Labour leader Andrew Little is standing firm on his decision to stop Napier MP Stuart Nash from appearing on the same platform as former Labour Party member, Nick Leggett.

Nash was to have been part of a panel “kai and korero” political discussion last week at the opening of an Auckland pub.

But the panel also featured Leggett, who is standing as an independent against an endorsed Labour candidate, Justin Lester, for the Wellington Mayoralty.

Little’s move has raised questions among some party members and MPs as to whether the ban is part of a wider move to swing the party to the left.

Leggett shares that view.

He says that’s why he will not rejoin the party.

“Not this Labour Party, not one that is clearly looking to purge in the way this one clearly is,” he told POLITIK.

But Little is sticking to his guns.

He says Leggett’s campaign is a right wing campaign; funded by right wingers and managed by a right winger.

“We are a political party,” he told POLITIK.

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“We are about winning public confidence.

“We are not a debating society where we pick and chose any argument we like and fly off and do that.

“We are a political party, and I’m determined we will be disciplined and demonstrate that we can be stable and provide certainty.

“That’s what this is about.”

Little’s determination to bring discipline to what under David Cunliffe was a tumultuously divided caucus is understandable and is cited by many Labour MPs as one of his strengths as a leader.

But nevertheless, POLITIK has spoken to both party members and MPs who have been surprised by Little’s reaction to Nash’s appearance at the Auckland event.

For the right in the caucus, it is clearly more evidence that they are on the outer. For others, it was an over-reaction which simply diverted attention from more pressing political issues.

Ironically though Nash was barred from speaking at the function, another right-wing MP, former leader, David Shearer did attend.

All of this has been grist to Winston Peters’ mill.

Peters was seen at a Wellington social function this week deep in conversation with Shearer and Nash. (Peters  was also talking to other MPs from both main parties).

But there is a fear that he could win over some of Labour’s more conservative supporters.

Polling this year has shown a flow of voters out of Labour and towards NZ First.

That situation would be compounded if former right wing Labour Minister, Shane Jones stands for NZ First in Whangarei.

Leggett defends his own views as being within the broad spectrum of a centre-left party.

“I joined a broad-based party, Helen Clark’s party in the 1990s.

“You have to occupy the centre, and you have to appeal to a broad base of New Zealanders and for Labour to win they’ve got to be as big as National.

“They’ve got to be a 40% plus party.”

Leggett believes that Little is changing the party.

“He’s chosen to orientate the party in a certain way and sign up with the Greens.

“Clearly for me and people like me there isn’t a place in the Labour party.

“Andrew’s made that really clear, and I think that’s sad.”

This is not the first time Leggett has expressed views like this but in the past, the party’s leadership has largely ignored them.

It is the fact that Little has reacted which has made this more than the “storm in a teacup” one of Labour’s senior MPs suggested to POLITIK that it really was.

What makes it stand out more is that another Labour MP, the former Leader and one-time “Rogernome” Phil Goff, is running for the Auckland Mayoralty on what is looking increasingly like a centrist platform.

Not only are his signs blue (not the traditional Labour red) but he has now pledged to a rate increase of only two point five per cent – almost (but not quite)  the two percent limit being pledged by the centre-right Auckland Future candidates.

His campaign is heavy with former Helen Clark staffers.

And he appears to be enjoying a subtle endorsement from Prime Minister John Key who has so far failed to endorse the centre-right candidate, Victoria Crone.

But Little denies that he is trying to move the party to the left.

“I want diversity and breadth of opinions that bring people together under a broadly social democratic banner.

“The reality is that the vast bulk of voters don’t think of left or right.

“They think about issues; about who has got the best fix, who can be trusted.

“They want to see a party in government that is taking its responsibilities seriously; offering stability, offering certainty and conducting themselves in a disciplined way.

“That to me is more important than anything.”

If Little’s actions this week bring an end to the chronic indiscipline which has plagued the Labour Caucus, then the long term benefit will be worth any short-term damage that he may have caused.

But the danger is that he may have aggravated, rather than quelled, the divisions within the party and caucus.

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