THE Whanganui electorate is in a unique situation with the selection of candidates for the two biggest political parties running concurrently.

And it has been such a long time since the last selections for either party - 27 years since Labour ran a contested selection and 18 years since National selected me to be their candidate in a four-way contest.

Both parties have won the seat for multiple terms and both parties have been in both government and opposition while they had a member of Parliament for Whanganui within their ranks.

The spread of age and experience runs across the nominees and we are yet to see who else will put their hand up for National because that selection doesn't close until the end of the month.


The task for those selecting the candidates is to balance broad appeal with core party values and attraction. Securing the traditional party vote is one thing, but bringing new voters along is important, too.

And this must be done in a manner that is not seen as mercenary or simply by saying what is popular to grab votes. There have been fewer MPs than there have been All Blacks in this country, so the position is unique, privileged and all-consuming in terms of family life and an individual's goals and dreams.

Candidates will find it no easy task to separate themselves from the type-casting the public places on them ... jumping out of the pigeonhole and turning up where not expected and making statements that show a surprising level of understanding in an area your "type" is not supposed to know about.

The electorate will label a new MP as "hard-working" or "lazy" or "arrogant" or "aloof" within the first 18 months. There is no point in turning up three months out from an election and hoping to change any bad publicity that has been hanging around for three years.

Voters want to know that it is Whanganui electorate first, and party-line second, and they will accept a candidate from other than their preferred party if they believe that candidate will go in to bat for them and their cause.

In 2002, half the voters split their support between candidate and party vote. They may not be able to articulate the machinations, vagaries and possible end results of MMP, but they get two votes and use them pretty wisely.

Everyone should be interested in this race because one of these candidates for selection will be our honourable member of Parliament for at least the next three years.

Pay attention folks, democracy is serious stuff.