Feel, Speak, Think – uh oh


One of the – many – reasons I’d never consider a career in politics is that I have a tendancy to feel then speak and only later do I think.

Of course that means that sometimes what I think is uh-oh as no doubt Melissa Lee did after saying the new motorway might keep criminals from South Auckland away from Mount Albert.

It was a stupid thing to say and she has acknowledged that and unreservedly apologised for saying it.

Of course Labour made a meal of it and is determined to keep dishing it up again. I’m not questioning that because that’s what happens in politics.

The media has made a meal of it too and while I’m not questioning them reporting it I do have some questions about the prominence it was given and the fact it’s still getting it.

I accept that a statement made at a public meeting during a by-election was fair game. But usually in cases like this if an MP admits a mistake and apologises the oxygen goes out of the issue.

Why then was this silly story still leading radio news bulletins all afternoon and why has it just been previewed as the major item for the late TV news, long after the apology was made?

Is this really the most important thing happening in the world today?

Conference no-show cans candidate selection conspiracy theory


Remember the fuss earlier this week about Melissa Lee being described as the list MP for Mount Albert in the National Party’s Mainland Conference agenda?

Well, now she’s not attending because she’s too busy campaigning.

That supports the view that there was no conspiracy over her selection because had it all been stitched up she’d never have accepted the invitation to speak at the conference in the first place.

The scoop that wasn’t


The Herald thought it had a scoop:

National party ‘names’ candidate for Mt Albert by-election

National is holding a meeting in Auckland suburb Mt Albert this evening to select its candidate – but someone in the party has already decided who it is going to be.

The National Party Mainland Conference agenda lists Mt Albert candidate MP Melissa Lee as a speaker.

But it’s the paper that’s got it wrong. I’ve got a copy of the official programme and it says:

Address by Mt Albert’s List MP Melissa Lee.

Note the difference between Mount Albert candidate which she may or may not be after tonight’s selection, and  Mount Albert’s list MP which she is.

The programme notes her position as buddy MP for the electorate which isn’t represented by National, it’s not second guessing the selection process.

Hat Tip: No Minister

UPDATE: TV One news has just given the same story, not understanding the difference between a list MP and a candidate.

It’s a blokes’ race so far


Labour has selected David Shearer to contest the Mount Albert by-election.

The party has often criticised National for not having enough women MPs, but gender obviously wasn’t enough to sway votes in this selection although I think  – and please correct me if I’ve got this wrong – Helen Clark, who held the seat until she resigned last month, was the only woman to hold an Auckland electorate for Labour after last year’s election.

Labour does have Auckland-based female list MPs.

Act selected list MP John Bowscawen yesterday and Green party co-leader Russel Norman is contesting the seat for his party.

National’s selection will take place tomorrow with List MP Melissa Lee and Ravi Musuku, who contested the seat last year, seeking the candidacy.

Bowscawen Act candidate for Mount Albert


Act list MP John Bowscawen has been selected as his party’s candidate to contest the Mount Albert by-election.

I doubt that even he believes he could win but if he did then, as Kiwiblog explains,  Hilary Calvert, number six on Act’s list would come in to parliament to replace him.

If National list MP Melissa Lee was selected as the candidate and won the next on her party’s list, Cam Calder, would enter parliament and if the Green candidate,  list MP Russel Norman , won the seat then the Greens would get a 10th MP from the list.

With any of these scenarios the party which won the seat would also get an extra list MP and have a total of one more MP than they do now, as they would if a candidate who wasn’t already in parliament on the list won the seat.

If a Labour list MP stood and won then the next one on their list, Judith Tizard, would enter parliament but since no list MPs are standing if their candidate wins they keep the seat but wouldn’t get anyone else on the list and either way they finish with the same number of MPs as they have now.

However, if their candidate lost the seat Labour would not be entitled to another list MP so have one fewer MP than they do now.

The National-led government has a comfortable majority so that wouldn’t make any difference to the balance of power this time. But if the government and opposition numbers were very close a gain of an MP for one and a loss for the other, increasing the difference between them by two, could be significant.

