By FRAN O'SULLIVAN
The role National Party president Michelle Boag played in manipulating a critical candidate selection battle has been revealed in confidential emails.
The secret correspondence - which helped to bury the political career of long-serving MP Brian Neeson - appears to contradict claims that National's head office had no role in the Helensville selection battle.
In March, Mr Neeson failed by four votes to win the party nomination for the safe National seat. The winner of the acrimonious race was 40-year-old millionaire John Key.
The emails reveal that Ms Boag drafted a press statement, a letter to delegates and a resignation speech for candidate Ian Lupton, who claims he was put under pressure to pull out of the contest so Mr Key would have a better chance of defeating Mr Neeson.
The emails were sent the night before Mr Lupton, an airline pilot, was due to announce his withdrawal.
They have been obtained by the Herald, and disclose that Ms Boag worked intensively with Mr Lupton - who had already been through a rigorous pre-selection process - to explain publicly his decision to reduce the contest to "between two nominees only".
Ms Boag yesterday confirmed that she assisted Mr Lupton by writing draft statements for him.
But she denied Mr Lupton's claim that either she or the National Party hierarchy offered him a chance to seek the Clevedon nomination as a trade-off for quitting in Helensville.
She said the claim was "blatantly untrue", and called Mr Lupton "a loose cannon".
Mr Lupton stood for selection in Clevedon, but lawyer Judith Collins beat him and sitting MP Warren Kyd.
In a letter which Ms Boag drafted for Mr Lupton to explain to delegates why he was withdrawing his nomination on the eve of the contest, she wrote: "I [Mr Lupton] have been asked to consider another opportunity to stand for National which requires me to withdraw from the contest."
The letter, with a draft speech announcing Mr Lupton's intention to stand down and a draft press statement on the issue, was emailed to him by Ms Boag on Sunday, March 3.
An outraged Mr Neeson last night accused Ms Boag of manipulating the selection process by eliminating a third contestant and putting words in Mr Lupton's mouth.
The MP was particularly incensed by Ms Boag's draft letter to delegates, which said:
"The contest in the electorate is symbolic, because it comes at a time when there has been much discussion in the National Party about the need to renew our organisation and our parliamentary representation, and I [Mr Lupton] agree with that proposition ...
"However, with two challengers in the field, I believe the chances of achieving that renewal are lessened."
Mr Neeson said: "If Michelle Boag wrote that and handed that to Mr Lupton to read, then the agenda was to get rid of me and to thwart the democratic process."
He described Mr Lupton as a "political babe in arms" who had been used.