WCC Elections; Independence versus campaigning on the party ticket, does it matter? Over twenty candidates answer the question

I’ve always had the perception that candidates backed by a central Political Party are inherently biased toward their policies if not in fact controlled in how they vote by said Party. So, I set out to see if that is indeed true and asked all the candidates this election what they thought.

Summary; it’s difficult to say how much influence an affiliation has. What is clear is that there is a wide spectrum of opinion on the subject and some good insights. On the face of it, if you believe what candidates tell you, this is a non-issue. My perception is that running under a central Party endorsement or affiliation is a two-edged sword, but on balance, it doesn’t make much difference at all.

This has turned into a four-thousand word essay, I apologise. When publishing at this time it’s important to give everyone the opportunity to have their say.

A note to candidates: I haven’t always published you in entirety, otherwise this article would be a bible, i.e. I have selected what I think are salient comments. Thank you for your feedback. If you think anything needs clarification, then please use the comments field or drop me a note at the same email address, and I will ammend it as soon as possible.

A quick note on the ordering of the responses. They are published in order of response, with the first respondents at the top.

Last caveat, I generally haven’t corrected grammar or spelling in responses, including my own. Be kind, grammar police.

I absolutely consider that central politics should have no place in local body politics!

Ray Chung; Onslow-Western Candidate

Many independent candidates, as well as Green affiliated candidates, echoed this sentiment. It was a very common response from candidates in the Onslow-Western Ward, which makes sense, given that they generally host a lot of independent candidates.

The perception that Labour is meddling in local politics by proxies is the strongest within this ward.

I believe standing as an independent sends a signal I’m there to work constructively; I’m not wedded to particular solutions although I do have some strongly held values about our council’s focus needing to be firmly on building a resilient city – taking the hard calls and making significant investments in infrastructure and re-thinking urban design so that we can thrive, not just survive in a low carbon, energy efficient world.

Michelle Rush; Onslow-Western Candidate

This was a relatively rare view in responses from candidates and makes for a good insight. Michelle has been out door knocking and one of the issues that she, and several other candidates raised, was the fact that the community doesn’t know where to get information on candidates, making it difficult to newcomers to get coverage.

It’s a little outside this article’s scope, but in some ways relevant, as a newcomer branded to a central Party is likely to receive more visibility and attraction, or conversely, put off voters, showing the two-edge sword in action.

Local Government needs independence from Central Government. Both areas of government need to work collaboratively and respectfully with each other. City Councillors should have a degree of separation from party doctrine, as there can often be different priorities for a territorial authority, where they need to stand up for their city or town, without having conflicts due to party doctrine.

I’m fiercely independent, A Political, and more so after having seen what has occurred over the past two terms, and how Party Politics has affected the ability of our city to progress.

Being Independent still allows you to work with others, however it also gives a  certain autonomy to be able to “stand up”, in a way that is also very representative of the democratic process.

Simon Woolf; Onslow-Western Candidate

A lot of material, that I have not published, shows a belief that central government is interfering in local politics with examples such as LGWM cited frequently. Further allegations have been made to the effect Labour Councillors are instructed to vote as they are told. There is no hard evidence of this being the case, and in fact, from time to time you can see Labour candidates, in particular, voting well off what would be considered party lines.

LGWM is a mess in which the WCC is a bit player, much like the bus issue the Council has almost zero control over what happens and it may be that some Councillors were caught in the rush to try and claim LGWM as a win for their election campaign but being run over, figuratively, by the bus.

I will give an unconventional counter point to the assertion that I am not influenced by the community because I am a party member, and I believe what I am going to say should be the norm rather than the exception.

As a candidate, and as a councillor, I do not represent the view of the community. Rather I represent policy positions which councillors are elected on the basis of.

Obviously, like anyone engaged in the community I am influenced by the people who I know, and who talk to me. But it does not mean I fully understand the hardships and complexity of their lives, or anyone aside from my own and my family and friends. 

Instead it is the job of the democratic community to represent themselves and choose candidates whose policy they like. This can be hard when so few candidates or elected councillors are willing to go into detail about what they would like to do.

Harry Smith; Lambton Ward Candidate

This is an interesting position and shows another aspect to the debate and in fact, it doesn’t matter how a candidate is affiliated as long as they are clear about what their policies are, and obviously, if elected, they follow through on those. So, party affiliation is then largely irrelevant except for perhaps marketing purposes.

You are of course relying on Councillors to remain true to what they promised in the first place, which often does not happen.

At a local level I am completely independent and have never had any influence whatsoever from any Central Government party – and would reject any such endeavour. 

