Matt McCarten on politics

Matt McCarten is a Herald on Sunday political columnist

Matt McCarten: Landslide for the left on cards in council race

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Len Brown. Photo / Greg Bowker
Len Brown. Photo / Greg Bowker

Len Brown's chances of beating John Banks for the Auckland mayoralty have taken a hit in latest polling.

But, more importantly, I believe the left will still win a majority on the new Auckland council.

With only six days before nominations close for all 170 positions in the new Auckland City, it's becoming clearer how the balance of political forces are stacking up for the October 9 election.

Until now I assumed Banks and the right-wing Citizens and Ratepayers ticket would dominate the local body elections.

My pessimism was due to alienation and apathy of ordinary citizens who I suspected would not bother to participate in the elections. Low turnout traditionally favours conservative candidates as their supporters always vote.

I blame the voter turn-off squarely on the back room manoeuvering by Rodney Hide.

His brazen threat to resign if he didn't get his way over the shape of the city and the sham consultation process was shameful.

I assumed, as I'm sure Hide did too, that would alienate many active citizens, resulting in fewer people standing for election or even bothering to vote.

When the Supercity idea was first launched we were promised a vibrant new cosmopolitan Mecca of the Pacific led by a visionary super mayor. Instead our two frontrunners either deliberately or inadvertently present themselves as men of pastel grey. We seem to know more about their credit card spending than any plans they may have for us.

I have been dismissive of also-ran mayoral candidates but I want to commend them for fronting up and having a go. I suspect the "not Banks or Brown vote" will be a large vote to fight over, even if the NZ Herald poll this week has the other contenders a mile behind. Coming third will give one of them bragging rights.

Initially I thought we'd be inundated with mayoral contenders. It seems many of the serious contenders have instead opted for running for the council or have quietly accepted plum jobs on the council business entities.

My fear that the only candidates capable of being elected would be those with well-known names, and backed by political parties and big money, has been realised.

Despite the pretence by the two main contenders, Banks is the standard bearer for the National and Act parties and Len Brown for Labour and the Greens. Big business is in Banks' corner and Brown has more support from community organisations.

What Brown has going for him, apart from the fact he's not Banks, is that he will be the recipient of massive votes from people who deeply distrust Hide's actions and the perceived pro-corporate agenda of Banks' supporters. With the race between Banks and Brown so close, Brown's only hope is if the turnout in South Auckland is high. That is a major challenge to overcome.

But why do I think the left will still win overall? Here's what is happening. In many wards, the right wing has more than one ticket. That splits their voting constituency. The left, on the other hand, has managed to form a united front and that should allow it to win in several marginal wards where I'd usually expect the right to prevail.

The only other time the right was split was in the 1992 local body elections. I managed the campaign for the left. Although our ticket won just 38 per cent of the vote, we routed the opposition and formed an effective majority in the region.

Polling shows Brown just ahead of Banks but if the left can get half of eligible voters to vote then they will win in a landslide regardless. But even on 40 per cent turnout, where the right would normally expect to win, the split on the right changes everything.

Imagine what it would mean for John Key and the Government if Brown and the left got control of Auckland. The political game changes overnight. It breathes life into Phil Goff and certainly makes Key vulnerable for the first time.

The right in Auckland has messed up its political management and that allows the left a real opportunity. The campaign may suddenly get interesting. About time.

- Herald on Sunday

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