Hard News by Russell Brown


The non-binary council

While various commentators were debating Saturday's local body election results and whether or not Auckland Council had swung to the right and stranded its centre-left mayor, Radio New Zealand's Todd Niall, as is often the case, nailed it yesterday.

Politics in council are not clearly demarcated as they are in the national Parliament. Some councillors will vote "left" or "right" on different issues. On occasion, as Niall noted, the left and the right on council will unite to vote against the centre. 

You can see this non-binary character right down to the level of individual councillors. In his candidate profile, new councillor Chris Darby (who comes in at the expense of Len Brown ally Ann Hartley) read like a boilerplate local Tory -- against the Unitary Plan and rates rises -- and Whaleoil hails his election today as a "good result" (whilst noting darkly that Darby is "a planner", which is a very bad thing in Whaleoil world). But Auckland Transport Blog is fizzing about Darby, who it regards as a strong supporter of the City Rail Link and other public transport initiatives. And Bernard Orsman in the Herald has Darby down as a member of the Brown camp. Orsman has a clear majority of councillors at least nominally friendly to Brown.

That's at least partly a consequence of the wildly splintered state of the centre-right in Auckland. As Simon Wilson noted in his excellent Metro profile of Brown, the centre-right group includes three councillors -- Christine Fletcher, Cameron Brewer and George Wood -- who each consider themselves the leader of the centre right, when in fact none of them are.

And none of them had to nerve to mount a mayoral campaign, leaving the job to newbie John Palino, who attracted nearly 100,000 votes but made himself seem less suited to the job with every day he campaigned. If any one of them now feels they could have done any better than Palino, perhaps they ought to have had a go.

What can be said is that Brown has lost two key members of his inner circle: Hartley and Richard Northey, who not only chaired important "committees of the whole" on council, but met weekly with the mayor to discuss strategy. It's not clear who can fill the gap left by Northey in particular.

It's all a bit mad, which suits Brown, the bridge-builder, well enough. Brown has weathered some fairly hostile press from Orsman, and was the subject of a wild Herald column from Pam Corkery, which took Orsman's campaign on local body salaries and ran screaming off a cliff with it. The key point here is that Len Brown does not set salaries for Council Controlled Organisations. Their respective boards do. That's how Rodney Hide designed it. The council can seek influence through letters of intent to CCOs, which Brown promises to do in his Herald Q&A.

It's daft to say that Brown did not get a mandate from this election. He won by 50,000 votes in a field where the vote was actually spread fairly widely -- five candidates registered more than 10,000 votes. It's not a Lianne Dalziel mandate -- 70% of the vote on a relatively high turnout amid a bloodbath for her putative council opponents -- but it's far more than anyone else can claim. He'll fudge and compromise and piss off both the right and left. But that seems to have worked quite well for him so far.

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