Editorial: Where's the vision, Mr Williamson?

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Maurice Williamson.  Photo / Richard Robinson
Maurice Williamson. Photo / Richard Robinson

The policies and planks of Mayor Len Brown should be subjected to the challenge of a worthy rival in October. Only then will the advancement and assessment of alternative ideas, part of the fabric of a healthy democracy, take place. Unfortunately, such an opponent has not emerged. It is not John Minto, the Mana Party candidate for Manukau East at the last general election, who announced his bid yesterday. Nor is it the National Party's long-standing Pakuranga MP, Maurice Williamson, who is considering running. In both cases, these are the wrong men wishing to be the mayor for the wrong reason.

Mr Williamson would, of course, be the more formidable challenger. His possible candidacy is exciting the political right. Centre-right councillor Cameron Brewer has hailed him as a potential "circuit-breaker" for local government in the Super City because he would be able to repair relationships with the central government. "Maurice could try and mend some bridges on issues such as the central rail loop, alternative transport funding, Unitary Plan issues and the vexed issue of how to address Auckland's housing affordability," said Mr Brewer.

Relationships might, indeed, be better if Mr Williamson sat in the mayoral chair, but that would be only because he would serve essentially as a siphon. His natural inclination would be to ensure due heed was paid to a National government's wishes, some of which would certainly not correspond to the desires of Aucklanders.

If he were to become involved, it seems the motive would be tribal politics and the wish to unseat a left-leaning mayor, not the pursuit of fresh policies aimed at mending Auckland's woes. Indeed, Mr Williamson has not noticeably immersed himself in issues specifically involving the city during his 26 years as the MP for Pakuranga.

The likelihood that Auckland would toe a National government's line if he were the mayor is underlined by an examination of his long but less-than-stellar political career. This has been built on a talent for the personal, informal stump speech, as demonstrated by his spectacularly successful "big gay rainbow" address during the parliamentary debate on same-sex marriage.

Less convincing has been his judgment, as when he undermined his party leader, Bill English, suggesting he be put on performance pay. This led to his suspension from the party caucus until Don Brash claimed National's leadership. Later, he also embarrassed the party by professing a liking for road tolls and congestion pricing. Ironically, Mr Brown is now championing that cause, while the Government is continuing to object to their use.

Most importantly, however, Mr Williamson's ministerial career was marked by a failure to address glaring problems. This was particularly the case when as Communications Minister, he failed to rein in Telecom. The company later conceded that confusing the public had been a chief marketing tool. Clearly, its machinations went some way to befuddling Mr Williamson, too. Yet his unwillingness to intervene on behalf of telecommunications users, costing them and the economy, undoubtedly also owed something to his ideological outlook.

This is not poles apart from that of John Banks, a former National minister who became the mayor of Auckland and is now the leader of the Act Party. If Mr Williamson is tempted to run against Mr Brown, he might consider Mr Banks' fate when he stood for the mayoralty at the first Super City election. Aucklanders then clearly supported a candidate with ideas and a vision that did not embrace Mr Banks' perspective or tally with the National Government's priorities.

There is little to suggest they would think Mr Williamson would bring a greater benefit to their city.

- NZ Herald

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