Phil Goff's latest lift of his skirt reveals nothing new about his mayoral ambitions, but something more about his thinking and tactics

Sometimes it's funny to see how news unfolds. Just about every news organisation has run headlines today that, as Paddy Gower revealed this morning, Phil Goff has booked a venue at Westhaven for November 22 to announce his run for the mayoralty. But much of the rest of today's buzz is nothing new.

It's been long known that Goff will stand and that he will announce before Christmas. Both Morning Report hosts, for example, have done interviews in recent months accusing him of one of the longest political stripteases in history. It's also long been known that Brown's key backers and advisers have told him he doesn't stand a snowball's and needs to come to terms with the fact it's time to move on. Herald readers have been told as much.

One of those advisers is David Lewis -- previously of this parish, as one of Pundit's original scribes -- who ran Brown's mayoral campaigns and is now set to run Goff's. He knows as much about Auckland campaigns as anyone and his nous regarding advertising spends and key policy buttons to push was pivotal to Brown's first win against John Banks.

So there's nothing especially new about all this, except the time and place. At the same time, this veil by veil reveal is telling.

Before I go on, I should spell out that I think Goff is all-but unbeatable in this race. There are no serious candidates on the horizon, least of all ones that can compete with one of New Zealand's most experienced, hardest working and most centrist politicians. Auckland is won in the centre of politics and the south and west of the city. Goff has a good lock on all of those.

What held back Goff as Labour leader was a sense that after almost 30 years in parliament he was yesterday's man. You can't sell a new era for Labour with the same old face. It remains his only real weakness in this race -- that he's past it and too much an insider. But voters will want someone who has the political skill to take it to the Auckland bureaucracy and the Wellington contacts to get transport going. Goff ticks those boxes. But most crucially, he's not trying to rebrand a losing party. He's starting fresh in a new role, so the 'old man' tag is harder to pin on him.

But the growing public expression of this run suggests three things. First, that Goff has got some sort of clarity in his head about potential overseas postings once his mayoral time is up. I suspect what Goff really wants to crown his political career is some time as our man in London or Washington. I think his initial reluctance to run for mayor was influenced by fear of losing that opportunity. But presumably he's either decided to let the chips fall where they may, or had some assurances that a job is still on the cards; just somewhat delayed.

Second, I assume that Lewis and co have been able to bring the money on board. Remember, mayoral races are expensive. You don't get the free taxpayer ads of a general election and those billboards don't paint themselves. Goff must be comfortable he has the private donations ready to roll.

Third, with talk the right in Auckland (led by Michelle Boag and Nikki Kaye) are actively seeking a candidate, Team Goff has decided to send a clear message: 'If you want to run, it'll be against me. Have no doubt'. Goff is trying to scare the others who may be toying with a run out of the water by (effectively) announcing early. Does anyone on the right -- even the supposed new face who is being sought -- want to go head-to-head with Goff? It will be expensive, they will be up against huge experience and an old hand with name recognition. This is a shot across the bows that may make some think twice.

What's more, it's a Hillary-esque move that establishes him as the frontrunner and positions him as 'the obvious choice' in many voters minds. He's now the one to beat.

The question is how the right responds. Key and his ministers have been benign in their comments; even encouraging. Goff, after all, is on the right of Labour and no great threat to National. Given the mayoralty is likely to be beyond them, Plan B is likely to centre on running hard at the council seats. Like the Republicans in the US Senate and House undermining Barack Obama's presidential action whenever they can, a strongly right-wing council could make life difficult for Goff, even turning him into something of a lame duck.

So while Goff looks as close to a dead-cert as we've seen for a long time in New Zealand politics, that's only the start of the battle for him and his advisers. And there's nothing new in that, either.

Comments (8)

by Rich on November 05, 2015

Given it's an FPP election, which penalises having more than one candidate from the same alignment, then a sensible move for City Vision might be to organise a primary. Instead of the candidates self-nominating and coming to back-room agreements not to stand, let supporters (either an open primary, where anyone can join in, or registered Labour/Green/City Vision supporters and members) vote on the candidate.

