Unless the left gets itself together, it's pretty evident the National-Act aligned Citizens and Ratepayers Now (C&RN) party will take control of Auckland's new super city next year.
C&RN strategists have been plotting the takeover of regional governance for years and are well advanced in their planning for October's local body elections. The super city idea has been around for a long time, but local parochialism and fears in Wellington of a powerful Auckland state-let kept it off the agenda.
The scale of our region's problems has finally forced everyone to accept it's the only logical solution.
When the previous government set up a three-person committee to produce a proposal, I assumed they'd come back with mere tinkering of our regional structures. But it seems they plan to go the whole hog and merge the region into a single super city.
Predictably, the centre-right is coalescing around Auckland City Mayor, John Banks, as their standard bearer. It seems the new mayoral role will be a powerful executive role with wide-sweeping authority. Insiders are already saying it will be the most powerful elected role in the country, next to the Prime Minister.
It's clearly a prize worth having, and Banks will be hard to beat. He isn't the Banks of old who was intolerant, bigoted and a right-wing street brawler. Since he won back his mayoralty in 2007 he's a changed man. Even ardent detractors say Banks goes out of his way to be inclusive and non-sectarian. That's because he knows that to win a majority of votes across the region he needs to appeal to unaligned voters as well as carve off a chunk of centre-left voters.
Let's be clear about what will happen if the right wing gains control of the new super city: our public assets will be up for sale before the ballots have been finalised.
You don't have to be an accountant to realise the easy way to fund Auckland's new infrastructure is to sell off our public utilities.
With a sympathetic and allied government in Wellington, does anyone not believe the Ports of Auckland will go under the hammer? What about our water? The list goes on. The proceeds will build more roads and other pet business projects.
This will all be disguised under the so-called private-public partnership projects, promoted by business interests as a solution for Auckland.
Naturally, C&RN candidates will claim this is nonsense. But when the C&RN-backed ticket for the Auckland Energy Customer Trust was accused of a secret privatisation agenda in 2003 they denied it. Yet within weeks of winning they sold off a chunk of our electricity capacity. Do you really think the big business backers of C&RN do it out of a sense of good citizenship? Maybe there might be another motive?
I've no doubt the real agenda by the pro-business lobby in Auckland is the privatisation of our public assets if they get control. I was dismayed when the best the Labour Party could come up with to stop this juggernaut was to run Judith Tizard for mayor and form a joint ticket with the Greens. They obviously didn't look at the recent general election in which Tizard lost her safe seat and only one in three Aucklanders voted for that combo.
Frankly, the only way a permanent right-wing dominance of Auckland can be avoided is if all the region's progressive groups form a broad community coalition to oppose corporate control of our public assets and defend local democracy.
The only person who I think has a bolter's chance of beating Banks is current Auckland Regional Council chairman, Mike Lee. I haven't talked to him, so I wouldn't know if he's interested - and he's not as well-known as our region's mayor - but he is of an equivalent status. Aucklanders won't give the new super city mayoralty to someone without previous experience or credibility. Nor should they.
Former MPs looking for a job aren't going to get it, either. The only exception would be Helen Clark, but she's got bigger ambitions overseas. A centre-left coalition would need to include the Labour, Green and Maori Parties and pull in NZ First as well as other leftist organisations, trade unions and social movement groups.
I assume there will be fewer than 20 super city council positions, so managing the egos of potential candidates will be challenging. But this is where we can take a leaf out of the American elections. If, as expected, the new councillors will be elected from parliamentary boundaries, then we could run a series of "primary" candidate selections. All members and supporters of the coalition groups should attend pre-selection meetings to vote on a candidate. The winner of this primary would be officially endorsed by all these groups for the contest against the C&RN candidate.
A region-wide primary contest to select a single candidate to run against John Banks would bring a lot of strong nominees and drum up publicity to enthuse and invigorate voters before the October election. You only have to look at the US Democratic Party primary process to see how successful that was in mobilising support for the eventual winner, Barack Obama.
The centre-left cannot allow itself to be marginalised and hand over governance to C&R Now. They can only avoid this if they form a unity ticket now. Tick tock. Time's awasting.