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Tattoos, turnout and time left to cast your leadership vote!

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Voting to select the leader of the New Zealand Labour Party closes at noon tomorrow. General Secretary Tim Barnett has led the support team through 21 days travelling around the country, including 6000km of road and 14 hustings meetings.

This is the second leadership election run under our new rules – which includes holding hustings around the country. There was a real sense that people learnt from the process of the last leadership elections and the new system is firmly ‘bedded in’. 

Local hubs and electorates did a great job of organising the meetings, with NZLP head office support, and the candidates have all run intensively organised campaigns.

This campaign has also underlined the benefits of the hustings meetings. There was a strong sense of member engagement and the meetings also give all the candidates the opportunity to engage with local media around the country.

Turnout hasn’t been quite as high as last time – most probably due to it being so soon after a general election. However, it was still good, ranging from around 170-200 in smaller regional centres to 600 across Auckland and 800 in Wellington. As well as the official hustings, all the candidates took part in events organised by local parties, including in Tokoroa and Rotorua.

Our support team also comprised NZLP Organiser Geoff Hayward and Ryan Pyne, a field worker with the Canadian Liberal Party who is working with us during his OE. Our President Moira Coatsworth also attended all but two of the meetings.

Iain Lees-Galloway lent us his famous Labour-themed van, which covered 6000km over 21 days. We carried all the campaign materials for the candidates, the upstands and cardboard ballot boxes for our mobile polling point – people with postal votes really liked being able to cast their vote at the meetings, as did members of the Service Workers Union.

It’s been an interesting time to be on the road meeting members. Financial membership of the party has increased by 45 per cent since the election. Many of those are lapsed members who have renewed their membership but a significant number have joined for the first time.

For those members who haven’t got to a meeting, the format has been that each candidate gives a seven-minute speech. People attending can then write questions on a slip. There isn’t time to answer them all but I work with a team from the local party to select about a dozen, and each of the candidates has a minute to answer each question selected.

Recurring themes included capital gains tax, age for superannuation, child poverty and climate change. People wanted to ask about political positioning, particularly about working with the Greens or what we need to do differently to reach out to the mainstream/centre.

There were questions about caucus unity, how we work with the media to get our policies over clearly to the public and reconnecting with the contemporary version of our traditional voting base – the term used in the Hamilton husting was “white van man”.

There were questions about favourite books, songs, most admired politician, personal leadership skills and even “if you had a tattoo what would it be and where?”

Many questions were asked by people who had supported David Cunliffe in the 2013 leadership election, and I think the meetings became an important opportunity for people to work through their feelings. The atmosphere at the events was pretty intense and sometimes sombre but it was always respectful – we had very little heckling.

We have four strong candidates, so there was a strong sense among those attending that it is a finely balanced election, combined with confidence that the person elected with be the leader who will take us into the next election.

The candidates were highly disciplined and there was also a sense of camaraderie and mutual respect that built up among them.

Now we are reaching the culmination of the process. If you haven’t yet voted, please do. You have until noon tomorrow (Tuesday). As long as you log and begin the online voting process by noon then you can place your vote.

From there the process is that Electionz.com, the country’s leading provider of election management services, will apply the agreed formula to the count. The process of going through to the next round is all automated and does not take long.

We aim to inform the candidates of the results by about 1.30pm. An email announcing the results will be sent out to you, as members, at about 1.45pm followed by an announcement to the media. There will be media conference with the new leader at Parliament at 2pm.

Along with every member of the party I look forward to the announcement of our new leader tomorrow. Then we can all move on together to tackle the important work that needs to be done to take us forward to lead government in 2017.