Hard News by Russell Brown

82

Mt Albert Old-School

The One News Colmar Brunton poll in Mt Albert will, doubtless, sustain the morale of the Labour Party. But I think the revival of fortune began a little while ago in Mt Albert, simply because Mt Albert gave Labour a welcome escape from the unbearable lightness of being that is a new Opposition's lot.

It's intriguing to recall that for weeks after Helen Clark announced her resignation, Mt Albert was shaping up as a potential humiliation for Labour. The "Tizard factor" meme was in full flow and Phil Twyford was copping patronising catcalls from National members every time he stood in the House. The rival camps of remaining Labour nominees were bitching at each other and the eventual candidate, David Shearer was caught up in a faux scandal over something he wrote a decade ago in an academic journal.

What happened then was that an actual election campaign had to start. And at that point, Labour had an advantage: a strong local electorate organisation with a call on some of the party's better Auckland talent.

It started to show quite quickly. While the other parties got up a few hoardings on the usual public sites, the big, red, simple Shearer signs seemed to be on private fences on every second street corner in the electorate. Could there really be that many party members? There weren't. The hoardings were placed through old-fashioned cold-calls: "Are you a Labour supporter? Yes? How would you feel about having a sign up on your fence for the duration of the campaign?"

That changed the campaign more than you might think. As the other parties eventually caught on, their signs started to go up on the same basis. And electors, flushed with democracy, got into it. There is a house on Western Springs Road proudly displaying hoardings for both Act's John Boscawen and the Greens' Russel Norman.

They knocked on doors too. The weekend before last, I came out my front door to find Labour MPs Grant Robertson and Maryan Street visiting every house in my street. That's old-fashioned campaigning of the kind that is possible in an electorate race, where you actually stand a chance of making direct contact with a significant proportion of voters.

National's choice of candidate, it is now clear, was unfortunate. But that was the case before she opened her mouth. National ditched all its accumulated local strength when it passed over a loyal longtime candidate in Ravi Musuku. Declaring Lee to be similarly "multicultural" possibly added to the insult.

Russel Norman and the Greens don't look like winning, but they shouldn't be disappointed. The campaign has established Norman as a national media figure. Norman has also been big enough to concede (in the interview Damian and I did with him on Public Address Radio) that his tone at the beginning of the campaign was wrong, and adjusted it accordingly. If anything, the fault in their campaign has been that it has tried to trade on the acknowledged magic of the Greens' general election branding.

Even Act's John Boscawen has got himself some useful campaigning experience. He has engaged in his campaign in good faith, and hopefully he'll learn that there are better ways to win hearts and minds than driving around residential streets with a bloody great big loudspeaker.

There are, of course, the issues. The Waterview connection decision certainly didn't help Melissa Lee, and the Rising of Auckland around National's handling of its Supercity plans did help Shearer. It also provided a brilliant opening for Twyford, who is turning out to be the kind of hard-nosed Auckland issues spokesman who makes the government nostalgic for his predecessor

But I think it's more significant that Shearer -- a decent and intelligent man but hardly a natural campaigner -- has had the assistance of a motivated party base. His task now will be to make sure those people who say they're going to vote for him actually get to the polls on Saturday.

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Meanwhile, David Farrar notes that Whaleoil has received an insulting (but not obscene) fax that he has determined to have been sent from the North Shore City Council offices. This is certainly not the kind of thing we should expect to see done with public resources.

"Was it the mayor?" Farrar asks in his headline. Well, if it was, it would be even more improper. But it does bear noting that that Cameron Slater has been spewing abuse at Andrew Wiliams for months. And even if it was Williams, a number of comments posted below it seem to be quite seriously defamatory of him. I suppose the best you can say is that this is what you get when the debate is informed by the likes of Slater -- and when another of Auckland's mayors seems to regard "leaving it to Whaleoil" as a political strategy.

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