Greens visit to rally the troops, National not so much

Taieri candidate Scott Willis, co-leader Marama Davidson — with her newly-purchased Dunedin...
Taieri candidate Scott Willis, co-leader Marama Davidson — with her newly-purchased Dunedin Curtain Bank tote bag — and Dunedin candidate Francisco Hernandez. PHOTO: PETER MCINTOSH
As the election campaign enters the home stretch, the non marginal seats of Dunedin are not a magnet to most political party leaders — on that, more shortly.

But not all party leaders . . . Greens co-leader Marama Davidson spent not one but two days in the southern city this week, rallying the troops to the Green flag.

Like every party in every election, the Greens are trying to maximise their vote in 2023, but they are also polling as if they can achieve a record number of MPs. Convincing a few more people to tick their box on the ballot paper, especially in a city which is an historically fertile source of Green votes, could make a lot of difference.

Consider the combined Green vote in Dunedin/Taieri (and Dunedin North, Dunedin South before 2020). In 2020 it was 10,605, in 2017 7472, in 2014 12,661 and in 2011 11,808.

That suggests that there are at least 2000, maybe more, party votes that the Greens might be able to achieve in Dunedin above their 2020 result. Depending on turnout, it takes roughly 20,000 party votes to elect a list MP . . . so a strong vote in Dunedin might equate to almost an entire extra MP.

Apart from Gareth Hughes’ brief sojourn in the South, Dunedin has not had a resident Green MP since the days of Metiria Turei. It is now on the verge of electing two.

Taieri candidate Scott Willis was too far down the party list in 2020, but on current polling he looks eminently electable at 12. Dunedin candidate Francisco Hernandez, at 17, should have a nervous night and may well be "on the bubble", waiting for the result of special and overseas votes to know if he is in or out.

He will also be watching Auckland and Wellington Central with mixed emotions; the Green result in both seats will either heighten or lower his chances of being elected.

Ms Davidson’s first Dunedin stop was Sunday night’s Opoho candidates meeting, the kind of quaint, quirky election gathering which we should treasure — the community feel and occasionally raucous moments are a nice counterpoint to TV soundbites and tightly scripted debates.

Although local issues were, naturally, not her strong point, she was having fun and brought plenty of humour to the event.

Monday started with a visit to Aukaha, an agency which provides opportunities for Māori and Pasifika individuals and businesses — and an enterprise where the Green’s message of redistribution of wealth and expansion of opportunity should have played well.

The Dunedin curtain bank was next, a worthy organisation which is experiencing high levels of donations of drapes and fittings at the moment (good), but also high levels of demand for its services (not so good). This visit gave Ms Davidson the chance to push her party’s health homes and poverty reduction measures, but also informed her as to what she should do with the curtains she has just replaced in her Auckland home, which are currently languishing in the shed.

It also provided a ready opportunity for Ms Davidson to scratch a campaign trail itch . . . she is an inveterate buyer of nicknacks and oddments, and her eyes lit up when she spotted the tote bags, draught extruders and wheat bags that the bank makes out of curtaining scraps as a fundraiser. A short shopping spree netted Ms Davidson a tidy haul, including the animal tote bag she carried for the rest of her stay.

Then it was off to the Green’s Dunedin stronghold, the University of Otago, to rally the Campus Greens and to watch a proud moment for former OUSA president Francisco Hernandez . . . voting for himself at the campus polling booth.

At present former OUSA presidents Grant Robertson, Rachel Brooking and Ayesha Verrall are MPs . . . Ms Davidson will be hoping her visit helped add another name to that list.

The invisible man

There was a time earlier this year, as noted in Southern Say, that you seemingly could not keep National leader Christopher Luxon away from the South . . . he was south of the Waitaki every other week or so.

No so much recently though. This election campaign he has been to Queenstown, Invercargill, and popped into Taieri for a couple of hours to visit Invermay, but that has been it.

Yes, we know that Dunedin seldom votes in a blue-rosette wearing candidate, but depending on how you count them Dunedin is either the sixth or seventh biggest urban centre in New Zealand.

And even against in the red wave of 2020, National polled 16,008 party votes in Dunedin and Taieri, which as we have seen is almost a list MP. In the more typical election year of 2017, Dunedin North and Dunedin South recorded 24,546 National party votes, effectively enough to re-elect the city’s National list MP Michael Woodhouse.

At a time when National is desperately trying to put the genie that is Winston Peters — who they clumsily let out of the bottle by saying they would be prepared to work with him — back in close confinement, why would you not simply campaign in a city where a strong National presence might elect the extra list MP you might need to keep New Zealand First out of governmental calculations?

National keep arguing it is going to be a close election, so why not send your leader to a major population centre where a day’s campaigning could make a difference?

If it is to shield Mr Luxon from a few awkward questions about his relationship with Mr Woodhouse, that is a very poor excuse . . . in the job he is applying for right now he will be asked harder questions than those by the Press Gallery, on a daily basis.

National has tried to argue that Labour is taking Dunedin for granted, but rather that than ignoring it entirely.

Ask and you shall receive

On Saturday the ODT ran a letter to the editor from Lynne Hill saying that she had asked National Taieri candidate Matthew French a series of questions, to which he had not responded.

Fair play to Mr French, he got straight on the laptop and fired off an answer to Ms Hill. But he might want to check his inbox, because after seeing Ms Hill’s letter a few more Taieri voters chimed in to say that they were still waiting for Mr French to reply to their emails too. Oh well, it’s been a busy campaign.

 - There will be no Southern Say on Saturday, due to it being election day. Full coverage of election night events will be provided on and our team across Otago and Southland will keep you up to date with the winners and losers in our region. Monday’s Otago Daily Times will have comprehensive coverage and analysis of the local and national results.