Next month’s general election is expected to be a hard-fought affair, with expectations that debates can become a bit tetchy between the combatants.
And in Kerikeri on Tuesday night there was plenty of vitriol as some Northland electorate candidates faced the public.
The meet-the-candidates debate, hosted by right-wing lobby group the NZ Taxpayers’ Union, was at The Homestead Sports Bar & Bistro in Kerikeri.
The event also had the Taxpayers’ Union release the results of its poll on voter intentions in the Northland electorate; on the numbers it produced, it would appear National is in the box seat to regain the seat it lost to Labour in 2020, with more than twice the support.
On Tuesday, hosts Martyn Bradbury and Damien Grant of The Working Group led an irreverent debate.
Polling less than half of National candidate Grant McCallum’s share of support, MP for Northland Willow-Jean Prime’s opportunities to speak overwhelmingly drew a negative response from a venue of about 80 people, predominantly there to support Democracy NZ, Act and NZ First.
When Prime’s answers touched on Labour’s pandemic response, hoots of derision arose from those supporters every time Covid-19 was mentioned, with some saying the pandemic was a hoax.
So persistent was the abuse, Grant called on the bar to offer Prime a round of applause to recognise her stoic resilience.
Issues up for debate were led by those identified in the poll — roading, cost of living, health, law and order, housing, and, towards the tail end, co-governance.
In the poll of 400 people in the electorate, carried out by Curia on Sunday, 43 per cent said they would vote for National’s McCallum, while 18 per cent said they would vote for the incumbent, Labour’s Prime.
Of the rest, NZ First’s Shane Jones got 13 per cent support; the Greens’ Reina Penney 4 per cent; Democracy NZ’s Matt King 4 per cent; Act’s Mark Cameron 2 per cent; and Te Pāti Māori, which does not have a candidate in the electorate, got 2 per cent. And 12 per cent of voters were undecided.
In the 2020 general election, Prime won the Northland seat with 17,066 votes, just 163 ahead of National’s then incumbent King’s 16,903 votes. Also in 2020, Labour won 19,997 party votes (43.6 per cent of the 45,830 votes cast) compared with National’s 12,496 party votes (27.3 per cent) as a red tide swept the country and had Labour elected without the need for a coalition partner.
In the poll of decided voters, McCallum got 49 per cent support; Prime 20 per cent; Jones 15 per cent; Penney 5 per cent; King 5 per cent and Cameron 3 per cent.
Taxpayers’ Union campaigns manager Callum Purves said the poll showed another sharp swing away from Labour after it unexpectedly won the last election.
“This doesn’t necessarily spell bad news for electorate MP Willow-Jean Prime who will likely make it back into Parliament with a high list position, but a swing this significant will definitely be a wake-up call for incumbent Labour MPs around the country,” Purves said.
“With just under three weeks until early voting opens, this seat looks to be safely making its return to National. Even if all of the 11 per cent undecided vote goes to Labour’s Willow-Jean Prime, that won’t be enough to keep Northland red after election day.”
■ The poll has a margin of error of +/- 4.9 per cent.