Paul Holmes on New Zealand

Paul Holmes is an award-winning Herald columnist

Paul Holmes: A World Cup coup, and Len's revolution is over

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Auckland Mayor Len Brown. Photo / Herald on Sunday
Auckland Mayor Len Brown. Photo / Herald on Sunday

By all accounts it was a brilliant mess. I'm sure there were marvellous moments of national pride and vaunted spirits. But it was also public madness on a grand scale. I'm talking the opening Friday night of the Rugby World Cup of course, at the waterfront and on the trains. I hate being in crowds these days, so went nowhere near the waterfront or the stadium.

But by mid-week the reports of a loss of control by the authorities along Quay St produced some grotesque stories.

By all accounts, the trains were overcrowded and brutal. No wonder there was a constant pushing of the emergency stop button. And with the clapped-out system completely out of its depth, and having spoken of little but trains for over a year, the mayor of Auckland took his car to Eden Park.

The mayor justified this by saying that he had to be there on time. Well, sorry Len, so did everyone else.

So, central government, aghast and amazed, rolled Auckland's government this week. Make no mistake. That's what Key and McCully have done. Our Prague Spring is over and we have only ourselves to blame for it. Brown has been entirely humiliated. He lost his power in one fell swoop. And so did all the bozos in Auckland governance who were supposed to be running things.

To be fair to Brown, he didn't have a chance. All politicians rely on advice. The advice he got was inept. And no crowd projections were ever made, we learned this week. My God, people could have been crushed to death. The Nats would relish doing him over. The Nats do not want the left running Auckland.

I first started to wonder if the levees were cracking, as it were, when I heard a call to Danny Watson on Newstalk ZB mid-Friday afternoon. This fellow was excited as the rest of us about the imminent events but he was standing at a station and he was wondering why trains were failing to stop. Packed trains were already failing to stop. Packed trains of only three carriages, he added. Odd, I thought.

The Auckland infrastructure bosses and Len Brown himself were attempting to put a gloss on it this week. It hasn't worked. The stories of misery only get worse. Let us be clear. There was a calamitous failure of infrastructure in Auckland last Friday night. It could have been catastrophic.

Children were screaming in that unbridled crush of humanity. What happened has probably ended any chance of Brown being listened to or taken seriously again or winning another term again.

It's too early to say if, or how, Wellington will ever withdraw from a re-established role in the governance of Auckland. What's happened is a coup.

Then in a bizarre twist, late this week we had a Monty Pythonesque plea from the boss of Veolia, which runs Auckland's trains.

What a stupid name for a train network. Why don't they call themselves Auckland Trains, or something like that, so people will know what the hell they are?

Anyway, this rooster, Graham Sibery, pleaded for rugby fans to take the bus.

Myself, I'd take the car. Apparently the roads were beautifully clear last Friday night and there were carparks galore at the park.

Anyway, we're loving the rugby down at the farm. As Tana Umaga says, aren't the minnows the surprise of the tournament? They can all come up with a fierce and skilled game. Namibia have been great to watch. They never give up. They keep coming at you. I turned on the Scotland-Romania game in disbelief at the score, Romania ahead, before Scotland pulled themselves together in the last 10 minutes.

But last Sunday, I became very afraid and in that clash between Australia and Italy we saw some rugby genius. I felt I was watching a team that cannot be beaten in this tournament and I don't mean Italy.

I felt the ferocious agility and speed of the Australian backs and their ability to find sudden clear air to run in tries shows that they are very much to be feared. Deans knew it too when he spoke afterwards. You could tell he knew it. It was all over his face. His boys are doing exactly what he wanted, to peak at the only time he ever has to beat New Zealand, once every four years. All the rest is frippery. Cunning Robbie Deans, patient Robbie Deans.

As I say, I was very frightened. I started phoning friends.

What else? You may not have heard. My new book, Daughters of Erebus, is the biggest selling book in New Zealand this week. Number one on the charts. And for some reason - no one knows why - it's doing exceptionally well at the airport bookshops.

- NZ Herald

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