Why does the Centre Right Struggle in Auckland?
Thought: Technically the Centre Right does not. The harder Right does and will always do so.
With the City cranking back up to power (although Auckland does not usually come back to full power until the Universities resume in March) focus quickly turns back to the two big issues this year:
- The Unitary Plan as it becomes operative in August
- The Elections
Council evidence for the rezoning exercise is not due until the end of the month so the Unitary Plan will be quiet until then. But election talk has continued again with the latest looking coming from Public Address by Russell Brown:
Simon Wilson is most of the way through his fascinating Metro magazine feature on the Auckland National Party and its designs on Auckland local government by the time he identifies the thing that unites the party’s “braided river”: the belief that it is National’s birthright to run things, Auckland included.
It’s easy to understand why party members and supporters would think so. As Wilson points out, its command of most Auckland electorates underpins the party’s dominance of national politics. He writes:
When National looks at those numbers, it asks itself, “If we’re so popular, why the hell can’t we win the council?”
It particularly asks itself why it can’t win the Shore. In the council election of 2013, the independent rightist candidate John Palino won the mayoral vote in all five of the ward seats north of the bridge. Yet the centre-right holds only one seat in those fivewards.
The city’s wealthiest ward, Waitemata, “is represented by the unreconstructed old lefty Mike Lee and a board full of Labour and Green types. Why hasn’t Waitemata turfed them out and voted blue?”
In part it’s because the Auckland centre-right is so divided and thus not very effective. Even in this year’s local body elections, it will be standing against itself, with C&R declining to make way for the more urbanist Auckland Future. The common answer to this problem seems to be that the elected Council needs managing, via the equivalent of a whipped caucus. Which, as I’ve noted before, isn’t necessarily something Auckland wants – and very probably is not what it needs.
But this belief does seem to have been a key element of the centre-right’s own conversation. It must be at the heart of Theresa Gattung’s bizarre column in the Herald three weeks ago. She wrote:
Full post and source: http://publicaddress.net/hardnews/footpaths-not-manifest-destiny/
Russell was continuing the analysis on from Simon Wilson’s Metro piece I covered late last year: Some Reckons from the @MetroMagNZ Summer Edition #SummerSeries AKLPols
The question continues to be asked why does the Centre Right continue to struggle in Auckland? I would argue it does not (although it is fractured) when you look at this situation (as I wrote in the Public Address piece:
The Centre Right is fractured in Auckland between the pragmatics and the ideologues.
Your pragmatics (whether you agree with them or not) are the following
Your ideologues include:
Fletcher when it comes to the Unitary Plan
That list above shows how fractured the Centre Right is in Auckland for starters.
Now here is something else
Goff or Crone it doesnt matter who gets elected – they can only pull in 7 votes on the Governing Body I theorise.
Our Deputy Mayor however, pulls 10 and her vote makes 11 – a straight majority.
Now ask yourself this:
Why can Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse (Len could but he is stepping down) rally those of the Left and the Right but mayoral candidates, C&R and Auckland Future are struggling?
This can lead to another question:
Why are Transport Blog, Public Address and others “authorities” in Auckland discourses? (A question as it played into the heart of our democratic structure and inner mechanics of Auckland)
Why are die hards on the right still going on about the CRL and the Unitary Plan when both will be done and dusted prior to the elections and cant be unpicked?
All things to ponder about.
So you must be wondering how do I reconcile the claim that the Centre Right is not struggling but it is fractured. I reconcile this on further thoughts on what the ‘Right’ where the aim might not be the Mayoral Chains but rather the aim is enough of the more pragmatic Right Councillors (listed above) to be on the Governing Body to steer a more conservative agenda than what we might get if the Governing Body was more heavily stacked with those from the Left/Liberal side.
And through this current term of Council we have seen a more conservative agenda work its way through than the 2010-2013 term. Ironically this more conservative term has happened more under the watch of our Deputy Mayor than the Mayor.
The comment from Local Board member Kearney explains things in a nutshell with Auckland politics:
An interesting piece, Russell.
You’re right: The centre right in Auckland is fractured. My personal view is that Auckland actually does need party politics. By this I mean Labour stands in its own name, and National should do the same. The reason it doesn’t is because National cannot control it, and is therefore scared of its brand being tarnished. So it silently sits in behind the scenes trying to play puppet master.
There’s nothing antithetical about a centre right elected member working with the centre left, or the left in general. At least not at local board level. You can’t argue over parks maintenance, or library upgrades, on philosophical bases. That stuff belongs in academic writings, not at the coalface. There are some issues where an ideological view can proceed over pragmatism, but not many. Mostly, you need to get on at local board level at least, to get things done. These are the reasons I believe I was voted in as deputy chairman of the Kaipatiki Local Board in 2013, even though those voting for me were from Labour, and I was from Act (and they all knew it). If you’re into achievement politics (as I was) then that’s the only way to play it. A case in point was the Unitary Plan process. Philosophically, I prefer expanding the RUB rather than intensification. But it was crystal clear that the debate around expanding the RUB was not being won, and at local board level you have little input around that. So it became a matter for me on focusing on what you could achieve, rather than sitting back and throwing rocks. Auckland desperately needs housing and so getting the Unitary Plan through was imperative so I argued that we should still expand the RUB, but at the same time supported the Unitary Plan – because I’m into achievement politics.
