Brown the key to Goff’s fate at polls

Kapi-Mana News - - OPINION/NEWS -

Lo­cal body elec­tions usu­ally at­tract half the turnout of na­tional elec­tions but the im­pulse to read wider sig­nif­i­cance into this year’s re­sults is ir­re­sistible.

For one, the high-pro­file con­test for the Auck­land may­oralty brought out the vote there in large num­bers. Over­all, the mes­sage from all around the coun­try has been that vot­ers have re­acted with hos­til­ity to the combo of highly cen­tralised al­pha male lead­er­ship, coun­cil amal­ga­ma­tion and the cor­po­rati­sa­tion of pub­lic ser­vices.

Clearly, the Su­percity model is not one geared for ex­port.

How­ever, lest any­one try to de­pict this trend purely in left/ right terms it should be kept in mind that the model for fuzzy, warmly in­clu­sive po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship has been set by the prime min­is­ter, John Key.

In Auck­land, the seem­ingly end­less, pres­i­den­tial-style cam­paign fi­nally saw Len Brown win out as the warmer, more cred­i­bly in­clu­sive can­di­date.

All along, what in­cum­bent mayor John Banks needed was a third party can­di­date on the left to split the Brown vote – yet thanks to a com­bi­na­tion of per­sonal fail­ings and a vir­u­lent cam­paign to dis­credit him, North Shore mayor An­drew Wil­liams could never cred­i­bly play a split­ter role.

The cru­cial mis­cal­cu­la­tion of the Banks cam­paign was to treat Wil­liams – and not Brown – as the more se­ri­ous threat.

Lo­cal Govern­ment Min­is­ter Rod­ney Hide can­not es­cape re­spon­si­bil­ity for the re­sults in Auck­land. More­over, the close out­come in Welling­ton can only be read as a re­jec­tion of any plans to im­port the Su­percity model to the cap­i­tal city.

Had prop­erty ty­coon Sir Robert Jones put to­gether a team for the lo­cal body elec­tions, it would have split Kerry Pren­der­gast’s vote and thrown the con­test de­ci­sively to Celia Wade-Brown.

In Christchurch, the earth­quake saved Mayor Bob Parker, mainly by en­abling Parker as well to project a car­ing and in­clu­sive style of lead­er­ship – while bury­ing his past deal­ings with prop­erty de­vel­op­ers that had for­merly seemed to doom Parker’s cam­paign.

Na­tion­wide, the re­sults re­jected the process of amal­ga­ma­tion. The im­pli­ca­tions will not have been lost on Key. While Hide is a now a proven elec­toral li­a­bil­ity, his pro­file should sub­side as the ruc­tions within the ACT Party fade from the head­lines, and the Su­percity spot­light shifts onto the per­for­mance of Brown’s new team.

Even so, keep­ing a low pro­file may not be enough to save Hide. His op­po­nents within Na­tional will be urg­ing Key to take ACT off ar­ti­fi­cial life sup­port, and to run a se­ri­ous Na­tional can­di­date in Ep­som at the next elec­tion.

Af­ter all, Hide’s re­forms of lo­cal govern­ment have now ended in dis­as­ter for the cen­treright. Thanks in no small part to Hide’s abra­sive way of pro­mot­ing them, the re­forms have ended up de­liv­er­ing the nation’s biggest city and its busi­ness heart­land, to a cen­tre-left mayor, and to a coun­cil dom­i­nated by his sup­port­ers.

For the next few months, the nation’s bell­wether politician will be Len Brown. If Brown suc­ceeds in Auck­land, Labour leader Phil Goff will en­joy some rub-off ben­e­fits at the next elec­tion. Yet if Brown fails and the Su­percity may­oralty proves to be a poi­soned chal­ice, Key and the cen­tre-right may yet be the even­tual win­ners next year.

Gor­don Camp­bell is an ex­pe­ri­enced po­lit­i­cal jour­nal­ist and colum­nist who has writ­ten for The Lis­tener and Scoop.

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