THE LEFT have a whole lot of lessons to learn from their “shellacking” in Saturday’s local government elections. Sadly, the chances are high they’ll learn none of them. The response of the Auckland Left has been particularly infantile – and hypocritical. It was National Party activist Hamish Price who responded most effectively to the Woke Left’s horrified reaction to Wayne Brown’s decisive victory over Efeso Collins in the Auckland Mayoralty race, with the wickedly pithy tweet:
“In 2019 Auckland elected an old white guy as Mayor of Auckland against Person Of Colour John Tamihere. But that wasn’t racist because Phil Goff was backed by Labour.”
Not that the Right’s gleeful exposure of the Left’s ethical and political shortcomings will prevent the latter from blaming everyone but themselves for the defeats they have suffered across the country. In their sights are – in no particular order – the Baby Boomer Generation, the postal voting system, the political passivity of the poor, and the dysfunctional design of our democratic political system.
Political analysts will search in vain for evidence that the Left understands that its succession of defeats (Auckland, Rotorua, Whanganui, Christchurch, Dunedin) is attributable only in part to a nationwide turning away from the Labour Government and its policies – especially the deeply unpopular “Three Waters” project. Evidence that Saturday’s losers are coming to grips with their critical failure to master ad-man Mike Hutcheson’s “Three Ms” – Message, Money, Machine – has yet to surface.
In time, one hopes, the Left will come to understand that, in all four of the main centres, it was the winning candidates’ mastery of the Three Ms that delivered their victories.
Wayne Brown had all the money he needed to hone his campaign’s message: hiring specialists to test a variety of pitches on potential voters. These experts were also able to identify which demographics were the most likely to vote for his ideas. Guided by political “hired guns” Matthew Hooton and Ben Thomas (formerly “Exeltium”) Brown’s campaign maintained an impressively tight operational discipline.
The key demographic for Brown turned out to be the “Country Calendar Watchers”. These were the over-55 voters who still relied on radio and television for most of their information. The folk who tuned-in to Newstalk-ZB to hear what people like themselves (and Mike Hosking) were thinking and saying. They watched One News, and snuggled-in tight on Sunday evenings for the reassuring images of the decent, hard-working (mostly Pakeha) New Zealand cockies so beloved of “Country Calendar’s” producers.
Wayne Brown’s “Fix Auckland” slogan chimed perfectly with this key demographic. They were less interested in ideological concerns than they were in sorting-out the council. They liked the fact that Brown was abrasive. They did not want a Mayor who suffered fools gladly and allowed himself to be bossed around by city bureaucrats. They were in the political market for a disruptor: someone who could, in the words of Mark Zuckerberg, “move fast and break things”. That the candidate was also a civil engineer, with a reputation for repairing broken things, certainly did him no harm.
Brown did not have a “Machine” in the classic, feet-on-the-ground, Labour/National door-knocking tradition. He didn’t need one. He could reach his key demographic through Newstalk-ZB. Brown’s advertising spend on Auckland’s most popular radio station was all the “Machine” he needed. Historically, the over-55s are the citizens most likely to participate in local elections. They do not need to be “mobilised” – merely steered in the right direction. Carefully targeted social-media messaging added a sweet layer of icing to Brown’s cake.
The same turned out to be true, mutatis mutandis, of successful campaigns across the country. The Right was well-funded, well-prepared, and presented a message which those most likely to vote were eager to hear.
Even in Wellington, where the supposedly left-wing Tory Whanau rolled over both the incumbent, Andy Foster, and Labour’s Paul Eagle, the result owed as much to the candidate’s mastery of the Three Ms as it did to her ideology. Whanau is a superb communicator, whose message that Wellington needed a Green Mayor resonated energetically in the country’s greenest city – electorally-speaking. With sufficient money to sustain her campaign, all Whanau needed was a machine. No problem. Anyone living in or visiting Wellington could hardly miss Whanau’s ground-game. There were feet-on-the-ground in large numbers and plenty of youthful enthusiasm. The newly-elected Mayor told the media that the size of her win came as a surprise. It shouldn’t have.
It is the common theme linking these successes that should give Labour the most concern. Across the country there is a growing sense of disconnection and disempowerment. So much needs to be done, but the democratic transmission-belts that are supposed to carry the needs and wants of the citizenry to the individuals and entities charged with delivering them, no longer seem to work.
Plans are made, and decisions are taken, but not by citizens: not even by the representatives of citizens. At both the national and the local level, unelected and increasingly unaccountable bureaucrats appear to have taken charge. Everywhere, New Zealanders see evidence of centralisation. Everywhere the checks and balances of democracy are being discarded. Elected councillors are expected to act as rubber stamps. Citizens are the stampees.
Nowhere was this situation more vividly illustrated than in the actions of the Orwellian-named “Council Controlled Organisation”, Auckland Transport (AT). Without warning, AT’s CEO informed the users of Auckland’s rail network that its tracks were about to be torn up and re-laid. This would require a cessation of services – some as long as a year. Hugely disruptive of Aucklanders’ lives though it was, AT’s decision was conveyed to Auckland’s elected councillors only after it had been announced publicly. A peculiar way to demonstrate Council Control!
That the Chair of the AT Board, Adrienne Young-Cooper, upon learning of Wayne Brown’s landslide victory, thought it best to offer him her resignation, has been taken as a good omen by all those who voted for “Mr Fix-It” in hopes of instant action being taken. It also prompted the immediate question: Will the Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, draw a similar message of the need for instant action from the results of the local government elections?
Interviewed by a typically over-excited John Campbell for the Q+A programme’s Local Elections Special on Sunday morning (9/10/22) the newly-elected Mayor of Nelson, National’s Nick Smith, maintained his equanimity in the face of remarks about his political longevity that bordered on the offensive. All of a piece, it would seem, with Campbell’s earlier observation that the Baby Boom generation was refusing to “go quietly”.
Smith took the gratuitous ageism in good part, countering with an observation or two of his own. If the Labour Government was wise, he said, it would interpret the Left’s defeats as evidence of the electorate having had enough of its policies. Identifying the Three Waters project specifically, he warned that it would be permitted to proceed only by a government with a “death wish”.
Ardern’s ministry has just twelve months to prove it is not suicidal.
This essay was originally posted on the Interest.co.nz website on Monday, 10 October 2022.