Over the weekend, it was reported that National has targeted four Labour-held seats it thinks it can win – Trevor Mallard’s seat of Hutt South, Ruth Dyson’s seat of Port Hills, Damien O’Connor in West Coast Tasman, and Iain Lees-Galloway in Palmerston North. Let’s look at each of those seats.
The idea of National taking Hutt South is somewhat far-fetched. Although the recent boundary changes have slashed Mr Mallard’s paper majority from about 4,800 to around 1,800, there still needs to be a further swing against the incumbent. However, Mallard has gone list-only this election, which will likely aid his vote, and he’ll undoubtedly be calling in a wide variety of favours to ensure he’s got a constant supply of foot soldiers on the ground. As Tracy Watkins wrote:
Labour has thrown its foot soldiers at the seat, knocking on 13,000 households doors over the last 12 months. This weekend alone 40 activists are canvassing Mallard’s home suburb of Wainuiomata.
‘‘We’ve done more canvassing [in Hutt South] than I have ever done before,’’ Mallard says.
I’d be surprised though if National actually believed they are likely to take Hutt South. Instead, it’s a diversionary tactic. If Mallard feels under pressure, he’ll stay hunkered down in his electorate, diverting resources (people, time and money) to ensuring the continuance of his political career. A Mallard that is pinned down in Hutt South is a Mallard that isn’t traveling the country lending support to other electorates. Targeting Hutt South is a smart move for National.
In Port Hills, the situation is far less clear. Ruth Dyson may currently hold the seat with a 3,097 vote majority, but the boundary changes have created a paper majority of around 500 for the National candidate. It’s certainly winnable for National, but (as I’ve previously noted) they certainly took their time in selecting a candidate, possibly surrendering an edge to Labour.
Like Mr Mallard, Ms Dyson has gone list-only this election. One can only imagine that she has worked out that her slide down the Labour rankings (from 5th in 2011 to 28th after David Cunliffe’s last reshuffle) would result in a dreadful list position, and she’s hell-bent on shoring up her electorate support. It looks set to be a close race, with iPredict currently showing Dyson and National’s candidate Nuk Korako all tied up with 50/50 odds.
Over on the West Coast, Damien O’Connor would surely have to be fancied to retain his seat. After reclaiming the seat in 2011, having lost it in 2008, O’Connor has kept a close eye on what his constituents want to hear. Having hit all the right notes back in 2011 with his “gaggle of gays” and “self-serving unionists” comments, O’Connor recently crossed the floor to support the commercial removal of the swathe of storm-fallen native timber, and fought valiantly (albeit unsuccessfully) for the proceeds of the timber removal to remain in the region. It’s hard to see the West Coast Tasman voters deserting him.
Nonetheless, National have a tough candidate in the form of former Westland mayor Maureen Pugh, so there’s still a chance of an upset. Especially with National announcing tens of millions of new roading projects in the electorate, in the form of replacing the Taramakau Bridge and improving Mingha Bluff, already condemned by Mr O’Connor as “pork-barrel politics”.
Finally, there’s Palmerston North. With a 3,285 vote majority and no boundary change issues, Iain Lees-Galloway would ordinarily consider himself safe. However, National’s choice of candidate – Mayor Jono Naylor – may make Lees-Galloway vulnerable. Mr Naylor was re-elected as Mayor last year for a third term, receiving 52.7% of people’s first choice votes. Whether that support continues, as Mr Naylor goes from being a popular independent to a National Party candidate remains to be seen. Nonetheless, after Port Hills, Palmerston North is probably National’s best chance of picking up a seat off Labour.