What? There's a byelection?Save
By Isaac Davison
With a week to go, the Mt Albert byelection is shaping up as the quietest and most inconsequential on record.
Former Labour Party president and political commentator Mike Williams is describing it as "the most low-key byelection I've ever seen".
"Beyond the hoardings which you see on the way to the airport, there's hardly a ripple in Auckland," he said.
"I've been involved in byelections since Onehunga in 1981 ... but I have never seen anything like this."
Interest in the contest to replace former Labour MP David Shearer is low because National has not put up a candidate, saying it is a safe Labour seat and that it is focused on the general election.
That means the only serious contenders out of the 13 candidates are Labour's Jacinda Ardern and the Greens' Julie Anne Genter, who have few differences and are not criticising each other because of the two parties' pact to work together.
The absence of a National contender also means the contest gives little insight into the public's feeling about the Government's performance ahead of the September election.
The only scheduled candidates' debates were either postponed or overshadowed by the state of emergency in Christchurch this week.
As a result of all of these factors, Williams predicted that the Mt Albert turnout could be the lowest in history, even lower than Mt Roskill in December where turnout fell by half from the general election in 2014.
Contrary to that prediction, advance voting in Mt Albert is tracking ahead of the Mt Roskill contest.
More than 1870 people cast advance votes within the first eight days, a greater rate than during the general election.
The Labour Party is still treating the byelection seriously. Anything less than a solid victory could be considered disappointing.
Ardern said that, despite the absence of a National challenger, she was "certainly feeling a lot of pressure" to perform well.
Leader Andrew Little will visit the electorate five times in the next week, and the party has set a target of knocking on 5000 doors a day, a task which requires 100 volunteers.
Labour is also using the byelection as an opportunity to hone its new campaigning strategy.
The strategy was taken from the Victoria Labour Party and was used successfully in Justin Lester's Wellington mayoralty campaign and in the Mt Roskill byelection.
The strategy establishes a network of field organisers and volunteers, and uses sophisticated data to determine which voters are persuadable and what issues they care about so the party can better connect with them on a personal level.
Ardern sees the byelection as a chance to claw back voters from National, which has grown its share of the vote in Mt Albert over the past two elections.
"Even though people don't have the option of a party vote this campaign, we've been using it as much as we can to talk to about Labour ideas with a view to hopefully translating a lot of that support into party votes at the general election," Ardern said.
National actually won the party vote in Mt Albert in 2014, with 14,359 votes, ahead of Labour on 10,823 and the Greens on 8005.
Williams said National voters, if they turned up at all, could possibly "swing in behind" The Opportunities Party's Geoff Simmons.