Labour's candidate selection for the Auckland electorates seemed odd, but National's willingess to risk the city for a bit o' gold and silver in the Coromandel is one hell of a punt
As Auckland goes, so goes the election.
I wrote that the morning after the last election; it was hardly a unique point of view, but it was no less accurate for the lack of originality. The sheer size of our major city carries the heft of any general election, especially under a proportional system. Given that, National is playing with fire at the moment.
In 2008 National picked up three seats off Labour, with its party vote up 6.9 percent. Labour lost 8.7 percent of its party support from 2005 in a train wreck that stretched from the inner city to the southern and western suburbs. Traditional Labour voters either switched sides or stayed home (an oft forgotten detail).
The selection of Carmel Sepuloni has been generating a fair bit of heat from some on the left – most particularly those over at Bowalley Road – distraught at Labour's inability to pick horses of courses. My feeling is "yes, but..." Yes, Labour could do with some representatives who look more like scrapping, no-nonsense working class New Zealand, however you define that these days. Pick your avatar – anyone from Bob Semple to Clayton Crosgrove – Labour could do with more of them. Perception, if nothing else, should be telling the party leaders that much.
At the same time I'm wary of political analysis stuck in a time warp, talking about a New Zealand that is in flux. I suspect quite a few working class New Zealanders look like Sepuloni. I don't know her; neither her scrappiness nor her campaigning ability. So I'm in no position to write her off before the next election.
But Labour hardly looks focused in Auckland, or refreshed with new talent. Phil Twyford – the man who everyone likes but no-one wants – has been allowed to stand (or almost stand) and lose in three electoral seats now. Is that how you treat a man of his talent? It's appalling mismanagement. And to however many Aucklanders are paying attention, it looks shonky and undermines his efforts in the Super City debate, sending the message to Aucklanders that the man chosen to lead the party's attack on the Super City isn't worthy of a seat in it. Clumsy is the kind word for it.
Nevertheless, one thing that's become evident in recent weeks is quite how fast and loose National is playing with Auckland. You've got to wonder if either major party has the discipline to lay claim to this electoral crown.
First, there's the Super City debacle, with Aucklanders slowing gaining an instinctive dislike of what's going on. As David Beatson has been chronicling in posts such as this one and this one, National risks a nasty wake up call in the new year as Auckland ratepayers start to see rates rising and no accountability when the trains are late and the motorways jammed.
It's a slow burner, so National still has time to stub out the fuse before it reaches the barrel of TNT (too many Roadrunner cartoons as a child, clearly), but it seems disinclined to do so.
And now, this week, the 7000 hectare proposal following mining stocktake. Talk all you want about Westland or Stewart Island. That's so much political flotsam. The votes just aren't there for anyone to care about. The focus on Great Barrier Island over the past few days is also little more than an excuse for a few journalists to have a day out. Hardly anyone goes.
Sure, Nikki Kaye can offer her fig leaf of protest at her party's proposal to mine the island, just as Paula Bennett raised concerns about the Super City reforms. Both are media strategies approved by the ninth floor. If Kaye can't bring herself to comment on the Coromandel, as she says she can't, then the strategy's worth nothing.
Politically, the only place that matters is the Coromandel Peninsula. That's where Schedule 4 was born and where it will be fought to the death. That's where Aucklanders go for fun. That's where Aucklanders recall their golden weather. That's where tens of thousands of Aucklanders own their baches. And if you thought mining for gold involved a few explosives, just wait until you see middle Auckland fight for its baches.
It may be two hours away, but two hours is nothing for anyone who fights the daily fight against Auckland commuter traffic. Be in no doubt – the Coromandel is Auckland's back yard, and no-one quite does NIMBYism like an Aucklander. Even now, I can just about hear the cars queued up at the Kopu bridge tooting their support for the anti-mining protesters. Next summer will be a doozy.
Veteran anti-mining campaigner Denis Tegg and his crew know the arguments back to front – the steep rivers above Thames and the danger of flooding as trees are removed, the noise and trucks and congestion near those baches, the money that hardly touches the sides as it flies off the peninsula and west to Australia and beyond, the chemicals that could end up in the streams where little Johnny St Kents or Janey St Cuthberts swim.
Maybe National has done the focus groups and decided that enough Coromandel bach owners are wealthy eastern suburbanites who will be won over by tax cuts and business talk. But it's a hell of a punt.
As I wrote yesterday, even Christine Fletcher (note the surname and privilege that comes with it) crossed the floor in the 1990s on behalf of her constituencies to vote against the then-National government and ensure no mining on the northern part of the peninsula. That stance helped win her the Auckland mayoralty. The fact that even John Banks (who has Fletcher as an adviser) announced his opposition before Gerry Brownlee had spat out the words "Eden Park" and "postcard" tell you which way he thinks the wind in Auckland is blowing.
Banks doesn't like the chemical stench on that wind. He knows it's even stronger than the smell of money.
I noted a poll from the '90s in yesterday's post. The 62 percent of New Zealanders opposed to mining on DoC land back then rose to 68 percent in Auckland.
I'll say it again: As goes Auckland, so goes the election. Which major party really wants it?