The Successor: The man the Labour Party has chosen to replace Goff is young, intelligent, hard-working, and has already proved his ability to attract the votes of his neighbours by being twice elected to his local community board. As Goff’s electorate chair, he worked tirelessly to keep the Mt Roskill seat in his party’s hands. But, this otherwise ideal candidate does have one important factor working against him – his ethnicity. Michael Wood is a Pakeha New Zealander.
LESS THAN TWO-MINUTES’ WALK from my front doorstep is a wine shop. On Saturday, 13 August, it was robbed by four masked teenagers wielding clubs. The two retail workers on duty were beaten badly enough to require treatment in hospital. It was not an isolated incident. The same business had been robbed three times in as many weeks. The retailer and his staff are Chinese New Zealanders. The wine shop is located in the Mt Roskill electorate.
Barring something politically cataclysmic overwhelming his campaign, the current Member of Parliament for Mt Roskill, Phil Goff, will be Auckland City’s next mayor. A by-election will, therefore, be needed to fill the vacancy created by Goff’s departure for the Town Hall.
The man the Labour Party has chosen to replace Goff is young, intelligent, hard-working, and has already proved his ability to attract the votes of his neighbours by being twice elected to his local community board. As Goff’s electorate chair, he worked tirelessly to keep the Mt Roskill seat in his party’s hands. But, this otherwise ideal candidate does have one important factor working against him – his ethnicity. Michael Wood is a Pakeha New Zealander.
“So is Phil Goff”, you rightfully object, “but it didn’t prevent him from taking 56 percent of the Electorate Vote in the 2014 General Election.” No, it didn’t, but then Goff has held the seat for all but three of the last 35 years. Incumbency and name recognition confer enormous advantages upon a candidate, and Goff has made the most of them in ten out of the last twelve general elections.
Unfortunately for Michael Wood, while Goff has been winning, Mt Roskill has been changing. As the local political fiefdom of the long-time Deputy-Mayor of Auckland, Keith Hay, Mt Roskill was a notorious bastion of evangelical Christian social-conservatism. Some Labour wags even referred to it as the “Bible Belt”. Not anymore. Today, Mt Roskill’s 25,000 Christians share their electorate with more than 3,000 Muslims and nearly 6,000 Hindus. This religious diversity reflects the fact that “Asians” comprise nearly 40 percent of the electorate. More than 45 percent of today’s Mt Roskillites were born overseas.
Michael Wood has always known he would face a tough race to secure this new Mt Roskill for Labour. Boundary changes have shaved an uncomfortably large slice off Goff’s winning margin, and, as if that wasn’t bad enough, in 2014 National’s Party Vote tally exceeded Labour’s by more than 2,000 votes. In other words, Mt Roskill should no longer be classed as a safe Labour seat.
Even so, by securing his selection early and setting in motion an impressive canvassing effort, Wood has made himself the one to beat.
On Monday night, however, the formation of the New Zealand People’s Party changed everything. Aimed squarely at winning the votes of Mt Roskill’s large immigrant community, the People’s Party has the potential to draw enough votes away from Labour to deny Wood the seat. (By-elections are fought under the rules of First-Past-The-Post.) Indeed, if National decided not to field a candidate, and steered its voters towards the People’s Party, the seat might even change hands.
Much will depend on the quantum of money and expertise the people behind the People’s Party are willing to invest in contesting the by-election – and what cause they choose to make their own.
Which takes us back neatly to the wine shop and the multiple attacks it has sustained. For far too many immigrant families such victimisation has become almost routine. Their anger at the apparent impotence of the authorities grows daily, even as their patience wears thin. A charismatic candidate, chosen from either the Indian or Chinese communities, running on an uncompromising promise to restore law and order to the Streets of Mt Roskill could easily attract thousands of immigrant votes. Add to them the votes cast strategically by National supporters raring to deny Labour the seat, and the race could get very close indeed.
Fortunately, that veteran of closely-fought by-election contests, Matt McCarten, has just announced his imminent return to Auckland. Andrew Little’s erstwhile chief-of-staff knows that if Labour doesn’t win Auckland, then it doesn’t win at all. Mt Roskill looks set to provide McCarten with his first organisational test. One can only assume that, for Michael Wood’s campaign team, the Wellington cavalry cannot arrive too soon.
This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 2 September 2016.