Democracy, and I bet the National/ACT factions wouldn't try it?

by Murray Grimwood on November 06, 2015
Murray Grimwood

Goff is a remnant of Rogernomics - neoliberalism to give it its real title.

We need leaders who can ascertain the future, and the future isn't going to be what the past was. Goff won'r be that, not on his showing over the last decades.

From this distance, I'd say Hulse is the one with the best grasp of what's to come; but it will probably take a collape/recession/depression/event to alert the voters. Meantime it makes little difference; they're all growth-exponents in a finite country on a finite planet.

Increasingly irrelevant, then.

by onsos on November 06, 2015

Auckland needs a strong and effective politician as mayor. A political neophyte would get massacred in Council. I don’t think anyone on the current council is in a good position. While Brown has come out of this term covered in effluent, and his allies are smeared with it by association, his opponents haven’t come out well.


Cameron Brewer probably knows this already; he needs to rebuild his reputation as a positive politician before he can seriously have a tilt. I wouldn’t be surprised if he actually endorsed Goff; that would be about the most savvy thing he could do. (On the other hand, I’m not holding my breath.)


On the right, we have heard noises about Maurice Williamson, Judith Collins and David Craig. None of them have Goff’s mana, none of them are near the centre, and they are all prone to egregious political gaffes. Collins and Craig are political poison and would alienate well over half the electorate before they began; Williamson is a clown. We’ve also head about John Banks, but he has far too much baggage.


Who else in Parliament could have a tilt? I suppose that if Key is sick of being Prime Minister he could step down to run for mayor, but I can’t think of any other significant politicians that could win the race. Nikki Kaye is too young; Paula Bennett is too polarising (and has work to do); Steven Joyce? I suppose he’d back himself, but I can’t see him winning.


Who is the mystery candidate on the right? Looking at Wikipedia, Paul Henry has been suggested. It’s difficult to count out a celebrity, but it would be disaster if he got elected. Michael Barnett and Theresa Gattung have been suggested, but there’s nothing there that suggests electability. John Palino will probably run again, but will struggle to even split the vote on the right. 

by Andrew P Nichols on November 06, 2015
Andrew P Nichols

What's more, it's a Hillary-esque move

Yep There's a lot of the Clinton style about this wing of the Labour party including being faux progressive. 

Tinder dry neoliberalism softened by land rights for LGBT Whales...No wonder electoral turnouts are plummetting.

by Alan Johnstone on November 06, 2015
Alan Johnstone

It is my understanding that Theresa Gattung is the current favored candidate on the right. Not sure why she'd want to, unless it is view as an audition for a future parliamentary run.

I agree that Goff is unbeatable, aside from his background he offers what Aucklanders broadly want, continued "Brownism" but without the personal baggage Len Brown brings.

In the last two elections have put up pre 2010 style candidates, tall white rich men from the inner east, the kind of person who could win when there were no voters west of the zoo or south of green lane.

The only figure on the right with chance of winning is Paula Bennett but she is wisely waiting for Mr Key to go and instead fight for the National Party leadership 


by Rich on November 07, 2015

Wellington Labour are actually selecting a mayoral candidate (probably Justin Lester) - which means other Labour members/councillors (e.g. Paul Eagle) won't be able to support another candidate or run for mayor if they don't have the endorsement. 

That seems a better and more open process.

by Tim Watkin on November 10, 2015
Tim Watkin

onsos, you've rehearsed all the names that have been floated – aside from Victoria Crone – but as you imply, none could beat Goff.Oh, except you've forgotten Mark Thomas who is actually standing and has been a decent local board member.

Alan, Crone or Gattung could use it as a trial run for parliament or for 2019. Or 2022. They could afford to play to lose. But it doesn't change the short-term outcome.

Rich, I quite like the primary idea, but Goff has pushed aside any need for that.

by Tim Watkin on November 10, 2015
Tim Watkin

And while Goff is certainly on the right of Labour and isn't a radical, I'm not sure it's fair to assume he's just some left-over Rogernome. People are allowed to change over 30 years!

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