Monday, 10 May 2010

From His Cold Dead Hands

In his sights: Jim Anderton's campaigning skills pose a deadly threat to Christchurch Mayor, Bob Parker.

JIM ANDERTON is not the sort of politician to gracefully surrender political office for a well-earned retirement. Indeed, the prospect of Jim sitting quietly in a garden somewhere, puzzling out The Press’s crossword in between sips of sweetened tea, is so preposterously unlikely that it can be immediately discounted. No, James Patrick Anderton will die with his political boots on. They will have to prise the musket of power from his cold dead hands.

No surprise, then, to learn that Jim is taking aim at "Sideshow Bob" Parker for the Christchurch mayoralty.

Should Parker be worried?

Frankly, yes – he should. Because Jim is one of this country’s great campaigners. The fact that he was able, against all predictions, to hold Sydenham (later to become Wigram) in 1990 bears testimony to his extraordinary organisational prowess. So does Christchurch’s centre-left 2021 Team, which Jim (and his wife, Carole) played a major role in establishing back in the 1990s. Parker will have to whistle-up a superior on-the-ground organisation to beat Jim’s machine – and that will take some doing. He will also be running against his own record as Mayor – and that, too, will be far from easy.

Parker came into office back in 2007 as something of a political "clean-skin". He carried no obvious baggage from either the Left or the Right – a perception he turned to his political advantage with obvious success. Combined with his enduring television celebrity persona; his impressive record as the Mayor of the Bank’s Peninsula District Council; and his youthful and affable personality, Parker’s "independent", non-ideological, image made him the ideal candidate to succeed the equally youthful and affable Gary Moore.

So strong were these positive perceptions that Parker was able to win the Mayoralty without a genuine on-the-ground organisation. He already had massive name-recognition, a friendly and uncontroversial image, and his predecessor’s tacit endorsement. All he needed to become Mayor was a decent-sized war-chest and a half-way competent PR team – and he had both.

Once in office, however, Parker soon revealed himself to be a man of the Right. His populist crusade against "Boy Racers" provided the first indication of his deeply authoritarian political instincts. Not that his "tough" approach to these wayward youngsters counted against him with most Christchurch voters – not initially anyway. The real political damage followed his Council's curious decision to invest $17 million in a number of the right-wing businessman, Dave Henderson’s, speculative property ventures, and his attempt to impose a 24 percent rent-hike on some of the City’s poorest citizens.

These decision’s were fatal to Parker’s most valuable political asset – his non-ideological, competent and friendly image. No longer was he "that nice Bob Parker". Taken with his right-wing-dominated Christchurch City Council’s moves against the municipally-owned bus company, and his own role in the National Government’s outrageous anti-democratic coup against Environment Canterbury – Parker’s "signature" decisions in favour of the Right transformed him into "Hendo’s mate", and the creepy "Sideshow Bob" off The Simpsons.

It is this, the politically-transformed, and much-diminished, Bob Parker, that Jim is running against. And Parker will need a lot more than wads of cash and PR spin to slough off the dirty-skin in which Jim has rhetorically encased him.

The Incumbent’s best bet will be to focus on Jim’s age, and to play up his refusal to stand down as the MP for Wigram. Slim reeds at best – and unlikely to off-set the voters’ negative perceptions of Parker’s mayoral performance.

Jim’s campaign will suffer, however, from an issue that is related to his age and his office. Probably not in the front of the voters’ minds, but quite likely at the back of them, will be a nagging question: "Why has Jim no obvious protégé - or successor?"

After 26 years as a Christchurch MP, Jim should have an obvious heir-apparent, someone who could step into the Wigram seat and hold it for the Progressives. Or, even better, someone who, with Jim’s (and Jim’s machine’s) support, could make a credible run for the Christchurch mayoralty.

Sadly, there is no such person.

Jim is a wonderful campaigner, but he has not proved to be the sort of leader who gives thought to finding and preparing the person who will preserve his achievements and champion his causes after he has gone.

It will be a poor epitaph for what has been a remarkable political life, if the person who prises the power from James Patrick Anderton’s cold dead hands turns out to be not his chosen successor – but his worst enemy.


Peter W. said...

Dear Chris.

Interesting comments. I think the answer is that since the Alliance evaporated, and Labour returned (more or less) to its more traditional policy standpoints that Anderton has felt that he doesn't really need to appoint or annoint a successor, as there is a ready supply of like-minded people within the NZLP. Therefore, I think he's probably relieved that whoeever is selected to stand for Labour in Wigram next time will continue a lot of his legacy.

David said...

What an appalling prospect, Anderton should retire.

The battle against corporate control of water is the big issue in Canterbury this election, and on this question Anderton has stood shoulder to shoulder with Parker and the Dairy industry.

As minister for agriculture and economic development in the last government he was a shameless booster for irrigation projects like Central Plains Water.

On this issue one is as bad as the other.

Anderton should give up this foolish idea and give the people of Christhchurch the choice.

