Election 2020

Trailing Jones promises more for Northland

Shane Jones says a poll result in Northland which would tip NZ First out of Parliament was taken too early and his campaign and more funds for the North will turn it around

Despite trailing in a new poll, Shane Jones believes Northland voters will flock to New Zealand First once they realise how good an 'insurance' policy the party is for the region.

National Party candidate Matt King is well ahead of both Jones and Labour's Willow-Jean Prime according to a Colmar Brunton poll of 503 people in the seat of Northland aired on TVNZ's Q+A show on Sunday morning.

King is on 46 percent. Prime is on 31 percent and Jones is well behind both on 15 percent. 

Northland is a crucial backstop for New Zealand First. The party will be out of Parliament if it doesn't win an electorate seat or get five percent of the party vote nationwide.

"There is a clear strategy that we represent a form of insurance and we represent an unfettered voice for those who will not have their interests addressed by either National or Labour."

Jones said the election campaign had not yet fully started when the poll was done and would only really kick into gear next week. 

He expected voter choices in Northland to change once it became clearer the only choice voters in the region had was between a Labour-only government, a Labour-Green one, or some sort of Labour-New Zealand First repeat.

"There is a clear strategy that we represent a form of insurance and we represent an unfettered voice for those who will not have their interests addressed by either National or Labour.

"It's like a new racehorse participating. Consult the conditions about the turf. Consult the form of the horse and don't write any horse off unless the race has been completely run."

Jones' electorate vote in the Northland poll is similar to New Zealand First's party vote there in 2017 (13 percent). 

New Zealand First has lost party support in the electorate since then according to the poll. It is the fourth-most popular party in the electorate (on 7 percent support) - behind ACT (on 8 percent).

King has retained his strong support in the electorate despite a swing against his party there. Labour is polling at 41 percent in the seat with National behind on 38 percent. 

He told Newsroom that while New Zealand First had made some welcome announcements about extra money for Northland, this recent poll showed much of that spending had been seen by voters as an attempt to buy votes.

“I think that people don’t like the type of politics these guys are doing.”

Jones pushed back at this suggestion and said his party had simply delivered much needed digital technology and other forms of investment for a region that sorely needed it. 

"The perverse thing is that often when I'm talking to the media on a cellphone we get cut off because of digital deficits,

"Yet when you go and convince central government to go and spend money to overcome that deficit apparently it means that you're seeking to buy an election."

He even doubled down and said NZ First's voice in government had directly led to much larger levels of spending in Northland than the oft-quoted Provincial Growth Fund (PGF) figure of $500m.

Jones said it extended past $1.3b once other cabinet decisions outside the PGF were factored in.

And he hinted there could be more to come on the campaign trail:

"When the time is right further Northland announcements will flow."

Are rural voters turning away from NZ First in Northland?

King highlighted rural support in Northland for New Zealand First as one area where he thought support for Jones might have dimmed since the last election - especially with regard to issues related to forestry and the ‘one billion trees’ programme. 

“This is a big farming community. Tourism and farming is what makes Northland tick...so he’s burnt a few votes off with his tree-planting programme. Farmers don’t like that,

“I see farms up here that you could cut hay on. If you can cut hay off a paddock that’s a good paddock. And I see them covered in pine trees. When you see paddocks that you could cut hay off growing pine trees that to me is criminal. It’s not on.”

Jones said this wasn't a big issue for Northland farmers and it was much more of one in other parts of the country. 

As for the decline in National's share of the party vote in Northland King put that down to rural voters turning away from National to ACT over the gun control issue. 

“A large number of people have said to me - they’re National people - they’re going to support me with an electorate vote, but they’re going to party vote ACT.

“I realise now that we’ve got down a little bit in party vote and I’ve really got to try and get that back up again.”

Federated Farmers Northland president John Blackwell said he was surprised by the Q+A Colmar Brunton poll results as he had always thought it would be a “two-man race” between King and Jones.

He acknowledged concerns related to forestry and agricultural policy had likely cost New Zealand First some party and electorate votes there despite some welcome rail investment in the region.

“[Jones is] well known. He’s done a lot of work up here. Shane is pretty tireless.”

‘They’re all three pretty good people.”

New Zealand First have only polled at five percent or above in one poll this year: a Roy Morgan poll taken in February that had them right on the threshold.

Speaking to Q+A, Prime said it was the first time in recent history that Labour was ahead in Northland's party vote.

Splitting the vote in Northland

The Northland electorate extends up from Wellsford to the top of the North Island and includes Dargaville, Kerikeri, Russell, Kaikohe, Mangawhai Heads and Kaitaia - but excludes Whangarei. 

Northland has been held by the National Party since the seat was created in 1996, but NZ First took over the seat - and held it for two years - after Peters won a by-election there in 2015.

The New Zealand First leader would go on to lose the seat by 1389 votes to National’s Matt King at the general election two years later. 

Peters was more popular in the Northland electorate than his party was during the 2017 general election. 

National MP Matt King won the seat back from NZ First in 2017. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

New Zealand First received just over 13 percent of Northland's party votes in 2017, but Peters got almost 35 percent of the electorate votes there.

Compare that to King who won 38 percent of the electorate vote in 2017 but whose party won 46 percent of Northland’s party votes. 

Same too for Labour’s Prime who won 21.61 percent of the electorate’s candidate votes, but whose party commanded just over 30 percent of Northland’s party votes. 

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