Just what Labour needs – the ODT reports that Dunedin South MP David Benson-Pope is considering standing as an independent Labour candidate.
Mr Benson-Pope lost the contest to remain the Labour Party candidate on February 2 when he was defeated by Dunedin public relations consultant Clare Curran. Labour Party headquarters staff were on hand to ensure Mr Benson-Pope did not win and some last-minute shifts in support left the MP without the votes to retain the nomination.
This is what happens when the rules enable HQ to out vote the locals.
Mr Benson-Pope has been highly visible in the electorate this year. He has always been regarded as a hard-working and effective MP but seems to be putting an extra effort into his work in recent months.
The Otago Daily Times understands the MP has been telling people in the electorate that, under MMP, they had a choice of voting for Labour with their party vote but that they could vote for any of the candidates.
Inquiries by the newspaper found a high level of discontent in parts of the electorate, particularly centred on the South Dunedin branch, which has the money and the people to mount a campaign in support of Mr Benson-Pope.
A women’s branch has disaffiliated itself from Dunedin South and is considering its options, which include affiliating to the Dunedin North electorate or the party’s Otago regional council.
The South Dunedin branch is now controlled by supporters of the MP, although Labour Electorate Committee chairman Richard Good said yesterday the public comment from the branch was “nothing but 100%” behind Ms Curran.
Public comment might be, but the last thing a new candidate, or the Party, need is the incumbent and his supporters working on a different agenda.
When approached for comment, Mr Benson-Pope was reluctant to make any public statements, but did give a brief response: “My loyalty to the party is beyond question and I don’t intend to change that. I understand what loyalty means.”
However, the ODT was told Mr Benson-Pope seemed out for revenge and a few people were “baying for blood” within the South Dunedin branch.
Progressive Party leader Jim Anderton and United Future leader Peter Dunne have both proved that Labour MPs can leave the party but retain enough local support to win their electorates with handsome margins.
Mr Anderton, now loyally behind the Labour-led Government, despite having major personal and political differences with Prime Minister Helen Clark, left to form New Labour. Mr Dunne resigned to position himself for the introduction of MMP in 1996.
Individuals can go independent and win seats, but it’s almost always better for parties if they don’t.
Mr Dunne said under MMP, loyal Labour supporters could give their party vote to Labour but still vote for Mr Benson-Pope and feel their honour was satisfied.
“Effective local MPs under MMP can stand out against a national trend politically.”
Two examples were Labour MP Harry Duynhoven, in New Plymouth, who held the seat with the largest majority in New Zealand while National took the party vote, and National Party MP Nick Smith, who was popular in Nelson but Labour was often ahead in the party vote, Mr Dunne said.
Or Dunne who wins the electorate but the party vote still goes to Labour or National.
Ms Curran said her campaign committee was working well and she had a team of 60 or 70 volunteers preparing to deliver 25,000 leaflets to every household in the electorate.
“There are some members of the party in Dunedin South who found the selection process painful.”
Full marks for restraint when she must be spitting tacks. Benson-Pope won the seat by around 10,000 votes but National candidate, Conway Powell, knocked his majority, and the all important party vote, back by about 5,000 compared with 2002. I’m not going to predict a National win in a deep red seat, but internal ructions always help the other side so even if Benson-Pope doesn’t stand there is enough bad blood being spilt to do some harm to Labour.
Update 1: Monkeys with Typewriters notes Benson-Pope’s declaration of loyalty to Labour today which reminded me of this declaration “I’m a loyal Labour Party person,” when questioned about standing as an independent in November last year.
Update 2: David Farrar points out that if Benson-Pope won the seat as an independent it might help Labour as he’d vote with them and if he takes the seat they’d get another list MP.