I strongly believe that we swear an oath to use the best of our skill and judgement to act in the best interests of the City – not any particular party.  We have two political groupings in the Council – the Greens tend to vote effectively as independents. Labour don’t – there are plenty of examples of Labour councillors effectively voting as a block. Sometimes one or other will vote separately (Fleur on my motion on rejecting renaming of Victoria University, Brian from time to time). 

Party political groupings also bring instability. If power changes from one group to another then the direction of the Council and the City can change and that is very debilitating for both. One of the strengths over my time has been a high degree of policy consistency which plays out in the qualities of the City – compact, City Centre vibrancy, environmental restoration, economic development, arts and culture etc. 

Andy Foster; Mayoral Candidate

So, two interesting points here. The first is that (my view) the Labour branded candidates do tend to vote as a bloc. I say “tend to” as this is not always the case as Andy notes in his example. There have been some notable exceptions to this over the years.

I agree with Andy when he says that political groupings (of any kind) bring instability. Just think about government change during trienniums and the pressure that is brought on by switches in policy involving Local Government.

The short answer to your brief question yes, but that’s very different to being at the whim of or controlled by a party.

I can only speak for Labour. In our case as candidates we sign up to a brief list of commitments. These cover what we will do (minimum number of Direct Voter Contacts – basically, we’ll work hard and actually campaign), how we will work together (we commit to meeting regularly and actually talking with each other, so we work as a team, which doesn’t mean we are whipped or have to vote the same way. Given council is all about getting 8 votes to get stuff done, this is an essential lesson to learn) and what we will work towards. This latter point is our agreed set of policies. Most of these are very general and none are imposed from on high. We literally sit down very early in the campaign and agree what we all want to prioritise.

AS I’ve mentioned to you online, in my entire time as a party candidate and councillor I have never received any directions or even suggestions from either the Parliamentary party or Party leadership. I do regularly attend local party meetings, and local members don’t hesitate to let me know what they think we should be doing. Of course all those local members are also members of the local community. They are also very much not the only members of the local community who regularly let me know what we should (and more often, shouldn’t) be doing.

So, in conclusion. We are very definitelty not told what to do, how to vote etc. It’s about being part of a team who share common values and political views, and working together (mostly) to progress those views.

Brian Dawson; Lambton Candidate

This is probably the best, clearest, unequivocal answer to the perception that central Party endorsed candidates are at the whim of the party, not the community. Interestingly, it also reveals how the Labour candidates, at least, operate to reach agreement. I also agree that, particularly in Brian’s case, that local communities will tell Council what they think.

I did hear back from Diane Calvert however she didn’t really answer the question that I had posed. She did note that “Labour and their coalition partners are increasingly being called out for their interference in Wellington’s local body affairs.”

That’s an interesting perception that has really gained legs in the last few months with the LGWM revelations in particular, along with the view that central Labour has failed to intervene with the bus issue (which runs counter to the local interference view.)

I think parties developed for very good reasons within the Westminster system of central government and I certainly don’t have an issue with them per se in local government. However, when you look at how some engagements have happened at the Mayoral level, and the risk of central govt seats or list places being held out for being well-behaved (i’m not suggesting this has actually happened, it’s a perception issue) then you start getting into difficult territory. And then when you look at some party rules restricting the ability of councillors to vote with their conscience then that is also a problem. But these are problems of a particular party and not of parties per se. Then there is the Wellington Party. Their problem is having underwhelming candidates, not the fact they belong to a party.

In short – it’s not the party per se, it’s the way they behave…

Rohan Biggs; Onslow-Western Ward Candidate

Again, an interesting perspective; “it’s not the party per se, it’s the way they behave.”

Rohan also calls out the perception that some candidates and Councillors are capitulating to central party’s in return for later political favours. This has been a persistent perception for decades and in my time, I’ve never seen evidence of it. This town talks, and I believe if there were truth to it then there would be some evidence by now.

Labour councillors (or Mayors) aren’t required to vote a certain way, or uniformly, and don’t take instruction from a party, government or individuals.

What we do have is similar values, which we are quite open and up front about. 

That openness means voters understand the lens we will apply to decision-making.

I could happily place each Councillor, independent or affiliated, on the political spectrum and a quick traverse of voting records would show each Councillor votes fairly consistently.

‘Independence’ is nominal only. We have people on Council now who in the past ran for NZ First, National, who are endorsed by the Wellington Party and also those affiliated with Labour or Green.

You could equally argue that an ‘independent’ is not disclosing their world view.

Either way, affiliated or independent, I’m happy for candidates / councillors to choose what suits them.

Justin Lester; Mayoral Candidate

This is the equivalent of “what you see is what you get”, which rings true. If a candidate, regardless of affiliation, states exactly up-front what they intend to do and what policies are going to be promoted, then where is the issue?

