The front-runner for National is Jamie-Lee Ross, who is just 25 years old. He’s currently a Supercity councillor and co-leader of CitRats. One of the main players in the (ongoing) smear campaign against Len Brown and a good mate of Whaleoil, there’s no doubting Ross has animal cunning. But he’s pretty light on record and when he wins he will force a by-election for the Howick council seat after just a couple of months in office. Those factors will count against him but Ross would have to pull a Melissa Lee to come close to losing Wong’s 10,800 majority.
National will want to spin any win as an endorsement of John Key but, going by the Mana script, unless Ross manages to keep nearly all the majority intact, it will be judged a failure for Key.
Will Winston stand? I think he might. It’s worth remembering that his first seat was Hunua, which he won in 1978. Now, three electorates called Hunua have existed three times with very different boundaries. The modern Hunua electorate borders Botany to the south but the 1978 Hunua was extended further north, and only included the Hunua ranges to the south, whereas the modern Hunua goes right across to the west coast. Most of the voters in the 1978 Hunua that Peters won lived in what is now Botany. Sure, it was 33 years ago, and it was a tight race against Labour’s Malcolm Douglas (Roger’s brother), with Peters losing in 1981 to Colin Moyle. Nonetheless, there would be a certain sense of grandeur, so typical of Winston, to returning to the political scene by fighting in the area that first elected him to Parliament.
He wouldn’t win, of course. This is an electorate that is one third Asian and, even if NZF’s overtly racist days are long behind it, I can’t see many of them voting for Peters. But the race would give him a tremendous platform ahead of the general election. Especially if Labour effectively cedes the field, making him the main contender.
I think it is likely that Labour will do that. Koro Tawa lost to Wong by 10,800 votes last time. He hasn’t been confirmed as the candidate for the general election but no-one else seems to have put their hand up. Two campaigns in a year might be too much for a busy academic like Tawa, so maybe someone else will contest the by-election. Whether Tawa or someone else stands for Labour, they’re not going to win.
As with the by-election when Tariana Turia resigned her seat in Te Tai Hauauru, Labour could choose not to run a candidate at all and declare the whole exercise an expensive farce since it will precede the general election by, at most, 8 months. More likely they’ll use it as an early launching pad for the election – rather than centre around the candidate as in Mana they could put them in a subsidary role and have Phil Goff rolling out policy and vision while challenging Key to defend his record. There’s no point keeping their powder dry to the last moment in their situation.
Rather than going all out to win, Labour will use this opportunity fine-tune its Auckland campaign machine, not that it has been short on practice with Mt Albert and the Supercity campaign. The party won’t want to expend a huge amount of money on a sure loser. (btw, I suspect one reason Key has opted for a by-election rather than timing Wong’s resignation and the general election so that they are within 6 months of each other and a by-election is unnecessary is to try to drain Labour’s funds).
Another interesting player is ACT’s Kenneth Wang. ACT has made strong plays for the Asian vote in the past and Wang won nearly 5,000 votes in 2008, close third to Tawa. If he is the only candidate who is both Asian and a former MP, he may well improve dramatically on that performance.
While a win for Ross is assured, there’s still an opportunity for this to be an exciting race if Labour seizes the opportunity to kick off its campaign early and if Peters and/or Wang eat into National’s majority.
An interesting note: if the four I’ve talked about end up being the main candidates, or even if Winston doesn’t come to the party, then we’ll have the remarkable situation of a general electorate seat being contested by 2 or 3 Maori and a Chinese-New Zealander without a Pakeha in the running. All part of the changing face of New Zealand.