WikiLeaks cable: New Zealand elections 2008 - Auckland race symbolises depth of Labour's troubles

Photo / Mark Mitchell
Photo / Mark Mitchell

September 26, 2008
New Zealand elections 2008 - Auckland race symbolises depth of Labour's troubles

date:2008-09-26T04:45:00
source:Embassy Wellington
origin:08WELLINGTON316
destination:VZCZCXYZ0000 PP RUEHWEB DE RUEHWL #0316/01 2700445 ZNY
CCCCC ZZH P 260445Z SEP 08 FM AMEMBASSY WELLINGTON TO RUEHC/SECSTATE
WASHDC PRIORITY 5447 INFO RUEHBY/AMEMBASSY CANBERRA 5267 RUEAIIA/CIA
WASHINGTON DC RUEKJCS/JCS WASHINGTON DC RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC
classification:CONFIDENTIAL
reference:
?C O N F I D E N T I A L WELLINGTON 000316

SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/ANP
E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/26/2028
TAGS: PGOV, KDEM, NZ
SUBJECT: NEW Z...
?C O N F I D E N T I A L WELLINGTON 000316

SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/ANP
E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/26/2028
TAGS: PGOV, KDEM, NZ
SUBJECT: NEW ZEALAND ELECTIONS 2008 - AUCKLAND RACE SYMBOLIZES DEPTH OF LABOUR'S TROUBLES

Classified By: Consul General John Desrocher for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d
)

This message was drafted by ConGen Auckland and approved by
Embassy Wellington.

1. (C) Summary. The National Party is making a serious play for Auckland Central, an electorate that has been in nearly uninterrupted Labour control for almost a century. That a 28-year-old virtual unknown has a serious chance of ousting a Labour stalwart demonstrates just how vulnerable the Labour Party is in this election cycle. End summary.

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Wealthy, Childless, Liberal Auckland
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2. (C) Auckland Central is the heart of New Zealand's largest city and commercial center, and includes the high-rises of its central business district, some of its oldest residential neighborhoods, and the country's largest port. While Auckland Central may prove a bellwether in the upcoming election, it is not at all a microcosm of the country. It is a diverse electorate, encompassing the students of Auckland University, the old money of upper end Herne Bay and Westmere, the transient apartment-dwellers of downtown, and the hippies of Waiheke Island.

3. (SBU) The electorate is dominated by well-educated young adults. It has the lowest proportions of children and pensioners of any electorate in the country, but the highest proportion of people in their twenties. It is the third-wealthiest electorate in the country, but is socially
liberal. It ranks last of all New Zealand electorates in the percentage of inhabitants identifying themselves as Christian, and first among those who ascribe to no religion at all. It has the country's lowest share of married residents, but highest share of partners in non-marriage relationships. It has a higher ratio of single people than
any other electorate. Despite its liberal history, Auckland Central has been moving to the right, most notably in the latest mayoral elections that were won by John Banks, a conservative former National MP.

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The Incumbent
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4. (C) Auckland Central MP Judith Tizard inherited one of New Zealand's best known political names. Her mother, Dame Catherine Tizard, is a former governor general and mayor of Auckland. Her father, Bob Tizard, is a former Labour deputy prime minister and minister of finance. Along with the name, Tizard inherited her father's parliamentary seat in the
Auckland suburb of Panmure in 1990 and has been in parliament ever since.

5. (C) Despite her long parliamentary tenure and various associate minister titles, Tizard has struggled to make her own mark. Most recently, she has served as the Minister of Consumer Affairs and Associate Minister for Arts, Culture, and Heritage. She seems to be best known not as an MP but as "Dame Catherine's daughter." Her political profile has been controversial and Tizard is no stranger to negative headlines; when giving interviews, Tizard is unscripted and
tends to ignore her media staff's advice. She made headlines on ANZAC Day in April 2007 when she pubicly criticized the Returning Services Association (RSA) for its wreath-laying program during the annual remembrance ceremony. She's been criticized for allegedly extravagant travel habits. Her highest rank, as a non-cabinet Minister for Auckland Issues, was eliminated recently in a government reshuffle. Tizard drew howls of derision when she suggested that the post was eliminated because the city's "issues" had been resolved. (Note: Auckland traffic has become increasingly congested over the years with no solution in sight. Also, Aucklanders continue to be frustrated by ever-rising property taxes that pay for bloated and overlapping municipal authorities. End note.)

