Resigned MP Dr Gaurav Sharma claims most of his core campaign team who helped him win the Hamilton West seat in 2020 with Labour, have left to join his new political party, the New Zealand Momentum Party, ahead of the electorate’s byelection.
Sharma will be contesting the byelection on December 10 as a member of his new but unregistered party, which he says has attracted hundreds of people who are willing to financially support it.
Speaking to the Herald, Sharma was relatively kind to his competitors and wouldn’t be drawn on whom he considered the favourite to secure Hamilton West for the 10 months before the general election, but he figured he would be among the three candidates best placed to succeed.
Seventeen days ago, Sharma announced his resignation, much to the surprise of his Labour colleagues and media. It had followed his expulsion from Labour’s caucus and later the party for bringing the party into disrepute by accusing party members - including Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern - of bullying behaviour.
As part of his decision, Sharma revealed his intentions to create a centrist party to contest the election next year.
Sharma came good on his promise last night when he announced the New Zealand Momentum Party in a Facebook post, in which he outlined his grievances with Government spending, the state of the health sector and the level of crime.
The party’s advertising is covered in pink - a not-so-subtle dig at Labour, given pink’s association with New Zealand’s annual day to stand up against bullying.
Despite his focus on centrism, the party shared its name with a United Kingdom organisation that claimed to “build popular support for socialist ideas and policies ... with the aim of electing a socialist Labour Government to deliver them”.
Sharma said the party “hasn’t got anything to do with any other party here or overseas”, and that the name was linked to the growing support for change Sharma had witnessed across the country.
Since leaving Labour, Sharma said he had been busy interacting with the Hamilton West community who had reportedly referenced their concerns about crime, health and housing, among others.
“[It’s] all those issues which they feel the Government hasn’t really responded to well and so they’re feeling like this byelection is a chance to send a message.”
He acknowledged some had spoken of their disappointment, either of Sharma’s actions as an MP or the roughly $1 million cost of a byelection.
Sharma had quickly recruited members of his campaign team, which reportedly included about a dozen people from his Labour team in 2020.
He said most had followed him out of the party because they felt aggrieved that Sharma’s call for an investigation into bullying within the party went unheard.
About five people from his 2020 team had stayed with Labour, according to Sharma. While he admitted he was disappointed, Sharma understood their decision.
“They all believe in what I’m saying, but they’ve had to make that choice between going with the party [they’ve] always supported or do [they] go with the candidate?
“I can appreciate it’s not easy to let go.”
Sharma expected those that had stayed with Labour would play some role in the campaign of its byelection candidate, Georgie Dansey, alongside those from nearby electorates.
Sharma would be campaigning as a member of the Momentum Party, which was yet to be registered.
Parties must satisfy several criteria before being registered by the Electoral Commission, including determining governance structure and choosing office holders, having more than 500 current financial members and appointing an auditor.
Given the process usually lasted about eight weeks, Sharma said he had not had time since his resignation to register Momentum, but had every intention to do after the byelection, in order to compete in next year’s general election.
Asked about his membership, Sharma claimed there were 800 members who had indicated that they would join, either through donations, as members or even as candidates.
Last month, Newshub reported one of New Zealand’s richest Indian businessmen, Roshan Nauhria, had confirmed his full support of Sharma and indicated he would make substantial donations towards his campaign.
However, Sharma confirmed he hadn’t yet accepted any donations from Nauhira, and hadn’t decided whether he would do so.
“I haven’t made up my mind, he’s offered it, we haven’t sat down and talked about it, I’ve just been so focused on the campaign.”
National and Labour had downplayed their chances of winning for different reasons.
Ardern had said Sharma’s ugly exit from the party had left a bad taste in the mouths of voters. National Party campaign chairman Chris Bishop continued to rate Sharma’s chances as he won in 2020, while president Sylvia Wood considered the party the underdog.
Sharma wouldn’t name who he thought had the upper hand 36 days out from the byelection, pushing back on the suggestion National’s success in the area from 2008-2020 forecasted the result.
“It’s really difficult to predict, there is an anti-Government sentiment but also I think at the moment the leadership in National hasn’t been tested in a way, so I think it’s very hard to put your finger on it to say it’s going to go this way or that way.”
National, which held the seat from 2008-2020 with Tim Macindoe, will announce its candidate this weekend from its three-person shortlist of iwi head Tama Potaka, health manager Frances Hughes and Pasifika business director Rachel Afeaki-Taumoepeau.
National leader Christopher Luxon had set clear expectations around the need for diversity in his party and it appears his messages are being listened to after two Pākehā men withdrew from contention to leave two women and a Māori man in the running.
The Act Party has entered the race, selecting candidate MP Dr James McDowall. Both the Greens and NZ First have opted out, while the Māori Party is understood to be leaning towards not contesting the byelection but it had not been confirmed.