So it looks like Labour’s Christchurch East candidate when Lianne Dalziel steps down will be either Clayton Cosgrove or James Caygill. The first question you ask is ‘why wouldn’t Clayton just stand in Waimakiriri again?’. He’s won it four out of five attempts and Wilkinson only has a 600 majority. A slight swing will win it for him again, why give that up? The answer is troubling.
As with Ikaroa-Rawhiti, the leadership seems to be prepared to override the local membership and create collateral damage (the former, losing a credible Left journo, the latter, giving up on winning back Waimakariri), and run a campaign in which those things are factors for the sake of getting a pro-Shearer-Robertson candidate in (Ikaroa-Rawhiti, Shane Taurima, in Christchurch East, Kelvin Davis comes in if Cosgrove becomes an electorate MP).
Isn’t it a little bit odd that the leadership would be placing such high priority on replacing departed Cunliffe supporters with leadership loyalists? Isn’t the leadership question settled until the election, and beyond if Labour wins? Why not take the sensible, easy route of letting the locals have who they want (especially since they’re likely to get who they want anyway) and concentrate on winning hearts and minds – or, better yet, concentrate on winning the election?
The priority that the leadership is placing on internal numbers is a reminder of how close those numbers are – remember, it was only a last minute defection that saved Shearer at the start of this year (and the defector didn’t exactly get her full 30 pieces of silver, so can’t be counted on again). Nonetheless, there’s no leadership spill in the offing. Which suggests the leadership is being paranoid and/or that Robertson is already trying to get the numbers he needs post-election – which assumes an election defeat. This is a siege mentality and an inward focus that does the party no good, and sees National get an easy ride from a distracted Labour leadership.
The lesson that the Shearer-Robertson leadership should have drawn from Ikaroa-Rawhiti is that they don’t have the power to parachute in a candidate of their choosing against the locals’ will. Caygill v Cosgrove would be slightly more complicated because the unions don’t like Caygill because of his dad and don’t like Cosgrove because he’s from the Mike Moore school, which makes it hard to predict which way the union vote would go. But, still, given the popularity of the leadership, in a competition between a local candidate and a leadership-backed carpetbagger (even one from just up the road) the money will have to be on the local.
The irony is that the likely outcome is Clayton does put his hat in the ring is that he will lose the Christchurch East nomination and, by having shown himself to be a fairweather friend, damage his chances of winning back Waimakiriri. And that just leaves the leadership with a second embarrassing nomination loss this year, a more pissed off base, a new MP who knows the leadership is no friend of his, and another old tusker taking up a list place.
I would suggest a different strategy: drop the siege mentality. Let the locals have who they choose (as long as they aren’t mad). Show that you are with the membership, not apart from it. Go out there and win the by-election, then win the election.