6. (C) The conventional wisdom is that Tizard's political durability is entirely due to her family's reputation and her friendship with Prime Minister Helen Clark, to whom she has been close for many years. Clark lived for a time with the Tizard family; Tizard's brother has worked on construction projects at Clark's home. There is probably no MP closer and more loyal to Clark than Tizard. While that friendship was once clearly helpful to Tizard, in recent years there has been a backlash. Tizard is increasingly dismissed as Clark's (literal) bag carrier. It is worth noting that, despite her friendship with Clark, Tizard was this year demoted from from 18th to 38th place on Labour's list.

7. (C) Despite signs the political winds are shifting against her and her party, Tizard exuded confidence during a recent lunch with the CG. She seemed sure voters would understand her hard work on Auckland issues and predicted (accurately) that the polling gap between Labour and National would narrow as the election approached. There can be no doubt that she knows her electorate. Seated with the CG at the window of a cafe, she made a point of personally greeting many passersby by name.

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The Challenger
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8. (C) The contrasts between Tizard and her National Party challenger are stark. Nikki Kaye, at 28, is almost half Tizard's age. Tizard comes from a political dynasty with deep roots in Auckland; she doesn't hide her unhappiness at having to leave Auckland to take care of her parliamentary duties in Wellington. Kaye does not come from a political
family and, while an Auckland native, has been away at university or overseas since she was seventeen. Kaye only returned to New Zealand from London late in 2007. Finally, while the Tizard name is famous, Kaye is virtually unknown.

9. (C) One thing that Tizard and Kaye do have in common is confidence. While acknowledging that unseating a Labour veteran from a traditionally safe Labour seat will be a challenge, during a lunch with the CG Kaye came across as energetic and sure of herself. She described Auckland Central as "definitely winnable" for National and spoke like a ward leader who had done her homework. She not only knew how many votes had separated Tizard and her National opponent in the last election, but she outlined for the CG where in the electorate, neighborhood by neighborhood, she would find those votes. She explained how changes to the electorate's boundaries since the last election had excluded some Labour supporters and drawn in other voters more likely to support National. Not counting on a large swing to National that would sweep her into parliament, she had a tactical plan to take the seat one vote at a time. "I'll knock on doors," Kaye said, "Judith won't do that."

10. (SBU) Some outside observers are concluding that Kaye's confidence is justified. The transTasman, a well-regarded political newsletter, cited Tizard's high negatives and changing demographics in predicting a National win. In the newsletter's annual assessment of MPs, Tizard scored a 1 (out of 10), down from a 2 the previous year, putting her in the same category as other MPs clearly headed for the door. While they can be complimentary about some government ministers, National Party sources are derisive of Tizard's capabilities. In late August, transTasman and other media outlets cited an unpublished poll that placed Kaye a couple of points ahead of Tizard.

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Comment: A Long Shot, but Still a Shot
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11. (C) Despite some positive signs for Kaye, she faces an uphill struggle. Auckland Central has been in Labour hands since 1919 (except for one term when it was held by a party to Labour's left). While boundary changes may have pushed some more conservative voters into the electorate, they won't be enough to close the gap. The young people in the electorate are not natural National supporters, and those dissatisfied with Labour may give their support to the Green Party, which has done well in Auckland Central in the past two elections.

12. (C) Kaye needs to target the electorate's higher income residents, many of whom are socially liberal Labour supporters. They may not be comfortable turning to the Green Party as a Labour alternative, but need to be reassured that National is not too far to the right. National under John Key has taken steps to comfort exactly those sort of voters but it's not clear if he has done enough. Still, that serious observers believe an unknown has a good chance to take a safe Labour seat away from a member of the Tizard clan illustrates just how vulnerable Labour is.

McCORMICK

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