by Daisy Hudson
Rangitata’s new MP still sounds as if she cannot quite believe it.
Labour’s Jo Luxton rode a wave of red that swept the country on Saturday night, claiming what is traditionally one of the safest blue electorates in the country.
After three years as a list MP in the electorate, Ms Luxton believed it was more than just the huge swing to the left that helped her become Rangitata’s first Labour MP.
‘‘I’ve worked damn hard the last three years, and I’d like to think that contributed to the swing,’’ she said.
‘‘Even as a list MP I worked as if I was an elected MP.’’
Whatever it was that weighed on Rangitata voters’ minds as they headed to the polling booths, it worked in her favour.
Ms Luxton won the electorate with 18,876 votes, beating National’s candidate Megan Hands (15,392).
Labour also claimed the party vote with 18,531 to National’s 12,244. It was part of a nationwide red tide that saw Labour win the party vote in every single South Island electorate. Ms Luxton was thrilled to win the seat. It also meant that hard work from the past three years was only going to get harder.
Becoming an electorate MP meant a bigger workload and more constituency work.
‘‘There’s only going to be one MP in the electorate so that’s going to be a lot more work for our office.’’
Electorate MPs tended to get more resources than list MPs, so she was hoping to open an office in Ashburton, in addition to her existing one in Timaru.
She was hesitant to outline which local issues were priorities, saying she wanted to get soundings from locals first.
However, she acknowledged there were concerns in the rural sector about freshwater regulations and trouble getting staff, while the more urban parts of the electorate also had issues.
‘‘We’ve got a reasonable amount of poverty, we’ve got a real outpouring of need in our social sector with family violence, drugs, all those sorts of things as well that bubble away, so it’s quite a mixed bag really. ’’
Speaking on Monday, Ms Luxton was preparing to fly to Wellington for the first post-election caucus meeting.
In terms of any roles in the new government, she said that was a matter for the prime minister to decide.
“If she were to give me any roles I would ensure I took them on and did them really well.”
Ms Hands had a shorter period to campaign than many other candidates, having come on board after a scandal.
Andrew Falloon, the incumbent MP for Rangitata, resigned in July after it emerged he had sent pornographic images to several women.
Despite the bombshell, Ms Luxton did not think it had a significant bearing on the election’s outcome.
“[From] the conversations I had on the street, that didn’t seem to be a factor .. I think Megan was a pretty strong candidate actually, and she ran a really strong campaign.”
Ms Hands, an Environment Canterbury councillor, watched the election results at a party in Timaru.
As the numbers came in, she said the swing to Labour was clear.
“I’m feeling, like most people in the National Party, disappointed with the national result, but really proud of the campaign that we ran in Rangitata.”
She felt various things had driven the result, and the party needed to conduct its post-election review.
She was more equivocal than National’s Rangitata campaign chairwoman Alison Driscoll, who hit headlines for her fiery election-night speech, reportedly saying the party needed “a kick up the pants”, and some in the party needed to “think long and hard about what they’ve done over the last two weeks”.
Ms Hands put that down to emotion and love for the party, saying “people are hurting, but we will pick ourselves up and move on”.
In Rangitata, Act New Zealand came third in the party vote, and also in the electorate vote with candidate Hamish Hutton. The Green Party placed fourth in the party vote, while New Conservative candidate Lachie Ashton was fourth in the electorate race.