National looks to dominate the provinces

Scoop's Selwyn Manning has dug deep into the oft-forgotten electorates and made some intriguing predictions as the country swings right

In case you haven't seen this, read Selwyn Manning's brave and thorough survey of the electorates in this election. While the media reasonably focus on the party vote, Manning – one of the editors over at Scoop – argues that "for the two largest parties, the fight out in the electorates, especially for National in the provinces, is where party list support is born".

National’s wins in the provinces in 2005 have offered a foundation for it to conjure up a strong party poll position, potentially enough to stave off a surge in Labour-Green support that will emerge from deep within big city urban expanses.

Highlights of Manning's piece include the suggestion that National will sweep just about all the provincial seats, New Plymouth, Palmerston North and West Coast-Tasman being the exceptions. If he's right, we'll see a stark, worrying city-country divide.

It's an extension of the 2005 election in that sense. Straight after that campaign I wrote a story for the Listener, in which I noted:

...a map showing the party vote by electorate tells a stark story – a countryside of deep blue, with tiny red spots in the main centres. Even in the provincial seats that Labour clung to, such as Taupo, New Plymouth and West Coast-Tasman, National won the party vote.

In that piece Chris Trotter talked about the "sheer far awayness" that provincial New Zealand feels when it comes to the multi-culturalism of urban New Zealand. Andrew Little said provincial New Zealand isn't necessarily intolerant, however, it just feels forgotten sometimes.

Manning's picking Labour to lose Taupo, Rotorua, Otaki, and even Auckland Central. That would end the political career of Judith Tizard. Crikey, how long has it been since we didn't have a Tizard in some high political office in this country?

The only seat Manning doesn't dare predict is Hamilton West, saying it's too close to call.

The question of division and hurt in New Zealand after the election hasn't been discussed much in this campaign, but if Labour cobbles together a majority in parliament despite being the smaller of the two main parties, I do worry how conservative New Zealanders will take the news. Especially if the Maori Party is responsible for keeping Labour in power for another term. I can imagine the "bloody Maarees" cry from some quarters. If the provincial electorates are roundly blue, that will only exacerbate the sense of disconnect felt by New Zealanders who voted for National and ACT.

Equally, if National gains power with little city support, will there be anger from the urbanites that we're heading back into some sort of Muldoon-ist era, where small town New Zealand sets the tone? That's less likely, I suspect. The proportionality of MMP means we don't have less-populated electorates dominating the will of the majority anymore.

Manning also takes a look at some inner-Labour party politics. While I'm wary of factional descriptions such as "feminists", "unionists", and "the rainbow block", he makes some intriguing and concrete suggestions: Helen Clark trying to keep Phil Goff from the leadership once she goes in favour of a David Cunliffe/Maryan Street ticket, Mark Gosche being lined up as party president, Phil Twyford being primed to take over Mt Albert.

Interesting reading.