I understand that once a list MP is in parliament s/he keeps her/his seat even if a by-election win gives her/his party one more MP than the list vote at the general election entitled them too.

I also understand why a list MP winning a seat his/her party held allows another list MP in because that retains proportionality.

But I don’t understand why a list MP winning a seat her/his party didn’t hold, which maintains proportionality, entitles the party to another list MP while a party which lost a seat isn’t entitled to another list MP in replacement when both scenarios upset proportionality.

Helen Clark in the making?


The good voters of Mount Albert might want to take note of Brian Edwards’ view of Meg Bates, one of those seeking to be the Labour candidate in the by-election:

But get to know Meg and you realise that you may well be looking at a Helen Clark in the making. If she were to win Mount Albert, the very real possibility would  exist that only four MPs will hold the seat in a hundred years.

Now that would be something!

It would indeed be something.

A Helen Clark in the making would be something too – but would it be a good thing?

They panicked


Does the average voter understand or care about party lists?

I suspect not.

So why isn’t Phil Twyford seeking the candidacy for Mount Albert?

It’s not because David Farrar explained on Kiwiblog that if he did Judith Tizard would go back into parliament as a list member, although as Poneke points out he did that very well.

It is because the Labour leadership paniced  panicked and as Matt McCarten says:

What is disheartening is that Labour’s action wasn’t from a place of principled strategy but the result of hysteria generated by their political opponents.

Because of that, what should have been a clean succession of the obvious successor to Helen Clark has turned into a contest for the candidacy from which their can only be one winner and that immediately creates the possiblity for problems amongst the losers and their followers.

It has allowed people to contemplate the thought that what ought to be a safe Labour seat might be marginal. It has prompted the Greens to stand a strong candidate who will split the vote; and that in turn has led to speculation that National could make this a close race and even, with a strong tail wind and the planets in the right place, win the seat.

National can’t lose from this. There is a slight possibility they could win the seat and there will be no shame at all for the party or its candidate if s/he doesn’t.

The Greens will get the publicity they desperately need.

And Labour has already lost, even if they do hold the seat, because they panicked and Phil Goff failed his first real test of leadership.

What can wee parties do?


Wee parties don’t usually win electorates.

That’s partly because they don’t stand all electorates in general elections and when they do they don’t bother to pretend they want to win, they’re after the party vote.

They’re more likely to stand in a by-election but even then it’s  because they need all the publicity they can get and they get more when the focus is on just one electorate rather than because they have a chance of winning.

They then have a choice, stand any candidate for the publicity or stand a high profile one and campaign to win.

It is still unlikely a wee party would take the seat but it can influence the outcome. If the vote is close they might take enough votes off either National or Labour to allow the other to sneak through.

That’s why Green Party co-leader Russel Norman’s decision to contest the Mount Albert by-election  is significant.

The electorate has been a safe Labour seat but the gap between Labour and National in the party vote last year was only a couple of thousand.

Norman isn’t going to win the seat, but his candidacy will make it harder for Labour to keep it.

Getting the numbers


Commentators seem to be agreed that Melissa Lee is the favourite to win the National nomination for the Mount Albert by-election.

I have no inside knowledge of her, any other candidates or the views of members in the electorate.

But I do know the party rules and that some favourites have been overtaken in the past by nominees who had a better understanding of what was required –  support from more than 50% of members or voting delegates, in the electorate.

Progressive voting is used so if a nominee doesn’t get at least half the votes in the first ballot the name of the lowest polling nominee is removed and everyone votes again, and if necessary, again until someone crosses the 50% threashold.

Providing an electorate has more than 200 members, and I think  Mount Albert does, it is only the members from the electorate who vote.  The members decide at their AGM if voting will be by universal suffrage or if it’s to be done by delegates with one for every set number of members.