Chris Trotter said...

All true, David.

As far back as 1989 I used to (rather mischieviously) refer to Jim and his allies as the NLP's "Smokestack Faction".

It's rather depressing to confirm that his environmental credentials have not noticably improved over the past 21 years.

David said...

It’s common knowledge (in Chch) that Anderton’s likely successor in Wigram is Megan Woods.

Woods was a member of Anderton’s Progressives when she stood against Parker as 2021’s mayoral candidate last time round. She did surprisingly well for a political unknown, and many expected her to stick around to have another go this time round.

Instead, she joined the Labour Party (and presumably resigned from the Progressives) a few weeks before standing for selection as Labour candidate in Christchurch Central. It’s said she had the support of outgoing MP Tim Barnett, but other party members weren’t so keen on handing a safe seat to a newcomer, and current MP Brendan Burns was chosen instead.

Woods is now tipped to contest Wigram with Anderton’s blessing, but presumably as a Labour candidate whenever he resigns.

Chris Trotter said...

Thanks David.

I'm aware of Megan (whom I regard as an excellent political prospect) but, as you say, she's now a Labour Party member.

Jim has no one from his "tribe" to succeed him - in the way that Helen had Phil, or Don had John.

That being the case, I can't see the Progressives surviving his departure.

Anonymous said...

and Phil has Andrew Little as his heir?

Most don't think Phil has it in him to beat Key, and so who in Labour does?

Chris Trotter said...

It will be a very peculiar New Zealand electorate indeed that elects an Andrew Little-led Labour Party to power.

But, then, I thought George Bush was unelectable - so what do I know?

Anonymous said...

Otherwise Cunliffe would be the forerunner?
Also Little would make things hard in regards to Labour's position on coal mining and climate change would he not?

Anonymous said...

As an aside, my Labour leadership dream team is Shane Jones and Phil Twyford. Jones can say things about the incipient crony apartheid of the MP/National alliance no Pakeha would dare utter, and he speaks in word the working man understands; Twyford is making himself the numero uno Aucklandista Labour MP with his relentless exposure of the corrupt Rodney Hide. To my mind, a working man's Maori and a solidly urban Aucklander would tick all the right boxes for the Labour base.

Mind you, I would also form a "Maori Labour Party" to specifically split the Maori vote. Turia and co now clearly represent a tiny oligarchy of the newly enriched Maori iwi elite, yet their position as THE Maori Party allow them to present themselves as the party of (as Turia puts it) "Our people". A MLP would put the political cat amongst the pigeons in the Maori seats very nicely, thank you very much.

Victor said...

I used to like Phil Twyford but he doesn't seem to like old people. Last year, he suggested, in so many words, that we were selfish parasites. I'm old and so I won't vote for him.

mike said...

Think it's a pity Annette King won't be putting herself forward as a leadership option. She always seems a highly effective, forceful speaker. A chip off the Clark block, but more combative.

Anonymous said...

Interesting chris. Parker might have authoritarian instincts on boy racer issues, but its wildly popular here in Chch.

Anderton's yesterday's man. He has carried on the fiction of being a minority party leader long after he was the only MP in his party, rorting the taxpayer of hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. He's an A1 trougher par excellence.

It's good for the rest of the country that he's going, since they will get some relief from that droning whine after 26 years. Pity those of us in Chch who will have to suffer him as mayor if he wins.

Jim's school report cards might have read: "Likes to be leader, but doesn't play well with others."

I'd like to see if Anderton steps down from parliament if he doesn't win the mayoralty, if he aims to continue on in wigram if he loses the mayoralty.

Jim Jong Il said...

Funny to see how labour were so up in arms about lotu inga being an MP and a councillor at the same time yet are cheering anderton doing the double mayor MP jobs.

Victor said...


I agree with you. I've regarded Annette King as one of NZ's most accomplished politicians since she first emerged in the late 80s.

And every time I find myself in a hospital, I recognise the good work she did in the most difficult of all portfolios.

Unlike it's UK equivalent(see earlier thread), New Zealand Labour doesn't have a great deal to apologise for.

It needs someone who will proudly proclaim the b....... obvious to a nation grown too used to contorted half truths, spin and innuendo.

Anonymous said...

Jim could take a leaf out of Gordon Brown's book.

He has made his contribution, the initiative has passed to another generation. He should lend his support to a younger ideological soul mate rather than seek to light a few candles in the twilight of his career.

I wish him well in his retirement, either by choice or by a rejection he probably doesn't deserve.

There must be some left leaning plants in his garden, surely?


Anonymous said...

Good analysis of 'Sideshow Bob' Parker, Chris, but how on Earth do you get to: "And Parker will need a lot more than wads of cash and PR spin to slough off the dirty-skin in which Jim has rhetorically encased him."? Parker has encased himself in a dirty-skin; Anderton has done nothing. As usual.

