Election 2020

Labour’s Louisa Wall faces challenge for Manurewa selection

A Labour MP in one of the party's safest seats is at risk of being turfed out - not by the National Party, but in an internal selection battle, as Dileepa Fonseka reports

Labour MP Louisa Wall is facing a battle for survival in her Manurewa electorate, with two challengers vying to replace her in an internal selection battle.

Manurewa is one of the safest seats in the country for Labour, which has won almost every election held there for over 50 years.

Wall won the seat by over 8000 votes at the last election with nearly 60 percent of the vote, and has held Manurewa for Labour since 2011.

However, Wall reportedly now faces strong challenges from two lawyers: recently-appointed Waitematā DHB board member Arena Williams, and longtime electorate organiser Ian Dunwoodie. 

Volunteers and electorate branch members are understood to have rallied around Dunwoodie, but that was before news of Williams’ candidacy spread.

Several sources have told Newsroom that Williams was approached by the party some time ago to stand as an alternative to Wall.

Auckland-based political commentator Shane Te Pou said Dunwoodie had secured hundreds of votes within the Manurewa branch’s membership, enough to create a narrow upset win for him. 

“I understand he has between 500 or 600 members...if he’s able to hold those numbers on the floor he’ll get four votes, and head office will have three,” Te Pou said.

“The only thing that might tip the balance in terms of the floor vote...is the fact that they might try to ship union members in.” 

Te Pou said his information came from a high-level Pasifika activist within the party, with Dunwoodie said to have strong Pasifika support in Manurewa.

“I think it’s definitely an oversimplification to say that it’s national office versus local, everybody in that system understands that there are multiple priorities that need to be achieved when we select somebody who’s going to be an MP.”

Both Dunwoodie and Williams directed all questions about the nomination to Labour Party president Claire Szabó, while Wall had not responded to requests for comment at the time of publication.

Williams has been highlighted as a rising star within the party, while Dunwoodie has deep links within the local electorate dating back to when George Hawkins held the seat. 

Szabó confirmed there would be a leadership contest in Manurewa, but said candidates hadn’t been confirmed yet and she could not comment on their identities.

“I think it’s definitely an oversimplification to say that it’s national office versus local, everybody in that system understands that there are multiple priorities that need to be achieved when we select somebody who’s going to be an MP,” Szabó said.

Szabó said Labour members understood the need to select an MP who represented local issues, but also one who would work well within the caucus as a whole.

Labour Party President Claire Szabó says any candidate selected has to work well with a national team of MPs. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

A successful challenge to an incumbent Labour MP’s nomination in a safe seat is largely unheard of, due to the way the party’s voting system works. 

The apportioning of votes between the membership and head office makes it difficult for candidates to get elected without at least the tacit approval of the party’s leadership.

There will be seven votes on offer for candidates at Manurewa’s selection meeting. Three will be exercised by representatives of the party’s national leadership, with the remaining four coming from various processes at a local level.

Dissatisfaction from long-serving branch volunteers is understood to lie at the heart of the challenge to Wall. 

The former Silver Fern, who led the charge to legalise same-sex marriage in 2010, is seen as not being active enough locally and lacking sufficient profile at a national level.

The five-term MP does not hold a ministerial portfolio and is understood to be a polarising figure within the Labour Party caucus. 

Wall’s predecessors in the electorate - Hawkins, Roger Douglas, Merv Wellington, and Phil Amos - all held Cabinet posts during their time as MPs.

Mana seat up for grabs

At the other end of the North Island, another contest in a safe Labour seat has been confirmed, with incumbent Kris Faafoi stepping down as the party's Mana MP to run as a list-only candidate.

“Over the last ten years it has been a huge privilege to serve the people of Mana. I know they will be well served by whoever my replacement is,” Faafoi said in a statement.

His decision looks likely to spark a hotly contested party selection process between local candidates and those from outside the area.

Porirua Mayor Anita Baker weighed in on the debate on Saturday, a move that was interpreted by locals as offering support to fellow councillor Izzy Ford who is understood to be eyeing a run for the nomination.

“Too often good locals have been overlooked and now is a time to remedy that.”

“In my view it’s time a local was selected as MP for the first time ever,” Baker wrote on Facebook.

“We have lots of talent living in Porirua and the wider electorate who should be given a shot by the main parties.

“Too often good locals have been overlooked and now is a time to remedy that.”

Szabó said the selection of a Mana candidate with local origins would be one of the considerations, but she expected a mix of local candidates and others from outside the area. 

“People do have to have a certain amount of local support to nominate, but it’s a big place and we have lots of members.

“I think the idea that anyone coming in from the outside, irrespective of who they are, would never be of any interest to the locals, I don’t think it’s that simple.”

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