John Weekes

John Weekes is a reporter for APNZ.

It's called 'Battle of the Babes'

National's Nikki Kaye, 31. Photo / Janna Dixon
National's Nikki Kaye, 31. Photo / Janna Dixon

The battle for the busiest seat in the country finds a frontline in drizzly and dim Tuarangi St. With its blend of upscale villas and weatherbeaten state homes, the residents of this road in suburban Western Springs are cannon fodder for New Zealand's most well-known young MPs.

National MP Nikki Kaye, 31, is door-knocking alone in the rain. It's Tuesday afternoon. Most people are away. Others, like Michael Atkinson, are working from home. "Where do I start?" he asks. An engineer and businessman, Atkinson praises the Government's 90-day trial period.

"Without it, I wouldn't have taken on three extra staff." But just when it seems the 44 year-old is a conservative focus group's dream, he tells Kaye wages here are way too low. "There's no way we'd pay staff $13 an hour," he says.

Auckland Central's MP switches talk back to business policy.

Next to answer the door is architect Craig Wilson. He says he likes John Key's folksy charm.

Kaye: "I think he's very candid about himself and who he is."

The Nats seem convinced they have the charisma contest nailed. At every chance, Kaye refers to her leader as "John". That's regular, state-house-raised John to you.

Kaye says it's natural to focus on personality. Our system gives the prime minister great power.

Here in Auckland, policy divisions are further diluted by the city's progressive culture. National Party insiders say old-school conservatives will never win this seat. Aspirational rhetoric tailored to the growing ranks of yuppies and young families will. Kaye knows Auckland Central is among the reddest of the blue seats.

Further blurring the blue-red divide, Kaye's Labour rival Jacinda Ardern is at a glitzy inner-city business lunch the next day, mingling with crowds at a function sponsored by a multinational bank.

Ardern, also 31, moved up from her Waikato hometown of Morrinsville to take on incumbent Kaye, in a contest cynically dubbed the Battle of the Babes by party apparatchiks on either side. She says it's important for voters to see her as business-friendly. "The successful work schemes haven't come out from Government. They've come from the private sector."

Later that afternoon, Ardern leaves the electorate to launch her party's arts policy at a Devonport gallery. She stands out in a sea of silver heads.

A phallic, monochrome sculpture has been dressed with two red balloons. Perhaps they're reminders of Phil Goff's claim that his party has more cojones than National.

The party's Te Tai Tokerau candidate Kelvin Davis looks on. A few dozen mild-mannered arts enthusiasts listen. The atmosphere is flat, like the air's been filled with vaporised Valium.

Ardern speaks. She says musicians can drive our economy. "The Naked and Famous are a brilliant example," she says.

Her speech ends on a high. Polite mingling follows.

Davis looks uncomfortable. He walks off alone into the pleasant, sedate Devonport streets.

- Herald on Sunday

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