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The electorate of Rangitīkei has been a National stronghold for decades (Image: Archi Banal)
The electorate of Rangitīkei has been a National stronghold for decades (Image: Archi Banal)

PoliticsOctober 11, 2023

Rangitīkei might be a National stronghold, but that doesn’t make the race dull

The electorate of Rangitīkei has been a National stronghold for decades (Image: Archi Banal)
The electorate of Rangitīkei has been a National stronghold for decades (Image: Archi Banal)

The expansive central North Island electorate is almost certain to stay blue on October 14, but the presence of Act could prove a ‘complication’.

Rangitīkei is one of the country’s largest electorates, covering large swathes of the central North Island. In the south, it takes in the town of Shannon and borders the seat of Ōtaki, and at its most northern point it encompasses Taumarunui, near Lake Taupō. The urban centre of Palmerston North is carved out as its own seat, though Rangitīkei takes in communities such as Taihape, Bulls and Feilding. 

According to the 2018 Census, the electorate is predominantly European and Māori, and 87.3% of residents were born in New Zealand – the fourth highest among general electorates. About 15% of people were in the agriculture, forestry or fishing sector, while just shy of 10% said they were in manufacturing jobs. 

Note how Palmerston North is not within the Rangitīkei seat (Image:

Driving up State Highway One through the electorate reminds me of a similar journey into Northland a few weeks back. National placards are common in many of the paddocks along the main stretch. Billboards for Act probably crop up the second most often, followed by outlier parties such as NZ Loyal. Once you make it away from the outskirts of Palmerston North, signs for Labour are few and far between. 

While it may be stereotypical to suggest that farmers always back National, Rangitīkei, which is a heavily rural electorate, has gone blue almost exclusively since 1938 (there was a brief period in the 70s when it was held by the now defunct Social Credit Party). It seems unlikely it won’t happen again on October 14.

The de facto frontrunner

Considering National maintained a healthy majority in Rangitīkei during the 2020 red wave, something will have to go drastically wrong for Suze Redmayne to lose on Saturday. She knows this too, but isn’t complacent. “I want to go hard,” the first time candidate tells The Spinoff. “Now more than ever, rural New Zealand needs a strong voice. It needs to be someone who gets it from around here.” 

Redmayne was selected to run in the seat last November, giving her almost a year to campaign. She wants to win with a 10,000 vote majority, which would be roughly in line with National’s results in the seat prior to 2020.

Raised in Wellington, Redmayne has lived in the Rangitīkei electorate for close to three decades. Her husband runs a farm and together they launched the family business Coastal Lamb in Turakina. This may be her first campaign as candidate, but she’s no political novice. Redmayne worked as a part-time staffer for both the most recent Rangitīkei MP Ian McKelvie, who held the seat for 12 years, and his predecessor Simon Power, which she said taught her important skills for being a member of parliament. 

“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.”

National’s Suze Redmayne (Image: National, design: Tina Tiller)

In person, Redmayne is bubbly, enthusiastic and engaging. When The Spinoff first meets her, in a classic country pub in Taihape, she’s in a deep conversation with someone about 10 years too young to vote. A possible future supporter, I suggest. Later, Redmayne heads to a candidates meeting down the road where she lays out her vision to a room full of people who definitely can vote. In short, she’s comfortable speaking to anyone – and makes you feel comfortable too.

“It’s pretty simple, really, this government is doing irreparable damage to rural and provincial New Zealand – and it’s got to stop,” Redmayne tells a crowd of about 40 people at the candidates meeting.

“I know farming and agri-business, but I’m not a one-trick pony. I have had the privilege of working with two MPs… I’ve seen and experienced first hand the social, environment and economic fabric of this amazing place we all call home. I’ve lived and breathed it.”

Redmayne says she is motivated by helping others and believes this is fundamentally what being an MP is all about. “I’m as comfortable supporting a constituent to navigate government bureaucracy as I am hurling a gumboot on gumboot day,” she says.