I think the “independence is nominal” is true for a handful of candidates, however, having spent time with candidates and Councillors some are fiercely independent regardless of past political leanings and work hard to counter that perception.

World view is tough. If I look at myself then I do not align with any central party in total. I find it hard to vote in national elections. I like the idea of multiple policies from many parties to construct this cross-policy matrix that fits my world view. I suspect that rings true on some level for all candidates, or, that could just be my inherent bias.

Thanks for the opportunity to comment on this issue.  I strongly believe there should be no place in local politics for party politics.  I am convinced candidates who come under a party umbrella are most definitely advantaged as they have the support and resources of the “party election machine” How do you even begin to compete with that?  The system is set up to favour those who have name recognition and that takes feet on the ground and us back to the whole party politics – advantage.

Tracy Hurst-Porter; Northern Ward Candidate

How do you compete with that? It is an advantage to a candidate because they have resources at their disposal, which an independent may not be able to afford. Here’s another example that a candidate described to me, it does not matter who, nor does it matter the name of the publication.

“Our local newspaper decided they only wanted to profile Mayoral Candidates and any Ward Council Candidates who were happy to pay for the privilege.

When I pointed out to the owner, that they were advantaging one of my competitors who was standing for both the Mayoralty and Ward Council – they basically told me they could do what they wanted.  They needed revenue and endless lists of council candidates was not interesting to people.  


Interesting yes? First off, completely legal, candidates must declare donations and expenses as we know, so the names will come out eventually. Secondly, I thought, it’s a bit spooky when those articles are potentially not tagged as paid for advertising, that they appear as independent stories. The technical term for this is “native advertising” and it’s considered legal, but quite naughty.

Anyway, back on topic.

Hi Ian, your email just rolled in. An old German proverb says that – whose bread you eat whose song you sing. My running for Mayor is not Party or Business affiliated. Though common sense would assume those organisations don’t spend money for nothing.

Norbert Hausberg; Mayoral Candidate

“Whose bread I eat, his song I sing” is the closer English approximation to the proverb and has been cited in political discussion for a very long time. It requires no explanation and the sentiment is simple. I find it hard to believe that donors to political candidates, particularly when there is a lot of money changing hands, do not expect something in return and are doing so out of the goodness of their heart.

I have no party affiliations and have been offered no financial support from anyone or any party.  I think some party councillors are “creatures of the party” while others display a greater level of freedom.  I have no idea what pressure they are put under to conform with party wishes, whether explicit or implied.

Chris Calvi-Freeman; Eastern Candidate

A factual and clear answer. It reinforces what I have heard around the city about the current Council.

I think it definitely makes a difference, but I’m also sure it his positive and negative points. 

As an independent candidate, I have a stronger platform to stand on my own beliefs, policies, and ideals an the people can know that what I say comes from me, rather than the overshadowing thought that it comes from central government somewhere.

They can also know that I am free to vote on matters based on personal principle, rather than party influence – if a Green Councillor suggests something good for Wellington, I can vote for it, if a Labour Councillor suggests something I don’t feel will be good for Wellington – I don’t have to vote for it. I will always choose what I believe is best for Wellington, and for my Ward. 

On the other hand – I know, ironic from a guy with no hands – if you are a parties chosen candidate you can have a massive boost to your campaign from what I see. They work together to support each other across the Wards, share resources like hoardings which saves money, and automatically have a voting base backed by loyalty to Central Government ideals. Not to mention the potential availability of a small army of weekend volunteers to do all manner of things like distribute flyers, letter box drops, make phone calls etc. It would certainly boost my campaign to receive that sort of support! 

Humphrey Hanley; Southern Candidate

The blessing and the curse of the independent candidate. Someone who can independently research and then vote as they see fit, but, do not have the resources available to them that central Party backing brings. Now, it’s not always central Party backing, a large enough donor can also make quite a difference, as we’ve seen with The Wellington Company Donations and Peter Jackson’s support of Andy Foster’s campaign.

A large number of issues come before us as Councillors many of which we cannot predict in advance or make our position to residents known on prior to election so having the Labour affiliation means that residents know the values and ideological framework which I bring to decision-making on a whole range of issues. 

I have worked for organised labour most of my working life and been an active Labour Party member for most of that time so being a Labour-endorsed candidate felt like the most honest and upfront approach to take.  There is no whipping at local Government level or any influence from central government or the Party on us as Councillors, we do discuss things as a team and clearly agree priorities particularly in advance of an election.

