In the sixth and final edition of a weekly election diary, Labour MP Deborah Russell relives the highs and lows of a stop-start, up and down campaign

Thank goodness this forever campaign is nearly over.

It has been an odd campaign everywhere, it seems, but all the more so in Auckland. My team and I started door knocking early in the year, then stopped during first lockdown, started again when we got to Level 1, stopped as Auckland went back to Level 3, and only started again in Level 1 last weekend.

Candidates meetings happened online or socially distanced if they happened at all, and aside from social media, about the only way of connecting with voters has been to hold street corner meetings. And through it all, the peculiar time-stretch-and-compress of this extraordinary year.

We’ve been doing everything we can in New Lynn, but I’ve also spent a lot of this campaign just watching what was going on elsewhere. Watching my colleagues in other cities get out and about to rallies and meetings, watching the spectacle on the other side of the aisle, watching as by sheer necessity, the big events happened elsewhere.

The prolonged constraint in Auckland has, however, made for a huge outpouring of energy in the nine days we’ve had for campaigning in Level 1. We had an exuberant crowd of Labour supporters at the Avondale Sunday market last weekend, with virtually everyone we spoke to assuring us of their support. Surprisingly, at the only mass gathering place in the New Lynn electorate last weekend, other political parties were absent except for the New Conservatives.

Our local Labour teams came together again on Wednesday evening when our leader Jacinda Ardern dropped into the campaign HQ, shared by my team and Kelston MP Carmel Sepuloni’s team. The warmth and support for our leader is incredible.

My own personal support crew has gathered this week too: all my girls have come home to help out in this last week, and my parents have arrived as well. My daughters have been cooking meals and washing clothes and doing the housework and supermarket shopping, keeping everything ticking over so that I can concentrate on the last days of the campaign.

Deborah Russell makes one last pitch for support at the Avondale Sunday market. Photo: Greg Presland.

The last tasks for the campaign: more phone calling, delivering Get Out The Vote targeted mail and getting the hoardings down. We aimed to complete deliveries by Wednesday evening – any later than that and we run the risk that people find what they think is newly delivered campaign material on Election Day.

I’ve been reflecting on this election campaign as a whole, and the high and low points. The low for me has been the odd sense of isolation and exclusion in Auckland. It wasn’t anything that could have been changed: locking down and suppressing COVID-19 in the community again was absolutely critical.

The personal high for me has been the incredible local Labour team. We’ve had over 100 people working actively on our campaign: delivering leaflets, making phonecalls, collating voter data, knocking on doors, putting up hoardings, coming out to street corner meetings, running our headquarters, designing graphics and leaflets, dropping off meals for me or inviting me over for dinner when I needed a break. Our head office team has been the best I’ve worked with in my three campaigns – our New Zealand campaign manager and his staff have been unfailingly responsive and supportive.

Even as an incumbent Labour MP in a Labour-held electorate, the stresses and strains of the election have gotten to me. Like most candidates, I’ve had my share of insomniac nights and moments of deep worry. I know that our New Zealand campaign manager has been telling all the electorate campaign managers that their biggest job is to keep their candidate together: I can report that my own electorate campaign manager has done a superb job of this.

And now at long last we’re done. On Election Day, we can’t campaign. I’ll be sleeping in, heading down to our campaign HQ in an unmarked car to check in with my team, and getting my hair coloured and cut. A day of rest and relaxation before the results start rolling in.

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