Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: In the race, but not to win

For Thomas, it's yet another ignominious chapter in his political non-career. Photo / Peter Bromhead
For Thomas, it's yet another ignominious chapter in his political non-career. Photo / Peter Bromhead

Mark Thomas used to run a fancy up-market eatery overlooking the Ferry Buildings. He should have stuck with it. When it comes to politics, he seems cursed.

Yesterday, in a confusing move, he's admitted that former Labour leader Phil Goff's victory in the Auckland mayoral race - of which he is a contender - seems inevitable. And that he and his right-wing rivals, who together have been ruining each other's chances, are doomed.

But instead of a dramatic pull-out in favour of National's "unofficial" mayoral candidate Vic Crone, as his right-wing co-religionists have been badgering him to do for months, Thomas is hanging in to the bitter end.

He says it's too late to remove his name from the ballot paper anyway, which is true. But instead of disappearing from the battlefield, he's adopting the role of official Spoiler. He won't throw his support behind another candidate, but will spend his time campaigning to "make people aware of the lack of change a Phil Goff mayoralty will bring". By doing so, he's guaranteed his role as the convenient whipping boy for the post-election inquests; the traitor who split the "National" vote and ensured Goff a runaway victory.

Goff's victory does seem inevitable. A recent Spinoff/SSI poll recorded just 3.3 per cent of decided voters backing Thomas, compared with 15.5 per cent for Crone, and a seemingly unbeatable 60.3 per cent for Goff. Even when the 44 per cent of the "undecideds" were factored in, Goff was on 31.2 per cent to Crone's 8 per cent, John Palino's 4.1 per cent and Thomas's 1.7 per cent.

For Thomas, it's yet another ignominious chapter in his political non-career. He first achieved notoriety as the National Party candidate in Wellington Central in the first MMP election in 1996. Two days before election day, party leader Jim Bolger popped up on Holmes and publicly dumped his man, declaring Act leader Richard Prebble had the best chance of beating Labour in the seat.

Thomas was being filmed for an election documentary at the time, and was later shown cursing as his leader very publicly betrayed him. He subsequently failed to get on National's list. In 2011, he failed to be selected as National's candidate for the very safe Tamaki seat. So his current lack of loyalty to the "National" cause is unsurprising.

I fear though, that his intention to stick around "to make people aware of the lack of change a Phil Goff mayoralty will bring" could back-fire.

He is painting "lack of change" as a bad thing. But after the six years of post-amalgamation turmoil we've been through, a period of stability sounds rather attractive.

As far as policy promises go, the talk has largely been of more of the same, but more efficiently and cheaply than at present.

Of course what Goff has that the other candidates don't is "celebrity". Which, given the way the new city structure was designed, with a president-style mayor at the apex, is an advantage that the others don't have.

After a lifetime in national politics at the highest levels, Goff is a well known face to many.

It's the sort of familiarity that money can't buy - not the sort of money that Goff's competitors can manage to scrape together anyway.

That said, Goff's parliamentary experience does offer two big advantages at this stage of Auckland's evolution. First, it would bring to Auckland a senior national politician capable of staring down the ministerial bullies in the present Government who increasingly see local government as theirs to meddle with.

He also brings with him a tradition of Westminster-style ministerial responsibility, in which the bureaucrats - and the politicians - know their respective places.

In the first six years of the Super City, the bureaucrats, and in particular those running the CCOs, have been more successful than the politicians in the initial jostling for power.

An injection of the Westminster spirit would do no harm if it were to restore a modicum of political control back into the system.

- NZ Herald

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Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman's first news story was for Auckland University student paper Outspoke, exposing an SIS spy on campus during the heady days of the Vietnam War. It resulted in a Commission of Inquiry and an award for student journalist of the year. A stint editing the Labour Party's start-up Auckland newspaper NZ Statesman followed. Rudman decided journalism was the career for him, but the NZ Herald and Auckland Star thought otherwise when he came job-hunting. After a year on the "hippy trail" overland to London, he spent four years on Fleet St with various British provincial papers. He then joined the Auckland Star, winning the Dulux Journalist of the Year award for coverage of the 1976 Dawn Raids against Polynesian overstayers. He has also worked on the NZ Listener, Auckland Sun, and since 1996, for the NZ Herald as feature writer and columnist. He has a BA in History and Politics.

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