Cablegate: New Zealand Elections 2008 - Auckland Race

Published: Fri 26 Sep 2008 04:04 AM
DE RUEHWL #0316/01 2700445
P 260445Z SEP 08
E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/26/2028
Classified By: Consul General John Desrocher for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d
This message was drafted by ConGen Auckland and approved by
Embassy Wellington.
1. (C) Summary. The National Party is making a serious play
for Auckland Central, an electorate that has been in nearly
uninterrupted Labour control for almost a century. That a
28-year-old virtual unknown has a serious chance of ousting a
Labour stalwart demonstrates just how vulnerable the Labour
Party is in this election cycle. End summary.
Wealthy, Childless, Liberal Auckland
2. (C) Auckland Central is the heart of New Zealand's
largest city and commercial center, and includes the
high-rises of its central business district, some of its
oldest residential neighborhoods, and the country's largest
port. While Auckland Central may prove a bellwether in the
upcoming election, it is not at all a microcosm of the
country. It is a diverse electorate, encompassing the
students of Auckland University, the old money of upper end
Herne Bay and Westmere, the transient apartment-dwellers of
downtown, and the hippies of Waiheke Island.
3. (SBU) The electorate is dominated by well-educated young
adults. It has the lowest proportions of children and
pensioners of any electorate in the country, but the highest
proportion of people in their twenties. It is the
third-wealthiest electorate in the country, but is socially
liberal. It ranks last of all New Zealand electorates in the
percentage of inhabitants identifying themselves as
Christian, and first among those who ascribe to no religion
at all. It has the country's lowest share of married
residents, but highest share of partners in non-marriage
relationships. It has a higher ratio of single people than
any other electorate. Despite its liberal history, Auckland
Central has been moving to the right, most notably in the
latest mayoral elections that were won by John Banks, a
conservative former National MP.
The Incumbent
4. (C) Auckland Central MP Judith Tizard inherited one of
New Zealand's best known political names. Her mother, Dame
Catherine Tizard, is a former governor general and mayor of
Auckland. Her father, Bob Tizard, is a former Labour deputy
prime minister and minister of finance. Along with the name,
Tizard inherited her father's parliamentary seat in the
Auckland suburb of Panmure in 1990 and has been in parliament
ever since.
5. (C) Despite her long parliamentary tenure and various
associate minister titles, Tizard has struggled to make her
own mark. Most recently, she has served as the Minister of
Consumer Affairs and Associate Minister for Arts, Culture,
and Heritage. She seems to be best known not as an MP but as
"Dame Catherine's daughter." Her political profile has been
controversial and Tizard is no stranger to negative
headlines; when giving interviews, Tizard is unscripted and
tends to ignore her media staff's advice. She made headlines
on ANZAC Day in April 2007 when she pubicly criticized the
Returning Services Association (RSA) for its wreath-laying
program during the annual remembrance ceremony. She's been
criticized for allegedly extravagant travel habits. Her
highest rank, as a non-cabinet Minister for Auckland Issues,
was eliminated recently in a government reshuffle. Tizard
drew howls of derision when she suggested that the post was
eliminated because the city's "issues" had been resolved.
(Note: Auckland traffic has become increasingly congested
over the years with no solution in sight. Also, Aucklanders
continue to be frustrated by ever-rising property taxes that
pay for bloated and overlapping municipal authorities. End
6. (C) The conventional wisdom is that Tizard's political
durability is entirely due to her family's reputation and her
friendship with Prime Minister Helen Clark, to whom she has
been close for many years. Clark lived for a time with the
Tizard family; Tizard's brother has worked on construction
projects at Clark's home. There is probably no MP closer and
more loyal to Clark than Tizard. While that friendship was
once clearly helpful to Tizard, in recent years there has
been a backlash. Tizard is increasingly dismissed as Clark's
(literal) bag carrier. It is worth noting that, despite her
friendship with Clark, Tizard was this year demoted from from
18th to 38th place on Labour's list.
7. (C) Despite signs the political winds are shifting
against her and her party, Tizard exuded confidence during a
recent lunch with the CG. She seemed sure voters would
understand her hard work on Auckland issues and predicted
(accurately) that the polling gap between Labour and National
would narrow as the election approached. There can be no
doubt that she knows her electorate. Seated with the CG at
the window of a cafe, she made a point of personally greeting
many passersby by name.
The Challenger
8. (C) The contrasts between Tizard and her National Party
challenger are stark. Nikki Kaye, at 28, is almost half
Tizard's age. Tizard comes from a political dynasty with
deep roots in Auckland; she doesn't hide her unhappiness at
having to leave Auckland to take care of her parliamentary
duties in Wellington. Kaye does not come from a political
family and, while an Auckland native, has been away at
university or overseas since she was seventeen. Kaye only
returned to New Zealand from London late in 2007. Finally,
while the Tizard name is famous, Kaye is virtually unknown.
9. (C) One thing that Tizard and Kaye do have in common is
confidence. While acknowledging that unseating a Labour
veteran from a traditionally safe Labour seat will be a
challenge, during a lunch with the CG Kaye came across as
energetic and sure of herself. She described Auckland
Central as "definitely winnable" for National and spoke like
a ward leader who had done her homework. She not only knew
how many votes had separated Tizard and her National opponent
in the last election, but she outlined for the CG where in
the electorate, neighborhood by neighborhood, she would find
those votes. She explained how changes to the electorate's
boundaries since the last election had excluded some Labour
supporters and drawn in other voters more likely to support
National. Not counting on a large swing to National that
would sweep her into parliament, she had a tactical plan to
take the seat one vote at a time. "I'll knock on doors,"
Kaye said, "Judith won't do that."
10. (SBU) Some outside observers are concluding that Kaye's
confidence is justified. The transTasman, a well-regarded
political newsletter, cited Tizard's high negatives and
changing demographics in predicting a National win. In the
newsletter's annual assessment of MPs, Tizard scored a 1 (out
of 10), down from a 2 the previous year, putting her in the
same category as other MPs clearly headed for the door.
While they can be complimentary about some government
ministers, National Party sources are derisive of Tizard's
capabilities. In late August, transTasman and other media
outlets cited an unpublished poll that placed Kaye a couple
of points ahead of Tizard.
Comment: A Long Shot, but Still a Shot
11. (C) Despite some positive signs for Kaye, she faces an
uphill struggle. Auckland Central has been in Labour hands
since 1919 (except for one term when it was held by a party
to Labour's left). While boundary changes may have pushed
some more conservative voters into the electorate, they won't
be enough to close the gap. The young people in the
electorate are not natural National supporters, and those
dissatisfied with Labour may give their support to the Green
Party, which has done well in Auckland Central in the past
two elections.
12. (C) Kaye needs to target the electorate's higher income
residents, many of whom are socially liberal Labour
supporters. They may not be comfortable turning to the Green
Party as a Labour alternative, but need to be reassured that
National is not too far to the right. National under John
Key has taken steps to comfort exactly those sort of voters
but it's not clear if he has done enough. Still, that
serious observers believe an unknown has a good chance to
take a safe Labour seat away from a member of the Tizard clan
illustrates just how vulnerable Labour is.
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