Herald on Sunday

PM may have lost the ute vote

- Heather du Plessis-Allan u@HDPA Heather du Plessis-Alan Drive, Newstalk ZB, 4-7pm, weekdays

Utes. Who would’ve thought they’d become such a problem for the Government. A symbol of rebellion against the looming car tax. An emblem in a battle of wills.

In one corner is the Prime Minister telling ute owners that unless they’re tradies or farmers they have no “legitimate” uses for those utes.

In the other corner, are the hundreds of farmers who gave her Government the finger and bought those utes up large at Fieldays. In just two and a half days, Isuzu alone sold 130 utes.

It was always obvious utes were going to become something of a problem. They’re the only type of passenger vehicle that can’t escape the Government’s looming car tax. From January 1 next year, if you don’t want to pay the tax on your imported high-emissions vehicle, you can opt to buy an electric vehicle instead.

But not if you want a ute. There are electric SUVs, electric sedans, electric runabouts for town. But there are no electric utes available to NZ yet.

It also happens to be that our favourite car is a ute. The Toyota Hilux. We bought more of those in the first three months of this year than any other car.

But even if utes were always going to be a problem, they didn’t need to become quite the symbol they have. That is entirely down to a couple of blunders by the Prime Minister this week.

The first was getting her facts wrong, probably accidental­ly. Jacinda Ardern tried to placate worried motorists by assuring them electric utes were so imminent that even “the likes of Toyota are talking about bringing in EV utes” in the “next 12 to 24 months”. That’s not true. She then advised motorists to put off buying utes till then. That error — and possibly the chance of the PM driving down sales — forced Toyota to correct the record. It’s never great to get facts wrong that badly.

Ardern’s second mistake was arguably worse and it was her comment that only those working in trades and the primary sector had “legitimate” uses for utes. That sounds uncharacte­ristically judgmental.

It’s made worse by the sense of hypocrisy over the revelation her partner Clarke Gayford has a ute despite not working as a tradie or a farmer. That sense isn’t helped by social-media photos emerging of Labour MPs Stuart Nash and Kieran McAnulty posing with their utes.

Most likely the PM wasn’t intending to pass judgment on ute owners, given her own family probably has non-legitimate uses for their ute such as towing the boat. But she would not be the first person or politician to be punished for a badly worded sentence.

It's a small risk but Labour shouldn't be so cavalier that they turn utes into their own lightbulbs and shower heads: symbols of the nanny state meddling in private lives that punished Helen Clark’s Labour government 13 years ago.

It doesn’t help this Labour Government that voters are already sensitive on transport-related matters. We’re being clobbered with news of cyclists demanding expensive lanes over Auckland’s harbour, a capital city car ban, cancellati­on of major and urgent roading projects like Mill Rd south of Auckland. And now this. It feels increasing­ly like the Government is not at all interested in helping motorists stuck in congestion, but more interested in punishing them.

It would be wise to nip in the bud any sense that this PM and Cabinet are urban elites sitting in judgment of motorists and the choices motorists make. Drivers often have no alternativ­e ways to get from the kids’ school to the supermarke­t to home. They make up a huge proportion of voters.

Many of them drive utes. It’s possible many of them feel quite frowned upon now.

 ??  ??
 ??  ?? The Toyota Hilux is one of New Zealand’s most popular vehicles and that’s a big voter base.
The Toyota Hilux is one of New Zealand’s most popular vehicles and that’s a big voter base.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand