In the second of a weekly election diary, Labour MP Deborah Russell eases back into campaign mode after a Covid-enforced break. Tomorrow is National’s Chris Bishop.

This week the on-again, off-again election campaign is on again. Well, sort of.

Politicians are out and about all over the country, suitably bemasked and distanced but definitely not shaking hands.  Candidates’ meetings are in full swing, and my social media feeds are full of my colleagues campaigning.

But not so much in Auckland.  The Level 2.5 restrictions make personal interaction with voters just a bit too tricky right now.  For the time being, we’re leafletting and phone calling.

Like all long established political parties, we’ve got well developed networks for delivering leaflets, especially in urban areas. Every street is on a defined delivery route, and we have party members and supporters who’re happy to get out there for a walk and put leaflets into letter boxes.

But the boundaries in New Lynn have been redrawn.  It now takes in virtually all of the Waitakere Ranges.

We’ve got delivery routes for big chunks of the Waitakere Ranges, but in some places, it’s a matter of heading out with two people, one to drive and the other to leap in and out of the car putting leaflets into letterboxes.

I’ve been out along Lone Kauri Rd  and other roads in the Waitakere Ranges this week with a young fit volunteer. I drive, he gets in and out of the car, and as we go we talk politics. He’s getting a very thorough grounding in the mundane realities of campaigning.

Deborah Russell takes in the outer reaches of the “urban” New Lynn electorate. Photo: Supplied.

Then there’s working the phones.  We’re running phone banks several nights each week, (in)conveniently calling people at dinner time to ask them if they intend to vote, and if so, who they plan to vote for.  It’s critical for our work turning out the vote when polling places open.  We’re aiming to identify who our voters are so that we can send them reminders about voting.

The conversations can be interesting.*

One volunteer knows a lot more about trains now.  Jack from Oratia had strong views about how to fix rail, light rail, and the Newmarket spur. It sounded very much like someone who was more aligned to another party.  But after ten minutes or so, Jack’s wife took the phone.  “We both vote Labour.  By the way, would you like me to deliver some leaflets for you?”

Another volunteer called a younger voter.  He wasn’t sure if he was a Labour voter so he shouted out for some advice.

“Mum, who do I have to vote for?”


“Cool. I’m voting Labour.”

I called a man in Titirangi.

“I find it incredibly offensive that you’re calling me.”

“I’m sorry. All the political parties do this.  I’ll make a note on our records so that we don’t call you again.  I apologise for disturbing you this evening.”

“And I am definitely not voting for you!”

My husband ended up on our calling list last week. He assured me that he told my volunteer he would vote for me.  That’s a step above our daughters, who are inclined to say things like, “Mum, what are you doing to earn my vote?”

Oh well.

My husband ended up on our calling list last week. He assured me that he told my volunteer he would vote for me.  That’s a step above our daughters, who are inclined to say things like, “Mum, what are you doing to earn my vote?”

Most of us prefer knocking on doors to phone calling.  When we talk to someone on the doorstep, we can get a much greater sense of how they are reacting to us, and to Labour. On the phone, all we have is a person’s basic details from the electoral roll – name, address, occupation – and occasionally their political preferences if we have called them before.

Sometimes the person on the other end of the line can be grumpy, or nasty.  But usually people are polite, even if they just want us to go away.  “No thanks, I’m not interested” is a common enough response.

And if someone tells us they vote for the opposition?  We just thank them for their time, and move on to the next call.

That’s what we’ve been doing in this socially distanced somewhat locked down and buttoned up campaign this week. Leafletting and phone calling: the bread and butter stuff that we do every campaign. Otherwise, the campaign seems distanced from us, happening elsewhere.

Next week, if we’re lucky, we’ll make it back to the doorsteps. Until we do, it’s about connecting with people in whatever way we can. The campaign may have stopped in Auckland, but the problems in people’s lives haven’t. They need us to hear them as much as ever.

*These are all reports of real conversations but names have been changed for privacy.

Deborah Russell is the Labour MP for New Lynn

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