The Labour Party’s current state of flux is probably best summed up by Homer Simpson’s “crisitunity”; a time of crisis, but also of opportunity. And while the Cunliffe vs Robertson contests is cast as Auckland veteran against the Wellington insider, it also makes for a very interesting situation in Christchurch. The leadership contest will be held almost concurrently with the selection for the Christchurch East candidate. The choice of a new leader may influence the selection for East, and will certainly overshadow the contest.
At the same time as this, we also have the local body elections gearing up. While Lianne Dalziel’s bid for the mayoralty is as close as you can get to a sure thing, a number of the council elections are anyone’s guess, due to the number of people who’ve chosen not to seek re-election. After Bob Parker’s resignation, his most-loyal councillor Sue Wells chose not to seek another term – though as head of the planning committee responsible for the consents debacle, she probably saw the writing on the wall. Ngaire Button, who was Bob’s deputy, was so shaken by Parker and Wells stepping aside, that she tried to pull out herself – only to find that the mean old returning officer wouldn’t let her retract her nomination.
The People’s Choice team – which is the Labour Party’s local body machine in Christchurch – will be hoping to improve on the 3 councillors they had last term*. Yani Johanson and Glenn Livingston have performed well and are respected in their wards, so are relatively safe bets to be re-elected. Jimmy Chen will be worried by increased competition in his Riccarton-Wigram ward, with former mayor Vicki Buck running with Lianne’s support here. The two Spreydon-Heathcote councillors – Wells and Barry Corbett – are stepping aside, so People’s Choice will be hoping to grab at least one of the two seats, with long-serving Community Board chair Phil Clearwater the best bet.
The most interesting ward will be Hagley-Ferrymead – and I’m not just saying that because I ran and lost for the People’s Choice in this ward in 2010. Yani Johanson and Tim Carter – the two councillors for this ward – have been the two most effective people at council, by some distance. With Carter stepping down, and Johanson well-recognised, there are a number of high-profile candidates effectively competing for one seat. Paul Lonsdale is the head of the central city business association which put the Re:Start mall together – but he lives in Merivale so might not have a huge amount of appeal to the workers of Linwood and Woolston. Lisle Hood is a property developer – but not in a bad way – having been responsible for the much of the exciting projects around the Poplar Lanes area pre-quake. Wendy Gilchrist and Islay McLeod will fight over the white, middle-class, middle-aged, listening-to-the-Panel conservative vote, which might allow Yani’s running mate Tracey McLellan to come through the middle with a solid campaign based on, y’know, actually having a platform.
This is a but a brief summary – but you can probably see that there are a lot of things in the mix here. Come November the 1st, when Labour’s annual conference opens here in Christchurch, we will have a new mayor, a number of new councillors, a new Labour leader, and a new candidate for Christchurch East. While we can’t remove the one person who can actually make a difference, Gerry Brownlee, it seems like we’re doing our best to change everything else. That in itself should be seen as a measure of how desperate people down here are for things to be done differently. That’s an opportunity that the new Labour leader needs to grasp, in a way that their two predecessors failed to.
* they initially had 4, before Chrissie Williams stood down. While Peter Beck was supported by the People’s Choice in winning the by-election, he was an independent councillor.