Hamilton West – a raft of issues will be aired during the byelection Ardern did not want

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.

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