Some high flyers in previous selections have either not understood this or have understood but still failed to win over enough delegates and missed out. David Kirk didn’t get the selection for Tamaki after Rob Muldoon’s retirement because Clem Simich had the numbers

But it’s quite simple. Candidate selection in the National Party, unlike other parties which give at least some of the power to its hierachy,  is grass roots democracy. The winning nominee is the one who wins the support of at least half the members or voting delegates in the electorate and that’s done the old fashioned way by letting them get to know you and convincing them you have the skills and abilities to be a good electorate MP.

John Key has announced the by-election date. It’s June 13th which is also the date Simon and Garfunkel will be playing in Auckland and the All Blacks have a test match in Dunedin., not that either will be relevant becasue both will take past after polling closes.

UPDATE: Lou taylor at No Minister  has another perspective on the by-election

By-election could upset proportionality


If a Labour list MP contested the Mount Albert by-election and won, the next person on Labour’s list – or following the Green’s example with Russel Norman, the next one after the ones the party don’t want in parliament were persuaded to stand aside – would enter parliament.

If a new canddiate contested and won the seat there would be no change to the number of MPs because the new MP would be replacing the old one and so proportionality would be maintained.

But what would happen if a National MP, who isn’t currently a list MP, won the seat?

I’d assumed National would lose a list MP. The Herald thought so too:

National’s candidate in the 2008 election was Ravi Musuku who has said he wishes to stand in a byelection. However, if he won, it would mean their bottom list MP – Aaron Gilmore – had to leave.

But Kiwiblog says that isn’t so:

No, no, no no. This is not the case. To be fair to Claire many many people think this is the law, but it is not. Proportionality is not maintained if a by-election sees a seat change hands. There is no way at all a List MP can ever be forced out of Parliament because of a by-election (or an electoral petition). They are there for the whole term unless they do something stupid like become a Dutch citizen.

I’m not questioning David Farrar’s knowledge of the intricacies of MMP, if he says this is so, I believe him.

But I am questioning the system because this highlights a flaw with MMP.   The reitrement of an MP in a marginal seat could leave his or her party one MP short if someone from another party won the seat and that party would then have one extra MP thus upsetting the proportionality which is one of MMP’s strengths.

 An electorate MP is there for the full term of parliament unless s/he resigns because s/he won a seat. List MPs are there because their party won fewer electorates than their party vote entitled them to so if the party wins another electorate seat it ought to lose a list one.

Could Mt Albert go blue?


Labour leader Phil Goff said last night the party was ready to fight a by-election in Mount Albert when Helen Clark resigns.

They may have had a head start because no doubt Helen Clark told them she’d been successful in her quest for a UN appointment before it became public, but National will be ready too.

A by-election gives voters the freedom to send messages they might be more cautious about in a general election and while Clark had a solid majority – 10,351 last year  a lot of her 20, 157 votes  would be personal. The party vote was only 14894 for Labour against 12,468 for National.

I wouldn’t bet the farm on a change of colour for the electorate in the by-election. But I might wager an old ewe if Labour puts up a list candidate whose win would bring in a new list MP who lost her seat . Kiwiblog  mentioned Judith Tizard who’d come into that category, a scenario about which Keeping Stock is less than enthusiastic.

When should she go?


Helen Clark is looking for other jobs, and who can blame her?

When you’ve been Prime Minister you’re not going to get the same job satisfaction when you’re demoted to former leader in Opposition.

So the question isn’t if she’s going but when?

Clark is an electorate MP rather than a list one so she’ll have electorate responsibilities.

But are the people of Mount Albert best served by a woman on her way out of politics who’s eyes and energy are firmly set on another job or a new MP who will be working hard to cement her/his place in the affections of her/his constituents?

Don Brash was criticised for staying on as an MP over the summer break after he’d stood down as National’s leader but a month or two to tie up loose ends is acceptable.

Much longer than that begins to look like seat-warming on the public purse.

Apropos of Mount Albert, list MP Phil Twyford appears to be the likely one to stand as Labour’s candidate in a by-election and Kiwkblog posts on the battle within Labour for the seat.

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