Something really, really weird is going on in the right, and I’m not talking about John Key, who has politically driven a political referendum process about our national identity for several years now and has suddenly decided to pretend otherwise because his polling isn’t looking nearly as good as he claims.
Nope, I’m talking about the upcoming local body elections in Auckland, where we now have three avowed right-of-centre mayoral candidates – four, if you want to make a cruel joke about Phil Goff, which the NBR certainly did.
Poor Mark Thomas was first out of the gate, only to be hamstrung by compatriot Cameron Brewer, who famously responded
“in the absence of a big name, good on Mark for being prepared to articulate the concerns and aspirations of the centre-right”
Victoria Crone seemed like the perfect choice for that “big name” – polished, professional, common-sense, good business background in an iconic Kiwi business (even if they did buy advertising on That Blog). Then she opened her mouth and everyone, even Josie Pagani, quickly realised she’s brilliant at vague aspirational mission-statements, and rubbish at actual policies.
And now – and I’m still not entirely sure this isn’t a hoax – John Palino, the man most famous for running with the Dirty Politics crowd who exposed Len Brown’s extramarital affair and horrifically exploited the woman involved, Bevan Chuang, has decided he wants to go again. But he also wants to make it clear he’s moved past that whole thing, and has proven it by hiring Simon Lusk as his campaign manager, getting Cameron Slater to organise his media contacts, having Carrick Graham at his campaign launch and raising the Len Brown story at literally the first opportunity.
Tim Murphy’s recap of Palino’s campaign launch is very good reading, albeit in a “too outlandish to be a Yes Minister script” way.
So that’s the National Party’s line up for the Auckland mayoralty. Whiskey. Tango. Foxtrot.
There’s no strategic benefit here. Auckland uses First Past the Post to elect its mayor, and with Phil Goff comfortably occupying the not-too-left-but-still-Labour-enough space, the right proper cannot afford to split its vote.
So what’s going on? Is this the National Party civil war, which we all assume is happening but has been judiciously kept under wraps, finally coming to light?
Or did no one actually think “let’s find a candidate we can all get behind”?
Or did they do that, then realise there were no good options – literally no one who combined talent, credibility, and charisma?
Have they all decided that it’s better to let Goff win than let any of their internal rivals near the levers of power? And we’re back to the National Party civil war theory.
Things seem a bit more sedate in Wellington, where so far we have two centre/left mayoral candidates in Celia Wade-Brown and Justin Lester – vote-splitting isn’t an issue because Wellington uses STV – and one rightwing candidate in Nicola Young, who’s been steadfastly playing the role of “reasonable, friendly Tory” – trying to hook up a deputy mayoral deal with Labour’s Paul Eagle and pulling weird stunts about the Kate Sheppard traffic lights.
But look at the bizarre antics in Auckland, and you might think (cross your fingers) that finally the right, up and down NZ, are getting sick and tired of pretending to get along for the sake of power and itsy-bitsy incremental rightward progress. Finally, they can be the ones having a messy power scrap in public.
The test is this: will the Wellington right unite behind Nicola Young’s nice-and-reasonable facade to try to knock down the big pool of Wade-Brown/Lester preferences? Or is someone else going to throw their hat in the ring? It’s STV, after all. It wouldn’t be splitting the vote. You might even argue it would help the right to get more profile.
There are rumours flying about this councillor or that business leader stepping up to the plate – there are always rumours. It’s Wellington, we get bored easily. But as someone who likes seeing a bit of a ruckus happening on the other side of the fence, I can only say: oh please, please let’s have our own Tory scrap.