Prominent Auckland National Party members and some MPs are working on a plan intended to give the centre right control of the Auckland Council.
The plan has been discussed by National’s Caucus and Party President Peter Goodfellow indicated at last weekend’s party conference that the party’s board would soon discuss how National dealt with local body elections.
Mr Goodfellow said that knowing that the Caucus has already ruled out allowing centre right candidates to stand under the National brand as Labour and Green candidates are.
But in a series of interviews with MPs and Auckland party members and people associated with the party POLITIK has learned that there is support for a more organised approach in Auckland from across the party’s factions.
What is being proposed is that National allow its resources, including finance, to be used to get centre right candidates elected to the Auckland Council.
In turn the elected candidates would agree to caucus together and to accept caucus discipline.
In other words, they would be National Party councillors in all but name.
There are two forces driving the proposal.
First is the recognition that the existing centre right organisation in Auckland, the Community and Residents’ organisation, formerly Citizens and Ratepayers, is ineffectual.
There are only two councillors elected under its banner on the Council now.
However there a number of other centre right Councillors who have been elected under a variety of party names or as independents.
But what has given the whole project some urgency is the widespread concern about Auckland’s 9.9% rate rise this year.
At least four of the 10 Councillors who voted for the rates increase have affiliations with centre right parties or organisations.
The right wing blogger, Whaleoil, who through his family and some of his close associates, has a strong connection with Auckland local politics has called for a campaign to unseat those Councillors who voted for the rates increase.
But concern in the National Party in Auckland goes well beyond Whaleoil and includes a number of Auckland MPs.
The other issue driving the debate is the future of the mayoralty.
Senior members of the Government are fed up with Len Brown.
His apparent refusal to accept a demand from Bill English and Simon Bridges that he agree to an external audit of the Council’s transport plans is another symptom of the breakdown between the Council and the Beehive.
There has been speculation that National MP Maurice Williamson might stand at the elections next year.
Government colleagues believe he should not and will try and discourage him from standing leaving the field open to Mr Brown and probably former Labour leader, Phil Goff.
The Government would be happy enough if Mr Goff won.
They know him and believe they could work with him.
More important from both the point of view of the Beehive and the party in Auckland will be who controls the vote on the Council on crucial issues like rates, transport and the future of Council owned assets like the port and airport.
What can be expected to happen next is a search for high profile candidates who can be relied on to vote together consistently.
If this proposal works in Auckland then it is highly likely it will be a template for other New Zealand local bodies.