The controversial National Party candidate for the party’s Auckland Central nomination, Nuwi Samarakone, last night missed out on the selection, but the reverberations over her nomination continue.
The election was won by 30-year-old Auckland Communications manager, Emma Mellow.
A faction within the electorate had opposed the presence of Sri Lankan-born Samarakone in the race because she was already the party’s Manurewa candidate and there were claims that she was being pushed in Auckland Central by the party hierarchy.
Her opponents within the electorate circulated racy pictures of her wearing a leotard and then it was revealed that she had hired a QC to defend herself against allegations that she had been a stripper.
The controversy heated up again an hour before the selection meeting again with a claim on Newshub that the party’s Christchurch-based board member, Roger Bridge, had impersonated a talkback caller called “Merv” in a late-night call to a talkback show criticising Samarakone’s decision to stand in Auckland Central and referring to the leotard picture.
Perhaps ominously, National Leader Judith Collins sought to distance herself from the controversy.
“I’m not the leader of the party itself – I’m the leader of the National Party’s parliamentary wing,” she said.
The controversy overflowed into the selection meeting last night with a tough speech from the party’s Auckland regional chair, Andrew Hunt.
Hunt apologised for being part of the panel that breached the party’s rules by not putting up five names for the selection.
That was a significant source of grievance within the electorate.
“There was no conspiracy; it was just a mistake,” he said.
But he went to on say that some people had spread outrageous lies “about myself and other good Nats.”
He called on delegates to stop “that type of behaviour.”
There were three candidates, Mellow, Samarakone and Rob Thomas.
Thomas was knocked out in round one, and Mellow prevailed in round two.
She brushed off a question about the dirt.
“I think it’s been a fair process,” she said.
But in a way, she is lucky.
The centre-left vote within the electorate looks like being split by the presence of high profile Green candidate, Chloe Swarbrick.
POLITIK has been shown Labour Party research which shows that the party is worried that Swarbrick could counter the swing to Labour in an electorate which has only a narrow National majority.
Boundary changes have affected the electorate; it has lost some of its core Grey Lynn Labour voters to neighbouring Mt Albert, the Prime Minister’s electorate but at the last election National’s Nikki Kaye had a majority of 1581. However the percentage votes for the two main candidates, and Labour’s Helen White, who is standing again, closely mirrored both their parties’ nationwide party vote.
That suggests that, given the controversy, and that Emma Mellow is almost totally unknown in the electorate, she could have a tough battle to win the seat notwithstanding the spoiler effect of Swarbrick’s candidacy.
She seemed to acknowledge that last night.
“Nikki and I are quite different people, but I will work very closely on the legacy,” she said.
But again she had to allude to the division s within the party.
“The party’s a broad church, and I think we’ve got an amazing team and an innovative team,” she said.
The broad church is a line trotted out by politicians of all parties whenever they have to manage divided internal loyalties.
And that is now National’s biggest single problem.
Someone within National must have pointed the “Merv” call out to Newshub. Though Roger Bridge is well known within the party, he is not widely known outside it, and very few people would recognise his voice when he disguised it.
He is also known to be a critic of party president, Peter Goodfellow but is particularly close to Deputy Leader, Gerry Brownlee.
Delegates spoken to by POLITIK praised Mellow’s speech to the selection meeting and suggested that was what helped her win.
And the delegates included some highly experienced figures from within the party in what looked like a show of strength; former deputy leader, Don McKinnon, former Finance Minister, Steven Joyce and the former President, Sue Wood.
Finance spokesperson Paul Goldsmith and retiring MP, David Carter, were also there.
Mellow herself a public relations and communications manager at the ANZ Bank.
Her official National Party biography says: “Emma grew up in One Tree Hill and attended St Cuthbert’s College. Emma is a qualified volunteer surf lifesaver and in her spare time, enjoys running, ocean swimming and cooking. “