I live in the Mt Albert electorate and being at the centre of a parliamentary election outside the three yearly cycle has been interesting because the intensity of campaigning has been much greater than usual.
We have been bombarded with the usual electoral material from all parties these past six weeks and there seems to have been more election hoardings than usual. But there’s been much more in-your-face campaigning than at last year’s general election. We’ve had automated phone calls from ACT candidate John Boscowan; numerous phone calls from pollsters and political parties; door-knocking visits from all and sundry (including former Labour cabinet minister Pete Hodgson); party stalls in the local mall and mini cavalcades through the streets with blaring megaphones.
Labour campaigned hard but not on any issue. Their candidate David Shearer played it safe and said nothing of significance. He spoke about listening to constituents and representing the electorate but avoided policy debate on the big issues.
The more mistakes National’s Melissa Lee made the more bland Shearer became so that by the end of the campaign his comments were an indistinguishable mush, like pureed infant food. This was understandable because the big issues for the residents are all Labour’s legacies from 10 years in government.
He was most waffly on the supercity issue and he needed to be. Aucklanders in every part of the city don’t like it. They are mistrustful of the proposal itself and the process being used to get there. Shearer resorted to implying he doesn’t agree with it when it was Labour which established the Royal Commission into Auckland Governance which led to an entirely predictable outcome.
Melissa Lee’s disastrous campaign has received much comment. I was at the Unite Union meeting for the candidates when she was asked how she would live if she was paid just the minimum wage of $12.50 per hour. She proceeded to tell 200 low-paid, mainly young Pacific audience she only earned $2 an hour. She was presumably referring to what she thought were her long hours of work but it went down like the proverbial cup of cold sick.
She also told the meeting how her grandmother had a recipe which guaranteed they were never hungry even in the hardest of times. I’m pleased no-one thought to ask her for it even though many families need real advice along these lines. Her answer would undoubtedly have increased the distance between her audience and the other planet she inhabits as an MP on $131,000 plus expenses.
The union meeting produced a definitive difference between the parties when they were each asked to sign the Unite Union petition for a citizens initiated referendum for a $15 an hour minimum wage. The Greens and Labour signed while National and ACT refused. When it was placed in front of her Melissa Lee said “I don’t sign petitions…”
The only significant local policy difference between National and Labour relates to the construction of a motorway through the electorate. National’s cheaper option is a mainly overland motorway while Labour would tunnel through at much greater expense and which they would most likely have funded as a toll road. Shearer was wisely silent on this despite repeated taunts asking where the money would come from.
Public transport remains the critical issue for Auckland. It will never progress beyond clogged motorways without decent rail and bus networks. This is accepted now in all quarters and even Rodney Hide feels obliged occasionally to utter these words which are heresy to his supporters.
Shearer claimed strong support for public transport but was neatly undone when Green Party candidate Russel Norman pointed out that the last Labour government spent $5 on roads for every $1 spent on public transport. Aucklanders pay in traffic jams every day for this lost decade.
Labour’s win was predictable and John Key, having disowned two MPs in a week, Richard Worth and Melissa Lee, has had his worst week as Prime Minister.
It will be left to community groups to fight the battles over the supercity and the proposed motorway. Labour will merely milk them for political value rather than organise to fight them. David Shearer after all told his new electorate the day after his election that he intends to go to parliament and breathe through his nose.
He epitomises politics based on not making mistakes rather than politics based on exciting ideas, stimulating debate and visionary policies.
Sorry David – the people of this electorate expect more for our $131,000 than listening to you breathe.