Monday, 20 April 2009

Outrageous Good Fortune

One City, One Mayor, One Council, One Plan: "One ring to rule them all."

NATIONAL’S revised plans for the governance of Auckland have handed Labour and its allies the next general election. As it has so often done in the past, the political ineptitude and unbounded arrogance of the Auckland business community is bringing ruin to its friends – and rescue to its enemies.

There was only one sensible course of action for John Key’s government to follow and that was to implement the recommendations of the Royal Commission’s Report on Auckland Governance to the letter.

The Royal Commission was a Labour initiative. That was the one, crucial fact Key had to bear in mind. Having set the inquiry in motion, the Labour caucus – even in the absence of its former leaders Helen Clark and Michael Cullen – would find it extremely difficult to criticise, let alone reject, the Commission’s findings. The report was the work of Labour’s appointees, undertaken according to Labour’s terms of reference. Whatever emerged from the Royal Commission’s deliberations, Labour was stuck with it.

Goff’s initial silence on the political efficacy of the Commission’s work spoke volumes. That he declined to shower the report with praise should have indicated to Key that Labour’s leadership foresaw huge political problems arising from its implementation.

By stripping North, West and South Auckland of their political power, and designing a representational regime practically certain to deliver control over Auckland’s future to the electors of Remuera and Epsom, the commissioners had set up a massive political struggle that could only further alienate key elements of Labour’s electoral base in the Auckland region.

That is why Goff curled himself up into a tight little ball and said nothing. His best – indeed, his only – hope was that Key, egged on by Rodney Hide, would make a mistake.

Having got 80 percent of what they wanted, National and ACT should have been content. But Goff was betting that the triumphalist mindset currently clouding the judgement of the entire New Zealand Right would lead it to try for 100 percent – and disaster.

It was a good bet.

By effectively junking Labour’s Royal Commission Report and replacing it with its own scheme, National has freed Labour to oppose the proposed changes with all the energy it can muster.

Alongside its allies in the South and West – Len Brown and Bob Harvey – both of whom have come out in open rebellion against National’s revised plan, Labour is now free to lead the fight for the democratic rights of the Pasifika and immigrant communities of Manukau and Waitakere. The ties that have traditionally bound these communities to Labour were stretched to breaking point in the 2008 General Election, when a large number of Pasifika and immigrant voters stayed at home rather than vote for a party many believed had betrayed them. Now those links can be reforged. It is difficult to imagine a better rallying cry for the brown faces of South and West Auckland than the one which casts the white, rich faces of Remuera and Epsom in the role of racist appropriators of the brown working-class’s hard-won resources.

The kids of the wealthy don’t need free swimming pools and neighbourhood recreation centres, but the children of the poor most certainly do. And, while the smug burghers of Remuera, with a swag of "super-councillors" living in the neighbourhood, may have nothing to fear from the developers’ chainsaws and bulldozers, the feisty residents of Avondale and Titirangi have plenty to be frightened about.

Westies, or Boyz from da ‘Hood? Labour’s political cadres will be spoiled for choice as they muster their legions for the assault.

But, when it comes to giving Labour a mighty taiaha to wield against their Tory opponents, nothing comes close to National’s decision to scrap the Royal Commission’s recommendation to provide for two elected and one appointed Maori super-councillors.

Here, if any more was needed, was the final proof that, for all its fine talk, National remains the deeply racist party it has always been.

"Not if I found it on the highway would I take it", said Faramir, Captain of Gondor, to Frodo and Sam, hobbits of the Shire, in Tolkien’s great tale.

Would National’s Captain Key prove so steadfast?

For truly, if chance has not placed Tolkien’s "One Ring to rule them all" within his grasp, it has certainly delivered into Key’s hands the One Mayor, One Council, and One Plan to rule all Auckland.

And all he had to do to secure these "precious" things was betray his noble Maori Party allies for the orcs of ACT.

Did he pass the test? Did Captain Key, like Captain Faramir, "show his quality" by refusing to abandon the tangata whenua of the Queen City to the Black Riders of Queen Street?

Like hell he did.

With a suitable candidate, Labour now has a better-than-even chance of toppling the Maori Party co-leader, Pita Sharples, from his Tamaki-Makaurau seat. Though hopelessly compromised by National’s decision, Sharples and his caucus have, unaccountably, opted to remain loyal to the man who has just stabbed them, and their party’s political future, in the back.

Labour, quite naturally, can hardly believe its outrageous good fortune. Since the mid-1930s the political ground it has fought on most successfully has been the ground of race and class. Nine years in office had eroded huge chunks of that fruitful territory – most of it towards National.

Occupation of the Treasury Benches for a second term – the most crucial element of National’s long-term strategy – depended absolutely on preventing Labour from re-engaging with the politics of class and race.

In the pivotal political market of Greater Auckland that meant keeping the voracious appetites of the roading contractors, property developers, builders’ suppliers, retailers, real estate agents, and their ACT mouthpieces, under control. Consolidating National’s 2008 gains among Maori, Pasifika and immigrant voters would take time – and constant demonstrations of the Right’s good faith.

All National had to do, vis-à-vis Auckland, was shelter behind the recommendations of Labour’s Royal Commission. Key would then have been able to cast the disempowering of the North, South and West of Auckland as an exercise in bi-partisan political riguer – harsh perhaps, but necessary to secure the region’s long-term future.

By trashing the Royal Commission’s plan, National has released its discredited Labour foes from a cage of their own making, and allowed Goff to re-cast Labour as Greater Auckland’s democratic champion.

If it is true that: "As Auckland goes – so goes the country", then National has just set the New Zealand Left on the road to victory in 2011.

This essay was originally published in The Independent of Thursday, 16 April 2009.

1 comment:

Steve Withers said...

It's been fascinating watching national make the same kinds of mistake George W Bush and the Republicans made after 2000 and 2004. Bush though he had political capital to spend and he was going to make the most of it. Instead, he made a mess of it.

National is following in Bush's footsteps, implementing tax cuts conceived in a boom in the middle of a big bust, making deficits for years to come a certainty. This shortage of funds will almost certainly be used as an excuse to shovel truckloads of tax money into crony pockets in the private sector via "commercially sensitive" secret PPP contracts. Today they were talking about outsourcing the military.