The knives are out in the National Party after the centre-right's disastrous result at last weekend's local elections in Auckland.
Mayoral candidate Vic Crone trailed Labour Phil Goff from start to finish.
Goff's name recognition and political experience were too much of a mountain to climb for Crone in 10 months. Having two other centre-right contenders, John Palino and Mark Thomas, confused voters and made matters worse.
The immediate post mortem is focused on National's de facto ticket Auckland Future, which bombed horribly.
Auckland Future set out to create a citywide ticket and secure a majority of centre-right councillors on Auckland Council. It stood seven council candidates and endorsed media personality Bill Ralston in Waitemata and Gulf. It came away with one seat. Of the 25 candidates who stood for a Local Board, six were elected.
On the North Shore, where National holds every electorate seat, Auckland Future was taken to the cleaners by four centre-left, liberal candidates. From a base in Parnell, Auckland Future nobbled the sitting centre-right North Shore councillor George Wood, who could have won.
On election day, not a single National MP turned up at Crone's function at the Cav tavern in Freemans Bay. Act leader David Seymour was the only MP in attendance. Seven National MPs, including junior cabinet ministers Maggie Barry, Paul Goldsmith and Nikki Kaye, were at her campaign launch.
Labour leader Andrew Little and a swathe of Labour MPs celebrated Goff's victory at the nearby Sweat Shop Brew Kitchen. Failure is an orphan, success has many fathers.
The three main cities have Labour-aligned mayors. Goff in Auckland, Justin Lester who stood successfully on a Labour ticket in Wellington and Lianne Dalziel in Christchurch.
John Banks, two-time Mayor of Auckland City and former National cabinet minister, said the centre-right strategy was totally flawed with candidates standing against each other on different platforms.
If the party wanted a future in Wellington, it had to sort out the politics of Auckland local government, he said.
Banks believes National has to stand under its own banner to avoid confusion. Others in the party believe localised campaigns will deliver better results. One example being the Manurewa-Papakura Action Team, where Daniel Newman unseated Calum Penrose in the Manurewa-Papakura ward and its candidates cleaned up in two Local Boards.
Banks said the Labour Party completely outgunned the National Party on the ground at the polls, saying they were more focused, disciplined and organised.
What went wrong? The finger is firmly pointed at Auckland Future, whose backers included National Party president Peter Goodfellow and former presidents Michelle Boag and Sue Wood, who was put in charge.
"Having big former personalities from the National Party coming in and bullying was a failure," says one party source.
It was a bad choice putting Wood in charge, says another source. She had no experience of local politics and took a no prisoners approach. Things got personal. George Wood was treated badly and the ticket put up a candidate against Communities & Residents (C&R) in Albert-Eden-Roskill, the source said.
Then there was the candidate selection of Al Harrington Lavea, who had a conviction for stealing the identities of dead babies to obtain fraudulent passports (Auckland Future knew about this) and a second candidate, Edwin Puni, who headed a health trust at the centre of a critical Ministry of Health audit.
Wood and Boag were disappointed and surprised at the result, but largely laid the blame with incumbency rather than at their door.
Says Wood: "We formed a new entity, Auckland Future, from ground zero. When I reflect on what we were able to achieve I'm very proud of the work our candidates did. Our board will be reviewing how we went about things. What we did right, what we can improve on and we are absolutely determined we will be around for the long haul."
She says she would "definitely stay active with Auckland Future", and has a strong sense of loyalty to the board, candidates and all the workers - "I don't walk from that effort."
We will be around for the long haul.
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Boag's take on the result was the huge power of incumbency and people's anger at the council's performance not being translated at the ballot box.
She said the centre-right would have learned a lot from this election and it was a shame C&R don't recognise they now have a very limited footprint. Boag said discussions were needed between the two tickets about working together - a message that was echoed but unheeded during the campaign.
"I take my hat off to Sue Wood," said Boag, "I think she did an amazing job in setting up the citywide structure and we have something to build off".
One National source says: "I suspect very few National Party people will want to get involved in Auckland Future again ... it failed at the first hurdle." Says another source: "It was trench warfare with C&R, and Auckland Future came off second best."
Chris Fletcher, who was re-elected under the C&R banner in Albert-Eden-Roskill, is no fan of Auckland Future. She was furious when the ticket issued a media release in March implying she was standing alongside its candidate Rob Harris in the ward.
C&R stood two candidates for the two ward seats against Harris. The result was the two incumbents, Fletcher and City Vision's Cathy Casey, being re-elected.
Fletcher says the incident was incredibly unhelpful and created confusion for centre-right voters, saying it was the most unpleasant election of her long political career.
She says C&R - the centre-right brand that dominated the former Auckland City Council for decades - had changed a lot since the Super City was born in 2010 and become more centrist with a strong commitment to public transport.
