Renegade National MP Brian Connell is not ruling out going independent after party leader Don Brash dumped him from his portfolios and stripped him of his caucus ranking.
The Rakaia MP was unrepentant yesterday about comments he made in two Ashburton newspapers critical of his 27th - and last-numbered - ranking in the 48-strong caucus after last week’s portfolio reshuffle.
He expressed his disgust in the Ashburton Guardian last week, saying: "I would have liked bigger portfolios and a higher ranking based on my ability, rather than the leader slapping me around because I’m outspoken."
In an Ashburton community newspaper column on Tuesday, Mr Connell went further, saying it was a "big rat to swallow".
He said his route was to serve the electorate and not "blindly follow the party line".
"That I am a member of the National Party is absolutely irrelevant to me when I conduct my duties or form a view."
On Thursday night, Dr Brash moved to relieve the MP of his portfolios and unrank him, saying Mr Connell was unable to continue representing party policy and no longer had his or party president Judy Kirk’s confidence.
Judy Kirk said yesterday that the party board would discuss the issue when it met on November 16.
The board has powers to punish Mr Connell, including suspension or expulsion.
Mr Connell told the Herald yesterday that he was "absolutely not" retreating from his earlier comments and denied he had been attacking Dr Brash.
"I think it’s only reasonable that you have some form of objective criteria with which to base your decision on. That’s all I’d ask for.
"Now, if that results in me losing my portfolios, well, God, I think people can draw their own conclusions, but I’m not prepared to make any statements about that until I’ve thought those issues through in some detail."
He said he would make a statement next week and would not rule out becoming independent, but it was "not where my head-space is".
Mr Connell confirmed he would attend Tuesday’s caucus, where he is expected to get a hot reception. The MP, who gained Rakaia at the 2002 election after coming back from a corporate career overseas, is understood to have little caucus support and colleagues are looking askance at his outbursts.
Dr Brash told National Radio yesterday that the final straw was when Mr Connell refused to fly to Auckland to meet him and instead suggested they meet in Christchurch, where the MP lives.
Mr Connell later disputed that, telling the station Dr Brash was being "economical" with his version of events.
Dr Brash confirmed there was nothing stopping the MP becoming independent, as the party-hopping law lapsed at the election.
Connell’s offending comments
* "That I am a member of the National Party is absolutely irrelevant to me when I conduct my duties or form a view. Sometimes - okay, lots of times - this brings me into conflict with the party bosses in Wellington who think my first loyalty is to them. We shall continue to disagree."
- Ashburton’s The Courier, November 1
* "I would have liked bigger portfolios and a higher ranking based on my ability, rather than the leader slapping me around because I’m outspoken."
- Ashburton Guardian, October 27By Kevin Taylor