Nominations for Labour and National for the Hamilton West byelection close tomorrow and – while the rest of New Zealand was slumbering, politically, over Labour weekend – hopeful new members of Parliament were busy sounding out their prospects to win their party’s nomination.
National will be breathing a sigh of relief that this time round there is more diversity in the lineup than for Tauranga.
If someone tries to tell you there won’t be much interest because of Labour’s majority of over 6000 at the last election, don’t believe it. As many as seven people may be putting their names in the ring for National, while Labour seems to have lower interest to run in the byelection forced by the resignation of Gaurav Sharma after his expulsion from the Labour Party.
Adding spice to the political speculation is a rumour that Jacinda Ardern may cast her role aside and escape back into the big smoke of Auckland. This has been given legs by no less an authority than Dr Bryce Edwards (see here ) although the NZ Herald ‘s redoubtable political editor Clare Trevett has dismissed it.
Those interested in the selection for National include business director Rachel Afeaki – Taumoepeau, health professional Dr Frances Hughes, former Mayor Andrew King, and the former Hamilton West MP, Tim Macindoe, who lost the seat to Gaurav Sharma in 2020, the NZ Herald says.
Some National Party supporters are pushing for a more diverse shortlist than the party delivered for the Tauranga byelection – the party’s board sets the shortlist, but local party members select the candidate.
What may be more interesting for the wider public enjoying the spectacle of the byelection will be the issues that come into focus. Almost certainly the government will find the rising cost of living on people’s minds, and voters will want to know what – if anything – it is going to do about it.
More recently there has come on the scene what the ACT party is already labelling the “tax on farming”. This may resonate in Hamilton West which if no longer rural has many connections to the farming industries. In any case Labour could be forced on to the defensive if some of those angry farmers appear at byelection meetings.
Just as significantly, electors may be pleading with the National candidate for the party’s tax policy, details of which appear to be a closely guarded secret. Leader Christopher Luxon doesn’t want to reveal them at this point in the election cycle, in case in next year’s budget Finance Minister Grant Robertson turns in a blinder, and leaves National on the sideline.
Robertson has already shown he can conjure money out of a hat.
Claire Trevett says it’s increasingly obvious tax cuts are nudging up his priority list – to blunt National’s offering but in a way he can pitch as “responsible” and delivering to the good old hard-working New Zealander rather than the rich.
The government could still be vulnerable on measures such as housing, child poverty and – not least – Three Waters.
Ardern is said to have tightened up the messaging around the Three Waters reforms to focus squarely on the hip pockets of voters. Her only response now to questions about the unpopular reforms is repeatedly to point out that if they pull the pin on the reforms, ratepayers will see their rates go up.
Ardern clearly did not want a byelection, and she has left it at late as she can, hoping the turnout will be as low as possible, according to some her opponents.