Brian Rudman

Brian Rudman is a Herald columnist looking at Auckland and national issues

Brian Rudman: Brown's lefty hordes show the big boys who's in charge

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Cartoon / Rod Emmerson
Cartoon / Rod Emmerson

Talk about Helen's revenge. There will be some glum faces around the Cabinet table in Wellington this morning. And the marmalade won't be the only sour taste in the mouths of Auckland's breakfasting business leaders.

The Super City, for which Auckland business pressure groups fought so long and hard, was not meant to end up like this.

The corporate elite were supposed to be the political masters of this engine room of the New Zealand economy, building highways, reducing rating differentials for businesses and loosening planning controls in their favour.

Instead, the lefty hordes from the suburbs, headed by Manukau Mayor Len Brown, have seized control.

Mr Brown immediately declared his intention to put public transport at the top of the agenda, including a rapid rail system which his local opponents - and Minister of Transport Steven Joyce - mocked as unaffordable.

One wish of Super City proponents, especially the Government, that has come true is that the new mayor has a council aligned to his political leanings. But it's not the political flavour they expected.

Including the mayor, the centre-left has a 13-8 majority on the new council. That includes heavyweights like Auckland Regional Council chairman Mike Lee, who more than any other local politician in recent times has spearheaded the renaissance of rail in the region.

It's important to note that the centre-left nature of the new political landscape is far from solely the result of the rise of the outer suburbs.

The Auckland City centre-left ticket City Vision has scored all but two of the seven seats on the new central-city Waitemata Local Board.

In his pre-election round-up, Herald local body reporter Bernard Orsman noted that this board "will have more grunt and say ... than any of the other 20 local boards" as it takes in not just the CBD but also the wealthy inner suburbs of Parnell, Herne Bay and Ponsonby.

For Nikki Kaye, first-term National MP for Auckland Central, the rout of candidates from her side of the political fence on her patch will be a worrying reminder that this is a traditional Labour seat.

Perhaps I'm reading too much into reports that on Saturday afternoon, mayor-elect Len Brown didn't return calls from Prime Minister John Key or Local Government Minister and Super City svengali Rodney Hide for several hours.

But intended snub or not, it seemed very much a statement about who was now boss in Auckland and that any partnership would be on equal terms.

Sure, Mr Key and Mr Brown made the obligatory statements about working closely with each other.

But the situation brought to mind a passage in Dame Cath Tizard's new memoir, where she writes about becoming Auckland mayor in 1983.

"There was some concern in the council that its always uneasy relationship with central government would be worsened by having a known Labour supporter as mayor - a woman too," she said.

The subsequent round of local body amalgamations in 1989 didn't lessen the tensions, and neither will the 2010 grand solution that Mr Hide imposed upon Auckland.

Tension is, after all, the nature of politics.

What is different now is that the disparate Auckland voices that successive governments despaired of, or played off against each other, have been replaced by one loud roar.

For the first time, Greater Auckland, with a third of the nation's population, has a united political voice when dealing with Wellington.

This could be the biggest change in the national political landscape since MMP. Ministers and government bureaucrats will have to treat Auckland with the same respect they have learned to give the minority parties in Parliament.

Ministers for the Rugby World Cup, for instance, will no longer be able to swan into town, declare they want a stadium or a "party central" on the waterfront and expect Auckland to jump.

Mr Brown has already indicated the first test of this new relationship will be over transport.

Inner-city underground rail loop versus Holiday Highway north of Albany. Or both? Let the games begin.

- NZ Herald

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