And if anyone is more authoritarian than 'Sideshow Bob', it is 'Jumbo trougher'. Need I remind you that Jim Anderton single-handedly destroyed the Alliance party, with his fascist insistence on total unquestioning loyalty to Jim (and Labour!@#$!).

Perhaps you will recall Matt McCarten's words (pg218 in his book 'Rebel in the Ranks', about the Alliance):
"I had a meeting with Andrew Ladley who spelled out very clearly the conditions under which Jim was prepared to stay within the Alliance:
* [McCarten] to resign immediately as President
* The entire elected council was to resign and Jim would appoint a seven person committee of his own choosing to run the party
* Jim would decide who was to be on the Alliance [party] list and he would not have anyone on that list with whom he'd had a disagreement. I presume he meant Lalia Harre, Willie Jackson and Liz Gordon.
* The Alliance constitution would be 'set aside'
* Jim would have the power of veto over policy."

Now THAT'S fascism!!!

Anderton burned off huge numbers of talented people (including you, right Chris?), blocked Laila Harre from supporting striking newspaper workers, and finally killed the party by browbeating his MPs into voting for the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 - breaking Alliance policy!

What on Earth would any sane person want Jim Anderton as mayor for? At least there are limits to how much damage tories like 'Sideshow Bob' can inflict. Anderton is a wrecking ball who destroys the left.

Let's back a serious leftie mayoral candidate, like ex-Alliance MP Liz Gordon, hmmm? And try stop the capitalists like Parker and Anderton from privatising water and other council activities?

Mad Marxist.

Chris Trotter said...

To "Mad Marxist":

You are quite right, MM, Jim did burn off the best and the brightest.

My wife, Francesca, who was Treasurer of the NLP back in 1990, decided it was time to go when Jim incurred $20,000 worth of debt on behalf of the party without so much as a phone-call to the person nominally in charge of its finances.

I departed soon after, when Jim's personal secretary informed the NLP Manifesto Committee that if it persisted in its course, Sydenham would be forced to issue its own manifesto.

Others lasted a lot longer than Francesca and myself, but in the end Francesca's charge that the NLP (and later the Alliance) had become "a prince's court" proved to be spot-on. (As Matt's recollections so vividly illustrate.*)

You have stated in a much more robust fashion what I only very gently hinted at above: that Jim, like Louis XIV, cannot believe that the world will go on after his demise. Like the French king he says: "Apres moi - le Deluge!"

* I always laugh when I hear Andrew Ladley interviewed by journalists as a great defender of democratic constitutionalism. When practice replaced theory, Andrew proved to be just the opposite!

Anonymous said...

Anderton's legacy will be our polluted rivers flowing with effluent and fecal matter from farms because of the pro-corporate farming policies enacted under his watch as minister of agriculture.

And for what? Farmers are unlikely to be socialists so in the end he sold out his beliefs for the baubles of office and a pat on the back from his capitalist enemies.

Anonymous said...

Anderton will win... Sideshow Bob is a TV personality...who was weened off the auto-cue prior to entering the political arena...He can't hold his own in a debate... The interest in CHCH will be whether other heads roll, after Rodney Hide poked his paddle into local government affairs... Also Sideshow Bob, has tried to build too many monuments as part of his legacy... silly billy....

Anonymous said...

"You have stated in a much more robust fashion what I only very gently hinted at ..." I know, I know - sorry Chris, but I am so terrified at the prospect of Chch people actually voting Anderton into mayoral power, that I allowed my blunt critique to sully your prose ;)

Your family examples of Anderton tyranny should convince anyone with a functioning brain cell not to vote for Jim, but it needs wider audience. Sadly, I am posting Matt's quotes partly in the hope such history will get wider readership.

I know what you mean about Ladley (and John Pagani). It staggers me to see people involved in such utterly undemocratic behaviour get lionised, not to mention proclaimed expert in coalition management and democratic peaceful resolution building!!!

Thank God I live in Auckland region, where our democracy has just been quietly stolen by Hide & Key, and we don't (yet) have a tyrant 'leading' us. Democracy is heading for a very dodgy neighbourhood in NZ... (and not even my dodgy neighbourhood).

Mad Marxist.
P.S. You haven't mentioned Liz Gordon - perhaps a post on the contrast between fake and real left candidates might be in order (though I know that may be personally painful if you're still mates with Jim). I just can't believe all the lefties haven't quickly backed Liz to raise her profile as THE left candidate...

Anonymous said...

Jim anderton is a deceitful power crazy monomaniac.
Lord Jim has white anted every organisation he ever joined. And it was for no great principal or public cause. It was all for Jim.

How can a one man band have a successor?

paul scott said...

Here in Canterbury we are not looking for a Socialist party successor in Wigram, what we are looking for is someone who can stop the rot of the present corruputed and transgender led Council.
Anderton is the only person in Canterbury who can do that.
We will vote in Anderton who we understand and accept, Anderton will take Mayoralty of Canterbury and we will work with him
on future leadership after that.