There's an interesting discussion at Cathy's blog about the effect of electoral accommodations--tight last-minute calls by the leader to pull a candidate out of the race--on the party organisation. Cathy asks what happened to Mark Thomas, National's candidate for Wellington Central in 1996.
National's Wellington region was in a bad shape well before Bolger pulled the rug out on Mark in 1996. The reasons were various: some blue-ribbon seats were neglected by their local MPs, others never had been strong organisationally--National got a shock in 1990 that it won some seats in Wellington, and its electoral success there was much more to do with the shambles that Labour was in in 1990 than any organisational strength that National may have had.
People like Graeme Reeves, Hamish Hancock, Peter McCardle, John Armstrong, Cam Campion and Joy McLauchlan didn't expect to get elected in 1990. There weren't strong organisational machines in place there. Rural seats tended to be stronger; Waitotara, Wairarapa and Pahiatua were key strongholds.
And so was Wellington Central: Fran Wilde held the seat narrowly in 1990, but with the by-election in '92, and a very close contest in '93, the organisational infrastructure in the seat was unrivalled anywhere else in the Wellington region. Wellington Central was akin to Tamaki in Auckland: largest city membership by a long stretch, strong branch structure and key members holding divisional leadership roles.
Part of the reason some seats declined organisationally in Wellington was the shift to MMP: boundaries expanded by seventy percent, mergers occurred, and in the process half of the seats became negligibly significant. McCardle and Michael Laws did nothing to keep their local organisations alive, and in any case, had been contemplating a jump for some time.
But Wellington Central was a very strong seat; the electoral accommodation made to Peter Dunne in Ohariu was only possible because National's local organisation was so weak. Bolger's decision to pull the rug out on Mark only happened that way because there was no way, whatsoever, that Wellington Central would have rolled over if they had been consulted as Ohariu had been.
Mark was 49th on the list in 1996--partly as a result of Wellington Central's own scheming to get two MPs backfiring on itself when it nominated Annabel Young as their list MP, ahead of Mark. Mark's only chance in Parliament was as the local MP.
The National Party probably learned some pretty important lessons from those exercises; Wellington Central survived pretty well after 1996, despite their grumpiness at Mark. Electoral accommodations can happen, but the biggest risk to subsequent organisational collapse is if the activists feel that they are losing an MP. That's not really the case, this time, in Epsom.Richard Worth is guaranteed a place this time on National's list. He's not far and away a stellar performer in the House, by any means. His contribution to politics is far less than his contribution to the legal profession. He's the kind of solid, dependable National performers who make little noise and create little fuss. His fate, as the local MP, is entirely in Don Brash's hands.
It's too close to call what will happen with Epsom. Whether Brash makes a call to National voters to back Rodney depends on a range of issues: whether Act will deliver at least 3% support, whether National will need that support to form a government, and whether Act will fit comfortably within a coalition with other parties.
Brash has succeeded in cannibalising most of the other centre-right vote. He doesn't want to guarantee Act representation unless he absolutely needs it. A negative possible result, from his perspective, would be if Act gained two percent of the vote and won Epsom, and National still couldn't form a government: it would have given a rival for the centre-right vote more opportunity to capture National vote next time.
And Act haven't yet shown that they can come up with at least three percent of the vote. That could change over the next thirteen days, but there's been no indication at this stage that Act will deliver a substantial benefit to National's ability to form a coalition.
Rodney will continue to make preposterous claims about his support-base on the strength of his push-polling, but he also runs the risk of alienating the very National supporters in Epsom he is wanting to vote for him. Suggestions that he has some of his supporters posing as National activists, door-knocking and implying that there is an official directive for National voters to back Rodney--is a dangerous strategy.
Rodney won't win Epsom on his own merits. Not even against Richard Worth. But Brash may still make the call.