I was saddened to hear of the death of Helen Kelly, the former Council of Trade Unions president, of lung cancer yesterday.

She was highly intelligent and she gave a warm and friendly face to the trade union movement. Some years ago while president of the Labour Party I approached Helen with a view to her becoming a Labour MP. She was held in very high regard by all within the broader labour movement and though she knocked me back at that particular time, she made it clear that a parliamentary seat was her ultimate goal.

This was not to be but her work in the trade union movement, especially around workplace safety, is a fitting legacy for a lovely, larger than life character who put up a hell of a fight.

Both Helen Kelly and my dear friend, Sir Paul Holmes, found valuable pain relief in marijuana towards the ends of their lives.

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As the end approaches the standard pain killers stop working. We should all support the move to introduce doctor-prescribed medical marijuana.

The Hawke's Bay Regional Council elections were watched with great interest by political junkies like me as the multi-faceted water issue loomed large in the campaign leading up to what was a pretty historic result.

It seems that the defeat of Martin Williams by Paul Bailey for the third Regional Council slot for Napier has meant that the 5-4 majority for the Ruataniwha dam project is turned around to be at least 5-4 against the dam.

The fiercely pro-dam former Chairman of the Council, Fenton Wilson, scraped back into his Wairoa electorate by a mere 188 votes on election day and will almost certainly be replaced as chairman when the new council convenes.

The five members who formed the pro-dam majority before the election pursued a brutally "majoritarian" agenda not conceding an inch to even the most reasonable request from the then minority. Now the boot's on the other foot, it would not be surprising if the new majority adopted the same approach.

An early action that would be more than symbolic would be for the new Regional Council to withdraw the delegation that allows council staff to hand out huge quantities of aquifer water to bottlers without the involvement of elected councillors.

It will be fascinating to watch what the National led government does if the new Regional Council does end the Ruataniwha dam plan.

The same government fired the elected Regional Councillors in Canterbury and replaced them with government appointed commissioners when it decided that progress on water matters was too slow. This happened in 2010 and only this year were "democratic" elections again allowed though the government has designed gerrymandered electoral districts which heavily favour rural pro-irrigation voters over town and city dwellers and still keeps some directly government appointed "councillors".

Elsewhere, the success of many Labour Party aligned candidates in the recent local elections caused spirits to lift amongst Labour activists and led some within that party to feel that their chances in the general election due next year had measurably improved.
Former Labour Cabinet Ministers Phil Goff, Lianne Dalzeil and Steve Chadwick took the Mayoral chains in Auckland, Christchurch and Rotorua. Justin Lester won in Wellington as an explicit Labour candidate and Hamish McDouall, the Labour candidate in the previous general election, (and a former Mastermind champion) won in Whanganui.

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Overall there was a shift to the left on the Auckland Council and even in my local board of Henderson Massey which saw four Labour candidates elected.

Senior figures in the Auckland National Party including two former presidents put together a right wing slate of candidates under the "Auckland Future" banner but this group won only the seat of a sitting Councillor who happened to alter her party affiliation.

This campaign was a monumental fizzer.

Though much of the success for the centre-left candidates can be put down to name recognition of the kind Peter Butler gifted to Tom Belford in Hawke's Bay, where the Labour Party should take heart is in its on-the ground organisation.

Certainly in Auckland, and I'm reliably informed in Wellington and Christchurch, local Labour Party organisations rang rings around their National party aligned opponents.
In terms of door knocking, hoardings, fundraising and all of the activities which make up good campaigns, the Labour teams were miles ahead.

Senior National party figures up to and including the Prime Minister pooh-poohed the local election outcomes as indicators of battles yet to come and they may be right to a degree, but their real worry ought to be the inability of such luminaries as high profile former National Party President Michelle Boag to rally the troops in support of the Auckland Future candidates.

The byelection to be held in Phil Goff's Mount Roskill seat will tell us a little more.