Later, Redmayne tells me she wasn’t happy with her performance in the public meeting. She’s self-critical for getting details of Labour’s proposed Affordable Water Reforms wrong (she told the crowd there would be four entities instead of the now-proposed 10). “I get really nervous,” Redmayne says of public speaking. “I love talking to people one on one and I get energised by it, talking to people in business or knocking on doors.”

At number 21 on the National list – one of the highest-ranked first-time candidates – Redmayne would likely become an MP regardless of a win in Rangitīkei. That’s not good enough for her.

“I’m not interested in being a list MP,” she tells me. “I want to be the member of parliament for Rangitīkei.”

In just a few days’ time, she very easily could be.

A high-profile competitor

Andrew Hoggard is the former president of Federated Farmers and Act’s candidate for Rangitīkei. He’s very well known in the farming sector and, prior to entering politics, was often in the media as a farming commentator and a government critic. In short, he’s sort of a rural celebrity.

Hoggard’s presence in the race has clearly been of some concern for National, given the party’s hope of sweeping up as much of the farming vote in Rangitīkei as possible. Redmayne tells me that Hoggard’s campaign provided a “complication” for her own and there was a chance he would take some of her vote. She claims, however, that Hoggard had no interest in being the local MP – he wouldn’t want to handle local constituency issues, she alleges.

That may be the case, though Hoggard is definitely on the ballots in Rangitīkei and his face is splashed across numerous billboards around the electorate. 

Act’s Andrew Hoggard (Image: Act, design: Tina Tiller)

Hoggard wasn’t at the candidates meeting in Taihape attended by The Spinoff as he was in the neighbouring Taranaki electorate for a campaign stop with Act leader David Seymour. As such, we couldn’t ask him about his campaign in Rangitīkei. However, after being selected as an Act candidate in early May, Hoggard said he decided to stand for parliament because of a “growing sense of frustration” at the direction of the country.

“The last six years have been bloody tough for farmers,” he said. “Labour and the Greens don’t have any idea of the impacts their policies are having.”

In a campaign speech the following month, Hoggard said that Act had often been the “lone” champion of agriculture in parliament. “But that is all about to change,” he said.

At number five on the Act list, Hoggard is all but certain to make it into parliament regardless of the result in Rangitīkei. Given the party has only publicly announced two electorate campaigns – David Seymour in Epsom and Brooke van Velden in Tamaki – it’s unlikely that voters will swing in behind him enough to win in Rangitīkei. But, as a high-profile candidate with a strong background in farming, and standing in an electorate made up predominantly of farmers, who can say for sure? At the least, his candidacy could do some damage to Redmayne’s hope of sweeping the field.

Three MPs for the price of one?

It’s been almost 90 years since Labour won in Rangitīkei, but that hasn’t dented the hopes of Zulfiqar Butt.

The party’s current candidate knows he has an uphill battle to snatch victory from either of the right-leaning candidates. Butt’s been a city councillor for three years and tells the room in Taihape that he’s been involved in community service for more than two decades.

“I strongly believe in social justice, equal opportunities for everyone and have a track record of leadership and experience in the public and private sectors,” he says.

Zulfiqar Butt (right) alongside Rangitīkei candidates at a meeting in Taihape (Photo: Stewart Sowman-Lund)

His pitch to potential constituents involves a degree of tactical voting. “Give your support to Zulfiqar Butt to be your next MP and actually your third MP from the electorate,” he says. “This is your chance to have a third MP.” That’s because, on current polling, both Redmayne and Hoggard would make it into parliament off the list even if they didn’t win in Rangitīkei. At number 68, Butt’s only feasible path to parliament involves securing the electorate. 

When approached by The Spinoff, he denies his pitch to voters is undermining Labour. “I am always asking for a [party] vote for Labour,” says Butt. “I am confident, but I am telling people they are wasting their vote because [Redmayne and Hoggard] are already guaranteed in.”

Rangitīkei has been as blue as can be for decades. But while the result this weekend seems unlikely to surprise anyone, the race to get there remains fascinating.

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