One of the unique features of the WCC is that the Labour Party stands its own candidates under the Party banner. But it would be fair to say Labour hasn’t covered itself in glory historically with some of its selections. Some candidates have been good, some have started strong but gone off track… and some have been nut-jobs.
By all accounts the local body organization within the Party lacks coherent strategy and remains ghettoised under the direction of a couple of angry unionists… so no different to any other bit I guess…
Regardless, Labour has recently confirmed its selections for the upcoming campaign – so I thought we should take a quick look at who the new crop of candidates is and what their chances are. There are a couple of quasi candidates, two newbies and two incumbents.
As far as we know, Labour hasn’t selected anyone here yet, however, two current councillors have Labour connections. Justin Lester has been widely tipped as a possible future Labour MP, but has kept his powder dry till now by not being a Labour aligned councillor. Lester has built a decent business and despite his quiet and considered approach in his first term, he remains well regarded. He has been criticized by some for sitting on the fence too often and for being a bit wet at times, not wanting to offend.
Helene Ritchie on the other hand has had a long career in local politics and there has been recent speculation she may seek a role in Parliament too. She is the most obvious example of councillors making a lifelong career of having their nose in the public trough and a reason for term-limits. Ritchie doesn’t live in the Northern Ward and hasn’t done so for a long time. While Ritchie isn’t formally a Labour councillor these days, she was seen doing the rounds at the recent regional Labour conference and has always had close ties to the Party. It is hard to imagine the City getting any future value out of Ritchie and surely her Labour friends can find someone fresh for the ward. Time to go.
Onslow Western Ward
Malcolm Aitken (pictured on the right) has been selected to run in the ward. With John Morrison not standing and Jo Coughlan indicating she won’t run, there will be vacancies which gives Aitken a pretty decent shot, so much so that if he runs a half decent campaign he should get elected. Aitken has a background in communications and public affairs, currently working for Local Government NZ with previous experience at the Ministry of Social Development. Not exactly a CV to set the world on fire and there is an air of the Andy Foster about him. There is concern amongst senior Labour people that he could actually get elected with many having doubts over how he will go. There is a big unknown element here and whole lot of public servant. Hopefully the book cover is misleading and there is something less wet and a little more useful inside.
Former Invercargill MP, Mark Peck, has been brought back from oblivion to run in the Lambton Ward where he is now a feature of the cafe scene as the owner of Little Peckish in Dukes Arcade. It has been a long road to redemption for Peck having left Parliament in the shadow of well publicised personal issues having never reached his potential. My biggest question is why on earth would he want to go back to elected life?? He obviously has unfinished business, but I doubt WCC is the vehicle to bring that closure. Unsurprisingly his Facebook page, while well meaning, has been a little misdirected with rambling posts mainly focussed on central government social policy issues like homelessness. It’s great that he wants to fix it – but standing for this body won’t help and despite what he thinks, it isn’t an issue people vote on at local elections.
Stephanie Cook is not standing so there will be at least one vacancy and the 2010 Labour candidate, Marcus Ganley, came very close to being elected which means Peck should have a decent shot. But does he really want to be a Wellington City Councillor?
Leonie Gill is the Labour councillor in the Eastern Ward and has been on Council for long time now. Keeps a relatively low-profile and stays well out of the headlines, but is well liked on both sides and is seen as a sensible pragmatist. Not sure if its true, but apparently she spends her entire time in Council meetings personally signing Christmas cards ready to send out to almost every constituent at the end of the year. Gill has probably been under-valued within Labour and disliked by many for being willing to work with all sides. While she wasn’t alongside Helene Ritchie as Wakefield turned the first sod in Wellington, Gill has been there a long time and Labour should really have found new blood. Time to go.
Paul Eagle (pictured above on the left) is the Labour councillor in the South and is completing his first term. Eagle is a big presence around the Council table, he gained a lot of credit for trying to stop the out sourcing of Council jobs before being over-ruled by Celia Wade-Bicycle’s casting vote. But before that there had been questions over whether he had been captured by the Bicycle and her comrades, Andy Foster and Iona Pannett. He seems to have broken free from that and carved out his own space on the back of the outsourcing debacle and he has been highly rated by the Wellingtonian and other media. Although he has had a light load with the soft ‘community engagement’ portfolio and he needs to step up in his second term and not be afraid of upsetting people. Being friends with everyone doesn’t always mean you are effective.
Eagle was relentless during the 2010 campaign and reintroduced Labour to proper campaigning in Wellington. He is a good example of how local government can be a proving ground for aspiring MPs. While he hasn’t made it yet, it seems like a matter of time – although having the wrong bits-and-pieces to gain the approval of the Sisterhood may mean that his home seat of Rongotai isn’t possible.
So beyond Lester and Eagle it isn’t exactly a stellar line up, but you could probably still see Labour increase its numbers this year. However, the big factor may be if the Greens stand decent winnable candidates in Lambton and Onslow-Western in particular.
There must be frustration that there isn’t more new talent coming through local body politics for Labour. Malcolm Aitken is the only actual ‘new’ face while some of the others provide little more than arguments in favour of term-limits. It would be good to see the Party take things a little more seriously.