Won't someone please think of poor Lesley?

DPF is very, very concerned about how Labour is selecting its Invercargill candidate. Where was that concern back in 2008?

I don't really know anything (and I guess I really should stop this post right there) ... but what I planned on saying was that I don't really know anything about Labour's decision to extend the nomination period for its Invercargill candidate selection process, beyond what is said in this stuff.co.nz article.

Reading between the lines, it looks like the local Labour branch called for nominations late last year. By the time the nomination period closed, only one person - Lesley Soper, who had contested the seat for Labour in 2008 and 2011 - had put her name forwards.

Then, in mid-January, the current National MP for Invercargill, Eric Roy, announced he would not be seeking reelection. At that point, Invercargill went from being a seat with a relatively popular and well-known incumbent MP, to an open seat where National would have to put forward a fresh face.

So Labour took a look at the situation and thought "maybe there's an opportunity here for us!" However, and I'm putting this as diplomatically as I know how, they may have considered that Lesley Soper perhaps wasn't the best person to take advantage of that opportunity. After all, she already had taken two runs at the seat, losing both times by 6,664 and 6,263 votes respectively. Also, they may have figured that there were Labour folk who didn't fancy an inevitable defeat by Eric Roy, but who might want a crack at the seat now that it had became an open contest.

Whatever the reason, in light of circumstances having changed, Labour announced it was reopening its nomination period ... which led one other person (a Michael Gibson, whom I think I taught at Otago) to throw his hat into the ring. And so now Labour will have a contested candidate selection process, with its local members (alongside representatives of the National Council) choosing which of these two individuals will best carry the party torch come ... September? October? Mid-January?

(C'mon, John! Why can't you do what you did back in 2008 and just tell us when the election is going to be? Here's yet another piece of evidence for why fixed election dates are a no-brainer!)

All a bit of a yawn, you might think. But this story has one of our more distinguished political commentators in something of a frenzy at the deep and terrible injustice that has been visited on Lesley Soper personally, and New Zealand's democratic processes as a whole:

Sticking to the rules is healthy for democracy. I’m no fan of Soper, but if she was the only nominee, and did not break any rules, it is not fair to nobble her after she has been selected.

  • The uncharacteristic decision to reopen nominations could be perceived as a breach of the democratic process, she said. 

Because it is.

Whilst it good to see DPF has the best interests of Labour's prospective candidates at heart, we need to do a quick fact check. First of all, Soper hadn't "been selected" as Labour's candidate. Even where there is only a single nomination received, under Labour's rules (see 256(b)) there still has to be a public selection meeting held and Selection Committee established. This hadn't happened for Invercargill.

Furthermore, even in a case where there is but one nomination received, there is no guarantee that this person will be selected as the candidate. Under rule 256:

If all nominees have been declined by the Selection Committee, the Selection Committee may proceed to select a suitable Party member as the candidate, or refer the selection back to the New Zealand Council.

Now, that's not to say that the decision to reopen the nomination period for the Invercargill seat is entirely without question. The rules governing nominations (rules 247-250) don't expressly permit for this to happen. But nor do they expressly forbid the Party from doing so - all they do is lay down the minimum periods for which nominations must be open. So, at worst Labour has slightly bent the rules in order to produce a competitive candidate selection process with the aim of finding the very best person to represent it.

Still, DPF might thunder, any sort of meddling with a party's formal selection process - even meddling designed to make it work better - is intolerable! The rules should be obeyed to the letter, or else the party machine will crush the individual!

Which then takes us back to 2007, and the National Party's attempt to select its candidate to run in the new, ultra-safe seat of Selwyn. The local party members did so, formally choosing David Carter as their candidate. Whereupon some of those members complained to the National Party Board that they had been cheated out of a competitive selection process.

Here's DPF's response to the subsequent news that National was not just extending the deadline for candidates to enter the Selwyn selection battle, but was completely wiping out the result of the already completed process and rerunning it in its entirety:

This is not a common occurrence.  I don’t think I can recall another selection where this has happened.

I know absolutely nothing about the details, beyond what I have read in the newspaper. But what I can say is what my personal view is.

I think every seat not currently held by National should have an active selection contest. Yes it can be challenging for managing parliamentary relationships, but overall the party gains members and supporters when we have contested selections for seats National does not hold.

Another reason I support contested selections, is that on current polling National could gain 55 – 60 MPs. And with a policy that all but a maximum of five list candidates must also be electorate candidates, it means that even candidates in the most safe Labour seats have a significant chance of becoming MPs through the list. And a healthy selection process can help ensure that National doesn’t end up with “dud” MPs as happened in 1990.

So much, then, for the rigid notion that "sticking to the rules is healthy for democracy"!

Furthermore, let's remember DPF's claim that "if [Soper] was the only nominee, and did not break any rules, it is not fair to nobble her after she has been selected." How did DPF respond to the news that David Carter, the already-chosen candidate for Selwyn, had decided not to even contest the new selection battle?

"Kudos to David Carter for putting the party first."

Kudos, indeed, Mr Carter. Kudos, indeed.