The Auckland mayoral contest begins. It's a straight-out right-left competition. Before the ink is even dry on the final bill, before the select committee has even reported back, the Auckland Council shape is formed enough for the two leading contenders to have announced their candidacies. The National/Act candidate who will run as an independent, and the Labour/Greens candidate who will run as an independent.
John Banks is the known factor. He's an uptight right winger: the angry guy listening to talkhate radio in the traffic, muttering racist obscenities as he nods in agreement with Leighton Smith and pushes his mobile petrol tank into the front of the queue. To 50%+ of the electorate he is a Maxwell Smart figure - a staccato-speaking imbecile in a suit a size too small who thinks he knows everything, pisses everyone off and then takes the credit for their work. However he has seemingly learnt the art of keeping his mouth shut in recent years and this has helped the public forget these liabilities.But Banks only has to make it to about 35% in a first-past-the-post (single tick) system that we use now to elect the mayor. On a two preference system like they use in London for a first and second choice Banks would most likely lose - so don't expect the Tories to back that improvement. The last thing they would want is a moderate right or moderate left candidate winning as a compromise - they want Banks, or someone like Banks to control the agenda even if the "executive" powers mooted for the position may be weaker than first envisaged and may come back to setting agendas and budget proposition when the final Bill goes through. So since Banks would likely have a maximum ceiling of around 40% he can only hope to win in an FPP system.
Len Brown's tepid reception from the inner suburb lefties and those Auckland City councillors back in April when he addressed them at an informal "Drinking Liberally" session is echoed by many outside of that clique. People think he's a bit of a drip, a try-hard for his down with the kids schtick. But he's untainted - and that may be his core electoral attribute: the unknown factor.
Len Brown has a clean slate - at least with the million people of Auckland who live outside the boundaries of the Manukau City Council. He will form his public persona through the media in the next year leading up to the first election and it will be a path of fumbles and fights on which he will be scored by the media. But through it all he must retain that sense of decency that people have observed - it is his strongest card in an increasingly multi-ethnic, multi-cultural city.
[UPDATE-- 4:20PM: Len Brown's website (via: DPF who reminds us of Brown's Labour party membership and tries to define the lead issue as rates). Brown will try to make the issue transport - and public transport in particular if the Q+A interview yesterday was anything to go by. Rates and the implementation of a unitary system for the new Council where winners and losers will be decided will energise the property owning middle classes primarily, but transport cuts across the interests of every voter in Auckland and will be more tangible than the nuances and nomenclature of rating values.
Note the dark, Labour red:The spiel for the candidate's brochure probably won't be too different from the priorities he has listed at the moment:
Completing the work to build fully integrated transport system linking our roads, rail, airports and shipping ports, with a significant upgrade of public transport.
Supporting the business community through the development of high-speed broadband, better regulations, greater support for tourism and events, and a much greater focus on the export sector and business development.
Public ownership of assets is crucial to our long-term economic growth. Maintaining our interests in the airport, port and water are crucial to developing those assets for the benefit of all of Auckland.
Protecting and enhancing facilities such as libraries, pools and parks, and working towards, over time, extending the free entry to swimming pools and John Walker Field of Dreams policies which currently exist in Manukau across the city
Building on the significant work led by Waitakere, and picked up by the other cities. Sustainability must be central to the new city.
It all sounds credible, but can Len Brown escape the goofy Steve Martin comparisons?He has to connect with people north of the bridge and north of the portage and some of his antics and youthful over-enthusiasm are just too much, but at least he will have a go and make a splash...
Compare this to what Banks offers:Arguing percentages is not going to win anyone an election:
We are holding your rates increases at or below council audited inflation, or 2.0% for 2009, which is a big improvement for you over the previous council’s plans to raise rates by double digit amounts.
The council I lead is focused on fiscal correctness, not political correctness. We are scaling back many projects of the last council which were poor quality spending and not core council responsibilities.
"Affordable progress" - a meh shade of grey. As boring as possible. --UPDATE ENDS]
A majority of people doubt that the polarising and bigoted figure of John Banks would be acceptable as mayor. Len Brown can expect to pick up a very large chunk of this vote by default as the leading proposition to keep Banks out. What Banks must really fear is a wealthy right wing candidate emerging who could scythe off 5% or so. That would be enough to keep him out of office.[UPDATE --6PM: Here's my reckoning of the market odds as at today in dollar terms —
To win Auckland City mayoralty in 2010:
$1.60 JOHN BANKS
$1.75 LEN BROWN
Old Tory Conservative Red-neck petrol-head.
He's trying hard to be nice nowadays.
That dorky guy?
At least he's not a
Mike Lee and the other lefties won't bother to waste their time running against Len Brown. The RAM crowd, or whatever is to the left of the City Vision/Left bloc may put in a candidate to raise their profile in the wards and if they are a celebrity candidate they may attract up to 15%. Same on the right wing with an Alan B'stard spoiler - like Paul Henry. A personally wealthy candidate from the right with enough profile and attitude - attitude that the new Banksie can't express because of his need to win over moderate soft-left middle class voters - could cut a big enough chunk out of his vote to doom him. But not 15%. It would be an ego trip and the vast majority of right-leaning voters would not dare risk their vote on the outside candidate. This outside candidate from either right or left may be from beyond the old Pakeha clubs and may be counting on a rump support from their own ethnic or class community. So, maybe up to 10% max. That's 25% - mostly ideological voters and narrow interests. Of more potential is the centre candidate who can establish themselves as a distinct personality and then reverse colonise one of either of the main candidate's platforms and cause a collapse of their vote and create enough momentum to attract the floating votes that will go to the strongest candidate at the time. That could be where the only viable alternative (ie. 35%+ support) to Banks and Brown will come from, but the chances of them having a high enough profile and grassroots support for running a campaign with spending caps, may mean that no candidate from beyond those two will get to 35% to have a chance of knocking them out. For those reasons it would be very unsafe for a bookie to put Banks or Brown outside of even money at this early stage. --UPDATE ENDS]