• VOTES COUNTED: 37,364- 100% • LEADING CANDIDATE: Simon Bridges 16,602 2nd CANDIDATE: Jan Tinetti – 14,169 • CURRENT MARGIN: 2,433 • PARTY VOTE LEAD:Labour Party 40.9%
Where in the past Labour has only nibbled at the wide margin Tauranga MP Simon Bridges has enjoyed for four terms, tonight it took a big munch.
With 95 per cent of the vote counted, Bridges has narrowly claimed a fifth term in what was considered a safe blue seat.
His 2017 margin of just over 11,000 votes over Labour’s Jan Tinetti has, however, shrunk to 2500.
The electorate’s party vote, too, was caught up in the Labour landslide.
National has won more than half the party vote in Tauranga for the past three elections but that majority has swung to Labour, with 40.9 per cent to National’s 33.9 per cent.
Tinetti said her message to the National Party in Tauranga was: “Look out, we’re on our way.”
“Don’t take this city for granted.”
Bridges told supporters the margin was “slightly tighter … than I was after”.
He said it was a bittersweet night.
“Its tough to do it tough and see colleagues do it tough but it’s also great to be back in this wonderful electorate.”
Bridges – who won a hard-fought battle against Winston Peters for Tauranga in 2008 – couldn’t resist a dig at New Zealand First as the party is likely ousted from Parliament.
“Sucks to be them,” he said in his speech. “There is always someone in a worse situation than you.”
Bridges – who was rolled as National leader earlier this year – said the party “has not had a strong … strategy in what it has been doing” in recent times.
“It means on the ground for candidates around New Zealand they haven’t been as clear about what they should be doing so our campaign has not been strong as it could have been based off Jacindamania.”
When asked whether he thought there needed to be a change in National’s leadership, he said he was not saying that.
“Right now, on this night there wouldn’t be anyone who would want to take it on – it’s a very tough role.
He said he was not interested in the job.
“I’ve been there and done that and I was looking forward to being senior minister again,” he said.
He said it was a time for reflection and rebuilding in order to mount a strong opposition to hold the Government to account and to be a compelling political party to contest the next election.
In the meantime, he was concerned about National and Act’s ability to mount a strong opposition given the numbers.
“I think what we will see in the next three years is a Labour Party that’s got a massive mandate and, frankly, near unfettered power … to do what it wants.”
Bridges’ campaign chair and National Party chairman for the Central North Island, Andrew von Dadelszen, said the election result was a “disaster”.
“We are going to lose some good people.”
He said Bridges’ win was a testament to his hard work.
“Three or four days a week he was out with me putting up signs. He was tireless.”
He still believed Bridges would one day be Prime Minister of New Zealand.
“He’s 44, still got plenty of time.
“He has grown so much through this experience… we have a long future with Simon in Tauranga.
“But this is a shocker, there’s no two ways about it.”
He said the local Labour list MPs “really have to step up and start supporting this city”.
While the mood was sombre at National’s election event at the Tauranga Golf Club, the mood across town at Labour’s party at the Tauranga Fish and Dive Club was “fizzing” – Tinetti’s description.
There were bouts of spontaneous applause and the former Greerton school principal looking at a second term as a list MP could not stop smiling.
“I just can’t believe the result … I am in awe of the people of Tauranga tonight. I feel amazing.”
She said she had been an advocate for Tauranga in her list MP role and that would continue, with a particular focus on working with local councils on infrastructure in particular.
“We have a lot to do in that space.”
She said this campaign had been the most difficult she had ever been involved in, as a candidate or a volunteer.
“It was indicative of the year we’ve had – stop-start the whole way through.”
She battled breast cancer less than a year ago and she said she was a bit worried at the outset of the campaign about how her health would hold up but was feeling good in spite of the busy last few days.
“I have given it everything. I am absolutely exhausted, I’ve left nothing on the table.”
Celebrating in Auckland was Act Party Tauranga candidate Cameron Luxton.
Despite only campaigning for the party vote, Luxton – a first-time candidate – is coming third in the race for the Tauranga seat.
“It’s really nice people want to vote for me.”
He was excited by Act’s results.
“The people joining are just going to be exactly what this country needs, real-life people representing.”
Background to the campaign
Tauranga is considered a safe seat for National, though Labour has nibbled away at the margin in recent years. National also faces competition for the party vote from the right.
The harbourside electorate in the Western Bay of Plenty region captures the central, northern and western suburbs of Tauranga, New Zealand’s fifth-largest city and one of the fastest-growing.
Tauranga is known for its busy port, beautiful beaches and large population of sun-loving retirees: more than a fifth of the electorate is aged 65 or over – a larger proportion than most.
The estimated electorate population for 2020 is 69,100.
Five of the past six MPs for Tauranga have been National, with the partial exception of Winston Peters who won the seat for National in 1984 before jumping ship and representing the electorate for his new party, New Zealand First.
Peters lost the seat to National’s Bob Clarkson in 2005 and missed out again in 2008 in a hard-fought race against new National candidate, Simon Bridges, who has held it since.
The former Crown prosecutor is seeking a fifth term after a tumultuous fourth in which he was installed as leader of his party and the opposition, then ousted two years later, robbing him of the opportunity to lead the party through an election.
After a series of single-term candidates, for the first time since 2002 Labour is standing a current MP in the seat: former school principal Jan Tinetti, who entered Parliament on Labour’s list in the last election.
Labour candidates have been gradually chipping away at Bridges’ margin in recent years, narrowing it from about 18,000 votes in 2008 to just over 11,000 in 2017.
Even so, Bridges still had more than half of the electorate’s vote compared Tinetti’s quarter in the last election.
Bridges, 43, is fourth on his party’s list and is the spokesman for foreign affairs and justice.
Tinetti, 52, is number 32 on Labour’s list, and is the deputy chairwoman of the Education and Workforce Select Committee.
Both have run relatively low-profile campaigns in this election.
Labour Party leader and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern visited once, and a planned visit from National leader Judith Collins was cancelled when Auckland moved back into lockdown.
New Zealand First leader Peters made a couple of visits to his old stomping ground during the campaign.
The party’s Tauranga-based list MP Clayton Mitchell, who came third in the 2017 election, is not standing this year, and businesswoman Erika Harvey, 40, has stepped up to the plate. She is ranked 11th on the party’s list.
Act leader David Seymour has also been a repeat visitor to the conservative-leaning electorate during the campaign, hosted by the party’s new candidate Cameron Luxton. The 31-year-old builder is 15th on Act’s list.
Tauranga has an assortment of other minor party candidates to choose from as well as two independents.
The Green Party was represented by Josh Cole, a 40-year-old landscape gardener.
Andrew Caie, a 31-year-old physiotherapist, has campaigned for The Opportunities Party and New Conservative is standing Paul Hignett, a 66-year-old electrical contractor.
Advance NZ has been represented by vacuum truck operator Daniel Crosa, and NZ Outdoors Party by anti-1080 activist Tracy Livingston.
The two independent candidates are James Capamagian and Yvette Lamare.