TV & Radio
Clark plans a purge with dignity
21 October 2005
By TRACY WATKINS - Dominion Post
Prime Minister Helen Clark wants her aging MPs to leave with dignity.
But the lesson from the cleanout of National's ranks in the lead-up to the 2002 election is that party purges are often messy and rarely dignified.
When National Party President Michelle Boag moved to trim deadwood from the party list, National was plunged into crisis. Ms Boag began in much the same way as Miss Clark has – with backroom chats with individual MPs, leaving some in no doubt that it was time to move on.
Ms Boag, who campaigned on a promise to "stop the rot", raised hackles. Miss Clark has been equally open about the need for Labour to rejuvenate and that could also raise dissent.
Former police minister George Hawkins and former trade negotiations minister Jim Sutton are the first public casualties – both have been retired from the Cabinet and associate minister Dover Samuels is likely to follow. He was expected to be dropped from the executive but appears to have been returned after indicating that he is likely to leave Parliament next year.
Mr Samuels is refusing to say if that is his plan. He has apparently been offered a diplomatic posting, to Niue, but turned it down. Mr Sutton has rejected a diplomatic post in Canada.
Others who may be in Miss Clark's sights include MPs who lost seats on election night but survived on the party list. They are Mita Ririnui (formerly Waiariki MP), Jill Pettis (Whanganui), Dianne Yates (Hamilton East) and Ann Hartley (Northcote). Another may be list MP Georgina Beyer, who planned to stand down but changed her mind.
National's purge claimed former cabinet ministers and even MPs in safe seats. It included John Luxton, Max Bradford, Warren Kyd, Doug Kidd, Brian Neeson, Annabel Young, Marie Hasler, Arthur Anae and Belinda Vernon. Others, such as Maurice Williamson and Clem Simich, were thought to be on Ms Boag's list but outlasted her.
Miss Clark is hinting at mid-term departures – which may be a cleaner way of clearing out the party's ranks.
National's rejuvenation drive resulted in bitter battle-lines between MPs, who ended the term hopelessly divided. The heavy 2002 election defeat finished what Ms Boag started by reducing the caucus to a shadow of its usual self. The dividend was finally delivered this year – the National caucus, with 21 new faces, several of them stars.
Labour's lineup of hopefuls is topped by Wellington lawyer Charles Chauvel, who ran a strong campaign in the Ohariu Belmont seat won by United Future leader Peter Dunne. Mr Chauvel, 35, was on state-owned Meridian Energy's board but stood down for the campaign. He is deputy chairman of the Lotteries Commission and has held company directorships.
Unionist and former party official Lesley Soper would be next in line, then sportswoman Louisa Wall and South Auckland city councillor Su'a Williams and Brendon Burns, a former Marlborough Express editor who headed a Beehive press unit.