National struggles to fill list despite healthy pay

AARON GILMORE: The Christchurch man is a National Party list MP.
AARON GILMORE: The Christchurch man is a National Party list MP.

The money's good, the hours are flexible and the job comes with influence and power. But apparently it's a struggle finding decent applicants for a job as an MP, even on a hefty pay packet of $142,000 a year, plus expenses.

National MP Aaron Gilmore will front today for a humiliating apology after being embroiled in allegations of booze and sleaze.

An incident at a Hanmer Springs hotel has brought to the surface the near universal dislike of Mr Gilmore among his fellow MPs during his first term in Parliament and revived embarrassing revelations about an embellished CV.

Prime Minister John Key yesterday added poor performance to the list of Mr Gilmore's transgressions, admitting that was why the MP was dropped down the National Party selection list at the last election. But not so far down the list that he was in an unwinnable place.

Right-wing commentator David Farrar says that was partly because National polled so well - but also because National has had a policy in the past couple of elections of protecting sitting MPs in the list ranking process. The result was that even if there was younger and better talent waiting in the wings, many failed to make the cut.

"They made a policy to do that because it keeps the MPs calm ... Labour did absolutely the same things and you do it because your leadership want a stable government."

In the run-up to the 2002 election, National dumped some sitting MPs into unwinnable spots on the party list, and de-selected others. The result was a number of disaffected MPs who actively undermined the leadership.

National also runs an "integrated list" - which means candidates prepared to put their hand up in unwinnable seats are rewarded with a list placing as well.

That was how Mr Gilmore got a place on the party list, because he stood for Christchurch East, where National had no chance of winning. In safe seats like Tamaki, however, four or five high-quality candidates would jostle for selection - but only one would make the cut. Many high-fliers, meanwhile, were not prepared to give up their other lives for an uncertain political future.

"Unless you really rate yourself to become a minister and, more importantly, you can see yourself becoming a minister in three or four years, the salary doesn't attract some of the high-fliers," Farrar says.

"The reality is ... you go in at the bottom of the pile and if you're lucky, or like Nikki Kaye work really hard, you get to become a minister. But if National had lost the last election, she also could have spent the next six or seven years in Opposition."

Former Labour Party president Mike Williams says Labour doesn't have the same problem because for most of its candidates $142,000 is a lot of money.

He was staggered Mr Gilmore made it through the list selection process given the stories now circulating about him because it was so "incredibly competitive".

"They tell on each other."

The Dominion Post