You remember Christine Rankin. The former beneficiary who became the boss of Work and Income New Zealand before being dumped by a government concerned about her "unorthodox" leadership style. She sued, but lost.
The controversial families commissioner whose appointment sparked intense public scrutiny of her own personal life. A "controversial and divisive figure", according to former Labour leader Phil Goff. The arch-conservative with the flamboyant dress sense and outrageous earrings.
Or perhaps you just remember her from Dancing with the Stars.
Rankin has been keeping a low profile since exiting the Families Commission and taking up a role as chief executive of Colin Craig's Conservative Party. But the spotlight beckons once more.
Rankin has been elected to the Upper Harbour Ward of the Auckland super-city on a Conservative Party ticket. It's her third stint in local body politics alongside a term on the now defunct Auckland Regional Council.
While she spent her first term uncharacteristically breathing through her nose, Rankin isn't holding back any longer. The super-city amalgamation has been, she says, "a disaster" for ratepayers while the community boards have been treated with "disregard" by Mayor Len Brown and the Auckland Council.
"The way they treat us is terrible - they keep us dealing with trivia and they never tell us the true picture," Rankin says. "There is no way I'm going to sit back and let the council dictate to us for another three years. We're going to let them know how we feel about a whole range of things."
More of Rankin's super-city outrage in a moment. Because it's not only Left-leaning Len's council that she believes "needs a rod right up their backbone". It's the National Government as well.
Rankin has always been something of a political lightning rod. Her pull-your-socks-up approach to problems in her various public roles earned her the ire of the Left and plenty of supporters on the centre-right.
She is particularly outspoken about the country's treatment of children. She describes the Child Youth and Family Service as "a mad, liberal department" where she believes the staff impose their own personal philosophies on clients.
"We place them back in families where there is massive dysfunction and the kids get exposed to exactly what they've been taken away from - often worse. It frustrates me hugely that our children are not more precious than that," Rankin says.
"The Government wants to pay for everything and while I have huge sympathy for and worry about these children, we've got to do things in a different way. And doing it for them is not the answer - it's helping those families. There are so many families in this country that need intervention and CYF isn't doing it."
Rankin is sipping a coffee in the boardroom of the Conservative Party's peculiar headquarters in Auckland's North Shore. The party occupies a faux castle, built from scratch by Craig, its founder and leader, and a wealthy businessman.
It's a little twee, but it's impossible to miss - not bad symbolism for the Conservative Party itself, which espouses relatively old-fashioned views on family, morality, and individual responsibility.
But the party's fortunes may be on the rise. Timing is everything in politics and right now the Conservative Party's looks impeccable. More planets than Rankin ever saw on Dancing with the Stars are currently aligning themselves.
Auckland's explosive population growth has all but guaranteed the creation of a new electorate seat for the next general election, and one of the fastest-growing areas is right around Craig's Rosedale castle.
Craig has already indicated he's likely to stand in such an eventuality - and we'll know when the Representation Commission releases its decision on next year's electoral boundaries on November 21.
There's arguably a lack of representation in Parliament for voters disillusioned by what they see as National's lack of moral and fiscal backbone. And a lack of options outside Parliament too, unless you count 1law4all, which has been unable to capture any mainstream interest, or the Pakeha Party, which was briefly popular before its leader committed political hari-kari on Facebook.
Meanwhile National is woefully short of coalition allies with the demise of Act and the Maori Party - unless it wishes to enter the shark-infested waters of an agreement with NZ First and its mercurial leader, Winston Peters.
Rankin says all these reasons are why the Conservative Party is on the rise, with 5300 members and counting. "They're hungry for a party with common sense. And we are a common-sense party."
She bridles at suggestions they're also a Christian party - something she says is put about by a liberal media "because they don't like our message". Craig might be a Christian, she concedes. "But so is [Labour leader David] Cunliffe. Do we label Labour a Christian party?
"We have Christians, we have atheists, we have Buddhists, and we have Muslims," says Rankin, who herself is Buddhist.
Rankin also denies her party is Right wing. "I don't think it's Left and Right, I think it's liberal and conservative and I am conservative - and the older I've become, the more conservative I've become," she says. "I was starting to feel our country was going to the dogs and there was no hope.
"I really believed in National for a long time but they're a pragmatist government and they've given up so many things that are precious to New Zealanders.
"They're just too soft about things and they've got to the stage where they're not in touch with the people any more. I think people are disillusioned, particularly conservative people."
While the official party line is that it will talk first to whoever gets the most votes, Rankin concedes the Conservatives are seen as a potential ally for National. "And maybe they see us that way too."
Certainly Prime Minister John Key seems to. He has reportedly been talking up the Conservative's polling, putting it as high as 4 per cent in the bluer parts of Auckland. That's far ahead of the 1 per cent it's registering in most media polls.
The Conservatives polled 2.65 per cent in the 2011 election but that was shortly after the party's formation. Even so, surmounting the 5 per cent threshold for seats in Parliament is a big ask. The last new entrant to the club was also another "family-friendly party of common sense" - United Future, more than a decade ago.
Rankin is convinced the Conservatives are on track. "Absolutely - beyond a shadow of a doubt [we will get 5 per cent]. I will be astonished if on election day . . . we don't make it," Rankin says with customary conviction.
Another, perhaps easier way for the Conservatives to get into Parliament is by winning an electorate seat, and while Craig as party leader will definitely stand, Rankin acknowledges her name recognition may be a plus for the party too.
While Rankin says it's "highly unlikely" she would run for Parliament, she won't rule it out either. "I have pretty unhappy memories of my time in the public sector - it's not a room I have any great [desire] to step into, that debating chamber."
But she adds: "Look, if it was absolutely necessary then maybe I would but this is where I want to be. I want to be the chief executive of this party."
It will come down, Rankin says, to whether Craig asks her to. "The reality is there's not much I wouldn't do for Colin because I admire him so much, but that would be a big ask.
"I have a lovely family life in Auckland away from the Wellington atmosphere. My grandchildren are hugely important to me but I'm about to have one in Wellington so that could be a little bit of a draw."
Rankin is also preparing for a fight with Auckland Council over its disregard for community boards. She says boards are thrown very minor issues to deal with and are otherwise ignored.
"There's a disconnect between our councillors and us. They don't come to our meetings. We don't know what our rate take is or how it's spent and have no say over it. We want more devolution and more ability to spend our own money. It's just not working properly."
Rankin says Auckland Council is heading for bankruptcy unless it turns around a forecast $12 billion debt by 2022. "We're borrowing $2 million a day and the bureaucracy is growing hour by hour."
Rankin believes the scandal around Mayor Brown's two-year extramarital affair will make it harder for him to keep his eye on the ball. "It's so detailed and embarrassing. I just feel so sorry for his family. It's a very hard thing to cope with.
"I think life will be very hard for the next three years if he stays. I don't know how he can face it. I think the pressure must be enormous."
The media spotlight Brown is under is something Rankin doesn't miss, and one of the reasons she says she'd take some convincing to enter the national political fray.
"I don't want my house being staked out and I don't want people taking photos of me when I don't know and that's why I don't want that political life either. You're always in the spotlight.
"Life is really good and I'm so grateful for that because it's been a difficult time. I guess this party is a reason for me to be passionate again. People need choices, and it's not just going along with the crowd."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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