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Refresh in National Party ranks . . .


The exit from politics of former deputy prime minister and election campaign manager Paula Bennett leaves a boisterous, fun-loving gap in the National Party ranks, and a question mark over new leader Todd Muller’s reported move early on to exclude her.

Bennett faced that down and quickly became an asset as the highest-ranked Maori member, at 13th in the Shadow Cabinet, when an almost all-Pakeha front bench became the first issue for Muller to contend with.

East Coast MP Anne Tolley has also sniffed the wind and called time at the weekend on her long career in politics, including the past 15 years as our electorate representative.

She had already decided five terms as an electorate MP was enough, with her future ambition to become Speaker of the House.

Clearly the new leadership team wasn’t as supportive of that, after she aligned herself strongly with the faction aiming to keep Simon Bridges and his deputy Bennett at the helm. It also negated her wide ministerial experience under the nine-year John Key and Bill English regime, to which the new team wants to project itself as a continuation, and Labour is countering that it is not.

The local branch of the National Party was inconvenienced in its effort to settle on a replacement for Tolley by the pandemic lockdown, but now has a strong new candidate in 28-year-old Tania Tapsell. She hails from the northern edge of the electorate, living in Maketu near Te Puke, and has been the highest-polling councillor on Rotorua Lakes District Council for the past two terms. She is also the great niece of Sir Peter Tapsell, the late Labour MP, Minister and first Maori Speaker of the House (1993-96, during Jim Bolger’s second term).

It makes for a fascinating East Coast contest, with Tapsell up against strong-performing first-term Labour list MP Kiri Allan, and with Gisborne councillor Meredith Akuhata-Brown now announced as the Green Party candidate.

Labour last held the seat that includes Gisborne — under three permutations, as Gisborne, Mahia, then East Coast — for four terms from 1993 when Janet Mackey was our representative. Tolley then defeated her daughter Moana Mackey in 2005.

This week’s (non-scientific) Herald webpoll asks who readers think they will back to be MP for East Coast this election: so far, after 245 votes, it is 42 percent for Tapsell, 30 percent Allan, 10 percent Akuhata-Brown and 18.7 percent undecided.