The first shots have been fired in the battle to win Palmerston North at this year's general election, with National candidate Leonie Hapeta accusing Labour MP Iain Lees-Galloway of practising "nasty politics".
Mr Lees-Galloway and about 15 supporters gathered outside Mrs Hapeta's Hotel Coachman about 5pm on Monday – protesting against the Government's plans to sell state-owned assets.
Mrs Hapeta said she felt attacked by the protesters, who held signs and waved at vehicles on both sides of Fitzherbert Ave.
"Having not met Iain since I became the candidate, I went out to introduce myself, and ask him why he was attacking my business, rather than holding the protest outside my campaign office," she said.
The National campaign office will be based inside the old GQ Clothing building on Broadway Ave, but has not yet opened.
"He was not able to answer this simple question, and seemed quite surprised I was willing to talk civilly to him rather than yell abuse at him."
But Mr Lees-Galloway, who is Labour's Defence and Land Information spokesman, said the location was chosen by his Young Labour supporters because of the heavy traffic flow.
"There was no intention to target Leonie's business and it hadn't even crossed my mind," he said.
"Yeah, when I got there I thought: `OK we're outside the Coachman' but it was no plan on my part."
Mr Lees-Galloway doubted many people would have made the connection between the Labour campaigners and Mrs Hapeta's hotel.
"We were smiling and waving at people.
"It's actually quite a fun thing to do and if people want to toot their horns in support of us, we're definitely not going to stop them doing that."
Mrs Hapeta described his approach as "nasty politics", but said she would not meet fire with fire.
"Iain will be negative and play the man, not the ball. I will be positive and concentrate on talking policy, issues and matters of substance, rather than attacking Iain."
Mr Lees-Galloway denied claims of dirty politics, saying Mrs Hapeta was not mentioned on the signs or by the campaigners.
"I think this is absolutely playing the ball.
"This was about asset sales ... and the difference between the National Party policy and the Labour Party policy on asset sales.
"Our policy is to ensure that state asset sales do not go ahead."
Mr Lees-Galloway said he wanted to continue Palmerston North's long history of clean political campaigns.
"It's very much my style to have a very clean, issues-based campaign, and my focus is going to be on getting out there and telling people I think they should be voting for the Labour Party, and why they should vote for me for Parliament."
Mrs Hapeta, who is making her first run at the Palmerston North seat, felt like Mr Lees-Galloway had "thrown down the gauntlet", but said she was prepared for the challenge. She planned to focus her campaign on the economy, city safety and education.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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