by Felicity Wong
As the party’s election machinery prepares to get going, voters in Wellington will soon be bombarded on social media and otherwise with direct appeals and advertisements ahead of the October 8 local election. The advantages for candidates of having Labor or Green marks are numerous.
Candidates who have successfully gained party endorsement through the selection processes will receive significant support: campaign assistance, speech/media assistance, voter databases, email systems, volunteers who door knocking and phone calls, billboard teams and social media support. Some PR firms specialize in “pro bono” support for political and media campaigns (and become gatekeepers to these politicians).
A key performance expectation for Labor candidates is to make a minimum number of weekly lobby calls.
Two elections ago Labor candidate Justin Lester called me twice and when he asked me to serve on a WCC committee I suggested it would be ‘nepotism’ because we don’t we had never met before. Last election Grant Robertson made a lot of phone calls and left a message for my relative to vote for the Labor candidate from Onslow – because ‘she’s one of us’, he said. declared.
There is no free lunch for this awesome party support. Labor candidates for Council elections are required to sign a pledge to support and implement labor policy. They also pledge to block voting on Labor Party policy issues, and even to tithe their salaries to the Party.
The Party has its expectations, and last June (in voting on Wellington’s Spatial Plan), Grant Robertson expressed his “expectation” that his councilors would vote for an “ambitious” plan (code to remove planning controls). They duly towed the party line, tearing down the character protections of at least 75% of Wellington’s inner heritage suburbs.
As thousands of residents filed arguments against the loss of protections, labor advisers resorted to an Orwellian explanation. They said they voted for those who had not participated in the “consultation”. High-ranking politicians seemed surprised at the public thump. Removing planning controls and “stepping up” the city is Labor policy, however, and the party line must toe.
The Green Party hierarchy (James Shaw and Julie-Ann Genter) also publicly issued “expectations” to its three advisers. Deputy Mayor Free and Councilor Foon followed the dictate, while Councilor Pannett voted independently. For voting in favor of maintaining heritage protections, she was “dropped” by the Green Party. Deputy Mayor Free has withdrawn from the Green Party after facing an accusation for noticeably wavering in her vote for unaffordable bike lane funding. Both councilors will now stand in the next election as independents (not Greens).
In recent weeks, Labor has tolerated its adviser O’Neil’s vote against airport expansion plans. It was a useful piece for disgruntled voters in the Eastern Ward, given that she had previously been required to follow party dictate and vote for the unpopular sale of public land in Shelly Bay, although she campaigned in the last election to oppose the sale.
Overall, however, Labor and Green councilors are blocking the vote, regardless of public ‘consultation’.
Loyal labor councilors also get other political career opportunities. After being ousted by a student candidate in the last election, Lambton Councilor Brian Dawson became Labor MP Paul Eagle’s aide in Newtown. In another round of musical political chairs, Councilman Fitzsimons is tipped to fill Eagle’s safe parliamentary seat when the time comes. Five years ago, Eagle left his post as deputy mayor to take up this Rongotai seat, while Cr Fitzsimons (the Labor Party’s vice-chairman) won the resulting by-election.
New faces to carry the party flags have now been selected by Labor and Green Party strategists. Although the Labor candidate from Lambton Ward does not live there, she is a party insider who sits on its Rongotai committee. Tory Whanau, the Green Party-backed mayoral candidate, is working in a “strategic partnership” with Labor public relations guru Neale Jones. It’s a revolving door.
Political hair is also shared for local optics and marketing advantage.
In Tawa North Ward, it suited the party that Councilor Jill Day (Labour Party member) was ‘Labour approved’ (supported by) but not ‘affiliated’ (i.e. an official representative) . This allows for brand blurring for Labor politicians like Auckland Mayor Phil Goff, who campaigned with blue billboards when Labour’s red brand was less popular. In Auckland, Labor and Green candidates are now coming together under the “City Voice” brand. Auckland Conservators use the “Communities and Residents” (C&R) brand.
The political training of students on campus is the basis of a party political career. Several WCC councilors gained their status as student activists, and a few went through minor parties (eg the Alliance and NZ First). Several aspiring politicians also undergo political training in local bodies with positions in WCC advisory bodies, such as the WCC’s Youth Council and its Environmental Advisory Committee.
From time to time, there are apparently discussions among the National Party people as to whether he needs a similar program of training and approval from the local body. An ‘independent’ COE adviser holds a local position in the national party and last appeared with a brand new ‘Wellington Party’.
However, for the most part Wellington’s “independent” advisers seem less constrained by party dictate and free to exercise their judgement. No bad thing in these times of “group think”.
The political party career allows politicians to gain access to local constituency seats in close connection with their national political parties. Politics and political loyalty are rewarded with profile and protection, and party operatives are active on social media to help the Councilor maintain a positive public profile (especially after casting unpopular Council votes). At a time when cancellation is just a fake speech, it’s a big plus for the candidates and councilors involved.
Are citizens well served by the cost/benefit trade-offs of local bodies’ political branding? I doubt. “Three Waters” is an example where loyalty to the Party is demanded of Labor councilors and mayors across the country.
Wellington needs to get his mojo back, given his crummy condition. But its harbour, hills and heritage are still beautiful and there’s the new Mont Vic Diagonal Tunnel to look forward to, as well as greener streets and more affordable housing in redeveloped office towers.
With all the marketing and spin about to rain down on voters, there should still be room for competent, independent people to represent the public interest in Wellington.
However, in the maelstrom of election promises to come, many candidates are not independents and even some who are running as independents are not either, so dear voter – caveat emptor.
Labor Party Rules
The Labor Party Constitution in effect for the 2019 municipal elections contains Article 95
A95: Anyone who agrees to be nominated as a Party candidate must sign an undertaking….
R95(e): I will faithfully observe the Constitution and Party Policy and Party policy for the [Wellington] district.
R95(f): If elected, I will vote … in accordance with the decisions [of the Labour ticket members].
And the following rule dictates that Labor candidates will support each other no matter what:
R95(c): I will wholeheartedly support duly selected Party candidates in the [Wellington] district.
And the first objective (R3) of the Labor Party is “to elect [candidates] for the purpose of giving effect to the policies and principles of the Party”.
Rule 152 states that “the political platform binds … all Labor Party members elected to public office who describe their affiliation as ‘Labour’ or ‘Labour Party’ on the ballot paper.”
Labor candidates are subject to a disciplinary procedure with multiple possible sanctions if they do not respect their commitment
Rule 313: Disciplinary action is requested and adjudicated for:
(a): violation of the Principles, Rules and Policies of the Party as found in the current Constitution and Party policy documents, including under (c) – be automatically suspended for two years for publicly campaigning against another Labor candidate.