New boundaries = new strategies for major parties

One new seat added in Auckland. But that single proposed seat has ramifications that will ripple across the city with some surprising winners and losers

The new draft electoral commission boundaries for Auckland would add just one new seat but magically create two, and in doing so clip suburbs from here and there for a rather different patchwork city.

The Representation Commission this morning announced:

The number of general electorates in the Auckland region has increased from 23 to 24. Proposed boundary changes have resulted in the creation of two new electorates: Upper Harbour in north Auckland and Kelston in west Auckland. The existing electorate of Waitakere has been replaced as a result of the proposed boundary changes to the Te Atatū and Helensville electorates and the new Kelston electorate.

The changes out west are significant and impact all the seats there from John Key's now almost exclusively rural Helensville electorate right into the fringes of the CBD and Nikki Kaye's Auckland Central.

The focus in the lead up to this announcement has been on the right of politics -- specifically, where Colin Craig will fit into National's strategies to win a third term. Would the new seat allow him the perfect opportunity to capitalise on his growing popularity in and around Rodney?

In short the answer seems to be no. The boundaries haven't aligned in the 'manna from heaven' way he might have hoped for. And Paula Bennett has now said she will contest the Upper Harbour seat, meaning National clearly has another plan for any deal with Craig. The obvious seat, repeated by many, is East Coast Bays, because McCully as an elder statesman would be expected to be happy on the list. But let's not forget Rodney itself where Craig stood and came second last time with 21 percent of the vote. Is Mark Mitchell dispensable?

It should be remembered that Epsom was the ideal seat for a deal between National and ACT in short because it had such a huge and loyal National party vote, and well-educated, well-off and strategic voters willing to play the game for a centre-right government.

We shouldn't assume East Coast Bays or Rodney will be as compliant, especially after the cup of tea debacle last time, the percevied cynicism of that deal and the fact National is now a more tired government seeking a third term.

Yet for all the debate about the machinations on the right, the initial look at the boundary changes suggest that, overall, Labour will probably be slightly happier than National.

The new Upper Harbour seat, as one MP has described it to me, is a "right-leaning marginal". That's opposed to Waitakere, which was a left-leaning marginal won for the past two elections by a unique candidate in Paula Bennett. So the move is logical for Bennett and, despite having her seat moved from underneath her, she's a winner from the change. Bennett could have been in trouble in Waitakere, and even here Labour (if it can find the right candidate - Upper Harbour Man?) will have a shot.

The other new seat Kelston has Labour stronghold written all over it. It takes some of the most reliably Labour bits from Te Atatu, New Lynn and Mt Albert. Expect Carmel Sepuloni to stand, but I'd be amazed if Labour didn't at least consider helicoptering in some bright new talent. It's a definite win for Labour, no chance for National.

Maungakiekie becomes a little harder for Sam Lotu-Iiga to hold; it seems to add a few traditional Labour zones. Lotu-Iiga has deep roots in the area and a real commitment to the city and suburbs, but if there's much of a swing to Labour and a strong opponent, it could be a seat to watch. Maybe.

Auckland Central - that's good news for Nikki Kaye as those pesky trendy liberals in Grey Lynn are moved out and into David Shearer's Mt Albert; which will also suit Shearer just fine.

Kaye has worked that electorate so hard, but could have come under pressure with much of a swing to Labour next year and concerns about house prices. (Equally, the rising house prices for those actually living there might have Central voters feeling wealither and happier, so it's hard to read). The new boundaries seem sure to make it harder for Ardern, but she says she's sticking in for the fight.

That's a bold call. Certainly the metro, younger and up-and-coming population is one Labour wants to keep trying to win, but for Ardern's own career ambitions she will need a seat sooner rather than later. And she doesn't want to be seen as repeatedly losing to Kaye, so I'd assume that commitment is for one election only. 

Mt Roskill is the only other seat that could be an issue, but Phil Goff will be exceedingly hard to move from there. The thing is that his seat... and Mt Albert... and much of central-ish Auckland is gentrifying. That could be good news for National, especially with the positive economic projections of recent weeks. But if there are enough middle class concerns -- especially around housing and hip-pocket economics -- there could be some close races.

Any thoughts about what it means for the Greens? Can't see any chance for a new Green seat in there, so probably not much. And I haven't looked beyond Auckland and the major parties... Does Hunua offer anything for Winston if he wants a seat? What about Ohariu and Dunne?

Overall though, it looks like Auckland might have got even more important to the national race than it already was. The reality is that you can expect the major party leaders to be spending a fair bit of time in our biggest city in the next year, and like it or not, Auckland issues will very likely become vital national issues in the next election.