Jacinda Ardern reflects on huge night for Labour.
As she turned away from her roaring fans on Saturday night, Labour’s Sarah Pallett was at a loss for words when asked if she had dreamed of such a victory.
“I dared to hope – we dared to hope. It’s something that we put a lot of work into, and we’re obviously surprised and completely delighted.”
Pallett had just pulled off perhaps the most unlikely of election night coups – ousting National’s Gerry Brownlee to win Ilam, a seat the National grandee held since 1996.
Brownlee called her to concede victoryabout 10.30pm, leaving her with tears in her eyes and needing the steadying reassurance of campaign manager Megan Woods as the enormity of what had happened hit home.
Sarah Pallett, new Ilam MP elect Sarah Pallett (centre) and her daughter Alex Pallett, 25, and future son-in-law Matthew Grace, who was her campaign manager.
“This is an extraordinary result,” said Woods, bubbling over with the excitement of the night.
“We always dared to believe but it’s unexpected. I think it speaks volumes to the calibre of the candidate, the ground gain of the campaign team.
“But also I think it shows that Christchurch and Ilam were ready for a different style of MP.”
Pallett’s remarkable win, by a margin of 2220 votes, means Christchurch is now awash with red, with Labour holding every electorate seat in the city.
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* Election 2020: Gerry Brownlee concedes Ilam seat to Labour’s Sarah Pallett
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Her unlikely triumph meant toasting the success was limited to a quick glass of bubbles with her friends from Labour’s Canterbury Women’s Branch and a celebration with her partner, Andy, before spending Sunday frantically washing clothes and running errands ahead of flying to Wellington to present herself at Parliament at 9am on Monday.
“I’m just so, so thrilled that the team achieved this result for Ilam and obviously ecstatic about Labour’s performance nationally,” she told Stuff.
Pallett sees herself as a long way from Brownlee on the political spectrum.
“He has served the community for so many years and deserves our respect, but I am a different kettle of fish… I’m a woman for a start – I think women’s leadership styles are often more inclusive.”
Sarah Pallett takes phone call from Gerry Brownlee conceding Ilam on Saturday night.
It might be unfair to say someone who has pounded the pavements and knocked on doors for months has come out of nowhere, but hers is not a recognised name.
Born in Jersey in the Channel Islands, she moved to New Zealand with her then husband and two daughters and trained as a midwife, working first in rural North Canterbury and then at Christchurch Women’s Hospital, before turning to lecturing at Ara, where she got into politics through union work.
To overturn a National heartland where the wealthy, middle-class vote usually is heard loudest, Pallett turned to Labour’s grassroots of volunteers with a campaign run by her future son-in-law.
“Ilam is not just a group of really wealthy suburbs. It is, but actually it has a real mix across the electorate.
Labour candidate for Ilam Sarah Pallett, with Christchurch East MP Poto Williams, crosses her fingers as she takes the lead over Gerry Brownlee on election night.
“We had large quantities of people from low-income backgrounds, lower socio-economic status, an enormous multicultural community.
“What our message was that we wanted to be there for everybody.”
Pallett has convinced her electorate her politics are right for the area, but she still has one person to lure to the left – her 85-year-old dad, back home in Jersey, who tends to lean to the right, though he is a Jacinda Ardern fan.
She managed to phone him after Saturday night’s victory and “he was incredibly proud”.
Christchurch turns red (L-R): Labour electorate MPs Tracey McLellan for Banks Peninsua, Megan Woods for Wigram, and Sarah Pallett for Ilam.