Water to remain an issue
A week before the election, Bill English went to Ashburton on a quest for the rural vote, telling farmers that Labour ‘‘take no notice of you’’. They agreed.
A few days later, farmers gathered in Morrinsville, Labour leader Jacinda Ardern’s hometown, to denounce what they said was the party’s use of farmers as a ‘‘political football’’.
Rural and urban tensions had been thoroughly stoked.
Far from the campaign trail, Mike Glover – who lives in Springston, south of Christchurch and is neither townie or farmer – has started a community water group to discuss the state of the Selwyn.
His daughter has never swum in the neighbouring river; its pollution has become a social issue as much an environmental one.
‘‘Both parties were starting to talk a bit more seriously about water,’’ Glover said.
‘‘But they had a lot of rhetoric and big, wide statements about townies and farmers. If you dig into a bit more there’s so much more going on.’’
Most of the debate was around Labour’s water tax, which would have imposed a targeted cost on irrigating farmers for a river cleanup fund.
With a National government convening for a fourth time, the tensions unearthed in the campaign – a clear public appetite for better water quality and a sense among rural communities that there is a target on their back – will be a tricky balancing act.