Editorial: Nats fluffed chance in Palmerston North

MICHAEL CUMMINGS EDITOR
Last updated 12:00 31/07/2012

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OPINION: A lift in provincial support for the Labour Party around the country is good news for Palmerston North MP Iain Lees-Galloway, and underscores the extent of National's strategic blunder when it tried to reclaim the electorate following the departure of Steve Maharey.

As reported in yesterday's Standard, the Fairfax Media/Ipsos political poll found support for National has fallen between 4 per cent and 5 per cent in North Island cities such as Palmerston North, Gisborne, New Plymouth, Hamilton, and Napier. Palmerston North is the only provincial electorate Labour holds in the North Island (and one of just two in the country, along with West Coast-Tasman), and National seems to have lost the opportunity to turn it blue any time soon.

Despite a large swing towards National in Palmerston North's party vote last year, Mr Lees-Galloway extended his majority from 1100 in 2008 to almost 3300. National was left rueing its decision to stand affable but unimpressive local party stalwart Malcolm Plimmer when Mr Maharey stepped downed in 2008, giving Mr Lees-Galloway a golden opportunity to ensure Labour retained the seat.

Leonie Hapeta was a considerably more formidable National candidate at last year's election, but it was too late. After three years in the public eye cultivating a reputation as a staunch advocate for Palmerston North, Mr Lees-Galloway was always going to be difficult to displace. Despite a courageous and determined effort, and strong support from the National Party organisation, Mrs Hapeta was soundly beaten.

With this week's poll result showing the tide of National's support in the provinces going out, all eyes will be on who it selects to stand in Palmerston North in 2014. If Mr Lees-Galloway could comfortably survive a huge swing towards National in Palmerston North's party vote last year, his re-election seems even more assured as the Government's popularity declines, which is a political inevitability.

If it is seriously determined to reclaim a seat it hasn't won since 1975, it will parachute a high-profile list MP into the city. More likely, though, is that National accepts it blew its chance to annex the little red outpost in the North Island in 2008, and bides its time until another opening presents itself.

With Mr Lees-Galloway aged just 33 and demonstrating all the hallmarks of a career politician, that could be some time off.

ONE MORE THING: How about those Black Sticks? It's especially awesome to see our Manawatu women excelling on the Olympic stage. Hopefully they can build on their first-up win over Australia and bring home a medal. We're right behind you!

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- The Manawatu Standard

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