Labour's leadership scores some wins
By Richard Harman (author)
The Labour Party’s leadership were clearly relieved with three-weekend candidate selections.
One vindicated the strategic reasons behind the Willie Jackson nomination.
Another will help consolidate Andrew Little’s leadership of the party.
And the third was the selection of another centrist candidate to replace Annette King.
In Ohariu the former Police Association President, Greg O’Connor was selected --- a rare social conservative in Labour’s candidate list but more evidence alongside Jackson that the party is targeting what the commentator Chris Trotter calls “Waitakere Man”.
In Rongotai, Wellington City Councillor and long-time ally of Annette King, Paul Eagle, was selected to replace her.
Like her he is regarded as holding centrist views.
But the selection that will have been most welcome will be that of Deborah Russell to replace David Cunliffe in New Lynn.
Russell defeated Cunliffe’s long time close associate, Greg Presland, to gain the nomination.
It was no secret in Wellington that that was what Little and the party leadership wanted.
There was little appetite for Presland who was seen as likely to continue the divisive left wing politics that Cunliffe had practised as Leader.
Party President Nigel Haworth was enthusiastic about accounting lecturer Russell’s selection describing her to POLITIK as a potential Minister of Finance.
Little made no secret of his preference in a tweet shortly after Russell’s selection was announced: “Congratulations to my old mate, Deborah Russell, Labour's candidate for New Lynn. Part of the great team fighting to change govt.”
The relief was palpable coming after a week of insurrection within the party kicked off by the press statement from Poto Williams opposing Jackson’s candidacy.
The events last week seem to be connected to what has been what one senior party source described as a “parallel universe” of discontented aprry activists who have been active on the left wing blog “The Standard” and who also organised to promote candidates for office within the party.
They are believed to have backed the Post Primary Teachers’ Association National Women’s officer for the party's Senior Vice President’s position at this year’s party elections but failed.
The post was won by Beth Houston who managed Grant Robertson’s leadership campaign.
Houston was the leadership's preferred candidate.
That result plus the selection of middle-of-the-road candidates like O'Connor, Eagle and Russell would indicate that the party membership is not keen on going in any radical direction.
Labour’s strategists know that David Cunliffe’s apology for being a man was a critical turning point in the party's fortunes in 2014.
They, therefore, appear to be following a quite deliberate policy of steering the party back to the centre allowing the more extreme identity-politics votes to go to the Greens.
But it could become the victim of its own success with its attraction of a number of high-profile candidates.
Unless it dramatically improves its percentage share of the vote, it may be very difficult for candidates other than winning electorate candidates and sitting MPs who are likely to have preference on the list to make it to Parliament.
Russell and Eagle should win their seats, but O'Connor will be standing against Peter Dunne.
Prime Minister Bill English has already suggested National may do an electorate deal with Dunne to stop O’Connor.
Complicating things for O'Connor is a new party rule requiring that the party should attempt to have a 50/50 gender balance in its Caucus.
However, the rule is vague.
It says the party must, “in determining the list, ensure that for any percentage of the Party Vote likely to be obtained, and taking into account the electorate MPs likely to be elected with that level of Labour support, the resultant Caucus will comprise at least 50% women.”
The tricky bit is the phrase “the party vote likely to be obtained.”
If that is set at a high level, then it offers the opportunity to put more males into winnable positions on the list.
Haworth was indicating yesterday that that was the plan.
“We will model the list at different levels of the party vote.
“But we are anticipating doing significantly better than last time."
Last election the party scored just over 25% in the party vote and is currently running at around an average of 27% in polling.
"Significantly better" would imply a vote share in the mid-30s.
It is clear that the policy now is to try and head off Labour votes going to NZ First and to try and win back some of the support that has already gone there.
That is why Jackson --- and O’Connor --- are important additions to the candidate slate and why it could not afford Presland.