Rongotai reflects Labour’s problem
Rongotai looks like a safeas-houses electorate seat for Labour’s Annette King – and it is – but scratch the surface, and Labour’s wider problems emerge.
King has held the Rongotai seat since it was created in 1996, out of the old Miramar and Island Bay electorates, and from the redrawing of Wellington Central – still a work in progress.
In 2011, King racked up a whopping 9047 majority over National Cabinet Minister Chris Finlayson.
Look at the party vote though, and Rongotai doesn’t look quite so much like a Labour fortress.
National won 12,168 party votes in 2011, only 432 votes behind Labour. The Greens were not far behind, with nearly 9000 party votes.
Seen in that light, Rongotai seems more like King’s personal fiefdom than a party stronghold.
If that’s the case even in an apparent Labour bastion, one can see why Labour is struggling nationwide.
It is only after combining the Labour/ Greens party vote that Rongotai looks, once again, like a strongly centre-left electorate.
No doubt that’s a reflection of Labour’s ongoing leadership problems.
Some of it also reflects the gentrification process in southern and eastern parts of Wellington.
Rongotai stretches from south Brooklyn across Island Bay, Berhampore, Newtown and onwards to the airport and Seatoun, Miramar and Roseneath.
Put baldly, the eastern part is more inclined to go National, the south to support Labour. But fingers of gentrification are pushing centrist voters towards the right, while centre-left voters are increasingly hiving off to the Greens.
So goes Rongotai, so goes the nation in that respect.
All the same, King will hold Rongotai as long as she wants. The wider problem is that she can’t seem to convert her personal following into a robust ‘‘two ticks’’ outcome for her party. This year, Labour leader David Cunliffe hasn’t helped her task.
After a strong showing in the first televised debate, Cunliffe has lapsed into his old ways, and fumbled the details of Labour’s capital gains tax policy.
At a candidates’ meeting in Newtown last week, King effortlessly framed the policy as a fairness issue.
Just as ordinary workers have to pay income tax on their earnings, she argued, people who make their money from investments should have to pay tax on that, too. It’s fair, and we all stand to benefit from it.
Cunliffe has been unable to sell the policy on those terms. Instead he has managed to make the capital gains tax policy sound very technical, contradictory and something that even he doesn’t properly understand without the help of a team of advisers.
The Newtown meeting exposed another problem for Labour.
It was Norman, not King, who looked and sounded like the major player: more energetic and articulate, and seemingly, better able to make contact with the younger voters present.
It has become a familiar story. All too often, Labour comes across as a well-meaning older relation, trying to get down with the kids.
At the Newtown meeting for instance, Norman acknowledged that the Clark government’s requirements about healthy foods in schools – since revoked by National – could be described as the nanny state in action.
‘‘But,’’ Norman laughed, ‘‘it was the right sort of nanny.’’
He could have been describing Annette King and the Labour Party.