What is going on NOW with the local-government Right?

Richard Harman has the goods on the latest outbreak of weirdness from the local-government right – and this time it’s Wellington’s turn.

Finance Minister Bill English has made a rare intervention in Wellington local body politics backing his sister in law for Mayor.

It’s a definite shift from this email to National Party supporters earlier this month. I pity the poor comms person who had to calculate the precise width of the line between “the National Party doesn’t get involved in local politics” and “give Jo Coughlan all your money”.

It’s not going to please Nicola Young, who has an equally fine Tory pedigree. But the real victim could be Nick Leggett:

He is also said to have the support of some property developers, in particular, Chris Parkin, a hotel developer and former Councillor.

This has given him a big campaign funding chest which has seen him direct mail Wellington ratepayers and erect large billboards round the city.

But POLITIK understands there is now pressure on the Chamber [of Commerce] to move its support to Ms Coughlan, particularly now that Mr English has publicly endorsed her.

Chris Parkin, who is “in particular” supporting Leggett, is (or at least was in 2010) an ACT party supporter who believes “the market delivers better than any other system”. The Wellington Chamber of Commerce once threatened legal action over a Council decision to pay security staff a living wage. Because (to quote Wellington City Council’s own chief executive) there’s no “tangible benefit” in ensuring the people who you trust to watch and protect your staff, buildings and public events are happy, well-fed and able to provide for their kids.

That’s a set who may well see more profit backing a fresh-faced candidate anointed by a Cabinet Minister rather than a city-hopping Labourite.

On the other hand, Leggett’s name is already up in lights (or at least on buildings) and Young has good name recognition from the last election (if not her actions since). Neither is likely to say “oh well, Jo’s turn this time”.

Besides, this isn’t Auckland, where the right are hopelessly splitting their vote and only strengthening Phil Goff’s appearance of being divinely anointed the future Mayor. In Wellington, anyone could be in with a chance depending on how the preferences fall.

The danger is being the first to drop out in the run-off – and with three well-funded rightwing candidates against two fairly-united leftwing candidates in a city dominated by Labour MPs and Green party votes, the numbers are against them from the start.

It’s easy to crow that the right don’t have their act together, but the real problem is this: the right isn’t a hivemind. It’s just that they’ve given every appearance of it in recent years, largely due to John Key’s control of the political narrative and the National Party’s envelopment of every free vote at the blue end of the spectrum.

At a local government level, the 2010 Auckland mayoral election was a simple case of Brown vs. Banks. 2013 was Brown vs. Palino. There were other candidates, certainly other right-wing candidates, but they were immaterial. In Wellington, Kerry Prendergast dominated the first three elections held under the instant runoff system, before losing to Wade-Brown in 2013.

It’s perfectly natural that multiple rightwing candidates would run for mayor of a big city, and each will attract different supporters and present different policies. It just runs counter to our whole experience of the past decade. It feels weird. Far less so when two candidates run from the left: we’re quite used to Labour and the Greens having to coexist.

It only looks worse if three months out from election day the right’s candidates are scrapping over big-name endorsements and poaching each other’s funders.

One lesson people often take from National’s electoral success is that voters are far more interested in stability and competence than in ideology or policy. It’s not the only factor, but it’s an important one – one reflected in the successful delivery of the Labour/Greens MoU and the subsequent poll bump both parties received. It’s even more important at the local level where people are far less engaged in the detail.

And right now, neither stability nor confidence is shining through for the Wellington blues.

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