National | Simon Bridges

Will Tauranga stay blue, recall Winston Peters or see red?

What do Tauranga iwi and people want from a new MP, now Simon Bridges has decided to exit politics?

Bridges is stepping down after 14 years, having won the seat from NZ First leader Winston Peters, who had held it first for National before he set up his new party.

Tauranga on the surface may be a striking seaside paradise but it has its own issues and priorities.

“Regardless of the dialogue heard outside of Tauranga there is no escaping the racism within it,” Ngai Te Rangi elder Te Hauata Palmer says.

“There are still no opportunities open to Māori sitting on the other side of the fence. No one pays attention to the work Māori want to do.”

He has observed the political landscape of Tauranga for many years and doesn’t look at it through rose-tinted glasses; he knows it’s true blue and says it takes a certain type of Māori to win it - a Māori who can straddle the Pākeha and Māori world, such as Peters or Bridges.

However, with Bridges gone, can Peters make a comeback and reclaim the electorate he held for many years?

“He did a lot of good work for Tauranga as its MP but he will have a job on his hands to wrestle it back from National.”

Peters himself is staying mum on whether he will stand in the by-election.

But is anyone shedding tears for Simon Bridges?

“I followed him on Twitter and it seems he has been going through a rough patch for ages,” one local said

“I really like Simon. He was a sane reasonable voice within our political situation,” another said.

However, when it comes to his replacement, Winston was the name on everyone’s lips.

“I like Winston Peters because he has his own mind about things,” a local said.

“I reckon he will be the next prime minister and I wouldn’t mind going to his victory party in 2024,” said another.

“I like him because he calls a spade a spade,” from another.

“Got to love him because he's Māori.”

While that may all have been said in jest, Māori whakapapa is deeply rooted in Tauranga.

However, decisions made by the city council have deeply affected Māori and local iwi so Palmer is looking to the commissioners appointed by Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta after the council became unmanageable, as the deal-breaker Maori are looking for to achieve a voice within local politics first

“They are really making an effort to have a discussion with everyone in Tauranga in an effort to address the concerns we have.”

Traditionally, by-elections go to opposition parties. But the battle may well be closer since in 2017, Labour candidate Jan Tinetti, shrank National's winning margin from 11,000 to 2500.

Tinetti, who got to Parliament on the Labour list, was immediately elevated to the cabinet and just yesterday announced a review of pokie machine rules to protect vulnerable people.