29 Sep 2020

And then there were three: The race is on for Auckland Central

8:37 am on 29 September 2020

The battle for the Auckland Central electorate is shaping up to be an unusual race with Green Party's Chlöe Swarbrick driving a 'two ticks' campaign.

From left, Chlöe Swarbrick, Emma Mellow and Helen White

From left, Chlöe Swarbrick, Emma Mellow and Helen White. Photo: RNZ

Historically, the seat has always been a tight contest between National and Labour; Green candidates telling people to vote for their red counterpart.

However, this year's local election is shaping up to be a three-way race with list MP Chlöe Swarbrick gunning for both candidate and party votes.

As one of Parliament's youngest politicians, Swabrick is gunning for the youth vote in Auckland Central and this fits the electorate's demographic.

Auckland Central is a small, densely populated and diverse electorate covering Ponsonby, Eden Terrace and Grafton, including Waiheke and Great Barrier Islands.

It's the country's youngest electorate; home to 60,000 people made up of mostly young and highly-educated adults of European and Asian descent.

At what turned out to be a youth rally of sorts at Karangahape Road's boutique Crushes last week, Swarbrick told prospective voters why they should care about politics.

"The take home message is don't just leave politics to the politicians because those guys have screwed it up for way too long and realise that if somebody like me can become a politician, a high school drop out with tattoos who swears to much, then anybody can. And that's the point; that's democracy functioning."

Auckland Central was once a jewel in Labour's crown; a red stronghold since the 1919 election until retiring National Party MP Nikki Kaye flipped it blue in 2008.

Kaye famously knocked on 10,000 doors before she won the seat and leaves a reputation of being a hardworking MP after four consecutive elections.

National Party's new Auckland Central candidate Emma Mellow's campaign has a similar feel, with her having rung households and dropped 10,000 flyers.

"Nikki is incredibly hard working and much loved in Auckland Central there's no denying that. There's not a day that goes past that someone doesn't say to me 'you've got big shoes to fill'.

"But people are excited that they have a genuine choice this election and that I'm working incredibly hard, like Nikki, to advocate for the people of Auckland Central and will continue to do so."

Auckland Central MP Nikki Kaye the day before a vote on the National Party's leadership. She is understood to be running on a ticket with Todd Muller.

Outgoing National MP Nikki Kaye Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

However, recent polling shows the political landscape of the electorate has dramatically shifted from Auckland Central's typical hotly-contested two-horse race.

Newshub's Reid Research poll had Labour's Helen White at 42 percent, National's Emma Mellow at 27 percent and Green's Chlöe Swarbrick at 24 percent.

The results show Labour has clung to its voter base, support for a National MP has slipped and support for a Green Party MP has more than doubled.

Kaye knows just how close the race for Auckland Central can get, having won the seat by as little as 600 votes in the past, and thinks it's not as clear cut as one poll.

"In my view this is going to be down to the wire. In Auckland Central there's always been a couple of thousand votes in it. I know there was a public poll out but my personal view is that it's quite a bit closer and this is going to be on a knife edge."

Kaye said Swabrick's bid to win the local seat was unusual for the electorate and would make election night even more interesting.

"In previous elections Green Party candidates have tended to say vote for the Labour candidate. So you really have a three-way race and the next member of Parliament could become the MP with a three in front of it where previously it's taken over 40 percent to become an MP.

"Auckland Central residents need to know there is everything in it. Whether you're backing blue, green or red, this is going to be down to the wire."

Even Helen White, who's polling yards ahead of her fellow candidates, knows the risk of a strong third contender but says she's got the best shot for winning the seat for the left.

"I am very worried that on the left we might split the vote and that the National Party will win it by default. If you have a look at the numbers, and it's a pragmatic exercise, National and Labour have always been neck and neck here.

"The Green Party vote is very low in comparison. It's a very mixed place with pockets of various types of thinking so I have the much stronger chance of winning this seat for the left."

Unsurprisingly Swabrick disagrees; saying there's only one left wing candidate who lives in Auckland Central and she's the only one who can fulfil the seat's legacy of a fiercely independent local MP.

"There is really staunch, really rich history of backing candidates, whether it's 1993 with Sandra Lee or 2008 with Nikki Kaye, who have their boots on the ground, some skin in the game, are independent thinking and hard working. I've proven that I can be those things."

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