"I'm really happy with the election of Phil Goff. He will be unifying and understand good process," says Fletcher, who adds C&R is going to stick around.
George Wood is unhappy with Auckland Future. The former policeman, North Shore Mayor and Auckland councillor is getting on at 70 but was shocked to learn in May that the ticket planned to stand two candidates for the two North Shore ward seats.
It hurt, he reviewed his options and decided to stand for the Devonport-Takapuna Local Board.
George Wood is pretty certain he would have won a seat. "For the centre-right (read Auckland Future) to just move into the North Shore and say because it is National territory they are going to call the shots does not up add up," he says.
You cannot manufacture a relationship with communities in a few weeks, he says. You need to have an understanding and credibility with the community.
In the case of Albany, he says, sitting councillors Wayne Walker and John Watson related very closely to their communities and got re-elected. On the other hand, former rugby league coach and Auckland Future candidate Graham Lowe had no background in local government - and lost.
George Wood says Auckland Future made a fatal mistake on the North Shore by talking about capping rates at 2 per cent instead of reminding voters that the top polling candidate, Chris Darby, was one of the "gang of 10" that voted for a 9.9 per cent rates rise. Running the North Shore campaign from an office in Parnell did not help, he said.
George Wood and others in the National Party believe Local Boards are the best vehicle to bring candidates through to the council. All of the new councillors - Richard Hills (North Shore), Greg Sayers (Rodney), Daniel Newman (Manurewa-Papakura), Manukau (Efeso Collins) and Desley Simpson (Orakei) have Local Board experience.
Simpson, who has chaired the Orakei Local Board for six years and hugely ambitious, said there are four elements to getting people elected: The person, the name, the brand and policy.
"Local government is about local. It's about Auckland and you have to stick very firmly to that," said Simpson, who has stuck with the C&R brand in her ward, despite being married to Goodfellow, one of the architects of Auckland Future.
Asked how that works, she said: "I am me. He is him."
Simpson's leadership skills, strong personality and National Party connections mark her out as a potential leader of the centre-right in Auckland and a future mayoral contender. If anyone can sort out the deeply divided and fragmented right, she can.
Auckland Future election results
Albany ward - bombed
Lisa Whyte 3rd
Graham Lowe 4th
North Shore ward - bombed
Danielle - 4th
Fay Freeman - 6th
Waitemata and Gulf ward - bombed
Bill Ralston - 2nd (endorsed by Auckland Future)
Whau ward - bombed
Mark Brickell - 3rd
Albert-Eden-Roskill ward - bombed
Rob Harris - 3rd
Maungakiekie-Tamaki ward - success
Denise Krum - 1st
Manukau ward - bombed
Sooalo Setu Mua - 4th
Ika Tameifuna - 5th
Upper Harbour Local Board - success
Lisa Whyte - 1st
Kaipatiki Local Board - success
Danielle Grant 7th
Henderson-Massey Local Board - bombed
William Hakaoro - 24th
Waitemata Local Board - mixed result
Won a seat
Mark Davey - 6th
Jonathan Good - 7th
Greg Moyle - 12th
Stella Chan - 13th
Alasdair Long - 14th
Chris Severne - 15th
Maungakiekie subdivision of Maungakiekie Local Board - success
Bernie Diver - 1st
Debbie Leaver 3rd
Mangere-Otahuhu Local Board - bombed
Edwin Puni - 10th
John Kiria - 11th
Tofilau Tofilau-Tevaga - 12th
Maiavatele Tauai - 13th
Asenita Tiseli - 14th
Daniel Purcell-Lokeni - 16th
Suamalie Naisali - 18th
Papatoetoe subdivision of the Otara-Papatoetoe Local Board - bombed
Leone Afamasaga - 11th
David Greig - 13th
Tauraki Raea - 14th
Mark Sauvao - 15th
Otara subdivision of the Otara-Papatoetoe Local Board - bombed
Tuilagi Esera - 7th
Matamua Leatio'o - 8th
Alisi Misa - 10th
Communities and Residents (C&R)
Albert-Eden-Roskill ward - mixed result
Won a seat
Chris Fletcher - 2nd
Ben Lee - 5th
Orakei ward - success
Desley Simpson - 1st
Maungawhau subdivision of Albert-Eden Local Board - mostly successful
Won a seat
Rachel Langton - 1st
Ben Lee - 2nd
Lee Corrick - 3rd
David Burton - 7th
Puketapapa Local Board - mostly bombed
Won a seat
Ella Kumar - 3rd
Nigel Turnbull - 7th
Michael Smith - 8th
John Lister - 10th
Dev Bhardwaj - 11th
Mosa Mafileo - 12th
Orakei Local Board - clean sweep
Troy Churton - 1st
Kit Parkinson - 2nd
Colin Davis - 3rd
Toni Millar - 4th
Carmel Claridge - 5th
David Wong - 6th
Rosalind Rundle - 7th