On the other hand, I think the Council is a different beast. There is a more room for class warfare (as it were) if you want to play it that way. But council is not dissimilar to MMP, which is what Penny Hulse understands, and I think some centre right councillors supporting the Mayor do also. Basically, you have to pick your fights – again, not dissimilar to national politics. The best centre right councillors should know this, but it’s not clear on the evidence.
Backed up from Labour man Greg Presland
I agree with Patrick Reynolds that National’s expectation of success because of the last election result is misplaced. First of all it has to deal with the C&R/Future Auckland diffulties. Then it has to deal with the intense parochialism in the south and especially in the west. And it ignores the reality that Labour + Green is in many cases stronger than National.
An example is my home suburb of Titirangi with its cafes and decile 10 ranking and obvious middle class nature. But the Labour + Green Party vote last time was higher than the National vote.
And, dare I say it, but I agree with Nick Kearney. Much of the Council and Local Board business requires practical responses and competence rather than ideology is rewarded. People want to know what elected representatives think. But they want to be sure that if a problem is presented for solving then their elected representative can do this.
That is why local government is different to national politics. And why it is so much more unpredictable.
What Kearney and Presland have shown is the level of pragmatism over ideology set at Auckland Council level. Something the hard Right and Left as well as it seems parts of the Auckland Isthmus continue to struggle to understand especially and ideologicalism gets punished here in Auckland.
The South and the West is parochial for sure but its Ward Councillors and for the most part most of its Local Boards are pragmatic although there are a couple they’re running on sheer ideology (and it shows).
The Media Dynamic with Auckland Politics
Now there is another dynamic in play that I very briefly touched on in my comment at Public Address (Russell picked up on it as well). It is that of authority. This cuts into the narrative of Auckland, Auckland politics and how the media come into play as it influences Council dynamics. Separately I might do a media post on some happenings in the mediascape over the last two weeks as we are seeing a powershift dynamic in which the New Zealand Herald is at the losing end of. But that dynamic does have effects at Auckland Politics level.
As I noted in the comment Transport Blog (and their parent Greater Auckland), Public Address, myself and Bob Dey can be considered authorities in the mediascape on Auckland politics. This in no way discounts the Mainstream Media and the likes of the NBR, Todd Niall of Radio NZ and Maria Slade of Stuff (there are countless others too) and their stories/analysis on Auckland. But notice I have left the New Zealand Herald out deliberately?
This is because authority thus respect is earned and can be squandered when it is abused as the Herald has found out (I’ve already pulled them twice up in six months on inaccurate articles with the Unitary Plan). This authority and respect comes from balancing coverage and critiques of Auckland politics and the main institution that is the Council. In short it is praise where it is due and a good boot up the bum when it is also due as well to which a respected elected representative knows quite well.
But ultimately how did this authority come about? How does a Councillor’s authority come about (which is earned and squandered in the exact same way as the ours is)?
Answer is: Pragmatism or rather for the sake of the City going forward, not being an ideologue stuck in one mind-set!
We don’t pick yesterday’s fights constantly such as the City Rail Link and how the City will be shaped over the next 30 years like the hard Right constantly does. The fights are picked on how best to achieve the end goal through common grounds and well compromise (art of Democracy which is the art of the possible).
Controversially those pragmatic Councillors I listed above have earned their “authority” and along with the Deputy Mayor and those of the “Left” (Darby, Clow, Alf, Walker, Walker and yes Casey) have steered for the most part Auckland forward. If I was to crystal ball gaze those I have listed should be able to get reelected – even those in those hot contested Wards.
In conclusion the Centre Right in Auckland while not behind a single banner say like City Vision is okay although it is fractured at Auckland level. Fractured in that the Centre Right do not rally behind a single banner like City Vision for the Left although that might not be a bad thing for the Centre Right. The current term of Council the loose coalition of Centre Right has worked well enough and I would say it is going to continue to do so in the 2016-2019 term?
Why? Because this loose alignment allows those Councillors to move freely enough in representing the Local (their Wards) while dealing with the Regional (as they are elected to do). This by no means everything is rosy in Auckland but it does mean we do avoid the ideologue dead lock that plagued the former Auckland City Council for decades (and what those on the harder Right want to go back to). Probably and ultimately why C&R and Auckland Future struggle as this is not Auckland City Council this is Auckland Council representing ALL of Auckland.