Cognito: Regions may prove soft underbelly for main parties

22 August 2017

Amor patriae *

New Labour Leader Jacinda Ardern is the current darling of the New Zealand media, but the job she’s chasing is leader of the country, not Auckland.

This is a mistake made by her former boss Helen Clark in her latter years as leader and even by Sir John Key, much to Winston Peters’ delight.

First-past-the-post elections were often determined by Auckland electorates, but MMP has made the regions more important – and that includes the South Island.

Auckland is the country’s commercial capital, with social and infrastructural problems that need fixing, so it deserves significant political attention, appropriate policies and investment.

The hinterland – home of the primary sectors – needs positive attention too, not just disincentives imposed to protect the environment.

Mr Peters understands this, as demonstrated by a campaign focused on rural issues and producers like farmers and growers.

National Party strategist Steven Joyce knows this too, and he has got Prime Minister Bill English and senior ministers talking up the economic prospects of the regions.

But it’ll take more than a few visits and multi-billion dollar roading projects to keep the voters on side.

While Ms Ardern rides a wave of popularity and regathers traditional votes on the left, Cognito is waiting to see if that translates into support across the political spectrum and motivates non-voters to get involved.

This will require a good balance between town and country – a constant theme in New Zealand politics. 

Come the 23rd of September, it could well be the regional tail that wags the Auckland dog.

* The love of (our) country

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