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Suze Redmayne (L) with National's Nicola Willis and Christopher Luxon at Ratana
Suze Redmayne (L) with National’s Nicola Willis and Christopher Luxon (Photo: Getty, design Archi Banal)

PoliticsOctober 4, 2023

Suze Redmayne once voted Green. Now she wants to keep Rangitīkei blue

Suze Redmayne (L) with National's Nicola Willis and Christopher Luxon at Ratana
Suze Redmayne (L) with National’s Nicola Willis and Christopher Luxon (Photo: Getty, design Archi Banal)

The part-time political staffer, part-time farmer is the frontrunner to retain the safe National seat vacated by Ian McKelvie. Stewart Sowman-Lund met her in Taihape.

Suze Redmayne is fast-talking and oozing enthusiasm, which could be because she has one of the easiest tickets to parliament out of anyone in the country.

The first-time candidate is running for the National Party in the blue-blooded seat of Rangitīkei. She’s very likely to win it, an assumption based on the fact that the central North Island electorate has been held by National consistently since 1938, aside from a brief stint in the late 70s when Bruce Beethem of the now defunct Social Credit party took it in a byelection. It’s one of the country’s largest electorates at 12,500 square kilometres, spanning from Shannon to Taumarunui – and Redmayne reckons she’s best placed to represent all of it.

But despite political precedent suggesting she should trounce her opponents, Redmayne’s not taking anything for granted.

“I want to go hard,” she tells me, leaning over the table in a Taihape pub. In 2020, National managed to hold the Rangitīkei seat by 3,000 votes, despite losing a number of previously-held seats around the country. This time around, Redmayne has her sights set on an absolute thrashing. A majority of 10,000 “would be great”. 

Redmayne knows the seat through and through, both politically and personally. She worked on the campaigns of former National MPs Ian McKelvie and Simon Power and has lived in the electorate for 26 years (her husband runs a farm and together they launched the family business Coastal Lamb). She’s the first female National candidate for Rangitīkei and if she wins, would become the first woman to hold the seat. It’s not the only way she differs from McKelvie. He tended to hold socially conservative views, but Redmayne considers herself socially progressive. She told Newsroom last week that she’d cross the floor if National proposed altering New Zealand’s abortion laws. (It’s a safe claim to make, given Christopher Luxon has repeatedly assured New Zealanders this wouldn’t happen.) 

While she’s been a Rangitīkei local for more than two decades, Redmayne describes herself as a “city girl who came good”. She was raised in Wellington which is where she developed a keen interest in politics. “My siblings will attest that I used to force them into robust political debates around the dining room table, and I did politics at uni and used to watch parliament TV,” she says. “[In] the old days, everyone sat around the dinner table at nighttime, I think that’s probably missing from some families now. You talked about what was in the Dominion Post.”

Christopher Luxon (Centre) greets a supporter alongside Suze Redmayne
Christopher Luxon (Centre) greets a supporter alongside Suze Redmayne (Photo: FB)

In this election, Redmayne’s positioning herself as an authentic representative for rural New Zealand. “I married a farmer and next minute I was living in Turakina,” she says. “Now more than ever, rural New Zealand needs a strong voice. It needs to be someone who gets it from around here.” That doesn’t mean that she couldn’t work with others, she adds, citing strong involvement in her local community and an ability to engage with people from across the political spectrum. “I’ve worked for two MPs that have both had good relationships across the house, so I value that,” she says. “That’s how rural New Zealand works. You’re better off to get on. There’s not many people I can’t get on with.”

She’s friends with Labour’s Soraya Peke-Mason, the candidate for Te Tai Hauāuru – the sweeping Māori electorate that crosses over with Rangitīkei – and would be happy to work alongside her in parliament. “I’ve got great relationships with Ngāti Apa [local iwi] and Rātana [church],” she adds, saying she feels “more affiliated” with te ao Māori than her English heritage. 

“I love it, I think it’s something to celebrate. Our kids went to a primary school where 70% of the kids were from Rātana,” Redmayne says. Despite that sense of community, Redmayne stands by National’s position on co-governance (strongly against), saying she agrees with “equal rights and equal citizenship”. She claims that a lot of Māori support this view too. “They just want us to move on,” she says.

It hasn’t always been National. Redmayne’s first political idol was former Labour prime minister David Lange, though for “his wit, not his politics”. Quoting Lange’s valedictory speech, she laughs recalling when he mentioned an absent Winston Peters and how he “would have been with us if he hadn’t been detained by a full-length mirror”. 

On one occasion, she remembers voting for “a guy called Antony Deaker” but can’t recall who he was representing at the time (at one point, Deaker ran for the McGillicuddy Serious party). Just once, while at university, she voted for the Greens – but proudly adds that she has never backed Labour. “I was quite a socialist,” says Redmayne. “I love that quote: ‘If you’re not a socialist in your 20s, you haven’t got a heart – and if you’re not a conservative in your 40s, you haven’t got a head’.” 

The Green Party of today has “lost its way”, she says. “Tariana Turia got it with the Māori Party – she could work with anyone,” she explains. “Peter Dunne [of United Future] always got it, always made sure he was around the cabinet table. The Greens should stick to their knitting.” 

Redmayne’s not too keen on some of National’s friends either. She criticises Act for its “hardline” policies around Māori issues, beneficiaries and youth offending. “Pensioners living in… flats in Feilding freak out about Act, because they want to cut the winter warmer payment and for a lot of those guys that’s what lets them turn the heating on,” she says. “Another thing I differ [on] from Act… I think if you can save a 17-year-old rather than putting them into the adult criminal justice system… Chester Borrows was a big advocate of that, he’s another one I admire.”

And she doesn’t “trust” Winston Peters, not after he propped up Labour. “I can’t forget 2017.” It’s entirely possible that in just over a week, he could be propping up her party instead.

Someone she does speak highly of is her potential future boss Christopher Luxon, calling him “a leader for our time”. She’s confident that, given our MMP environment, he’d be capable of bringing other parties into line in a coalition. “Right now, we don’t need a flash Harry, we don’t need someone who’s got a huge amount of political experience,” Redmayne says. “Leadership comes in all shapes and sizes. I love his focus on outcomes.”

Suze Redmayne, Ankit Bansal and Todd McClay at National's party conference
(L to R) Suze Redmayne, Ankit Bansal and Todd McClay (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

Redmayne was selected to be National’s Rangitīkei candidate in November last year, which she says gave her an extended runway to campaign. “I’ve been to the opening of an envelope, basically,” she says. “I’ve thrown a gumboot at Taihape gumboot day – but I enjoy that. That’s the part of it I really enjoy… It’s really important not to lose touch with your community.”

The part of it she’s less excited by is the packed schedule of public meetings and debates, but not because she doesn’t like to face scrutiny or meet voters. Instead she admits to getting nervous when it comes to public speaking. She loves meeting people one on one. “I get energised by it,” says Redmayne. “Talking to people in business or knocking on doors, but I don’t know why I get nervous [in public settings].” 

Ranked at number 21 on National’s list – ahead of almost all other first-time National candidates – means Redmayne’s likely to become an MP regardless of the result in Rangitīkei. The high position was a “shout out” to rural and provincial New Zealand, she posits. 

But it hasn’t made her complacent. “I’m not interested in being a list MP,” she says. “I want to be the member of parliament for Rangitīkei.” In just 11 days time, she probably will be.

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