Will it be a two-horse race?
Theoretically, with National and the Greens now focused purely on the party vote, the Ohariu electorate should be a two-horse race: Labour’s Charles Chauvel versus the incumbent, Peter Dunne.
However, as I discovered years ago during a brief stint advising the Green Party, politicians often don’t do as they’re told.
Voters can be even more contrary. At the 2008 election, 10,000 centre-right voters picked National’s Katrina Shanks, even though National leader John Key had asked them to support Dunne.
‘‘I’ve always thought it was going to be a two-horse race,’’ Dunne told me. ‘‘ Does it [the deal with National] change things? No, not really.’’
Well, could Dunne win Ohariu without the recent endorsement by National? ‘‘Oh absolutely. In fact, our polling over the last year has shown us in a far stronger position.’’
sympathetic thought in passing then for Katrina Shanks. Not only is her own leader preferring someone else entirely – but is the beneficiary of Key’s endorsement really saying that the sacrifice isn’t necessary?
‘‘ We will never know whether it was necessary or not,’’ Dunne replies. ‘‘ But on the basis of the [polling] evidence we saw, we were in a very good position and have been for more than a year.’’
Has he ever felt like telling the National Party – don’t worry, I’m OK? ‘‘We had some pretty robust discussions. But I must confess the announcement last week [by National] took me by surprise. I wasn’t expecting it at this time.’’
Dunne has a novel explanation for the decline in his majority in 2008. ‘‘ We suffered, because we had been associated with the previous government.’’
So, rather than capitalising on 2008 being the high tide for the centre right, he feels he was tainted by association with Labour? ‘‘Yes, I think so.’’
His prior ‘‘ loyalty’’ to Labour cost him dearly. ‘‘ I think people saw me as a minister in a Labour-led government. I think they saw that as a negative.’’
Quite a different story, this time around.
Part of Dunne’s brand is his Mr Reasonable persona. Not that he could exercise any meaningful restraint on National – but is there anything in its likely second term agenda that Dunne could not support?
‘‘Wholesale privatisation,’’ Dunne says. ‘‘The sheer, complete sale of state assets for the sake of ideology. A very punitive regime [of welfare reform] that said for instance, welfare payments were time limited and after that, you’re off the cliff. If the welfare safety net was being pulled back to say it would be for a particular period only and in certain situations only, that would be clearly a step far too far.’’
And Dunne wouldn’t vote for it in Parliament? ‘‘No. If we got a return to Richardsonstyle economics, that would [also] be a step too far.’’
Despite the portents, losing in November is not something Dunne has seriously considered.
Still, if this election does turn out to be his last hurrah, Dunne won’t be lacking in interests beyond politics: such as family history, sailing, taking classes in languages, art appreciation.
For now though, survival in Ohariu is his fulltime concern.
Gordon Campbell is an experienced political journalist and columnist who has written for The Listener and Scoop.