It’s rather common knowledge that Andrew Little wasn’t exactly a star in New Plymouth. He stood in the former Labour Party seat in 2011 and 2014, losing ground in both the electorate and party vote on each occasion. Overall, the party vote in New Plymouth dropped from 31.4% in 2008 to 21.2% in 2014, while the electorate vote dropped from 47.9% in 2008 to 31.9% in 2014.
Essentially, Little has ended up as leader of the opposition despite twice failing to win an electorate seat (that was once safe Labour), and, in the leadership race, failing to win the votes of his fellow caucus members and the party membership. Little appears to be a relatively unelectable fellow, except in the minds of New Zealand’s union leaders.
Which makes New Plymouth a bit of a problem for Labour. Little can’t stand there again, because he’ll lose. And there’d be nothing worse for Labour than the continual comparisons throughout an election campaign of John Key’s majority in Helensville versus Little’s inability to win a former safe Labour seat.
That means that come 2017, Little will either go list-only (to concentrate on New Zealand, don’t ya know…) or have lined himself up with a safe seat. The obvious safe seat would have to be Rongotai: it’s the electorate in which Little lives, and Annette King could presumably be pressured into giving her long-held seat up for the leader. If King doesn’t retire in 2017, she’s surely only got one more term left in her. It would make sense for her to be shunted into a list-only spot.
Of course, when Labour’s candidate selection takes place, and Andrew Little is inevitably to be found nowhere near New Plymouth, there will undoubtedly be a series of stories about Little’s lacklustre history there. Labour should begin the process of finding a replacement New Plymouth candidate sooner rather than later, so that the issue is dealt with well before the 2017 campaign proper begins.