National's local election fail
By Richard Harman (author)
The centre-left have now won control of the Auckland and Wellington Councils.
This will be a major morale booster for the Labour Party though Andrew Little was quick to say that it did not necessarily translate into improved chances for the party at the next election.
For National the result is more troubling.
There will now be a debate about why the centre right candidates so comprehensively lost.
In short, how did the centre right blow it.
And there will be a debate (again) about whether, like Labour, the aprty should become more involved in local body elections.
That may be particularly relevant in Wellington where two centre-right candidates with National Party connections stood for Mayor.
In Auckland, the situation is more complex.
What is clear is that the new centre-right group, Auckland Future, failed to deliver.
Only one of its candidates, sitting Councillor Denise Krum, won a seat.
In contrast, eight other centre-right candidates running as independents or under an assortment of brands won seats.
But the centre-left won 11 seats giving them a majority.
Most notably the old centre-right group which Auckland Future tried to replace, Communities and Ratepayers, won two seats --- former National Cabinet Minister and Auckland Mayor, Christine Fletcher retained her Albert-Eden-Roskill seat, and Desley Simpson, wife of National Party President, Peter Goodfellow won election for the prosperous Orakei ward.
Clearly, there were personal tensions and rivalries within the centre-right camp in Auckland.
Back in March a senior National Party source in Auckland assured POLITIK that a centre-right "coalition” was in the process of being formed.
It never happened.
Four well known National Party personalities were at the ehart of Auckland Future; Auckland Central MP, Nikki Kaye; former party presidents, Sue Wood and Michelle Boag and experienced National Party campaign manager, Hamish Price.
But importantly, National caucus sources say the group had only lukewarm support from Auckland MPs.
Ironically the idea of forming a group to maintain a centre-right majority on the Auckland Council had arisen with an Auckland MP, Paul Goldsmith. But he seems to have been sidelined as the Auckland Future group gathered momentum from the end of last year.
In an "off the record" briefing, late last year Auckland Future told POLITIK that early in the new year they would promulgate policy, attract money and find a high profile Mayoral candidate.
Instead, as this year progressed there began to be reports of long established local body politicians clashing with Auckland Future personalities and by all accounts, Auckland Future never really had any substantial funding, and it was separated from the Mayoral campaign of centre-right candidate, Victoria Crone.
There were issues over candidate selection.
North Shore MP, Maggie Barry, one of the few National MPs in Auckland to endorse Auckland Future, also endorsed their two candidates for the North Shore ward.
In the process of selecting those candidates, long time North Shore centre-right local body politician and former North Shore mayor, George Wood, after negtoaitions with Auckland Future decided not to stand.
His supporters said he had been forced out by Auckland Future.
Auckland Future’s National Party critics were yesterday saying if he had stood he would have won and that would have balanced the Council 10 – 10 right-left.
Much of the criticism of Auckland Future focuses on Mayoral candidate, Victoria Crone.
She was unknown in National Party politics though she had been involved with the Labour Party before she emerged as the centrre-right Mayoral candidate.
She did not impress many National MPs in Auckland, at least one of whom voted for Phil Goff, and even when he was publicly invited to endorse her, the Prime Minister did not.
In short, the centre-right lost the election in Auckland.
But in Wellington, Labour and the Greens won.
They did so with a smarter campaign and policies which resonated with the capital city’s generally liberal population.
The new Mayor, Justin Lester, was fulsomely backed by Wellington Central MP, Grant Robertson.
Lester had money and organisation and importantly as far as Labour was concerned, he defeated ex-Labour Party member and right-wing critic of the current party direction, Nick Leggat.
In many ways what happened in Wellington vindicates Labour Leader Andrew Little's refusal to move the party to the centre and the kind of policies advocated by Leggat.
Another casualty in Wellington was Jo Coughlan, brother in law to Finance Minister Bill English who endorsed her at her campaign launch.
Labour Party President, Nigel Haworth said: “This has been a good night for the Labour Party.
“Our three largest cities now have Labour mayors and much more have been elected to local boards, councils, regional councils, and DHBs."
In both Auckland and Wellington, there are National Party members who look enviously at the way that the Labour Party backs local body candidates either directly as in Wellington or indirectly through the City Vision campaign in Auckland.
They will raise questions again about whether the party should play a more direct role in local body politics.
They will face strong criticism from within the Caucus who believe that there is a huge difference between a national MMP campaign and local elections.
Amnd Andrew Little tended to agree.
He was reluctant to put too much weight on the results as far as the general election next year was concerned but said that they showed what could happen to good organisation and a good campaign.
But what the results do mean is that the Government is going to have to tread carefully in its relations with the big cities, particularly Auckland.
Phil Goff’s centre left Council is unlikely to agree to selling off any assets to pay for the Central Rail Loop and the infrastructure funding gap of $4 billion revealed in the Auckland Transport Alignment Project Report.
Transport Minister Simon Bridges has told POLITIK that he believes the new Council needs to address these issues urgently.
Little said he thought Goff would try and forge a good relationship with the Government but that Labour would keep in close touch with him.
And they will.
Life has just got more difficult for the National Government.