Nick Leggett turns back on Labour and defects to National
Former Porirua Mayor and long-time Labour supporter Nick Leggett has defected to National and put his hand up to run against his former party in Mana at the next election.
Leggett was controversially slated by Labour leader Andrew Little during the Wellington mayoralty after he ran as an independent against Labour's handpicked candidate, Justin Lester.
Leggett told Fairfax on Wednesday Labour had moved away from its loyal voting base and was no longer in touch with working Kiwis.
He will seek selection as National's candidate in the Porirua seat of Mana, a Labour stronghold for years.
Leggett denies being shoulder tapped by education minister Hekia Parata, though she has confirmed speaking to him about the seat. Parata stood for National in Mana where Labour's Kris Faafoi holds the seat with a near 8000 majority.
Labour insiders dismissed Leggett's defection as a long time coming, saying he officially quit the party in April and had moved away from Labour well before that. Labour did not see Leggett as a threat in Mana, the insider said.
Leggett's split from the party is likely to be followed by another high profile defection next year - former Labour MP and cabinet minister Shane Jones is increasingly linked to NZ First, and is expected to seek a return to Parliament under the party's banner. His contract as a roving ambassador ends early next year and a formal announcement is likely then.
Leggett's defection heaps fuel on signs of a growing rift within the party over Labour's deal earlier this year with the Green Party.
Jones is also known to have been among the right wing of the Labour caucus who were deeply opposed to closer relations with the Green Party.
There are reports a deal with the Greens to stand aside in Nelson has fractured the local electorate, with as many as eight people reported to have quit the party in protest.
Labour insiders said they were only aware of a couple of resignations.
A memorandum of understanding between Labour and the Greens opened the door to electorate deals and has caused deep disquiet within parts of the caucus and wider party.
Some see it as dragging Labour further to the left and opening the door to rivals NZ First in heartland New Zealand.
Little has confirmed talks with the Green Party about a possible accommodation in Nelson but says no deals have been done yet. Electoral deals where one party agrees to effectively stand aside have become a feature of MMP - the most controversial being National;s 'no contest' deal with Act in Epsom.
Leggett had a high profile as Porirua mayor and has long links with the Labour party. He had been touted as a potential future leader previously.
He said he grew up "with Labour burned deep into my DNA" and both sides of his family were supporters.
But the party's activists, staffers and MPs had become distant from the party's voting base.
"They take their heartland for granted and sadly fail to understand the ambitions and challenges of working New Zealanders,' Leggett said.
The deal with the Greens had finally convinced him the party was moving in a different direction to him.
As a social liberal, he now considered that National's policies and values better reflected his own.
Leggett lost the Wellington mayoralty to Lester by 6000 votes.