The other war of the polls

The Dominion Post has been given access to two polls telling slightly different stories about the Wellington mayoral race:

Two polls conducted in the past week have revealed Wellington’s mayoral race to be a three-way dogfight between Justin Lester, Nick Leggett and Jo Coughlan – but both polls tell different tales of how the election may play out.

Methodology nerds, sharpen your pencils, I guess?

Lester’s poll targeted “likely voters” – people who voted in the past two elections and would likely do so again this year. The poll commissioned by Leggett’s team quizzed eligible voters.

Leggett’s poll was conducted by Curia, David Farrar’s outfit. I’d assume they deliberately left the net wide to deliver the result their client wanted – I’ve eyerolled at more than enough of the surveys they’ve done for Family First, with questions quite clearly worded to deliver the kinds of “sex is terrible, gay people are evil, bring back draconian morality laws” headlines Bob McCoskrie likes to put on his press releases.

Lester’s poll could be equally flawe. But the ultimate conclusion – that it’s all going to come down to second and third preferences – means things are running as intended. That’s what I like about a preferential voting system. You don’t always get your perfect choice for candidate, but the collective, together, get the choice that pleases the most people overall.

Phil Goff probably wouldn’t be looking so secure of the Auckland mayoralty if Aucklanders weren’t burdened with good old First Past the Post – and because I’m a democrat, I have to say I think that would be a good thing, even though with the current field it would probably mean the Right would triumph with their stable of terrible, incoherent candidates.

If there’s a weakness in the current lineup of Wellington likelies, it’s that the odds seem stacked against outsiders. Practically everyone running for mayor is either currently on council or has been. The front-runners are the current Deputy Mayor, who has a major party behind him; a sitting Councillor, who unofficially has an even bigger political party behind her; and the Mayor of a neighbouring city, with a warchest big enough to have his face plastered onto every available surface in the CBD (though apparently not enough to get humble hoardings out to the northern suburbs?)

I long for a Chlöe Swarbrick kind of run – and in Wellington she’d have a much better shot. Maybe in 2019 …

Voting papers get delivered shortly. If you want to support some local campaigns that could make a real difference, might I suggest signing up to Our Democracy at together.org.nz?

Wellington mayoral candidates on The Nation

I dragged myself out of bed at the ungodly hour of 9am* to get the coffee on before The Nation this morning. If you missed this very revealing look at the six (current) mayoral candidates for Wellington City, fortunately @nkean has immortalised the tweetstorm that ensued for posterity. Check out the Storify post here.

*Parents with small children or school kids with sporting fixtures, form an orderly queue to hurl tomatoes at me.

A change underway in local government?

Things feel pretty bleak on the left these days. It seems like the forces of short-sighted self-centered capitalism reign supreme, that darned mainstream media isn’t asking the questions we want them to (and only the questions we want them to), and those blasted voters just aren’t getting the message.

Besides, it’s a local government election year, and literally no one cares about local body politics. Right?

scrubs wrong

Wrong, apparently. The Spinoff, which is basically my main source of news and great TV reviews these days, didn’t just manage to raise $10,000 to do some honest-to-god active campaigning journalism focused on Auckland’s unitary plan, council elections and housing crisis. They raised it in 17 hours. As of typing up this post they’re sitting at over $23,000.

Turns out “the people” do know good media when they see it, and are willing to stump up the cash. I mean, who wouldn’t pay for regular video content of Shamubeel Eaqub calling bullshit on things?

It makes me feel hopeful. Not just that we’ll get solid, in-depth reporting on the future of Auckland for the next few months, but that this can set a tremendous precedent for political engagement and how our media operate – instead of having to rely on clickbait and churn to get those ad impressions up.

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There’s also a change happening in the capital, with the National Party all-but-outright endorsing a mayoral candidate in the Wellington race. National have always had proxy candidates in the capital – Nicola Young, even Nick Leggett if those much-denied only-Whaleoil-seems-to-have-heard-them rumours about his fundraising are true. In Auckland, the Citizens & Ratepayers group or whatever they’re called these days was always deep blue (and Labour and the Greens have taken the same approach in the big city with united brands like City Vision and Future West.) And it’s perfectly understandable for Bill English to say nice things about Jo Coughlan, given they’re in-laws.

But then you look at what English did say – not just “Jo’s a mate and I think she’d be a great mayor”, but quite baldly, “wouldn’t it be nice if you had the right kind of mayor, and then I could give you aaaaaaaaall this money”. You look at the fact that National have unsubtly asked their members for money for her campaign. You see John Key, a man painfully precise about how his image is used (even if we on the left think he makes terrible choices in that regard) posing for a friendly snap with Coughlan at the flash opening of the new David Jones department store:

This isn’t the usual “if you know Wellington politics you know who the Tories are and who the lefties are, even though everyone calls themselves an Independent” variety of partisanship. Though the field is more crowded by the day, and no cups of tea have been publicly consumed, the hopes of the Right to get a friendly mayor into Wellington are clearly pinned on Team Jo.

It may not be the smartest move. Wellington is a pretty solid Labour/Greens town. But it obviously irks the Parliamentary right to have the city council in their own back yard doing silly things like holding onto assets and not building ALL THE ROADS. They have to unite around someone if they’re going to defeat the incumbent mayor (Wade-Brown) and a well-resourced Labour ticket (Lester) on the preferences. So “go, Jo” it is.

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.