Quote of the day: Wellington City Council on the Taxpayers’ “Union”

Hats off to Richard MacLean of Wellington City Council for nailing the time-wasting pointlessness of the National Party’s most shameless astroturfer:

Mr MacLean said Mr Williams’ comments say more about the Taxpayers’ Union that it does about anything else.

He said the amount of time and money spent responding to the union’s truly pathetic requests is an enormous expense.

‘One day we’ll have to sit down and cost out how much their useless approach to official information requests is costing the ratepayer’.

Doesn’t Jordan Williams have anything better to do, like try to get footage of drunk MPs for his mates or breaching women’s confidentiality?

What is going on NOW with the local-government Right?

Richard Harman has the goods on the latest outbreak of weirdness from the local-government right – and this time it’s Wellington’s turn.

Finance Minister Bill English has made a rare intervention in Wellington local body politics backing his sister in law for Mayor.

It’s a definite shift from this email to National Party supporters earlier this month. I pity the poor comms person who had to calculate the precise width of the line between “the National Party doesn’t get involved in local politics” and “give Jo Coughlan all your money”.

It’s not going to please Nicola Young, who has an equally fine Tory pedigree. But the real victim could be Nick Leggett:

He is also said to have the support of some property developers, in particular, Chris Parkin, a hotel developer and former Councillor.

This has given him a big campaign funding chest which has seen him direct mail Wellington ratepayers and erect large billboards round the city.

But POLITIK understands there is now pressure on the Chamber [of Commerce] to move its support to Ms Coughlan, particularly now that Mr English has publicly endorsed her.

Chris Parkin, who is “in particular” supporting Leggett, is (or at least was in 2010) an ACT party supporter who believes “the market delivers better than any other system”. The Wellington Chamber of Commerce once threatened legal action over a Council decision to pay security staff a living wage. Because (to quote Wellington City Council’s own chief executive) there’s no “tangible benefit” in ensuring the people who you trust to watch and protect your staff, buildings and public events are happy, well-fed and able to provide for their kids.

That’s a set who may well see more profit backing a fresh-faced candidate anointed by a Cabinet Minister rather than a city-hopping Labourite.

On the other hand, Leggett’s name is already up in lights (or at least on buildings) and Young has good name recognition from the last election (if not her actions since). Neither is likely to say “oh well, Jo’s turn this time”.

Besides, this isn’t Auckland, where the right are hopelessly splitting their vote and only strengthening Phil Goff’s appearance of being divinely anointed the future Mayor. In Wellington, anyone could be in with a chance depending on how the preferences fall.

The danger is being the first to drop out in the run-off – and with three well-funded rightwing candidates against two fairly-united leftwing candidates in a city dominated by Labour MPs and Green party votes, the numbers are against them from the start.

It’s easy to crow that the right don’t have their act together, but the real problem is this: the right isn’t a hivemind. It’s just that they’ve given every appearance of it in recent years, largely due to John Key’s control of the political narrative and the National Party’s envelopment of every free vote at the blue end of the spectrum.

At a local government level, the 2010 Auckland mayoral election was a simple case of Brown vs. Banks. 2013 was Brown vs. Palino. There were other candidates, certainly other right-wing candidates, but they were immaterial. In Wellington, Kerry Prendergast dominated the first three elections held under the instant runoff system, before losing to Wade-Brown in 2013.

It’s perfectly natural that multiple rightwing candidates would run for mayor of a big city, and each will attract different supporters and present different policies. It just runs counter to our whole experience of the past decade. It feels weird. Far less so when two candidates run from the left: we’re quite used to Labour and the Greens having to coexist.

It only looks worse if three months out from election day the right’s candidates are scrapping over big-name endorsements and poaching each other’s funders.

One lesson people often take from National’s electoral success is that voters are far more interested in stability and competence than in ideology or policy. It’s not the only factor, but it’s an important one – one reflected in the successful delivery of the Labour/Greens MoU and the subsequent poll bump both parties received. It’s even more important at the local level where people are far less engaged in the detail.

And right now, neither stability nor confidence is shining through for the Wellington blues.

What is going on with the local-government Right?

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.

https://twitter.com/tmurphyNZ/status/704112177548931073

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.