Nelson has a new MP for the first time in 24 years. Charles Anderson offers his analysis of the watershed moment and what it might mean for the future.
There was a feeling of inevitability at Rachel Boyack’s election HQ at Saxton Pavilion on Saturday night. As the first numbers came through, all campaign staff could barely stifle their excitement.
It had been five years since Rachel started seriously meeting with Labour’s man in Nelson – ex top cop Brian McGurk – and discussing how to unseat Nick Smith.
It has been a long five years for that team and even for longer for Rachel who, even when she a student president at NMIT over 10 years ago, you could sense would always find her way into local politics.
While she lost at the election in 2017, she continued campaigning as Labour’s unpaid member for Nelson.
The party could sense that their chance was coming. Down on Waimea Rd at Nick Smith’s HQ, the incumbent was looking worried but not despondent. He seemed to know his time had come.
“There is a king tide and it’s not in National’s favour.”
Shortly after 9pm it was clear that not even Moses could have stopped it. In the end, Rachel won by more than 3000 votes and Nelson voted in Labour over National by more than 12000.
Nick spent 24 years in the Nelson seat, another six in the Tasman seat.
Before he came along, Nelson had been a safe Labour seat. It may well return to that for some time. However, he has indicated that he wants to stay on as a list MP, as the National party vote will deliver that to him.
At about 9.30pm the Labour HQ got word that Nick was on his way to concede. When he arrived, they applauded. It was a lovely moment – one that was summed up by Nick in his speech to that crowd.
He praised Rachel for how she had developed as a politician and someone who had obvious passion and enthusiasm for the community. He said it was a privilege serving the community and was now passing the mantle to Rachel.
“I wish you the very best,” he said. “May our politics in New Zealand never become toxic and horrible like it does in other parts of the world.”
The crowd replied: “Here, here.”
Then it broke into a rendition of ‘For he’s a jolly good fellow’.
The challenge for Rachel now is of significance. She is part of a government with a huge mandate, but she is also 57 on the Labour list. She has campaigned on getting a new Nelson Hospital, ensuring better housing for Nelsonians, and getting a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.
She has also been a vocal opponent of a new ‘inland route’ highway for the city.
The challenge will be managing the expectation of the public of a first term MP.
It was also a curious election further down the ballot. While the Greens stood a candidate, Aaron Stallard, he actually didn’t want you to vote for him. Instead, he wanted people to party vote Green.
And while ACT also had a candidate in Nelson in Chris Baillie, he too didn’t want you to vote for him. But people still voted for Stallard, 1550 of them, and people still voted for Chris Baillie, 1123 of them.
But it is Chris who will be going to Parliament as number 4 on ACT’s list.
So, Nelson will have the enviable position of having three MPs in Parliament. It will be interesting to see whether they can deliver something different for the region other than the status quo that was so dominantly voted out.