Editorial: Candidate camera

Last updated 05:00 05/02/2014

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OPINION: In politics what feels like grasping an opportunity can look like throttling a colleague.

Not necessarily an intolerable prospect, apparently, but not an edifying spectacle either. Opportunism might be wise but naked opportunism . . . not so much. It's best done with minimal public attention if you can manage it.

Labour has spectacularly failed to cast a discreet veil over its process to select a candidate for the Invercargill seat.

When nominations closed last year the only name received was the altogether familiar one of Lesley Soper.

Though a list MP for two short periods, she has never come within coo-ee of election as an electorate candidate, either in the thankless task of challenging Bill English for Clutha-Southland or the still hard-going matter of taking on Eric Roy for Invercargill.

But then, when Mr Roy announced that he wasn't standing again, the seat suddenly started looking closer within reach.

So Labour tacticians reacted with a rare move indeed. They re-opened nominations.

Can they even do that? It would seem so. The rules don't specifically sanction this but neither do they forbid it.

In any case it was a big call and, let's face it, a stinging one.

Though technically a candidate is not decided until Labour's selection committee says so, and that hadn't happened, there's no getting around the fact that this was a tough, even humiliating, position in which to put Ms Soper.

Should she again emerge as the Labour candidate, attempts to cast her as the victor in a more vigorous, and therefore superior, process will be subverted by the lingering impression that it was more like a fruitless "geeze is this the best we can do" approach once Mr Roy was out of the picture.

Whereas if the late-showing-up contender for the Labour candidacy, Michael Gibson, gains the nomination he faces taunts that he wasn't up for the harder fight.

With some candour, the party's regional representative Glenda Alexander acknowledged reopening nominations could be perceived as a breach of the democratic process.

[The same way that water could be perceived as wet, some of the far-righteous commentators would add.]

Though Ms Soper herself has declined to whine, voices from the Right have been hammering the party hierarchy hard on her behalf.

How very caring. Actually they cite bigger issues entirely, insisting that the decision was not just unfair, but unhealthy for democracy.

A lofty assault indeed. Democracy, certainly at candidate selection level, isn't generally a process of exquisite delicacy, scrupulous manners and sensitivity to hurt feelings. Oftentimes it's just a few steps removed from full-on internecine civil warfare, albeit conducted largely out of sight. This time, we're just getting to see a bit of it.

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Granted, an ability to stick within rules could be said to reflect on the character of a party and its candidates.

And if the rules in this case weren't exactly broken, they were certainly elasticised.

Even so, the voters will take their own view about whether this is really such an outrageous affront to the principles and practices of democracy, or just standard operational carpe diem ruthlessness that slipped out into the public gaze for a spell.

- The Southland Times

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