candidates brce for the polls..wait,what ? There’s a byelection?” 18 February 2017, at http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11803016

[21] NZherald “ Landslide win for Jacinta Ardern in Mt Albert by-election “ 25 February 2017, at http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11807614

[22] Nicholas Jones “ Labour’s new deputy:JAcinda Ardern’s ‘pay-it-forward’ politics” 2 March 2017, at http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11809968

[23] Simon Wilson “ The GReens’ mediocre Mt Albert result reveals the hill they have to climb in 2017” 27 February 2017, at https://thespinoff.co.nz/politics/27-02-2017/the-greens-mediocre-mt-albert-result-reveals-the-hill-they-have-to-climb-in-2017/

[24] Nicholas Jones “ Gareth Morgan’s party happy with Mt Albert by-election result” 26 February 2017, at http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11807863

[25]http://www.elections.org.nz/news-media/new-list-mp-new-zealand-labour-party-3

[26] Nigel Roberts “ We should do away with by-elections, 14 February 2017, at http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/opinion/89336361/nigel-roberts-we-should-do-away-with-byelections

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: