Last week's decision to comprehensively restructure Christchurch's school system could hurt National in that city.
After all, the city recorded a huge swing to National at the 2011 election. This saw two city-based seats (Christchurch Central and Waimakiriri) change hands and the party vote for National increase exponentially. National, aided by thepost-earthquakes visits and attention of home town boy John Key, increased their party vote substantially as well.
Outside of Auckland and Dunedin, Christchurch bolstered National at the last election.
Now, with the proposal to close or merge many of the city's primary, intermediate, and secondary schools, that vote is in danger.
The way in which the restructure was announced has been universally condemned as appalling. Principals were summoned to a meeting during which, even before any public announcement had been made, social media started communicating the news to parents and teachers alike. That's why many principals were confronted with distraught staff and parents after these meetings.
The sheer scale of the upheaval is more than in any other area that has faced school closures. I remember back during Labour's time in office when many schools in regional New Zealand were closed. These closures caused tremendous upset in communities up and down the country. But their scale now looks small compared to the absolute upheaval about to be experienced in Christchurch. Around 13 schools are slated for closure and 18 are to be merged. It also turns out that some of these schools being slated for closure or merging haven't even been damaged or subjected to falling rolls!
Due to this announcement, a huge march is slated for Christchurch this week. The turnout could be significant and, if it is, this could spell more trouble for Education Minister Hekia Parata. After all, it was she who announced class size increases back in May to mass public opprobrium. I sense that if the backlash in Christchurch is significant, then we may see Key and Steven Joyce pressure Parata into engineering an about turn (as they did with her over class sizes) if the polls begin to turn sour for them there. The National hierarchy will also be mindful of the fact that they picked up provincial seats such as Invercargill, Waitaki, and Aoraki at the 2005 election on the back of Labour's unpopular school closures in those seats. They will not want the same effect to be witnessed in Christchurch for National, come 2014.
In the meantime (and it is literally a meantime for the parents, students and teachers of Christchurch), a massive school restructuring process awaits. Whether the Nats will survive in Christchurch as a significant presence could turn on this decision.
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