Chris Bishop won the Hutt South seat in 2017 after Trevor Mallard bowed out but lost it to Ginny Andersen in 2020. Photo: Supplied

Opinion: The Hutt South electorate in the southern suburbs of Lower Hutt in the Wellington region is a hard one to call.

The electorate is itself fairly typical of New Zealand’s overall demographic profile, with an age distribution skewing just to the younger side.

The electorate’s proximity to Wellington means it has a strong concentration of educated professionals and public servants. It is currently held by Labour’s Ginny Andersen, who is the Minister of Justice and Police.

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Andersen won the seat in 2020, on the back of a strong nationwide swing to Labour. Her opponent, and then incumbent, was Chris Bishop – now National’s campaign chair with a very high local and national profile. Bishop himself won the seat in 2017 after Trevor Mallard bowed out.

Andersen won an impressive 50 percent of the votes in the last election. Though National won only 22 percent of the party vote in the electorate that year, Bishop came in at 42 percent. For the losing candidate to win so many votes despite his party’s poor result shows the value of good local name recognition and a strong personal brand.

Though this year will be better than 2020 for National, it’s not going to match the heights of the party’s 2014 and 2017 successes

Andersen’s elevation to Cabinet enhanced her profile greatly. It may be something of a double-edged sword, however, as her role as Minister of Police sees her in the firing-line in view of the concerning crime-wave sweeping the nation. Hutt South is affected by that as much as any other region, and the situation could well be detrimental to Andersen’s campaign.

Andersen is being helped by Bishop’s increased responsibilities within National. While Bishop continues to be strong here, his role as National’s campaign chair demands significant time, energy, and attention that has reduced the focus available to campaign for Hutt South.

Furthermore, the past three years has seen significant growth in the public sector, a development that aligns with Labour’s propensity for loose public spending. The beneficiaries of this growth, particularly those employed in the public sector, are likely to view Labour’s spending positively. This could also translate into electoral support for Andersen, especially as National campaigns for more spending restraint and cuts to bureaucracy for the benefit of the rest of the country.

It is worth remembering this is an electoral seat that favours Labour by default. The party’s share of the vote will certainly decrease from its 2020 high, but Hutt South is not a bellwether seat. Even in a good year, a National victory would be something to be hoped for but not expected.

When Bishop won in 2017, the seat was “open”, in that Trevor Mallard had retired after seven long terms in office. Bishop had run very close in 2014 and there was no shortage of speculation that Mallard stood aside to avoid defeat. However, it’s crucial to note that 2014 and 2017 were years in which National won the party vote in Hutt South. Though this year will be better than 2020 for National, it’s not going to match the heights of the party’s 2014 and 2017 successes.

Given this historical context and the current political landscape, Andersen should be able to retain the seat with a greatly reduced majority. Starting with a deficit of 3,777 votes, Bishop should be aiming to pare that back to a thousand or so.

And if it’s that close, of course, he might just pull it off.

Liam Hehir is a writer and newspaper columnist from the rural Manawatu and a former National Party activist.

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