Editorial: Party politics edges into race for mayor

Last updated 05:00 05/04/2010

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The 2010 Wellington mayoral election becomes more intriguing by the day.

OPINION: Incumbent Kerry Prendergast is standing again – and at this stage is an early favourite; businessman Sir Robert Jones says he is putting together a team to contest the council and mayoralty; and two councillors, Celia Wade-Brown and Bryan Pepperell, as well as two other businessmen, Jack Yan and Allan Probert, are also after the top job.

Now another might enter the race.

The Labour Party has announced it will relaunch itself into local body politics, and put up a slate of council candidates as well as, perhaps, someone for mayor.

If it can persuade its deputy leader and Rongotai MP, Annette King, to retire from Parliament and throw her hat into the mayoral ring, Ms Prendergast will have a real fight on her hands.

Ms King, however, apparently believes she must stay where she is until fledgling MPs are experienced enough to give the Labour Party new leadership.

So who does Labour have in mind?

It needs someone of Ms King's calibre if it is serious about wresting the mayoralty from right-of-centre Ms Prendergast.

Labour's regional representative, Paul Tolich, known for his work with the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union, says it is time for local body politics to return to party lines. It is an interesting idea.

Old political labels have fallen away around the Wellington City Council table in recent years, as Ms Prendergast has coaxed Labour-aligned councillors into her fold by doling out higher-paying committee chairmanships and directorships.

Most councillors today would describe themselves as "independents", although some, such as Ms Wade-Brown and Iona Pannett, are proudly Green.

Does Wellington want local body politics to return to tribal affiliations? Would that be good for the city?

The answer is "maybe". Having a stance thrashed out at caucus meetings – which MPs hold regularly – before council meetings might mean that the fractious debate that so marks Wellington City Council disappears. Arguments would happen within the caucus instead.

That might improve the council's public reputation.

On the other hand, councillors who represent a political party would be subject to the party whip – that is, be forced to toe the party line – or risk being dropped from the party ticket at the next election.

The same might be true, of course, of those who rely on Sir Robert's patronage when or if they stand in October.

Party politics have their place. That might be around a council table. But cleaving to rigid ideologies is no substitute for considered thought, which is what ratepayers vote councillors into office to provide – especially when Wellington's future is at stake in a post-Auckland super-city environment.

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The over-riding concern of any councillor must surely be what is best for the city they have the honour to represent.

- The Dominion Post

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