Fleur Fitzsimons; Southern Candidate

That’s an unequivocal answer. If you are voting for Fleur, then you are voting for a Labour view of the world. There is nothing wrong with that, it’s an honest stance to take and as a resident you get to choose.

Yes those candidates who stand under a picket are subject to party policy and direction.

That can be both of assistance but also create confusion.

I am independent but clearly have huge Red and Green connections.

The general public don’t understand this issue, but older voters do.

Bernard O’Shaugnessy; Candidate Eastern Ward

In other words, Bernard believes that if you are standing under a party ticket, then you are beholden to that party’s policy. However, you can remain independent whilst have a political leaning, in this case Red and Green.

I think it would also be good to have a what is wrong with independents angle. For me it is that you can’t figure out what their values are. I’m not sure they know themselves. So in my ward Simon and Diane have flip flopped on Shelly Bay. And all of them have flip flopped on LGWM.  It’s like they vote, and then after they realise some in the community doesn’t like it they change their mind. At least with political allegiance you know some of what you will get. So Greens are likely to favour PT and cycling, Labour living wage, etc.

Conor Hill; Mayoral Candidate

Conor is correct. It is often difficult to understand what an independent stands for, in fact you really have to dig through a lot of research to get to it. Whereas, with a party candidate you have a rough idea of where they are going.

As an aside, flip flopping appears to arise from a bunch of different places. Incorrect or incomplete information supplied to Council by officers, too much information (and not enough time to digest it), shifting central governments, and the general mood of residents. It is common to see newer Councillors “flip flop” over their first few years as they move from assumptions to reality, effectively starting to see the bigger picture, at least in my opinion.

I think it depends on the party.

Some are more forceful than others and candidates have to follow the party/machine line.  We have seen that recently.

Others like; The Wellington Party, who I stand for, are more focussed on specific local issues and have a platform that people can see.

We have no direct links to any other political party. Checkout our website.

Having stood as an independent before I know it is incredibly hard to work against “a machine” while still promoting policy that is not supported by others.

You cannot win.

In the end it is all about compromise and working with people of similar values and it is quite easy to confirm and endorse others with similar beliefs.

John Apanowicz; Northern Candidate

I think John is correct. Some party candidate seem to be more beholden to their machinery than others. Labour certainly, for the most but not all, candidates whereas the Green candidates seem to have a lot more latitude in how they vote. Of course, the metrics to prove this, while available, would take a lot of time to analyse.

It’s an interesting question & one I’ve thought about. I’ve been a green as long as I can remember – active in the movement if not always active in the Green Party, though I’ve been a member since the 1990s.

When I decided to seek election to Council in the Onslow-Western I never thought to do so as an independent. Even if the Greens weren’t running formal candidates in the WCC election I would have campaigned as member of the party.

The party’s narrative and direction is mine too inasmuch as I perceive myself to be part of the green movement. I don’t put much store by the argument that I’m beholden to party interests therefore. This is a perception some people have and it is completely OK with me. People will make up their minds as they see fit. The only way that they might change their mind on that would be to actually meet me – & doesn’t every candidate wish they had the ability to do that with every single voter!

Richard McIntosh; Onslow-Western Candidate

Again this shows the distinction between the values of a party and the edicts of a party on a candidate. John is “part of the green movement,” while is clearly not beholden to the party.

Everybody has a political position and, by affiliating with a party, I am making my general philosophy clear. But it is a big mistake to then assume that a party-affiliated candidate is in the pocket of the party. How I vote is entirely up to me. I consider all information, including the views of constituents, before voting. Of course, I discuss policy with fellow Labour candidates but the trick in making progress at local body level is to build consensus across Council, and that means working with all fellow councillors, across the political spectrum.

Peter Gilberd; Northern Candidate

I would expect this from Peter who strikes me as far more independent and in the centre than his other “Labour colleagues.” He is a considered thinker and I am quite sure that he is not going to vote anywhere but in line with what he believes to be true.

I joined the Greens after much thought because overall it was the best fit with my values. Because of that, people can have reasonable confidence in the sort of things I am likely to support and vote for.  However, having said that we  all as Councillors make our own judgement calls about what is best for Wellington and our Wards and you will note that David, Iona and I have not always voted the same way.  

Sarah Free; Eastern Candidate

Sarah Free; Eastern Candidate

This supports my earlier assertion that it does feel like some candidates, despite belonging to a central Party, tend to vote as they see fit for the community, rather than as a result of some edict.

There you have it. An exhaustive exercise for such a small and simple question. While some of you no doubt will challenge the assertions of certain candidates, you’d have to ask yourself “why would they lie?” Trust is the backbone of any candidate and any time a potential politician gets caught in a lie, they are doomed.

Well done if you read down this far, you’re definitely a political junkie…