The parties are diverging as the campaign grinds into its final days. Labour hosted a massive rally in Wellington today while National told a small room about a big new road and blamed the obese for being obese, Justin Giovannetti reports.
Hundreds of students packed Victoria University’s hub today and cheered on Jacinda Ardern as the Labour leader tapped a final burst of energy for the last days of an exhausting campaign.
Along with Ardern, National’s Judith Collins and Green co-leader James Shaw were in the capital to meet supporters. Now in the final stretch before Saturday’s voting, each of the three leaders projected significantly different images of where their campaigns are at.
Collins appeared in the northern Wellington suburb of Grenada to re-announce the construction of a road. As part of a transportation package unveiled in early August, National promised to build a new road linking Grenada and Petone in Lower Hutt. Two months later, she reiterated that promise.
After a disastrous walkabout on Ponsonby Road last week, the National leader kept her appearances indoors. She hosted a public meeting later in the morning in Waikanae, made an unexpected comment telling the obese to take personal responsibility for their problems, and then called it a day.
“Do we want a wealth tax, everybody?” Collins asked. No, the National crowd responded. “Do we want a road, everybody?” Yes, they answered.
National’s campaign has now focused on warning New Zealanders that the Green Party’s proposed wealth tax will become law if it forms a coalition with Labour. Ardern, asked about the tax today, ruled it out. “I have said the same thing on this policy, no less than probably 50 times, I have ruled it out. It is not our policy. What you’re seeing from the National Party, frankly, is desperate,” said the Labour leader.
A poll leaked today from UMR, the Labour Party’s pollster, that was conducted for its corporate clients showed Labour at 50% and National falling to 29%.
The same poll showed the Greens steady at 6%, matching their performance in recent public polls. That’s a risky place for the small party, teetering on the 5% threshold needed to get into parliament without an electorate win. Barring a victory in Auckland Central (and we’ve written about that), the party needs supporters considering Labour to instead throw their party ballot to the Greens.
So Shaw rolled up his sleeves and did that today. In the hour before Ardern appeared at Vic, the party’s co-leader approached the crowd of students waiting for the Labour leader and individually asked them for their vote. With the Greens angling for a support role to Labour, Shaw made it clear he wasn’t a competitor, but a warmup act for Ardern.
“We’re basically on the same team,” Shaw told one student about the Green Party’s relationship with Labour. “There’s a greater chance that if you vote Green, there’ll be a coalition led by Labour.”
His approach could have worked. Moments after he told two students to vote for the Greens, one of them excitedly turned to her friend. “I just spoke with David Shaw and I don’t know who to vote for anymore.”
Then came the main event. Labour spent most of the past day calling supporters on social media to attend the rally at Vic. The images of a crowd of hundreds, perhaps over a thousand, packed into the large open space, standing four to five deep on all the balconies, aren’t an accident. Labour wants to enter the final 72 hours of the campaign with a sense of momentum.
Ardern spoke about Labour’s work to lower the cost of education and make apprenticeships free. She spoke about Labour as the home of migrants and delivered the expected jokes. “There’s no credits for rallies unfortunately,” she quipped.
The crowd, with its lack of social distancing or masks, would be an impossible scene in most of the world due to ongoing Covid-19 restrictions. The global elephant in the room was missing as Covid went unmentioned.
Instead, Ardern’s final push revolved around the warming planet. As Act has put forward a candidate, likely to enter parliament based on current polling, that has described climate change as “hysteria” and called for skepticism, Labour is doubling down.
As prime minister she announced the ban on offshore oil and gas exploration in the same room. Today she called on students to see that as a “downpayment” on the climate work ahead. To cheers, she called on young people to vote and ensure that more is done.
“Your vote matters, who you support matters, everyone who attended a climate strike matters. All of it makes a difference and so I’m asking you to keep going, turn that anxiety into a sense of optimism,” she said.
Subscribe to The Bulletin to get all the day’s key news stories in five minutes – delivered every weekday at 7.30am.