11 March 2017

The perils of carpetbagging

It's unclear what former Porirua mayor Nick Leggett has done to deserve such uncritical coverage as Jo Moir's catchily-titled 'Nick Leggett putting family before politics - calls quits on running for National in the Mana seat' in today's Dominion Post. Granted, he still retains some of the high profile and goodwill he generated during his two successful terms as Porirua's fourth mayor from 2010 to 2016. But since he stood down from that role and gambled big in a series of decisions that overestimated his political capital, Leggett has failed to convince anyone else to buy into his personal agenda. These high-stakes gambles have seemingly combined to greatly diminish his political standing, a point that seems to be missed in Moir's article.

To recap: Leggett felt he had a good shot at the Labour nomination for the Wellington mayoralty, but this went to poster-boy and all-round safe pair of hands Justin Lester. In his first gamble, Leggett decided to stand against Lester on a well-funded independent ticket, trusting that his personal profile and successful track record in Porirua would translate to a big tick in the capital. However, his performance in mayoral debates (at least the ones I attended and read about) seemed to be more about sour grapes at Lester's nomination than about a compelling vision for the city. On election day voters elected Lester with a healthy majority, with Leggett achieving a commendable second placing but still 7200 votes behind Lester's 31,900 tally.

Newly out of work, Leggett then concocted the brilliant wheeze of switching his political allegiance from Labour to National. (One Twitter wag suggested John Key's resignation shortly afterwards was a direct result). This illustrated that Labour leader Andrew Little's public comments about Leggett being a right-winger, which media commentators attacked at the time, as being wholly accurate. 

In one sense Leggett swapping sides made sense because the Labour brand had outlasted its usefulness and relevance to Leggett, but the flip side of this decision is that voters can choose to punish candidates who appear disloyal to the parties who have nurtured their political careers. Tariana Turia leaving Labour to establish the Maori Party over fundamental political differences is one thing, but Leggett jumping ship to National had a strong whiff of careerism and opportunism to it. Certainly, some right-of-centre voters will now look on Leggett more favourably, but I'm guessing the net result is that his brand is considerably weaker.

Witness the development that spurred Moir's article. On joining National, Leggett would have hoped that his high profile would translate into a nomination to replace Hekia Parata as National's candidate for the Mana electorate, which covers his old Porirua mayoral turf. But no. National, quite sensibly it must be said, would rather put up a loyal party worker to lose against Kris Faafoi in September (majority in 2014: almost 8000). Perhaps it will be a candidate from a minority community, to further National's long-term strategy to diversify its overwhelming image as a party of Pakeha males.

Perhaps Leggett has other irons in the fire and will surprise everyone with an announcement of a candidacy or a list spot for the 2017 election. But until then, he will have to resort to the hoary old refuge of generations of US male politicians caught philandering*, that cliche of spending more time with his family. And possibly pondering the wisdom of his high-risk gamble to ditch the Porirua mayoralty.

(* To be absolutely clear, I'm not accusing Leggett of any such infidelity!)

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